Preparing for Your Business School Interviews
For many MBA candidates, the most intimidating part of the business school application process is the interview. But it really shouldn’t be! The admissions interview is not a test. It’s an opportunity to build a relationship with an alum, current student, or admissions representative from one of your favorite schools (and, in doing so, seal the deal for that acceptance letter).
Below are some of our top MBA interview tips so you can dust off those interview skills and have the best possible experience.
Table of Contents
1. How Business Schools Approach the Interview
Understanding how business schools approach MBA interviews
First things first: school research. You need to understand what you’re getting into when you prepare for a specific MBA interview. Every business school has a slightly different philosophy about the interview conversation, and your preparation should be tailored to fit the interview style and core values of the program in question.
At one end of the spectrum, MIT Sloan’s interview has historically been entirely behavioral. It’s a set of questions about very specific qualities that they want you to demonstrate, and it’s conducted by a professional interviewer. Learn more about the MIT Sloan interview here.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Kellogg MBA interview is a wide-open conversation influenced by the preferences of the student-interviewer. With only a few core questions in common across Kellogg interviewers, you can see that it’s likely to be a very different experience from the MIT interview. You might even get a few quirky questions thrown in there.
Here’s what some of the other M7 schools have to say about their interview format:
If you’re invited to interview, Harvard gives you access to a whole Interview Information website to help you prepare. Pay close attention to anything they choose to share with you there.
Stanford GSB is pretty explicit about what they “seek to learn” about an applicant in the interview, and about how their interviews are carried out:
“We conduct a competency-based behavioral interview to gain a deeper understanding of what you have done and how you have done it. We focus on your past actions, rather than hypothetical situations, and invite you to discuss meaningful professional or community-based experiences you’ve had in the past few years.”
Interviews are conducted by a trained alum or admissions officer. Business attire is recommended. In terms of time frame, you can expect the interview to last 45-60 minutes.
Wharton’s Team Based Discussion (TBD) is unique to their interview process. Designed to replicate “the highly collaborative nature of the Wharton MBA environment,” the Team Based Discussion gives them the opportunity to assess you as an individual and teammate.
Wharton wants to learn more about your “communication style, level of engagement, leadership skills, [and] decision-making process,” among other things, and they have a whole section on how to prepare for the Wharton MBA interview.
If you work with us at Career Protocol, we organize TBD practice rounds during interview season so you can get the feel for this kind of group interview experience.
If Berkeley Haas is one of your top choices, learn How to Stand Out in Your MBA Interview at Berkeley Haas. We’ve even included example interview questions seen by past clients.
2. What to Review
Reviewing your application
When you finally clicked submit on your applications, you probably swore you’d never look at them again. (We feel you!!) But it’s absolutely critical that you review your application materials when you’re preparing for an MBA interview.
You don’t necessarily need to reread the entire application. Focus on your resume, your application essays, and what you said your goals, career aspirations, and key experiences were.
One lesson I learned the hard way during my recruiting interviews with consulting firms was that even though I had written my resume (and therefore assumed I knew it well and could talk about everything on it), I wasn’t necessarily ready to answer any question that might come up about it. The truth is, much of what happened on the way to your greatest achievements happened a while ago, and the details are no longer top of mind.
You want to be able to tell vivid stories about the accomplishments spotlighted in your application for this school – how it all went down, what it meant for you. This requires a deeper level of reflection than skimming or rereading your materials. You’ll need to do some reminiscing if you want to speak in a concrete and compelling way about things from your more distant past.
Questions about what you put in your application may or may not come up in the interview, depending on the school’s particular style, but the interview answers that you give MUST be consistent with what you told the admissions committee in your application. Inconsistency about something as fundamental as why you want an MBA or your career goals is a total red flag.
Your interview answers should align with and enhance what the school already knows about you from your application. They fill in the finer details of a consistent self-portrait.
As Stanford puts it, “The interview complements your written application with essential insights for our evaluation process.”
3. Most Important MBA Interview Questions
Preparing for the most important MBA interview questions
While every MBA interview looks different based on the school’s style, your connection with your admissions interviewer, etc., there are some standard questions you should prepare for.
School research should give you a sense of the types of questions a school tends to ask, so prepare a little extra for the ones that are most likely to come up.
Before you prepare for specific question types, you need to create a short list of key stories from your personal and professional life.
Key stories are the building blocks of all great interview answers. If your whole epic life story is a constellation, a key story is an individual star point. It’s a personal or professional experience that left a lasting impression on you, and it will leave a lasting impression on your listener. Incorporating key stories into your answers will help your interviewer really get to know you.
“Walk me through your resume.”
You might think the resume question is just a throwaway, but it can actually be the most important interview question. That’s because it is often the first interview question. Interviews typically start with a broad opening question that gives you and your interviewer a chance to get comfortable and get acquainted (“walk me through your resume”; “tell me about yourself”).
Your goal in answering this kind of question is to set the stage for your relationship with this person. Think of it as your first interaction with someone who will ideally become a friend. You are building a relationship from this first moment, so prepare an answer that allows you to fully show them who you are and what you value.
I have a whole chapter on the “tell me about yourself” question in Interview Hero, and a really helpful video from our MBA Interviews Miniseries about how to answer these big, opening interview questions:
Bottom line: your answer should be around 2-3 minutes in length and touch on your most significant academic experiences, professional accomplishments, and intended career path.
“Why do you want an MBA?”
Here’s some advice on how to tackle this essential interview question:
When you answer this question, you should be connecting the dots for your interviewer. You are looking ahead to your future career, seeing what it is that you want, and showing them how a graduate business degree from this school – specifically and uniquely!! – is going to contribute to your success.
Your goal for answering this question is to inspire them with the future that you are creating.
“Why our school?”
If you’re going to prepare for any MBA interview question, prepare for this one. It’s one of the most meaningful questions for a business school.
It’s actually three questions in one, but I think of it as a kind of juggernaut of MBA interview questions. Here’s the triad hidden within this single question:
- “What are your post-MBA goals?”
- “Why do you want an MBA?”
- “Why do you want an MBA from our school?”
It’s basically your personal statement in conversational form, and it opens a discussion of where you’re headed and why their program is the right fit for you. You should be able to articulate how their program offerings align with your career plan and specific ways you intend to contribute to the school community.
Pretty much every school is going to ask this question in some form, and for some schools it’s the only interview question that really matters. Be ready to just absolutely crush it.
Behavioral Interview Questions (“Tell me about a time…”)
Behavioral type questions are front and center for some of the M7 interviews (e.g., Stanford, MIT). They can be some of the trickiest interview questions to field, especially if you treat the interview like a test – stressing about “right” answers and focusing on what you think your interviewer wants to hear rather than building a connection. (Three big mistakes, by the way.)
These kinds of questions also vary widely. Here’s a quick list of some of the behavioral examples our clients have gotten in MBA interviews:
- Describe a creative endeavor you can take ownership for that impacted the efficiency or effectiveness of your organization.
- Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you handled implementing it.
- Can you tell me a time in which you were able to build motivation in your coworkers or subordinates?
- Providing an example, tell me when you have had to handle a variety of simultaneous assignments. Describe the results.
If you want to find out how to sail through your behavioral questions, watch my video on some of the most common behavioral questions and how to answer them:
Point-Blank Questions (e.g., The Weakness Question)
Point-blank questions are designed to provoke a specific and immediate response from you.
- What is your leadership style?
- What is your greatest strength?
- What’s your favorite book?
One of your main goals with these kinds of questions is to give a prompt, upfront response. But you also want to give your interviewer a little bit more. Tie additional details about yourself into your response so that they can draw meaningful conclusions.
Most of us worry about tough point-blank questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness?” or “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?” You might wonder if there’s any “good” answer to questions like those, and the answer is yes – if you answer the question honestly while demonstrating self-awareness and treating failure as a learning opportunity.
4. Interview Mindsets
Getting into the right interview mindset
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, nailing an MBA interview has everything to do with relationship building, and your mindset is at the foundation of it all. While preparing for common questions is crucial interview preparation, you should also take some time to establish a winning mindset – one that will see you through to your interview goals.
The Friendship Mindset
Remember, the interview is not a test. Instead, pay attention to the emotional dynamics of the encounter and treat your interviewer as a potential friend.
The Interviewer’s Goals vs. Your More Important Goals
The interview can be on your terms if you adopt this mindset. Take your attention off the interviewer’s goal (or whatever you think their goal is) and focus instead on your goals for the experience. Go into your interview with a clear intention: sharing yourself authentically, making a new friend, or all the above.
5. Confidence & Humility
The importance of confident humility in your MBA interview
Confident humility is by far the best quality you can display in an interview, whether it’s a job interview or an interview to get into business school. It’s one of the top qualities sought by schools like Berkeley Haas and employers like Google.
Your job in these kinds of encounters is not to show your interviewer that you are bulletproof or perfect. Your job is to share your authentic self and form a genuine connection, and humility goes a lot further than a humble brag on that front. Think about it: How much do you really like that person you know who can do no wrong?
Read our article on confident humility to find out why it’s the key to a successful interview and how to channel it in all of yours.
Bonus Interview Tip
Go the extra mile to prepare for virtual interviews.
Is one of your MBA interviews taking place virtually? The interview preparation outlined above will get you 95% of the way there, but there are some additional things you need to consider when you are preparing for a virtual interview (lighting, backdrop, acoustics). Read our top 10 tips for Zoom interviews so you can crush it on the big day.
Better yet – want to work with us on your interviews?! We just unveiled our new MBA Interview Edge Package, and we’d LOVE to help you rock those interviews. It includes two 45-minute mock interviews using actual past questions from your target business schools
If you want support for the whole MBA admissions process, from school selection to admissions essays and interview prep, talk to us!
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