MBA Interview Tips #8 - Connecting to a School's Culture

A few people have struggled with this over the past few MBA interview trainings I've done. And while it seems like it shouldn't be difficult -- after all everyone wrote "Why MBA School X?" many times in their essays -- the problem occurred when my clients tried to connect not to a school's specific classes or programs (which was easy because their goals were clear) but to a school's less-tangible "culture" -- Northwestern Kellogg's teamwork culture, Michigan Ross' hands-on culture, Tuck's close-knit culture, etc. What I've found is that if you don't support your connection to the culture with personal experience, your answer will seem pro-forma and shallow; saying only, "I want to experience Ross' hands-on culture," means nothing if everyone else is saying it. So, why do you want to experience Ross' hands-on culture? How is it similar or different from the learning styles you've experienced so far? If it's similar, great! You can explain how you understand the benefits of trial and error and real-world application. It it's dissimilar, also great! You can explain how your studies or work up till now didn't allow you to "get your hands dirty" but now you need that experience for your future career.

What about Kellogg's teamwork culture? If you have a lot of teamwork and project-based experience, excellent! Share those experiences and lessons with the interviewer to express your comfort in that setting. If, like me, your work is done on a more individual basis, also excellent! Kellogg will be a great opportunity to learn the joys and sorrows of collaboration.

I'll leave you with a real example from a few years ago. My client was applying to Tuck, his dream school. His educational experiences had ranged from a large public high school to a small liberal arts college, so he knew the benefits and drawbacks of both. In his Tuck Goals essay and also his interview, he emphasized how much he had grown at his small liberal arts college and how he was looking to duplicate that experience at Tuck. He was very sincere in his reasoning and I'm sure the interviewer picked up on that. I'm convinced it played an important role in his acceptance.