With the current economic environment it is no surprise that business schools report significant increases in inquiries, higher attendance to on- and off-site information sessions, and an increased volume of applications for attendance in 2009. But this rosy picture does not necessarily transfer towards the Executive MBA, which may prove to be advantageous if you are planning to attend in the upcoming year.
The Executive MBA is highly selective and a lesser known form of graduate level business education than the traditional MBA. The EMBA's 210 plus programs in the United States and around the world attract an older and more professional student body. The average age is 33 to 35 with typically seven years of work experience. Students augment weekend classroom sessions with full time employment and graduate within two years. With the drop in the economy, employer sponsor cut backs and rising unemployment have appeared to hurt EMBA enrollment and it simply does not look as strong as the traditional programs. EMBA enrollment is approximately 10% down from last year, due to the economy, reports Joan C. Coonrod, Director, EMBA Admissions, Goizueta Business School, Emory University. Wharton reports little to no growth in applications for similar reasons.
No matter how many slots will be competed for in the upcoming year, one of the most important parts of the application process is the graduate business school interview. The interview is one of several components to the career record. The career record is an aggregation of professional and personal history summarized in a series of steps that includes the essays, interview, evaluation, and the business school application. The career record best represents a total picture of a working professional applying to the EMBA. Each component of the career record deserves careful attention and no singular part should be treated less important than the next, although admissions officers agree that certain aspects of the career record receive more weight than others, as illustrated in the pie graph below.
The interview process is essential for admissions and strongly encouraged to take place face-to-face. Do not despair; phone interviews are an option for international and cross-continent applicants. Some schools use teleconferencing services to bridge the two parties. "At Fordham University we do require an interview for admissions. For foreign students this interview is done via phone," says Francis Petit, assistant dean and EMBA program director at Fordham's Graduate School of Business Administration.
The formality of the interview can vary from school to school but regardless, do not underestimate the importance of the interview in the evaluation process. If an interview is scheduled, then you have passed a round of internal reviews and now it is time to meet. Wear professional attire, understand the audience, have a working knowledge about what the interviewers want from their applicants, and come prepared to discuss personal and professional achievements.
Bring a few copies of your resume as well as pen and paper – it is acceptable to take notes during the discussion. Treat the interview as if it were a high profile meeting. You may meet with members of faculty, admissions, EMBA administrators, and even the Dean. "Interviews are generally conducted by faculty who will be teaching the course and the interview takes about 30 minutes. It's a formal interview, the candidate should expect a similar format to a job interview," says Josie Powell, PR Coordinator, Saïd Business School of Oxford University.
Expect many open-ended questions during the one hour session. They will want to get to know more about you as a person and hear in your own words what makes you stand out. They will evaluate on attitude, communication skills, general intellect, and most of all your compatibility with potential fellow classmates and ability to contribute to the group dynamic. As Diane A. Sharp, Associate Director, Marketing and Admissions, MBA Program for Executives, The Wharton School at UPenn, describes, "Interviews are one-on-one and with a member of the Admissions Committee. They last approximately forty-five minutes. We focus mostly on job history and why an MBA is necessary. We are looking to see if the individual has positive interpersonal skills and has examples of leadership in his/her past."
Since the whole person is the objective even traditionally taboo subjects may have a place here. If you volunteer, belong to a political or religious organization, or even play an instrument, interviewers want to know because it gives them a better understanding of who you are and what separates you from the next candidate to walk through the door to be interviewed. Given that business is a global discipline, it is advisable to discuss your international experience at length including any business conducted overseas, family that may live in another country, a foreign language you may speak, and experience and ability to work with people in other cultures. Admissions officers value international experience.
General discussion points
Asking questions is encouraged. You want to make sure this particular program fits your needs and career goals. Be inquisitive but avoid asking questions that can be answered in the school's literature like what is the emphasis or strength of this program, size of class, or typical classes. Try to get a feel if your career and background is the right fit for the school. If the program has a pharmaceutical track, then inquire how this would work for someone not in the same field. Sample discussion points:
- Work experience
- Conflict resolution and problem solving
- Relationships with peers and superiors
- Personal successes and failures
- Professional successes and failures
- Ability to manage changing environment
- Extracurricular activities: volunteer work, hobbies, and other personal and professional accomplishments
How to respond
Have you ever considered why bus doors are always located opposite to the driver's seat? Or why manhole covers are round? These classic interview questions by top consulting firms are meant purely to judge your intellect and reasoning process. They want to see how you think and measure your ability at drawing conclusions in cogent and meaningful ways. Practice preparing responses for the sample questions presented in this article. Rehearse but do not sound scripted.
The heart of the interview is to get to know you more and test whether you have fully weighed all the options and considerations with this endeavor. Here are sample questions you can expect to be asked:
- Why the EMBA and what led you to make the decision about attending business school at this time?
- How will the EMBA assist you in achieving your short and long term goals?
- What are you looking to get out of the program?
- Tell us about your work experience and how an MBA will fit with plans for the future?
If you have not given the consideration as to why you want to go back to school or fully understand the responsibilities and demands of the education on work life and personal life then trying to figure this out during the interview will sink your objective of getting accepted.
No school will reveal their secret formula, or lack there of, but they do report similar types of grading systems whether it is a one to five or A,B,C,D, and F. In the end it comes down to the program directors who have the best sense of what will or will not work as Francis Petit says, "I make 100% of the admissions decisions. We discuss the program, discuss their background and determine if this program is a good fit not only for the applicant to Fordham University but Fordham University to the applicant."
So put on that tie or straighten out that blouse, put a smile on your face, and put your best foot forward. It is time to meet with admissions. You will possibly spend the next two years with these people in this program. The mere fact that you have completed the application, passed one of their many reviews, and have taken time to meet with you suggests that they are serious about you as a candidate in their program. In return, you want to show the same mutual interest and respect. Use the suggestions in this article to get you not only through the door, but onto what may serve as one of the most rewarding educational experiences one.