In an era where MBA applicants often come across as overly packaged and polished, the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management decided to shake things up last year by introducing a video component to the application in an effort to see the unscripted side of candidates.
Until now, schools only had face time with the applicants they interviewed. Video technology allows every MBA hopeful a chance to add some color to the rest of his or her application and show the admissions committee the person behind the resume, recommendation letters and essays.
"We are hoping to take a big leap away from the essay writing contest that has become the norm in the MBA admissions world," wrote Niki da Silva, director of MBA recruitment and admissions at the school, in a blog post last fall.
The school's video tool captures timed responses in real time without allowing for advance preparation, offering the admissions committee insight into the applicant's passions, interests and personality. The school judges applicants on their ability to think on their feet – a crucial characteristic of a successful businessperson. This format is also a much better indicator of spoken English fluency, something MBA applicants can mask in essays.
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Rotman may have enjoyed a 12-month lead on the innovation, but it was only a matter of time before other elite business schools jumped on the bandwagon. This application season, Yale School of Management and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management are also requiring a video interview, while other MBA programs, such as New York University's Stern School of Business and the University of Texas—Austin McCombs School of Business, offer applicants the option of using video to introduce themselves to their classmates.
At Yale, applicants respond to three short, prerecorded questions via webcam. Applicants have 20 seconds to think about their answer for each question and up to 90 seconds to provide a live response.
The video component at Kellogg functions much the same way, with applicants having a brief time to gather their thoughts before answering. They can review an answer and submit it if satisfied, or if not, they have two more chances, with two new questions.
I think the introduction of video interviews is a great idea, but it's natural to expect that some applicants may feel uneasy about answering questions on camera and on the fly. The video interviews are similar to standard interviews in that you are asked to talk about yourself, which should be easy – but is not.
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I have a few tips to share here to help applicants prepare for this new video platform.
Schools have done a good job of keeping quiet about the exact questions they ask. However, some examples I've heard include: "What is one interesting thing about you that you would want your future classmates to know?" "What accomplishment are you most proud of?" "What is your most treasured possession and why?" "What is one piece of technology you can't live without?"
Applicants report the questions are pretty standard in nature and cover professional goals, leadership experiences, extracurricular activities or passions. Stay away from answers that could come across as generic. The whole point is to display your individualism.
While most MBA candidates are familiar with video chat through Skype or FaceTime, this particular experience is unique in that it is not a conversation. You need to do all you can to get comfortable under the pressure of speaking to a screen and having a countdown clock with limited time to answer.
Talk to the screen as if you were talking to a person, and dress as you would for an actual interview. If possible, don't save the video interview for the last moment before the deadline. Applicants have reported technological glitches at both Yale and Kellogg, and that just adds another layer of stress.
It's essential to practice telling your stories out loud and be fluid in speaking about yourself in various scenarios. One way to prepare is to have a friend ask you popular interview questions and record your responses in 90-second intervals.
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When you review the video, see where you might improve. Are you making eye contact with the camera? Do you exhibit any unexpected communication tics, such as excessive use of "um," throat-clearing, blinking or eyebrow twitching? How is your posture? Is your speaking tone rushed, or well-modulated?
Although you can't prepare for every conceivable question, more than half the battle is becoming comfortable with the format so that your ideas shine. In the end, this is only one piece of the puzzle and it is unlikely the admissions committee will place undue weight on your performance – unless you come across as clueless or a complete jerk.
The schools are not trying to invent new ways to trip up applicants. They truly want you to succeed. As more and more programs realize the added value of this format, I'm betting we'll see several top-ranked programs including video interviews next year.