One of my international clients who has lived and worked in the U.S. for many years was visiting his home country for family reasons and received an invite to interview with a top business school. He was thrilled to receive the invite, but somewhat disappointed to discover there wasn’t an alumni interviewer living anywhere near where he was staying. Nevertheless, he scheduled his interview and made his travel arrangements. And although he had already interviewed with three other top programs, he scheduled a mock interview with another consultant just to make sure he was well-prepared.
For this school, the interviews are “blind,” meaning the interviewer only has the applicant’s resume. My client arrived early. The interviewer arrived late. And then the questioning began. Unlike his interviews with other schools and unlike the interviews for this school that our other clients had had, this interviewer made no attempt to put the applicant at ease. In fact, the entire tone of the interview seemed confrontational instead of conversational. Furthermore, many of the questions he was asked were inappropriate.
He answered all the questions to the best of his ability and tried to keep calm throughout the interview. He didn’t feel the interview was horrible, but he certainly got the impression that the interviewer didn’t like him. And he didn’t like some of the interviewer’s questions.
He called me to ask what I thought might happen to his chances if the interviewer wrote him a negative report. I requested, and he provided, a complete list of the questions he was asked. I thought that several of them were out of line and not in keeping with what I had heard of typical interviews from this school – or indeed any reputable school. I thought he should get a second interview over the phone with an admissions officer. I also thought that as a former admissions officer myself, I would not want this alumnus to interview any more people since he was clearly giving applicants a very bad impression of the school. I thought my client should definitely let the admissions office know what happened.
I also asked the advice of the mock interview consultant, an alumnus of this school who had read applications there and had conducted many, many interviews and helped many clients gain admission to this school. He was horrified and agreed that my client should contact the school immediately. Rather than sending an email to the general admissions email address, he suggested calling the school directly and getting the name and email address of someone on the committee to send the list of questions.
I helped my client draft an email to an assistant director he had already corresponded with about his interview. In it, he didn’t ask for another interview. Instead, he made it clear that he didn’t wish to complain, but that the questions he was asked and the entire tone of the interview was quite different than what he expected based on what his friends and colleagues had told him and what he had read. He sent the complete list of questions in the order they were asked. He wondered if they were considered typical. He made it clear that others he knew had been put at ease by their interviewers and were allowed to ask questions that made them excited to attend the program. And that he had met many other alumni of the school in the United States who had given him a good impression of the program, so he wouldn’t let his experience with this interviewer change his impression of the school.
A couple of hours later, he received a return email from the assistant director saying that she regretted to hear that his interview hadn’t gone as expected and due to the circumstances they wanted to extend the opportunity to interview with a senior associate director. This was exactly what we hoped would happen!
The moral of the story is don’t assume that if you know you haven’t been treated fairly by an interviewer that there is nothing you can do. Generally, alumni interviewers are a great resource since they are walking advertisements for the MBA program. Ideally, these interviewers not only give fair and unbiased interviews, but are able to convey their genuine and lasting enthusiasm for the program to the applicants. But every school that uses alumni interviewers knows there is a risk that some of the interviewers may not follow the script and may disregard their training. Unfortunately, the MBA admissions committee has no way of knowing who these rogue interviewers are unless applicants speak up.
So, if a similar situation happens to you, first ask yourself honestly whether the bad interview was due to your lack of interview preparation or it was due to the interviewer’s inappropriate questions and attitude. If the latter, contact the admissions office right away and let them know what happened. Carefully craft a letter that sticks to the facts and doesn’t sound like you are complaining. Be complimentary about the program (after all, you still want to be admitted!). Don’t ask for another interview. That may not be possible. But either way the b-school will have your impression of the interview to contrast with the interviewer’s. Good luck!