The group interview or team-based discussion.
What Is the Team-Based Discussion?
A few years ago, the admissions office at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School partnered with the Wharton Innovation group to launch a new evaluation method, the team-based discussion (TBD).
As part of the TBD, applicants are placed into a group with five to six other applicants for an interactive discussion about real-life business scenarios, designed to reveal to the Admissions Committee how each applicant approaches and analyzes specific situations.
This was designed by Wharton to give students experience of Wharton’s group learning dynamic. It gives students an opportunity to show the schools how they think, lead, communicate and interact.
The teams of applicants are assembled simply by who signs up when. Each participant will receive a prompt for the TBD in advance, and Wharton recommends spending about an hour in advance preparing for the discussion.
The majority of TBD interviews are held at Wharton’s Philadelphia campus and conducted by Admissions Fellows and select group of second-year MBA students. But TBDs are also held various cities around the world as part of each round. These sessions will be conducted by admissions officers.
Here’s the prompt applicants received in the 2015-16 application season:
“The diversity of interests and backgrounds of the Wharton MBA community is reflected in the variety of programs that we support. The African American MBA Association, Private Equity and Venture Capital Club, Wharton Women in Business, Entrepreneurship Club, and the Veteran’s Club are five of the more than one hundred student-run clubs here at Wharton. Each year, many of these clubs run conferences, providing unique and exclusive opportunities for students to engage with business and thought leaders around the world.
For the purpose of this discussion, picture yourself as a core member of a student-run club’s Conference Committee. Feel free to consider yourself part of an existing club or one that has not yet been created. In this role, you and your team must create and deliver a one-day, high-impact conference on the topic of your choice keeping in mind that the event’s aim is to provide a forum for students, faculty, alumni, thought leaders, and executives to explore and challenge ideas related to the topic at hand. Please take a moment to learn more about the current Wharton MBA student-led clubs and conferences.
Please come prepared to share your thoughts with the group in one minute or less before moving into the team discussion. You should plan to spend no more than one hour in preparation for this part of the process.”
How to deal with this? Here are some tips.
1. Wharton really values decisions backed up by data, so when you make a point, support it with facts
2. As you make your way through the given scenario, be sure to take logical steps from one point to the next and communicate your thought process when it’s relevant,
3. In a group exercise, don't get sidetracked by details. Always keep the big picture in mind.
4. Determine your most effective role within the group. Should you lead, should you listen and contribute only when appropriate, should you facilitate and draw others into the conversation?
5. You want to show the Admissions Committee that you work well in a team environment, can adapt and show a keen sense of understanding not only of the problem at hand, but of the dynamics of the group as the discussion unfolds. Oftentimes the most important skill you will need is the ability to listen.
Wharton still gives applicants an opportunity for a short one-on-one conversation with an admissions team member immediately following the team exercise.
- Often, the first questions applicants are asked as part of this one-on-one interview pertain to how they think they did during the TBD. But these brief individual interviews also provide an opportunity for applicants to make their case for admission.
- In this, share your story, goals, career plan and passion for the school.
Ross Rolls Out Its Own Group Interview
The group interview is designed to give us insight into applicants' teamwork, interpersonal and communication skills
Ross observes the group’s discussion and the communications within the group.
- Ross also continues to evaluate participants as individuals, not as a group, and since no questions will be asked.
The exercise lasts for 30 minutes, with the first 10 devoted to introductions and an icebreaker.
Each participant will be given two random words to weave into a 60-second story to share with the group.
Applicant reports from past years have indicated that one of the words has been a place and the other a thing (e.g. fire station and cheese or grocery store and tree).
During the remaining 20 minutes, the members of the group will work together to connect their word pairs into a business challenge and solution they then present to the group’s observers, second-year Ross MBAs who have been trained for the job.