Stanford GSB Interview Tips by an Alumnus
- Interviewbay: A bit of background about yourself.
I graduated from Stanford in 2006 with an MBA and an MA in Education, earned through a joint degree program between the Graduate School of Business (GSB) and the School of Education. I completed my undergraduate studies in Computer Science at Princeton University and, between that time and my matriculation at the GSB, I worked as a Software Engineer for five years and earned a graduate degree in Management of Information Technology at the University of Virginia. After my graduation from the GSB, I worked as a Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company for a little more than two years. Following my time at McKinsey, I moved on to a strategic advisory and capital investment firm focused on the Technology and Business Services industries, where I work with portfolio companies of Private Equity firms to improve operational and financial performance.
- Interviewbay: How was your experience at Stanford GSB? Has Stanford GSB met all your career and personal aspirations? What did you like the most at Stanford GSB?
I had an absolutely wonderful experience at Stanford GSB. I went into it knowing that I would learn a lot about business, but I had no idea of how much I would learn about myself, the world around me, and the way that I exist within it. Business school is supposed to be an academic challenge, but, at times, Stanford was an academic, social, intellectual, and emotional challenge all wrapped up into a single package intended to make me a more self-aware, humble, and empathetic business leader (with special emphasis on the term “leader” as opposed to simply being a “manager”). Stanford has helped me achieve my career and personal aspirations and I can honestly say that I would be a totally different person right now if I'd attended another business school. The best part about the GSB experience is the people…from the students to the instructors to the administrators to the alumni, the GSB community is full of people who are willing to open themselves up to enrich the lives of other members of the community, which is something I believe to be truly unique to Stanford GSB among top business schools.
- Interviewbay: 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 would pretty much wipe out the applicants chances at admission. In other words, it is a “make or break” after the interview for admission to Stanford GSB.
- Interviewbay: 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.
- Interviewbay: 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 pants 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.
- Interviewbay: 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
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