Stanford GSB Admissions Interview Tips
What is the importance of interviews in the overall selection process at Stanford GSB? Is it a make or break after the interview? Or, does it form a parameter in the applicant’s candidature?
The admissions interview is VERY important in the overall selection process at Stanford GSB. Interviews are granted on an invite-only basis and an applicant has to perform well on an interview in order to gain admission to the school. Once granted, the interview serves as a parameter in the applicant’s candidature, but a poor performance on the interview likely would pretty much wipe out the applicants chances at admission. In other words, I believe that it is a “make or break” after the interview for admission to Stanford GSB.
How should a potential candidate prepare for the Stanford GSB interviews?
I have never been an alumni admissions interviewer for Stanford GSB, but, if I had to redo my own interview again, I would prepare for it as follows:
- Do your research: Stanford GSB is a business school unlike any other and it is up to each applicant to be able to understand the uniqueness of the school and articulate it during the interview. There are many ways that applicants can research the school, including studying the GSB’s website, searching for online resources describing the school, and talking to current students and alumni. While doing this research, applicants should think about how to effectively weave these insights into their answers to the questions that interviewers may ask. Of course, this process should have started while the applicants wrote their essays, but I’d argue that the research should be more intense when preparing for the admissions interview.
- Know your story: As far as I know, alumni interviewers do not see an applicant’s essays prior to an admissions interview, but that doesn’t mean they can’t ask about questions that are on the application. Often, in interview situations, one can identify embellishments or fabrications in a person’s story by asking repeated sets of questions to probe for details that may not sound right. In an MBA admissions interview situation, a great risk for the applicant is that a combination of nerves and describing his/her story (or MBA positioning) effectively may make him/her come across as either being unprepared or, even worse, as having embellished/fabricated parts of that story. Devoting significant time to knowing one’s story is the best way to address this risk.
- Be confident: Despite the larger number of applicants, one has to be confident in his/her candidacy to improve his/her chances of gaining admission to target schools. Some interviewers may ask probing questions to determine whether an applicant truly believes that he/she is a good candidate and is deserving of a place in the upcoming class. If a candidate shows doubt in that regard, the interviewer really has no reason to believe that the applicant is a strong enough applicant to gain admission. When it comes to getting into a top business school, an applicant’s greatest challenge can often be believing in the strength of his/her own candidacy.
What dresscode would you suggest for the Stanford interview? (men & women)
Despite Stanford GSB’s reputation for having a laid-back culture, I would highly recommend that interviewees wear business formal attire to their admissions interviews. For men, this would mean a suit and tie and, for women, this would mean a pant suit or a skirt suit. In some cases, an interviewer may indicate that it is alright to dress in business casual attire, but, barring that specific guidance, it is always better to err on the side of dressing too formally than too informally.
What are the three typical mistakes that the candidates commit during the Stanford GSB interviews?
As mentioned earlier, I’ve never been asked to serve as an alumni admissions interviewer, but I’d guess that three typical mistakes are:
- Not having done enough research on Stanford GSB: This is a somewhat obvious point. Stanford GSB is different from other schools and a common mistake made by applicants is to not do enough research to realize that. Stanford’s uniqueness comes from many places, including the course catalog, method of teaching, culture of the school, and closeness of the alumni and student networks. By the time an applicant reaches the interview stage, there should be an expectation that he/she has done significant background research on the school and should understand the nuances that make it different from other business schools. If the interviewee doesn’t demonstrate this level of knowledge, it may affect the interviewers perception of his/her interview performance.
- Being too casual or informal during the interview: The GSB has a reputation as being a relatively laid-back place, but that doesn’t mean the interview will necessarily be laid back. I’ve heard stories about interviewees coming across as far too informal during their interviews in several ways, ranging from manner of dress, language used during the discussion, and overall presence. Gaining admission to the GSB is a game-changer for prospective MBA students, so they should approach the interview process with the amount of formality that it deserves.
- Trying to be who they think the interviewer wants them to be: Often, applicants believe that they have to portray themselves in a certain way to seem like more of a fit for a particular school. It seems that the thinking behind this is that one’s chances of admission are improved if he/she appears to be similar to that school’s “type”. The problem with that approach when it comes to Stanford is that the GSB is truly a collection of uniquely diverse people, so I wouldn’t say that there is a true Stanford GSB “type”. Applicants are better off being themselves during their interviews than trying to come across as someone else.
What are the three tricky questions that a candidate can face in the Stanford GSB interviews?
Again, I’ve never given admissions interviews for the GSB, but three questions that I would ask if I were asked to be an interviewer are as follows:
- “What matters most to you and why?”: This is the first and most important question in the Stanford GSB application. The answer to this question can provide great insight into the personality of an applicant and to what the person is all about. I wouldn’t be surprised if some interviewers would choose to ask this question as a means to gain insight into the applicant, followed by probing questions to push those insights even deeper, as a way to determine fit for the GSB.
- “Why do you want to attend Stanford GSB?”: While writing application essays, applicants should put significant thought into answering this question, with specific care to pointing out why they want to attend the GSB (as opposed to why they want to attend business school, in general). The alumni interviewer could ask the same question just to hear an applicant answer it in person and, if that applicant hasn’t developed a unique perspective on it, the response could ring hollow, which likely wouldn’t leave a good impression with the interviewer.
- “What would you bring to the GSB community?”: Most business school applicants put a lot of time into determine what they will get from their MBA experience, but not many are as thoughtful about what they will contribute to the business school community. At a place like the GSB, community is incredibly important and there is an expectation that everyone will be a key contributor to it. Applicants should spend some time figuring out how they can add something unique to the GSB during their time at the school.
When you think about it, these questions shouldn’t be tricky at all, but it’s amazing how quickly some applicants completely unravel once these questions are asked and followed with probing questions to find out the details behind their initial responses.
Any suggestions on the steps after the interview?
Following the interview, I would recommend that applicants follow up with an email to the interviewer to thank him/her for his time and restating the applicant’s interest in Stanford GSB at a high level. There’s no need to rehash anything discussed in the interview in excruciating detail when restating that interest in the school. I would not recommend sending any other follow-up communications after that “thank you” email because of the risk of leaving a poor impression with the interviewer.
Any special advice to international applicants on their Stanford GSB interviews?
Given the GSB’s renewed focus on international business with the recent introduction of the its new first-year curriculum, I’d recommend that international applicants spend time preparing to answer questions about what they plan to learn about business from a national perspective different from their own and how they plan to share insights from business in their home countries for the benefit of their classmates. As mentioned earlier, members of the GSB community benefit greatly from the experiences and knowledge of their peers at the school, so international applicants should be thoughtful about the nature of their own contributions.
What advice would you give to potential Stanford GSB applicants who are applying this year (2009-2010 application cycle)?
Potential applicants going through the process this year are facing one of the toughest application periods in years for many reasons (e.g., stagnant job market, layoffs, increased numbers of candidates pursuing grad degrees, etc.). This year more than any other before, applicants need to present completely “bulletproof” applications in order to gain admission to the top schools. As such, I would offer the following advice to those applicants, which are all related to the interview preparation tips provided above:
- Do your research: Stanford GSB is a unique place, so make sure you understand that uniqueness and how you would fit into the environment
- Know your story: Be ready to answer any number of specific questions related to how you’ve positioned yourself as an MBA applicant
- Be confident: If you aren’t confident in your candidacy, why would anyone else be? Don’t walk into the interview giving off the impression that you don’t belong at Stanford GSB