A phenomenon that is becoming more common as part of the business school application process are video essays. Essentially, these are short questions that schools ask in order to get to know you better beyond the two-dimensional application; for example, both Kellogg and Yale have introduced the video essay component in recent years. These questions can range from the standard why you are interested in the MBA, why you would like to attend the school, and behavioral questions, to some more unconventional questions, such as your take on a certain topic.
In terms of the logistics, schools will usually give you a sample question or two for you to get used to the format and then you’ll be required to record the actual questions. Typically, once you are given a question, you will be given a set amount of time to think about the question (for instance, 20-30 seconds), and then a certain amount of time to actually record the question (for instance, 60-90 seconds).
Below are my tips on how to do well with these types of questions.
Practice, practice, practice
As is true for any type of interview, it is important to prepare for these types of questions and to practice. What makes the video questions more challenging for candidates is the format. Unlike a typical interview, where no one is timing your responses, there is a set amount of time with the video essays that you will have to be cognizant of. Therefore, when practicing, set a timer so that you can get used to answering the questions within a certain time frame. Also, make sure to practice in front of a camera, since interviewing in front of a computer screen is very different than interviewing with a person. This brings me to my next tip.
Look at the camera and smile
Many candidates have a tendency to look at themselves on the screen when recording the questions, but make sure to look at the camera on your computer! This can initially feel awkward, but with practice, you’ll know exactly where you need to look so that you are speaking directly at the camera and not at the screen. There is a huge difference when someone is actually looking at the camera – the candidate feels more personable and it’s easier to connect with him or her (try it – record yourself looking at the screen and then directly at the camera, and see the difference with respect to how you come across). If you need to stick a note next to the camera to remind yourself to look at that particular spot, then do it! Half of the battle with these questions is coming across as personable and as a good fit with the school. And remember to smile! It’s easy to be very self-conscious with these questions, but the more comfortable you are, the more likable you’ll be.
Highlight new facets of yourself
Because of the limited time frame with these questions, I often see candidates repeating information from their applications when answering these questions. If you can, emphasize new or different information; after all, this is another piece of the entire application. For example, if the question asks about why you would like to get an MBA from that school, instead of mentioning the same classes or clubs that are in your essays, try to highlight others and why they will help you attain your goals. Or if the question asks a behavioral question and you feel that an example that you already wrote about in your essays would be the best one to talk about, see if you can provide a new perspective or angle.
Go with the flow
Since you will only have a brief amount of time to prepare your answer (such as 20-30 seconds), don’t try to find the “perfect” answer since you’ll end up racking your brain, not coming up with the “perfect” response in time, and then having to record your answer on the fly. Within the first few seconds, hone in on a topic and then spend the rest of the prep time fleshing out that topic, so that once the recording starts, you are ready to go. Keep in mind that Admissions Committees are not looking for perfection here; they will be assessing if you can communicate coherently and are personable.
Be aware of your surroundings
When you are ready to record, make sure to choose a quiet place where you will not be distracted. In addition, make sure that the background is appropriate (since the video will capture that), the lighting is good, and you look professional/groomed.
In summary, don’t get nervous if the video essays are a component of the application process for the schools that you are applying to. Being familiar with the format beforehand and practicing will give you the confidence to do well.
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Ivy Groupe is a boutique MBA admissions consulting company founded by Shaifali Aggarwal, who received her MBA from Harvard Business School and undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Shaifali’s philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out. With this approach, Shaifali’s clients have gained admission to top-tier MBA programs such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Columbia, Booth, Tuck, and Yale, among others.