If you are reading this article to prepare for your upcoming MBA interview, congratulations! You are one step closer to get a seat in your target MBA school. For most of the top global MBA programs, the probability to pass the interview round is not more than 50%. Therefore, if it is your first reading about an MBA Interview, you’d better hurry up.
Before talking about 10 common MBA interview questions, we should quickly go through some overview and interview advice. Don’t skip those parts because they will lay the foundation for you to build up your own answers.
1.1. Question types
There are 3 main categories of questions you’d be asked in an MBA interview. They are: general questions, behavioural/situational questions and hypothetical questions. The first two categories are the most common asked types.
- General questions: these questions are to discover a candidate’s background, interest and personality.
Here are some commons general questions that any candidate has to prepare prior his or her interview:
- Walk me through your resume
- Why do you want to apply for an MBA and why now?
- Why have you chosen to apply for our school?
- What other schools or programs are you applying for?
- What are your long term and short term career and how does an MBA fit into those?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- If you have only 3 words to describe yourself, what are those?
- Tell us about your leadership traits.
- Who is your role model and why?
- How will you leverage resources we provide to our students?
- Behavioral/Situational questions are to seek for examples of certain skills and capability that the school is looking for. Normally, STAR model is recommended for those questions. We spend a session in part 2 to talk more in-depth about this STAR model.
Here are some common behavioural questions:
- Tell me about your proudest achievement so far and how you achieved it
- Tell me about your failure and what you learned from it
- Describe a stressful situation and how you handled it
- Give me a situation when you have an unpopular idea. How did you present it and how was the reaction of other people?
- Tell me about a time when you lead a team and what you learnt from it.
- Describe a situation in which you have to persuade your supervisor of your plan and you succeed.
- Hypothetical questions: these questions are rare in MBA interviews. However, some MBA candidates got those as well. They are questions about their long term and short term career, about what they will do in a 2 year MBA, etc. As those questions are not reality-based, the topic is quite broad.
1.2. Who will be your interviewer?
A lot of candidates did not pay enough attention to who will be the upcoming interviewers and I think it is one of the deathly mistakes people often make, especially when you are going to be interviewed by current students or alumni.
Overall, you can meet either (1) members in the Admission Committee, (2) current MBA students, or (3) MBA alumni in the interview. Normally, in the interview invitation, the school will either let you know which group you will talk to or let you choose who you are most comfortable to talk to next. In other schools, you can meet a member of the Admission board in the 1st interview and an alumnus in the 2nd interview.
For example: HBS interviews will be conducted by the admission board while INSEAD interviews are INSEAD alumni. If you apply for Fuqua, current students will become your interviewers.
The admission board member will have your application/resume prior to the interview and they will use this session to understand you better as a person, both your strengths and weaknesses.
One thing I like about being interviewed by the Admission Committee is: the process is standardized and consistent among all candidates. However, you have to prepare quite a lot: including personal stories, professional stories, your achievements, your failures, your leadership stories, your decision making process, your rationale in every life milestone, etc.
A lot of top MBA schools focus on asking behavioral questions as they believe that historical behaviour can predict how that candidate will act in the future.
Hypothetical questions are also raised sometimes but not preferred
I combine those two groups together as they have many things in common.
Normally, the schools will choose the interviewers either having the same background as yours or being in the industry that you want to be post MBA.
Both MBA students and alumni have been in the business world for a long time, therefore, they can drill in your experiences and your decision making process: why do you do this but not do that? Why do you choose this career path, which is more common? etc
Furthermore, current students and alumni can ask several hypothetical questions. It can be about your short term and long term career or about your MBA experience that you are forming in your head.
2.1. Understand your school’s values
Some people think that there is no clear cut among all MBA programs; therefore, they use the same approach for all b-schools they apply. This is another deadly mistake proving that you haven’t spent enough time to research the school or to talk to current students and alumni.
Example: Harvard Business School emphasizes that they look for students who possess Habit of Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite, and Engaged Community Citizenship. INSEAD mentions that they look for students on 4 criteria: International Motivation, Leadership Potential, Academic Capacity and Ability to Contribute.
A successful candidate is someone who demonstrated program-desired traits and communicated those in the interview.
Make sure that you include experience and evidence when preparing!
2.2. The Pyramid principle: Go straight to the main point at the beginning
Convey your main point at the beginning and elaborate it later by supporting ideas and examples. Applying this principle will help to hook the attention of the audience immediately. In case they are lost somewhere in the middle of the conversation, the interviewers can still remember your main point as it is stated clearly at the beginning.
2.3. The STAR technique
It is an interview response technique that a lot of you have heard about. It is easier said than done because you have to layout information in a certain way. Hence, do spend some time to practice this technique:
- Situation: briefly introduce to your audience the background of your experience or challenge
- Task: describe your role or responsibility in this context
- Action: describe actions that you took in that situation or how you overcame the challenge
- Result: the result that your actions brought in that context/challenge.
Here’s an how you can apply this to your answer:
- Have one sentence to overview what happened using Pyramid principle;
- Then, you can follow up all the details by applying STAR technique.
If you need to write down a script to get used to these two techniques, don’t hesitate to do that until you naturally organize your message that way.
2.4. Be calm and be nice
The interviewers do not have to be nice with you all the time because they want to test how the MBA candidate will react under pressure because MBA life is very hectic. Some interviewers also test whether all the answers you gave out are genuine or not. Whatever the reason is, if you are in this situation, my advice for you are:
- Be consistent and firm with your previous answer. For example: if you say that you want to go back to your current employer post MBA, repeating this answer again and again with a clear back-up.
- Apply the same responsive technique: use pyramid principle at the beginning, then elaborate by using STAR. Do not let your emotion disturb your communication structure.
- You can be angry, you can be sad or you think you cannot pass this round because your interviewer is too aggressive. I understand. But it is for your benefit to control those emotions and strive as much as you could before leaving that session.
This is how I prepared for this question. I always start with, let’s call it, a teaser before I share all the details.
To answer this question, I often go beyond the resume, as I believe working experience could not fully reflect a person. I will start with my education, then follow up with my working experience, and end the question by introducing my extra-professional activities.
If I have to summarize everything about yourself in 3 sentences, what would I say?
If you have a very amazing academic result, do spend some time to mention that in your pitch. You can talk about why you choose that university over the others, your pronounced academic achievements, any awards and competition, etc
It is the major of your answer. Instead of listing all the positions, I will recommend you to only highlight key milestones in your career, for example: promotion, leadership position, any memorable move defining who you are now, and also the latest position. You should also share why you choose those to mention in your pitch by sharing the impact.
You can mention voluntary activities and what you do during your free time. Again, don’t just make a list but do spend time to share the impact of those activities on you and other people.
#2. What is your long term and short term career?
Although this question is always included in the application essays, a lot of MBA candidates receive this question. Therefore, do prepare for it and be consistent to what you wrote in your application.
In the interview, you can say more about where your inspiration comes from, what is the defining moment making you decide that you should follow this career path. Those will help to build up an image of you as a thoughtful person in front of interviewers, not as a random person choosing a career because it’s trendy.
#3. Why do you apply for an MBA?
It is a strategic question because all the MBA students are normally doing well in their careers and the interviewers can have a perception that students can still be great without an MBA. You have to show that the MBA program can go further with bigger impact. For example: the MBA can help you to expand your career to regional level or even global level.
#4. Why does this school appeal to you?
To answer this question, you should research about what makes the school different from other MBA programs and how you and your values match to the school.
#5. Do you apply for other schools and why?
I personally think that it is a very hard question to address because a candidate is often hesitant to share about their back-up plans. Here is my approach:
- First, state clearly your criteria set to choose your target b-schools. It should link to your long term and short term career and should be consistent across the schools. Communicating those criteria is to show that you think about MBA programs and your future with a lot of consideration.
- Second, confidently say that this school is still your priority because it can support you the most with your long term and short term career.
Getting in an MBA program is a long journey. Some people can do it in only 3-4 months but most of us have to spend 9-12 months to prepare for them. An MBA interview is not easy but you still can pass it with a lot of hard work and preparation. Therefore, do your homework, write down the script if you need to, practice yourself in front of a mirror, or practice with your friends. Hard work will pay off!