Receiving an MBA admissions interview invite means that all the hard work you have done on your written MBA application has earned you a spot on the shortlist for admission. Congratulations! Now the hard work begins …
Now, it is time to study for the “final exam” of the business school application process.
Whether you have already received an interview invitation or are anticipating one, this guide will help you with MBA interview preparation.
Preparing for an MBA admissions interview is very similar to preparing to write your essays.
The critical difference is that instead of writing your responses to MBA interview questions, you will be delivering them live in a conversation with admissions officers, alumni, or student interviewers. Although the form of communication is different, your goals are the same as those you had when crafting your MBA application essays – to provide the admissions board with evidence of your general management potential, career readiness, leadership, fit qualities, and points of difference.
In this article, MBA Prep School will help you to understand the MBA admissions interview process and provide an overview of the MBA admissions interview questions you should be prepared to answer.
To perfect your delivery, you’ll want to practice your responses on your own and complete a mock interview or two with friends and family or with an experienced admissions consultant at MBA Prep School.
Learn more about MBA Prep School’s mock interview services.
Understanding the MBA Admissions Interview
Before you begin your MBA interview preparation, there are a few questions you should answer about your upcoming admissions interviews.
- Who will be conducting the interview?
- What information will the interviewer have about you before the interview begins?
- When will the interview take place?
- Where will the interview take place?
- How will the interviewer conduct the interview?
Business schools develop their interview format and style, and you want to find out what those differences are at the outset of your MBA interview preparation.
Who will be conducting the MBA admissions interview?
Generally speaking, MBA admissions committee members, current students, or alumni will conduct the interview. The type of person conducting your interview can affect your preparation. If an admissions officer is interviewing you, you should carefully review every element of your application. If a current MBA student is your interviewer, your interview style will need to be more conversational. Additionally, you need to have compelling answers about why you want to attend their program and what you would contribute to next year’s class if accepted.
In the case of alumni interviews, you will often receive the name of your interviewer in advance. If so, what you can about that person to tailor your interview responses. For example, you might answer a question differently if you are speaking with the managing director of an investment bank than you would if your interviewer is the chief impact officer of a non-profit organization.
What information will the interviewer have about me?
An interviewer may only know what is on your MBA application resume (also known as a “blind interview”) or may have read every word of your business school application. In either case, you need to know your resume backward and forwards.
It follows that if your interviewer has reviewed your complete application, prepare for probing questions about what you’ve written. Try to put yourself in the shoes of an MBA admissions committee member and ask: “What questions would I want more information on based on the MBA application this candidate submitted?”
Don’t worry — admissions officers will not expect you to have all-new stories in your admission interview. On the other hand, the discussion is your chance to enrich their understanding of who you are. Has anything exciting happened since you submitted your application? Repeating too much of what you included in your application may make it appear as though you are a “one-trick pony” who only has 1-2 worthwhile experiences to share.
When will the MBA admissions interview take place?
Applicants often wonder whether they should grab one of the first few sign-up spots as soon as the school posts them. All things being equal, grabbing an earlier slot is ideal, but never at the expense of thorough interview preparation. However, make sure you leave yourself sufficient time to prepare when scheduling your interview.
Where will the interview take place?
The options for your interview location are generally: in-person in a local city near you, at an alumnus’ office, on the business school’s campus, or via telephone/video.
Another question MBA applicants frequently ask is whether they should make the trip to interview on campus when that is an option. Most admissions officers will tell you it makes no difference where you interview. We would say it does make a slight difference. Traveling to campus to interview does demonstrate a higher level of interest in the school; furthermore, it can be a chance to visit campus if you haven’t had a chance to do so already.
What is the tone and style of the interview?
By spending some time in the MBA discussion forums and reading the interview accounts of previous MBA candidates, you will get a feel for the general tone and style of the interview. HBS, for example, is known for a probing and provocative interview style, whereas Kellogg has a reputation for a more conversational and laidback interview style. You’ll want to find out what kind of interview you will likely face, as it will have a bearing on how you prepare.
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What Questions Will I Be Asked?
An MBA interviewer will be trying to decide if you have the right qualifications for an MBA and if you will be a good fit with their school. Your objective as the interviewee is to prove that you both qualify and fit. We classify the most common MBA interview questions into two broad categories: Qualifying Questions and Fit Questions. We’ll briefly discuss the difference between those two question types and present some MBA admissions interview sample questions that interviewers frequently ask.
Qualifying Questions are your opportunity to tell your career story, share your career goals, explain the reasons you decided to apply to that school, and communicate your Points of Difference.
Most interviews will begin with the interviewer asking you to recount your professional experience and career progress. Typical questions include:
- Walk me through your resume.
- Tell me about your career so far.
- What career decisions have you made that led to your current role?
Keep in mind that your interviewer is perfectly capable of reading your resume. An excellent answer to these types of interview questions will give an interviewer a better sense of the career decisions you’ve made, your noteworthy achievements in each step of your career, and what skills or knowledge you have acquired along the way.
Your goal is to convey the connections and interrelationships between the jobs you have held to bring your resume to life. To score top marks on Professional Experience questions, you’ll need to provide an executive summary of your career in which you highlight evidence of your career readiness, general management potential, and leadership capabilities.
Your Professional Experience is about your past; at some point in the interview, the discussion will shift to your future – your Career Goals.
The career goals questions are fairly easy to recognize. They include:
- What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
- What is your career vision?
- Where do you see yourself working 10 years from now?
Having defined post-MBA career plans that go beyond climbing the corporate ladder and earning loads of money will help you ace this part of the interview. MBA interviewers will assess how much you’ll benefit from an MBA given the capabilities you already possess versus those you still need to acquire. They will also want to hear about how you imagine your career progressing following your MBA.
You will need to recast your answer to the Career Goals Essay Question in the application so it will work in an interview setting. Your objective is to communicate your career vision clearly and with enthusiasm to convince your interviewer that you intend to become a leader who makes a positive difference in the world.
Why Our School?
Interviewers want reassurance that if they extend you an offer, you will accept it. Therefore, your answer to the “Why Our School” interview question can be crucial to earning an acceptance letter.
The interviewer might ask you:
- Why do you need an MBA?
- How will attending our program help you to achieve your career goals?
- Why have you applied to our school?
The best answers to these types of MBA interview questions are both personal and specific. They are personal because they cover the unique challenges that you (as opposed to candidates with different career goals) need to prepare for in the future. They are specific because they connect your motivations for seeking an MBA to the specific resources that particular school has to meet your needs. An excellent response will send strong signals that you are sincerely interested in attending that particular business school.
What Will You Contribute?
The final type of qualifying question is “What will you contribute to our MBA community?”
The question might be posed in a few different ways:
- What can you contribute to our program?
- How can you enrich next year’s class?
- What is unique about you?
Competition is fierce for seats in a top MBA program, so your interviewer wants to know what you will bring to the table. Concrete answers about what you can contribute to the program are essential. Business schools seek to admit candidates who can prove they can put in just as much as they will take out.
The secret here is again to be personal and specific. Too many candidates answer in vague generalities: “I plan to be student leader,” or “I’ll be a team player,” or “I can bring a diverse perspective.”
These MBA admissions interview questions are a perfect opportunity to share your Points of Difference (PODs). Remember that admissions officers won’t just accept you because you are different; they will admit you because they believe your differences will benefit your classmates.
You can score points with your admissions interviewer by identifying a specific club you would like to lead or even one you want to start. These kinds of questions are also an invitation to express your unique personality, perspective, and values. Your life experiences and how they could benefit your classmates and the MBA community as a whole could be your ticket into one of the world’s top business schools.
Proving you are qualified for an MBA moves you one step closer to earning an acceptance letter, but many candidates are qualified (objectively speaking). The Fit Questions MBA admissions interviewers ask are your opportunity to convince your interviewer that you are a better “fit” than the competition.
By this stage of your MBA application process, you should have a solid grasp of Fit Qualities, which are the highest common denominators amongst candidates accepted to each particular business school. A firm understanding of the program’s Fit Qualities will help you to select the topics and stories to feature during your interview.
We will discuss five common types of Fit Questions:
- Past Decisions
- Negative Experiences
- Personal/Conversational Questions
Let’s define the kinds of MBA admissions interview questions and provide you with some tips on preparing for them.
Behavioral interview questions aren’t really questions at all; they are your invitation to tell a story. Examples include:
- Tell me about a time you led a team.
- Tell me about an accomplishment you’re proud of.
- When have you made a lasting impact on an organization?
MBA admissions officers like behavioral interview questions because your past behaviors are a good predictor of your future capacity. When asked these kinds of questions, the stories you tell are, in essence, the admissions board’s window into the qualities and strengths you possess. Consequently, your interviewer will be listening for evidence of the Fit Qualities that prove you will fit with his or her program.
Self-evaluative questions require you to demonstrate self-awareness and are some of the most difficult MBA interview questions to answer. That’s because seeing yourself with objectivity isn’t easy. Plus, summing up what you know about yourself to someone you’ve just met can be challenging.
Interview questions in the self-evaluative category include:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are three of your strengths?
- What are three of your weaknesses?
The “Tell me about yourself” question is not an invitation to tell your entire life story. Nonetheless, you will be expected to start your response with a few biographical details. Fairly quickly, you can progress to your academic and professional story.
Try to avoid packing Fit Quality buzzwords in your answer. The interviewer won’t be impressed if you quote their website. For example, for many years, Stanford GSB has let applicants know that they value “intellectual vitality.” However, if you use that specific phrase in your interview answer, you will probably get a pained smile from your interviewer. Instead, aim to come up with an original phrase that speaks to that quality.
Your admissions interviewer might want you to talk about weaknesses too. A quick word of advice on weaknesses interview questions: never try to get by with a “strength disguised as a weakness.”
“I just can’t say ‘no’ to projects, and I work too hard.”
Admissions officers will see right through those answers, and such gamesmanship can quickly undermine your chance of being admitted.
Instead, consider sharing a real weakness that attending business school will help you to address. For example, suppose your career has been narrowly focused on one functional area (e.g., marketing). In that case, you can point to a need to learn about other business functions (e.g., finance).
An effective answer to the weakness question is unique to you and your situation. Aim to demonstrate that you recognize your shortcomings and are working to address them.
Past Decision Questions
Solid self-awareness extends to being able to evaluate your past decisions. When an MBA admissions interview asks you about past decisions, they hope to gain some insight into your decision-making abilities and how your mind works.
- Why did you major in economics?
- Why did you leave your first job?
- Tell me about the most difficult decision you’ve had to make.
Past decision questions require you to recount the steps you went through when faced with an important decision. When telling your interviewer a story about choices you’ve made, be sure to explain what options you considered, describe how you weighed the pros and cons of each, and back up the reason(s) for your ultimate choice.
These questions are also an opportunity to talk about the values and principles you draw upon when faced with an important decision.
Negative Experience Questions
One of the things admissions officers may want to assess is your ability to recover when things don’t go your way. Negative experience questions are your opportunity to demonstrate this capability.
Examples of these MBA admissions interview questions include:
- What have you learned from a mistake?
- Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult team member.
- Tell me about a time you failed.
Many applicants struggle with these types of interview questions. No MBA candidate is eager to recount times when things blew up or reveal a mistake that might cost them an acceptance letter.
However, there are a few ways to navigate these kinds of questions expertly. First, try to choose a negative experience that you made the best of or had a positive outcome. For example, even if you made a mistake or failed, perhaps you discovered a new strength or learned an important lesson by facing adversity.
Even though the experience is, by definition, negative, try to showcase a quality through your storytelling that you know the program values. For example, if you struggled with a disruptive team member, tell the interviewer about ways you handled him or her with a high degree of empathy.
When discussing your own mistakes and missteps, never deflect blame or point fingers at others. Also, try and avoid discussing situations that remain emotionally charged for you. Negative feelings are best vented elsewhere – not in your MBA admissions interview.
Most importantly, unless you have specifically been asked for a personal failure or mistake, avoid talking about challenging situations because your action or reaction made them so.
Personal and Conversational Questions
Personal and conversational questions are a bit more light-hearted and fun, but they are still crucial in proving you fit through your MBA admissions interview.
When your interviewer asks:
- What do you do in your free time?
- Tell me about a book you have read for fun?
- Tell me about one of your favorite hobbies?
He or she is really asking:
- Is this person interesting?
- Would I want to sit next to this person in class?
- Would I want to go out with this person for a meal?
Too many MBA candidates forget how vital it is to present a well-rounded picture of themselves because they think that business schools are “all business.” The example interview questions above can be your chance to discuss community service and leadership outside of office hours. They are an open the door to share some of your Points of Difference.
In terms of hobbies and interests, if you play the piano or sing in an acapella group or have a mind-blowing comic book collection, then you might talk about it when asked one of these questions.
For example, one MBA Prep School client was a professionally trained singer who had participated in musical theater her whole life. She didn’t think there was any reason to mention her talent during her Wharton interview. Then she found out about the Wharton Follies, an annual musical theater production. She now had a way to talk about her gift for music and how it would benefit her future classmates.
MBA Admissions Interview Best Practices
Now that you know what types of questions you might run into during your MBA interview, let’s walk through some “best practices” to keep in mind before, during, and after your admissions interviews that can help you to shine on the “final exam” day.
- Send a Message with Your Appearance
- Be Concise, Concrete, but Conversational
- Show, Don’t Tell
- Sell What They are Buying
- Know Your MBA Resume and Application Up and Down
- Know the Program Backwards and Forwards
- Picture Yourself “On Campus”
- Ask Intelligent Questions
- Rehearse Until You Appear Unrehearsed
- Keep an Interview Journal
- Send a Thank You Letter
We discuss each of these MBA interview best practices in detail below.
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Send a Message with Your Appearance
You want to “dress for success” for your MBA admissions interview. It turns out that in an interview, non-verbal messages can count for more than what you say: gesture, physical appearance, and attire can heavily influence your interviewer’s perception of you.
In addition to being well dressed and brushing your teeth twice on interview day, practicing your interview responses in front of a mirror is recommended. Better yet, ask friends or the interview coach who conducts your mock interview to offer feedback on your non-verbal communications in addition to assessing the content of your interview responses.
During your admissions interview, please don’t forget to smile! Too many MBA candidates have brilliant answers to the interview questions but look like they are being tortured while delivering them.
The best way to keep a smile on your face is to adjust your mindset about the MBA interview. B-school candidates who go into their admissions interview with an attitude that it’s an opportunity to share their strengths and put their best foot forward tend to smile more than applicants who think of the interview as an interrogation.
Be Concise and Concrete, but Conversational
Limit most of your interview answers to no more than 60 seconds. While practicing, record and time yourself to see how long it takes you to answer the typical MBA admissions interview questions we outlined earlier in this article.
For a multi-part question such as “Walk me through your resume,” you might get away with a two-minute response. Still, it’s always better to give a concise answer and allow your interviewer to ask follow-up questions on an aspect of your response that intrigues them.
Avoid generalities in your answers at all costs. General claims to avoid include statements such as:
- I made a real difference as a team leader.
- I learned a ton on that project.
- I really grew from the experience.
- My work helped the client cut costs.
These claims are neither convincing nor memorable; always aim to be concrete and offer specifics, supply examples, and quantify results:
- Explain the difference you made.
- Tell the interviewer what you learned.
- Describe a few ways you have grown.
- Quantify how much costs decreased.
Show More, Tell Less
In an MBA admissions interview, sharing your strengths is essential, but don’t just rattle off a list of superlatives and sound bites. Can you imagine an interviewer reporting back to the admissions committee:
“We should accept her because she told me that she is creative, dedicated, and a capable leader.”
A list of empty claims will be dismissed or quickly forgotten. Instead, you want the interviewer’s report to read:
“I think we should accept her. I was impressed that a non-profit organization she started in college grew to over 100 members and has now delivered over 7,000 hours of volunteer time to hospices in three states. Her achievements show that she’s creative, dedicated, and capable of leading organizations.”
Steer clear of broad claims. Tell stories that demonstrate your strengths to your interviewer memorably and compellingly.
Sell What They Are Buying
Keep in mind that an MBA admissions interview is less about testing for skills and more about determining if there’s a fit. Instead of emphasizing technical skills such as building spreadsheet models or calculating manufacturing cycle times, share stories with your MBA interviewer about your leadership and management strengths. As every good salesperson will tell you, you have to sell what the customer is buying!
Know your Resume and Application Up and Down
Commit all the facts on your resume and MBA application to memory. Getting a date wrong on your resume or flubbing a story from your business school application is not only sloppy, but it might also raise questions in the interviewer’s mind about the integrity of your written application.
Know the Business School Backwards and Forwards
Going to business school is probably one of the most significant personal investment decisions you will make in your life. Graduate business schools will only admit candidates who take this decision very seriously. Effective managers know that they should thoroughly research every significant investment decision.
If you don’t know the MBA program you are pursuing backward and forwards, it could raise questions about your judgment as a business leader and skills as a business decision-maker.
The bottom line is that you need to do extensive research on the business school interviewing you to build a convincing case to your interviewer about your motivations for applying to their specific program. Generic interview answers like: “I want to go to your school because of the great professors and great students” just won’t cut it.
Along those lines, be sure you know about new developments in the program and, if possible, link those current events to your interests, skills, and values. Overall you want to convince the MBA interviewer that you are very passionate and enthusiastic about attending their business school.
Picture Yourself On Campus
This part of our advice isn’t just about the power of positive thinking. Help your MBA interviewer imagine the kind of student you would be if accepted by supplying imagery in your responses that feature the type of student you will be on campus. Back up your specific ideas around how you would contribute to the MBA community by offering evidence that you already consistently contribute to other communities you are a part of. For example:
“If Kellogg accepts me, I want to launch a new Kellogg Cares service week during Spring break. I conceived and led a similar service week during the winter holidays for employees at the investment bank I work for.”
Ask Intelligent Questions
When an admissions interviewer asks if you have any questions for her, the questions you pose can make a lasting impression, positive or negative. Thoughtful questions require advanced preparation. The best questions to ask are tailored to your interests and relate to your reasons for attending business school.
The questions you ask can also reflect the quality of your school research. Intelligent, well-constructed questions indicate that you are an effective decision-maker. They also are evidence that you have a sincere interest in gathering more information to help you with this significant life decision. However, before you ask the question, be mindful of what your interviewer may be able to answer; it may be awkward if you stump your interviewer with an obscure question that they aren’t equipped to answer.
Rehearse Until You Appear Unrehearsed
Don’t assume that because you’ve written a story for an essay that you are ready to tell that story in a business school interview. Practice out loud in front of a mirror to perfect your delivery for your MBA admissions interview. This interview is the final exam, and there are no second takes. Delivering your stories in a conversational form is critical to your success. Don’t start and end your preparation at the mirror; recruit friends or an admissions coach for at least three mock interviews in the weeks leading up to the big day.
The first mock interview is about road testing your responses and stories. Don’t worry if your answers are a little rough. The most important thing is to practice your responses with a real, live person so that you can discover what works and what doesn’t. Take notes so that you will remember what answers need to be refined.
Your second MBA mock interview is your chance to nail the delivery of your stories. One thing to pay particular attention to at this stage of your MBA admissions interview preparation is reducing the brag factor of your responses. There is a fine line between sharing an achievement and bragging about one. To help you minimize the brag factor, your mock interviewer should be looking for places where you cross the line from confidence to arrogance.
The third mock interview is about moving beyond rehearsed text and being so comfortable with your answers that you can relax and deliver your responses in a smooth, unrehearsed way. Paradoxically, the more you rehearse, the less “rehearsed” you will appear. You will reach a point in your preparation where that happens, and it’s a different point for everyone. Keep practicing until you’ve reached that point.
Keep an Interview Journal
Immediately following your MBA admission interview, write a summary of how things went. Make notes on any follow-up action you should take. Also, note your attitude and the way you answered the questions. Did you ask intelligent questions? Is there a particular story that needs to be refined or discarded? Write your impressions down right away so that you won’t forget them so that you can improve upon your delivery in future interviews.
Send a Thank You Letter
It is common courtesy to send a thank you letter to your interviewer, plus it can remind them of the great time the two of you shared. Your thank you letter should be brief, no more than about 250 words. Restate your skills and how you plan to enrich next year’s class if given the opportunity. Email is acceptable, but following up with a written note will set you apart from others.
And here’s our thank you letter to you! Thank you for reading MBA Prep School’s article covering the topic of MBA admissions interview preparation. We wish you well in your preparation for the final exam in the MBA application process.
You have made it to this point in the process because the MBA admissions board sees promise in your candidacy. So go into the interview with confidence and take every opportunity to show them you have what it takes to thrive at a top business school.
Ace Your MBA Admissions Interview
Please enter your email below to gain 7-days of free access to our MBA Interview Preparation course.