“Have you ever even worked in an office before?” the interviewer asked me.
My jaw was on the floor. I had prepared for every possible question for this business school interview. I could tell my interviewer a time I demonstrated leadership and teamwork, learned from failure, and solved a challenging problem. I spent months practicing GMAT questions and networking with schools across the country. I knew how to spin my unique experience into a successful outcome—or, at least, I thought.
This was my second-to-last interview, and at a pretty prestigious school, no less. I went into the interview nervous as usual, but really excited to connect with the interview and explain to him the value I would add to his school. I left the interview completely demotivated, ready to cancel my plans to enroll in business school and go back to the drawing board.
The next day was my interview for Tepper.
I’ve always known that my candidate profile was not like my current classmates’. Instead of going to the corporate world after graduation, I moved to Togo, West Africa, where I spent two years working as a community health educator for the Peace Corps. Instead of analyzing statements of cash flow, I helped create programs to reduce the malaria disease burden and bring women to health clinics to give birth. I didn’t have the vocabulary to discuss it in business terms that I’ve gained over the last six months at Tepper, but I had the passion and drive that I thought would set me apart.
I went into my Tepper interview uncomfortable and almost apologetic. I ashamedly told my interviewer that I knew I wasn’t an “ideal candidate” and that I didn’t have what almost everyone else interviewing.
How she reacted to that confession was the reason that I chose Tepper. She told me how eager Tepper was to recruit students with all kinds of backgrounds, job experiences, and passions. In order to be my truest self and the best candidate, she said, I didn’t have to pretend to fit a cookie cutter mold or apologize for being different.
When she said that, I lit up. The rest of the interview was one of the most inspiring conversations I had during my application process. I shared with her my dreams for my future, the amazing work I was blessed to be a part of in the Peace Corps, and my true excitement to return home to Pittsburgh to get an MBA.
After the interview, I felt like a success. Of course, I hoped that the great interview would lead to an acceptance letter, but the feeling that lingered after the interview was far more important. I knew that, wherever I ended up, I would be able to succeed.
And when I got that coveted acceptance letter on March 14th, I didn’t even need to think about it. I gleefully accepted my Tepper offer.