The ISB FPM interview is used by ISB to evaluate some candidates and understand their profiles better before taking the final decision on acceptance/rejection. Note the keyword here – ‘some’. As ISB explains in its FPM FAQ, not all applicants are called for interviews. In fact, being invited to interview, as ISB claims, is not an indicator of greater interest in your profile. This may be true, but getting invited to an interview certainly means that ISB did not find your profile unworthy enough to be rejected without an interview itself. An interview therefore certainly means an expression of interest in understanding more about you. Make the most of this opportunity and try to excel at this chance of a personal interaction.
Is the ISB FPM interview the final step in admissions?
As ISB’s FAQ clearly explains, the interviews are neither the final step nor a mandatory step in the admissions process. Interviews will therefore be placed in context of the applicant’s overall application, motivation, and research interests.
Having a good interview therefore does not guarantee admission. However, do also note that ISB admits not more than 2-3 people within each function for the FPM program, so it is a given that most of these people will tend to be fairly deeply examined. We would therefore expect most successful ISB FPM applicants to have gone through an interview and excelled.
Is the ISB FPM interview purely technical/function-based?
They are in fact not. While there are quite a few PhD/PhD equivalent programs that focus on gauging an applicant’s research strengths through extremely technical questions related to the proposed area of study, the FPM interview is not generally like that.
Among other things that ISB is interested in knowing is your motivation for pursuing the FPM, how your background relates to the program, and the areas that you propose to study. While this might mean a few in-depth questions related to your proposed research area, this is by no means going to be a grilling session.
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Should I try to cater to areas close to my interviewer’s focus areas?
Simply put, no, unless of course that person is doing work exactly in the area that you wish to work in. Do not try to win browny points with the interviewer by trying to connect your work and interests to adjacent areas or to non-related areas to try and impress the interviewer.
Be honest and genuine. As an FPM applicant, you are proposing to spend years in research preparing for a later career in academia, and any shallowness in your responses will immediately be identified.
If you are being invited for an interview, then the interests you have indicated through your Statement of Purpose (SOP) for the ISB FPM anyway made sense. Why not leverage your strengths there and try to cater to those rather than unnecessarily get into related areas?
Should one be prepared to answer personal questions during the FPM interview?
Surprisingly, yes. Let us place this in context. Your interviewer of course has no interest in your personal life or how you are planning it. However, understanding the applicant’s motivations and preparation can sometimes be very important for judging if the person has the commitment and the ability to be able to commit to the length of the FPM program.
ISB pays an excellent stipend to FPM scholars, and is therefore investing in you as one (once you join).
It is therefore reasonable for them to want to know if you are professionally committed, if you will be able to take care of your family (and not leave after a year because you want a higher corporate salary instead), and if you are genuinely pulled by the structure and resources of the program or looking at it as just another academic option (many people do that – look at a PhD as a substitute for a job, but that never works).
Will the ISB FPM interview be based on your SOP?
Not entirely. If it was, there would be no need for an interview. Your SOP is your statement of interest in the areas that you wish to cover. Your interviewer will of course know that, and will try to dig in deeper into specific topics.
Your answers too obviously need to go deeper than what you SOP states – restating the SOP assuming that your interviewer may not have gone through it will always be insufficient. Remember to bring examples and details that you can share – this is not going to be about a restatement of bullet points.
Also, leave behind some of the ‘softer’ aspects – things like teamwork and leadership will still be valued, but much less so than they would be for an MBA interview.
Is it ok to talk about interest in more than one area?
Try to avoid this as far as possible. While many candidates feel that by expressing interest in one area they are showing interest in the program and flexibility towards what they study, remember that the FPM is a PhD-level program.
While some areas can span more than one department (e.g. Analytics can span both IT and Operations), you will be likely approaching the area from one perspective (i.e. an IT focus OR an Operations focus), so talking about both just makes you appear less focused.
Focus on one area, and try to exhibit greater commitment and depth there. The nature of the FPM program ensures that should you need to explore cross-functional areas, you can anyway do that. However, specialize in one core function.