My Interview with Johnson (Cornell) – Arjun Sachdeva


(This is the second part of the article by Arjun. Kindly check the previous post “Getting Ready for Interview with Johnson“)

Interviewing at Cornell was like a dream come true. But like most interviews, I had to ensure I was well prepared (If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to read my first blog on how one can prepare for an Ivy League interview). When the big day finally arrived I was ready. My interviewer initiated a Skype call at the scheduled time and asked the following questions –

Run me through your academic and professional accomplishments.

This question is a variant of the popularly asked ‘tell me about yourself’ with a slight twist. The interviewer wanted to know more about my accomplishments rather than a run-down of my CV. Therefore, my answer was composed of sentences from ‘I stood first in college’ to ‘multiple promotions as a banker’ and ‘my start-up has been ranked as one of the top 50 start-ups in India.’ The important thing was to start with what happened first and steadily move towards what has happened most recently. In short, one can explain himself/herself through a short, structured, interesting 100% true story.

I led the interviewer to asking me more questions on my start-up. These were fairly straight forward and included questions from how many employees to global presence of the company.

I can’t get into too many details about my specific answers to these questions for confidentiality reasons but what is important to realize is that I know my current workplace like the back of my hand. Moreover, I understand the start-up ecosystem in Asia and North America as well as the industry to which my start-up is affiliated.

What are your short term goals?

One needs to be very careful on how an answer is phrased to such questions. We may want to be Prime Minister someday (that is a fantastic ambition to have) but will an MBA degree help you get there. Additionally, does one need an MBA degree for pursuing such a profession? I corroborated my answer in a manner that matched what was written in my application essay and even though I wasn’t asked, I specified a back-up plan that matched my previous work experience and background.

Which companies would you like to work for? Have you connected with professionals working for these companies?

This question is asked to highlight your preparedness for the journey ahead. It also displays the kind of initiative one is willing to take. Citing the example I mentioned in the previous question, if I want to be Prime Minister I can’t be there only on account of money or family background alone (I hope Donald Trump isn’t reading this) but I also need to have strong political affiliations, knowledge on how to run an election campaign and the ability to understand public administration and people’s sentiments. So connect with relevant people (if nothing else, it will simply increase your existing network) and understand the workings of the companies they work at.

Have you connected with alumni, faculty or current students?

This is harder than it seems. But fortunately, we all have access to a wonderful tool called LinkedIn. Connecting with current students and alumni becomes much easier thanks to the same but it is important to know what questions you want to ask either party beforehand. This too can be accomplished if you have researched the school and the university well enough.

Why do you want to do an MBA at this stage in your life? Why Cornell? Which Clubs would you like to be a part of and do you envision leading any of them?

This question is like a follow up to the previous one. If you have researched the school well enough, then you have the answer that you were looking for as far as the second and third part of the question is concerned. The first part of the question is more personalized as a response for each and every person. In my case, I feel that after having been a successful banker and entrepreneur I would need to take up new challenges while learning the nuances of finance and strategy (my work experience is very business development oriented). Moreover, I wanted to take advantage of the prestigious network that exists at Cornell. The best way to do all of this was to join an elite MBA program.

What are you doing to prepare yourself for the rigorous course curriculum?

I am 30 years old and I have not been a student for the almost nine years. The question in my opinion was therefore very justified. I have been formally attending online courses in various subjects such as Private Equity, Financial Econometrics and Financial Accounting. I also have plans to a complete an online course in Corporate Finance. Everyone does not need to do this, but if you do decide to Coursera is an awesome interface that is internationally recognized since most courses are taken by professors of well-known universities from all over the world (do bear in mind one needs to pay for any certification course that they wish to undertake).

What do you do in my free time?

Candidates make two major mistakes whenever such a question is asked. They either give very generalized answers (I like music) or they come up with random hobbies of which they have no clue (but assumingly sounds brilliant; it isn’t). Everyone cannot climb Mt Everest but you can have a hobby or a passion that makes you the well-rounded person you are today. One of my hobbies is the reason why I eventually decided to start-up. So there’s always a story everywhere, and we know ourselves so it should not be difficult to bring it out.

Do you have any questions for me?

Yes, you must have one or preferably two questions for the interviewer. I may be wrong but I feel that if I say I have no questions to ask then I may come across as arrogant or unprepared. This being said, please ask questions that pertain to you as an individual and to which you need the answers to. For instance, I needed to understand more about life for spouses of students. The question I posed made sense because my wife will be accompanying me if I am admitted.

After note –

I felt great after the interview and whatever the result may be I know I have given it my best. Since the interview I have opened communication lines with my interviewer and update her once every fortnight on something that I have achieved professionally (this will hopefully strengthen my candidature).