Webcam Interviews

For MBA applicants, traditional telephone interviews can be a boon or a bust. On the one hand, the absence of face-to-face contact makes it much more difficult to convey your true personality. For some, however, the relative anonymity provides the freedom to express yourself without worrying about the nervous sweat dotting your brow…or your questionable choice in pajamas–the de rigueur phone interview attire. But “cheaters”, beware. According to a recent Businessweek.com article, to circumvent potential students’ use of stand-ins, more and more business schools are turning to Webcams to conduct phone interviews.

Though most schools try to interview candidates in person, certain circumstances may make that difficult, especially if the applicant lives outside the United States. Phone interviews can leave open the door, in some instances, to unethical behavior, whether it be in the form of extreme coaching or even having an imposter stand in for the applicant. Over the phone, interviewers listen for suspicious clues such as rustling paper, delayed responses, and requests for the interviewer to repeat questions–possible indications that the candidate is searching notes for an answer or consulting with someone.

Stacy Blackman was quoted in the BusinessWeek article, and her recommendation on how to navigate phone interviews was referenced. To elaborate: while it may be tempting to script out answers if you are not face to face, this does not work to an applicant’s benefit. As with an in person interview, you should prepare thoroughly! You may take notes and outline some answers to frequently asked questions. You may have your resume on hand. But do not script your answers and read them to the interviewer. This is a terrible approach, is quite transparent and will not be appreciated.

Starting this month, the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business is requiring that phone interviews be conducted via Webcam. Several other schools, including Penn State, Arizona State, and Ohio State offer it as an option. While cutting down on cheating is just one of the reasons schools are adopting Webcam interviews, the technology has other valuable benefits. Webcam interviews let schools record and store images for later use. Alison Merzel, admissions director at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, another MBA program that officially started using Webcams this year, is impressed with the screening potential. “You can capture an image and compare it with their GMAT or TOEFL image; it gives you the option of having identification,” she says.

Webcam technology is nothing new, but the boom in VoIP technologies like Yahoo! Messenger and Skype means that MBA admissions offices now see them as a feasible, low-cost option. Many international students already use Skype and would choose Webcam interviews over speaking via telephone. And while interviewing in pajamas won’t fly, at least from the waist up, many feel the technology is more forgiving than an in-person chat. Interviewers also get a glimpse into the applicant’s home or work, which adds to the overall sense of who the person is.

Most admissions officials encourage in-person conversations that take place on campus, but both applicants and interviewers seem pleased with the Webcam. It may not be perfect, but the technology goes a long way toward creating a genuine exchange between applicants and admissions committees.

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