I was thrilled Thursday to be quoted in The Wall Street Journal’s “Frankly, Wharton Wants Candor,” which focused on Wharton’s Team Based Discussion (TBD) and Harvard’s interview reflections. I disagree, however, with disingenuous arguments in the article that applicants who seek to prepare beyond a school’s recommendation are intrinsically less than genuine.
I sat in on several of Accepted’s mock team-based discussions and was impressed with the evaluative power of the TBD. It is a great tool for discerning differences in interpersonal and communications skills.
I was also pleased with the feedback that we received from our mock TBD participants: 100% of those who provided feedback felt the mock interview to be a valuable practice. A dress rehearsal really. And professionals rehearse.
You can ad-lib a lie, prepare facts.
It is fallacious to think that practice leads to a lack of authenticity. You can ad-lib a lie and prepare facts. Winging it and honesty don’t correlate. In fact, one has nothing to do with the other.
However, practice and preparation do correlate with achievement. They contributed to bringing applicants to the point where schools like HBS and Wharton invite them to interview.
Should students not study or practice so they can be candidly ignorant when asked to give a class presentation? Take a test? Should they wear jeans and t-shirts so they can be more “authentic”?
Would Wharton or Harvard want their students to ad-lib and improvise for job interviews? Would they advise applicants to go to a job interview for, let’s say McKinsey or Goldman, and just “relax, be genuine,” and “enjoy the opportunity for [the prospective employer] to get to know you?”
And what about employers? Why aren’t they upset when MBAs, with the schools’ support and urging, spend hours prepping for interviews? As Accepted’s Todd King, author of Handling Wharton’s Team-Based Discussion, notes in an internal discussion:
"So, what do consulting and banking firms do in their hiring that allows them to bring on great people without complaining about ‘over-prepared’ recruits? … they knew good and well that every candidate had thoroughly reviewed and practiced whatever big case-study book had been compiled by the school's management consulting club. Those firms found good people - and they didn't complain about those people being extremely prepared; they expected it."
Those elite firms want it. They seek employees who come to interviews practiced and prepared. They want employees who will check and double check their work. And they certainly demand that employees train and rehearse for roadshows and client presentations.
The ease of writing an email or carrying on a discussion isn’t the issue. Candor and honesty aren’t the question.
Applicants prepare, practice, and rehearse because they perceive the benefits of getting into a school like HBS or Wharton to be worth the effort and worth the $500 for Accepted’s Wharton Premium Interview Preparation. (This fee provides both a mock team and personal interview as well as written feedback and an individual post-interview consultation.)
Confusing winging it and wisdom
Perhaps, just maybe, as a result of the information freely given away by admissions consultants and applicants, as well as yes the increasing numbers of applicants seeking paid advising, admissions committees have a harder time differentiating between applicants. (See Looking Back on the Shrinking MBA Application)
Frankly, something is amiss when a business school confuses non-preparation and honesty, winging it and wisdom. Is that something a lack of candor on the school’s part?
(Please see a Wharton Follies video, The Evolution of an MBA for a student perspective. It predates this discussion, but it’s funnier and relevant. Do you think they rehearsed?)