My last interview took place at the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University. Since it was my final interview, I had my answers to the general interview questions (“Tell me about yourself” “Why an MBA?” “Why now?” etc.) down cold, and only had to focus on answering the more specific questions regarding Johnson.
The interview was on the Cornell campus, which is obviously very beautiful, but also a bit intimidating. A nice feature of the Johnson interview process is that they offer you the chance to sit in on a live MBA class and/or take a walking tour of the campus while there. I opted for the class, which was very informative in terms of showing me what a typical class session would be like at the school. If you interview at Cornell, I highly recommend taking advantage of this opportunity.
Anyway, let’s take a step back to my interview, which was actually before I sat in on the class. The interview was one-on-one with an admissions officer, a friendly older woman, in a small, windowless breakout room.
The interview started out fairly easy, as I fielded the typical “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your career goals?” This was followed by several behavioral interview questions, which, again, if you’re unfamiliar with, please follow this link and read up on.
It was at about this time that the woman started firing a few curveballs at me, including this question: “What is a weakness in your application?” I referenced the obvious, my age and lack of full-time work experience, but made sure I showed how these factors also work in my favor, too.
For the rest of the interview, it seemed as if the woman kind of clung to that weakness response and factored it into other questions, which made answering them rather difficult for me. For example, after she asked, “How can you contribute to Johnson?” and I answered, she followed up with, “…and how will you do that given your lack of experience?” Despite the fact that I had already explained why I feel that I am prepared for and can benefit from business school at my age, she still kept coming back to that. At one point, she told me that it might be better for me to rethink business school so early, even if I was admitted. Obviously, this is a rather disheartening thing to hear mid-interview, as if it wasn’t stressful enough.
She also asked, “What have you done to explore possible career paths?” After I told her about the research I’d done into jobs and companies and the internships I’d held, she asked if I had any dream company to work for. I did and informed her of the company and my desired role, to which she responded with, “Have you reached out to anyone in that company to ask them if an MBA is necessary for that role?” Admittedly, I had not, but I also already knew that an MBA was, in fact, necessary for the role. I informed her of this but she did not seem pleased with the answer.
She then asked, “What other schools are you interviewing with?” I told her I had already had interviews with Stanford and Yale and that seemed to make the rest of our exchange feel a bit awkward.
In retrospect, I understand why the interviewer was so focused on my age and seeing if I was truly ready for business school at Johnson, because the program does not have a special sub-program for students entering directly from undergrad. I would be treated just the same as every other student, with no extra mentoring or opportunity for work during the program. I definitely get why she decided to take the interview where she took it.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that it was definitely the hardest interview of the three schools I interviewed with. I felt slightly on the defensive, always having to parry the blows of my interviewer’s questions and respond with an appropriate countermove.
All that aside, if you are interviewing for Cornell Johnson, I recommend practicing sample behavioral interview questions online, identifying a weakness in your application and assessing how you would properly (and positively) address it, reflecting on why you need and MBA NOW and how that fits into your career goals, and thinking about what you can contribute to Johnson.
EDIT: For those asking, I was admitted to the Johnson School of Management at Cornell.