The 2018-19 Wharton Team-Based Discussion: What To Expect

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The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business has made a couple of updates to its interview questions and format for 2018. Wharton has chosen to cut the one-minute individual elevator pitch for each applicant. This means that you’ll have to be even more strategic in making sure you speak up so adcoms notice and remember your participation, but without overpowering or dominating the conversation.

This year, during the Wharton Team-Based Discussion, applicants are put into groups with five or six other applicants and asked to address the following prompt:

Your MBA journey at Wharton begins with Pre-Term, a three-week MBA orientation designed to re-acclimate students into an academic environment, provide team-building opportunities, and establish a community framework for your MBA class.

Each MBA class of about 860 students is divided equally into four diverse clusters of ~215 students. Within each cluster are three equally distributed cohorts of ~70 students. Students take their core curriculum courses with their cohort, and it is important to establish a strong community within this group of 70 students.

For the purpose of this discussion, you have been invited to join a team tasked with developing a three-day retreat (including travel) at the end of Pre-Term for your cohort of 70 students. As a team, determine learning objectives, programming, and metrics for success for this Pre-Term retreat. Provide opportunities for team-building, social engagement, and personal enrichment while being mindful of logistics and location.

The Wharton Team-Based Discussion lasts roughly 35 minutes and is followed by a one-on-one interview with a Wharton admissions officer that lasts about 10 minutes.

Steady your beating heart. We’ve got the scoop on how to ACE this new question and tips for how to prepare. First, let’s breakdown what the Wharton admissions committee members (we call them Adcoms) are looking for by changing up this year’s question.

What hasn’t changed since last year?

The Adcoms are still looking to learn about YOU, not your business vocabulary. In short, the team-based discussion offers them a real-life simulation of how you work in a group setting. Interacting in a team is a KEY component of the Wharton MBA curriculum.

So, what’s different this year?

Actually, from a content perspective, this year’s version of the Wharton Team-Based Discussion is not all that different from last year’s. This year, instead of having to create a Global Modular Course, Wharton refocused the content around designing a three-day team-building retreat for your Wharton Cohort, the 70-student groups that Wharton MBA students are grouped in from the start to finish of their MBA experience. The biggest difference with this prompt is that this year’s question isn’t looking for academic learning opportunities per se, but more opportunities for participants to learn soft skills like teamwork and leadership. Like last year’s question, the travel and social planning elements add potential for negotiation, debate, and even disagreement in terms of where the retreat should take place and what activities will best bring the cohort together.

Every candidate will have their own favorite hobbies and social activities, their own personal and cultural backgrounds, and different locations or regions in mind. Yet, you all have to decide on one itinerary of events, one location, and defend why you chose them. This element of choice will allow the Adcoms to see how you interact as a team, not to mention how you deal with potential conflicts that arise from differences in background and culture, as well as personality and/or experience.

Now, let’s discuss how to tackle the TBD and the one-on-one interview.

The Team-Based Discussion

After meeting your fellow interviewees, you are given 35 minutes to discuss where your cohort retreat will take place, what team-building and social activities will take place, and how you plan on determining if the retreat was a success.  The approach to this is actually quite similar to the 2017 question on Global Modular Courses in that logistics for travel must be considered, cultural sensitivities must be taken into account, and the event that is being planned is essentially an experiential learning opportunity.

The name of the game is positivity.

You want to convey yourself as someone who’s thoughtful, yet open, about what should be addressed. Overall, the school is going to be looking for a leader who:

  • Has their own innovative thoughts.
  • Knows how to persuade/convince others.
  • Knows how to LISTEN to others, and when to go with the consensus as to not hold up a decision.

This year, without a dedicated minute where you would have had the opportunity to offer up your idea,  you’ll now have to find a way to either start the conversation or quickly fill a moment of relative silence with your contribution. In a room full of type A future business leaders, there may not be a moment of silence, so you may also need to be bold enough to tactfully interrupt someone who has already conveyed the bulk of their argument. This is the critical moment where the Adcoms get to see how you fare when it comes to adjusting your ideas to the ideas of others. Are you able to compromise, build consensus, motivate or convince others? If you had to interrupt someone to make your idea heard, was it an idea that seemed to build off of theirs?

It’s good practice to come in with a strong idea of your own, but at the same time, it’s equally important for you to be receptive to the ideas of others, and also, to be able to read the group well enough to make suggestions that aren’t going to negatively affect and/or impede the conversation.

Just be natural!

The goal here is simple. You need to look as if you are really interacting with the other applicants and working on a team. You know, that thing you do all the time at work.

One way to succeed here is to let someone else present an idea first, even if it’s different than what you pitched or prepared for. The ability to go with the flow and build off of someone else’s idea showcases your ability to think on your feet and add value on the fly. And if you disagree with something, it IS okay to say so! This is meant to be an honest, real-life simulation. If you wouldn’t just blindly agree with an idea on a real-life group project, don’t do so here, either.

So long as you back up your argument with smart reasoning (and avoid, you know, not stomping your feet and storming out of the room when you don’t get your way), you’ll be fine! Having an opinion is going to look a lot better than just being a “yes-man/woman.” So overall, there’s a happy medium here, like with anything else. Don’t destroy the flow of the convo, but don’t just agree to be agreeable either.

And remember, that even if the team doesn’t go with YOUR idea, that’s cool. You’ve negotiated, compromised. They’ve learned more about you and your background, and you’ve learned about theirs. As long as you have found a way to move together towards worthy goals, you can consider the TBD a success.

At the end of the day, the key to rocking the Wharton Team-Based Discussion is to treat it the same way you’d treat any collaborative discussions you partake in. Picture yourself at work, in board meetings for that non-profit board you sit on, or planning a group trip with your college friends:

  • When presenting your viewpoint/trying to convince others, suggest a sort of framework for the group to make decisions.
  • Remind your teammates about the criteria/factors they need to meet. It’s hard for them to argue that way.
  • Don’t be thrown off by what other applicants say! Remain calm, cool and cooperative. Make sure your voice is heard, while taking care not step on anyone’s toes in doing so.

The One-on-One Interview

This part of the interview will essentially be the continuation of your pitch. There’s still only one reason for you to go to business school, and that is: to reach your professional goals.

This is also a good time to elaborate on why WHARTON is THE place for you to reach your goals. It’s your chance to show the Adcoms how well you’ve researched the school. Show them why you think the program aligns so well with your proposed career path. It’s probably also a good idea to proactively reflect upon the Team-Based Discussion.

If you’re hiding any amazing achievements up your sleeve, this is the time to drop those in too. And finally, make sure to come prepared with at least three very precise and unique questions about attending Wharton. The Adcoms want to see that you’ve done your research and are actually curious about the school. All of your essay research and prep will be useful when formulating these questions and reasons why your goals fit Wharton so well.

Do all this, and you are as good as gold. Learn more on Wharton’s website.

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