MBA Interviews, Part 3: “Tell Me About A Time You…”

We call them “behavioral questions:” when the MBA interviewer wants you to “tell them about a time you” led a team, managed conflict or dealt with a setback. There are a lot of them and they ARE going to come up in your MBA interview! It's impossible to prepare an answer for them all, so Angela Guido is here to tell you how to get yourself ready to answer them on the spot.

How do you know what to say to these MBA interview questions? How do you make sure you don't repeat stories? How do you use these questions to prove your ability to be a leader? Watch to find out!

We're here all week with a video a day on how to ace your MBA interviews (and get over the terror of doing them). Angela has a whole bestselling book on interviews you can find here.

YouTube video

Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Hi, I'm Angel Guido. A career coach, an MBA coach, a former recruiter at the Boston Consulting Group, and a trainer and developer of MBAs worldwide to ace their interviews. I've got a bestselling book on interviews, and I'm here to walk you through the key MBA interview questions and answers that you're going to face on your MBA journey. Welcome to the Interview Hero MBA interview miniseries. Please subscribe to our channel. We have new videos every Monday to help you achieve your MBA dreams.

I'm now going to talk about behavioral interview questions. Behavioral questions very widely, and if you start doing a little research, you'll find there's no possible way that you can really prepare for each and every question that might come at you. So your goal is not to prepare and script and memorize your response to every possible question. No, your goal is to be able to improvise by telling a great story. So that's what I'm going to tell you how to do in this video. Behavioral interview questions are these big, nebulous, frequently story evoking questions that we mostly think about when we think about an MBA interview, it's questions like: “Tell me about a leadership experience.”, “Tell me about a time you overcame a conflict in a team.”, “Tell me about a time you wanted something and were blocked in reaching the outcome.”. It's a question that evokes a story. The interviewer is asking you to recount one specific experience in a lot of detail. There are a lot of different names for this kind of interview. McKinsey calls it the personal experience interview, behavioral interview is the more generic term. In all cases, the intent behind these questions is to really try to dig beneath the surface of who you are to understand how you operate, how you behave, how you think about things, how you strategize, how you make decisions, how you treat other people, and what you prioritize when you're given a task to achieve and faced with a challenge. So if you're interviewing with MIT or with Stanford, you're going to have a lot of behavioral interview questions in the interview. But almost every MBA interview will feature at least one or two behavioral questions because they're so ubiquitous. Almost everyone who has an MBA has been through multiple behavioral interviews themselves, so they're very comfortable asking this type of question and trying to really get to the bottom of your experience.

Confident Humility

So when you approach behavioral interview questions, this is where you're going to go the furthest in showing confident humility. You need to talk about your experiences in such a way that engenders confidence in your abilities that makes you seem like you're someone who can get stuff done – you know how to make things happen in the world. But you also have to show humility while speaking about these experiences. You need to show the interviewer that you have, in fact, faced and overcome challenges. In my book Interview Hero I have not just one chapter, but an entire section dedicated to behavioral interview questions – five chapters in total – and that's for two reasons. First of all, these questions are incredibly rich, nuanced, and important, and if you can do them well, you will have a huge competitive edge over everyone else who's interviewing number one. Number two, because this is your chance to really learn how to tell an amazing story, which is a skill that absolutely everyone needs to have. I encourage you to think about preparing for behavioral interview questions as a chance to really hone your storytelling skills. That's how we think about it with our students. We put them through a video training program that lasts for hours, and then we drill the questions with them so that we are confident that they have learned how to tell an inspiring story about who they are and about any experience they've had. That way when you actually go into the interview, you're able to improvise a response and not feel like a can robot going through the S.T.A.R framework, which is what most MBA interviewees end up sounding like.

Interview book

Interview Hero: How to Ace Your Interviews, Find Your Voice, and Direct the Narrative of Your Life

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The problem with S.T.A.R

I mentioned the S.T.A.R framework because this is the framework that most people use when they're approaching behavioral interview questions: situation, task, action, result. It's a decent framework for laying out the beginning, middle, and end of a story, which is what you're going to be telling in these questions. The problem with the S.T.A.R framework, though, is that it doesn't actually help you get at the aspects of your experience that are the most important to engendering the feeling of confident humility. And that’s conflict, it's the challenge that you faced, and how you went about overcoming that challenge. If you just approach a behavioral question with the S.T.A.R framework, your answer might be structurally sound and logically constructed, but it will end up being incredibly boring and dry to listen to because we don't really care about all the actions you took to overcome a leadership challenge. We really only care about the actions you took that were the most impactful in enabling you to achieve the change that you created in the world through that story, through that accomplishment.

The 4 C’s

So I coach my students on the four C's framework. It's: context, conflict, choices, and change. And I just want to home in right here on the notion of choices, because that is the most important thing that you can share with your interviewer to give them a genuine window into who you are, how you think, what values are driving your experiences, and even what motivates you. And that's really what the behavioral interview is about. This is where they're really trying to get to know you as a person and to understand you deeply. So as you're constructing your answers to behavioral interview questions, you want to think through all of your experiences. I usually recommend that people prepare anywhere from ten to 15 stories, ten to 15 experiences from your life in and outside of work, to use in response to behavioral questions. “Tell me about a time you let a team.”, for example. Most people have a few different times in life where they could say they let a team so you want to prepare a couple of different options because you're not going to want to repeat stories. So if the interviewer asks “Tell me about a time you led a team’”, and then the interviewer asks “Tell me about a time you overcame a conflict in a team.”, you're going to need to use different examples. So you want to have multiple examples ready to approach the various questions that are going to come at you. But as you're thinking through how to tell your story in response to these questions, you really want to home in on what was hard, what was challenging for you as you were going through that experience and then specifically, what choices did you make that enabled you to reach a successful outcome? How did you think about the challenge? How did you strategize around it and then ultimately, what did you do? What actions did you prioritize to reach the outcome you're aiming for? If you can show the interviewer the choices that you made in the face of conflict, you'll not only be showing confident humility – because you'll be being honest about the challenges that you faced – but you'll also engender a tremendous degree of confidence in your ability to navigate challenges. And this is really all we're looking for when we're hiring or when we're looking for MBA classmates. Life is hard. Shit happens. Stuff goes wrong. That part is inevitable. What I want to know is when the chips are down, what are you going to do. And when you show them that in response to a behavioral question, you're doing the absolute most that you can do to engender the trust of the interviewer, which achieves our primary goal in the conversation, which is to build a genuine connection.

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Angela Guido

Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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