My Columbia Business School Interview: Story of a Quant

I applied online to CBS and even as I was making up my mind wondering if an MBA was right for me, I got an interview invite from Columbia. The subsequent sudden firmness in getting an MBA, I think can be attributed to my effortless success in landing an interview. It was rare for quants to get an MBA.

My Background: I worked as a quantitative associate at a top-3 US Investment Bank. I was pretty satisfied with my job, when the urge to actually make trades instead of working for someone making the trades caught up with me. The ‘quant to trader’ urge is in fact a pretty common phase for every quant. Most overcome, I didn’t. I prepared for the GMAT for about 3 months, and I ended up scoring a 790! Had a 4.00 GPA from an Ivy undergrad. Also had a master’s with a similar GPA from another Ivy. The only problem was that I had been working on this job for 7 years and was over 30.  My MBA admissions consultant pointed out that because of this and my unconventional background I either had an extremely good or an extremely bad chance of getting in. He explained that it really depended on the perception of the adcom. I already had 3 promotions, and was probably the equivalent of an investment bank vice president already.

My Interview Prep: If it was a quant interview, I obviously would have done pretty well, revising C++, Stochastic Methods and Partial Differential Equations (PDEs). But this was a slightly different interview, and I prepared earnestly for the behavioural/psyche questions. I trained pretty hard on the motivation (‘Why MBA at this point of time/Why MBA at all/Why CBS?’) questions.

Difficult Columbia Business School Interview Questions

My Interview Questions: I chose to be interviewed off-campus by an alum. The alum looked pretty friendly and warm, but he seemed to be slightly younger than me, and that was quite embarrassing for me. As we started conversing, the slight embarrassment vanished and I was warming up for the interview. To not sustain any unnecessary suspense, let me say that there was nothing very difficult or unexpected from the interview, except for a couple of questions. I think this interview solely had to do with execution, and I’m happy to report that I did my interview quite well. The questions are:

  1. Why have you decided to do an MBA at this point of time in your career? What are the risks associated with quitting your job to pursue an MBA?
  2. How would you explain your job and what you do on a daily basis to a 8-year old?
  3. What was the most important lesson you learnt out of your undergrad experience?
  4. I see that you have a very strong GMAT, and from your line of work, I believe that you are very logically wired, but, sometimes business is more of an art than an exact science. What makes you up for the challenge?
  5. Think of a time when your views were at odds with that of your manager. How did you reconcile your differences and what was the lesson you took out of this?
  6. Think of a time when you overcame adversity, personal/professional, what was the impact of this situation in your life, and how did it change you?

Author: Homer

Homer has an MBA from a top-three US B-School. An Indian engineering graduate from a non-IIT (IITs are Indian equivalents of our tech schools such as Caltech and MIT), Homer is hope for all non-IITians looking to get into Harvard/Wharton/Stan. Homer has a BE degree in mechanical engineering from a college in the south Indian city of Bangalore. Homer says that he was never a great student in his earlier days or at engineering school. What then worked in his favor? Well he founded a mechanical engineering startup after working for a couple of years at a renowned German automobile company. Homer has the longest pre-MBA work experience in our family - 4 yrs at his first job in a no-name mechanical engineering firm + 2 yrs at the German automobile maker + 3 yrs at his startup. Homer sold his startup back to his former employer and is now a top consultant (MBB consulting). Watch out for posts by Homer (to avoid them, of course!).

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