The thought of entering into a room with six to seven strangers and the expectation of contributing to an unpredictable conversation in a meaningful way, knowing your performance over the next ~35 minutes may impact the next two years of your life, can be very overwhelming.
This is the context for the Wharton Team Based Discussion (TBD) where candidates who have exemplified a strong potential to succeed at Wharton are provided the opportunity to “interview” in a live setting with four to five other candidates prior to the Admissions Committee making their final admissions decisions.
To prepare for the TBD, which will provide firsthand experience for the collaborative learning environment at Wharton, candidates are provided a topic to discuss during the interview which lasts a little over a half hour. The expectation is that the group will align on a tangible conclusion, or single point of view, that will be presented to two Wharton Admissions Fellows who evaluate each candidate’s performance throughout the interview.
During the Wharton TBD, the Admissions Fellows will evaluate your approach to problem solving, your decision making ability, how you assess opportunities, as well as how you interact on a team and your leadership style. It’s important to double click on this last criteria, your approach to leadership, given common misconceptions about what a strong leader looks like. To excel in the Wharton TBD and position yourself as a leader, you don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room or take up the most airtime during the discussion. In fact, as a Leadership Fellow at Wharton, I was taught the importance of “leading from behind”. This philosophy does not imply that one should take a passive role with respect to leadership. Leading from behind is actually active and intentional, and calls for enabling and / or creating space for others to excel. Therefore, leading from behind requires a great deal of collaboration and emotional intelligence. It’s essential to keep this leadership philosophy in mind when prepping for and conducting the Team Based Discussion interview, especially if your behavior doesn’t naturally subscribe to traditional views of leadership.
Hopefully, understanding Wharton’s perspective on Leadership will help ease any concerns about having to be the most vocal person in the room to prove your position or capability as a leader. Additionally, the following 7 tactical tips will help set you up to excel during the Wharton TBD:
- Have a point of view — ahead of the TBD, have a clear point of view on the topic from a perspective you’re passionate about so that your engagement and feedback during the discussion feels authentic
- Do your research – conduct research (e.g. online and / or speak to formal or informal experts on the topic) to make sure you’re able to fully support your position. This type of preparation will instill confidence in you and help combat any potential stage fright
- Practice, practice, practice – practice using the guidelines provided for the interview and as much as you need to in order to feel completely comfortable going into the TBD, especially if you get nervous with any type of public speaking. Practice in front of a mirror or in front of people you trust to provide you with *supportive*, constructive criticism
- Be flexible – the group may not rally behind your idea during the TBD or certain members may disagree with your viewpoint. This is okay, there’s nothing wrong with a healthy debate! Remember to be open to different viewpoints, always be respectful, and be honest with your views and understanding of others. Also, just because your idea isn’t selected, that doesn’t mean you won’t be granted admission into Wharton. There isn’t a target number of candidates within each group that Wharton is looking to accept into the program.
- Prepare for multiple scenarios – Think about different directions the conversation may go in and prepare questions you can ask of your peers to help move the conversation along in each scenario and help achieve the objective of the TBD. Note: this would be a great way to demonstrate “leading from behind”
- Stay engaged – Actively listen to your peers and stay engaged throughout the entire TBD to ensure you’re not thrown off with unexpected questions and that you’re able to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way at any given time
- Be yourself – Last but not least is to relax and be yourself. Once you’ve been selected to interview, Wharton has already identified you as a high potential candidate for the MBA program. The Admissions Fellows at the TBD want to get a sense for your true personality and how you’ll actually engage in the Wharton community once accepted. An assessment that you weren’t genuine in your interactions could be a potential ding for your application.
The Wharton TBD is a unique interview format and more than likely you’ll find the thought of it much more intimidating than the actual experience. However, these insights should help you feel more confident about your ability to prepare properly and outperform during the Wharton TBD and will bring you that much closer to your goal of acceptance!