MBA Interviews – Everything you need to know!
Last updated on February 26th, 2019
So you’ve received that MBA interview shortlist you were eagerly waiting for? Congratulations!
If you’ve come this far, it means that the B-school is considering you for admission very seriously indeed.
In the words of Wharton Admissions Director JJ Cutler – “We’re not looking for reasons to deny someone; we’re looking for reasons to admit someone.”
The biggest question on your mind right now should be- “How can I ensure that I give the best interview of my life?”
We’ve compiled this guide to MBA interviews from many years of working with diverse interview candidates applying to top B-schools all over the world.
This article is categorized into six chapters for easy reading.
I. Interview Format
B-school interviews come in all shapes and sizes. Let us discuss the various types of interviews you may face. With respect to the amount of prior information the interviewer/ interview panel has about you, there are two kinds of interviews:
1. Blind Interviews
In a blind interview, such as those conducted at Kellogg, Duke, and Tuck, the interviewer does not have access to your essays.
This makes the interview very open-ended. This can be either an advantage or a limitation, depending on how you look at it.
The advantage is that you have greater control over the direction of your interview if you word your answers carefully.
In a blind interview, the interviewer is trying to figure out who you are, and is likely to ask open-ended questions such as “tell me about yourself.” This kind of question makes it easier to speak about the things you want to.
The flipside is this:
With very little context, the interviewer comes with no preconceived notion about you. You start from square one, so to speak.
All the accomplishments and opinions that you carefully worded in the essays cease to matter because your interviewer hasn’t read them. You have to be on your toes to portray a comprehensive and impressive picture of yourself.
2. Comprehensive Interviews
In a comprehensive interview, such as those conducted at Harvard, ISB, and LBS, your interviewer has access to your application. Again, this comes with its pros and cons.
What is good about this kind of interview is that a strong application means that the interviewer is likely to have an unconscious positive bias towards you, even if to a small degree.
One more positive is that at least some questions are likely to come from what you have already written about yourself- which is your comfort zone.
The other side of the coin is that you are likely to be probed much further about what you have written, which means that you have to be very prepared indeed!
You need to add further value to what you have already said in your essays and resumé- this will require deeper introspection on your part.
With this understanding of blind and comprehensive interviews in mind, let us look at the common interview formats B-school aspirants face.
1. In-Person Interview with an Adcom Member
This can happen either on the B-school campus or in your city/country. Some schools that follow this approach are Harvard and MIT Sloan.
The advantage of this format is that you get to present yourself directly to the person with the most influence in the decision process.
These interviews are likely to be comprehensive interviews, where the interviewer has prior knowledge of your application.
2. In-Person Interview with Alumnus or Student
This is a one-on-one interview with an alumnus (at any place – could even be a coffee shop) or student (on campus).
Some schools that follow this approach are INSEAD, Oxford and Kellogg.
This could work to your advantage since the interview is likely to be more informal and relaxed, especially if you can strike an interpersonal connect with your interviewer.
The limitation is that there is an additional link in the communication between you and the AdCom, which may cause a gap in understanding.
However, do not worry unduly about this because AdComs choose students and alumni they trust will give an accurate representation of the interview.
3. Phone or Skype Interview with Adcom, Alumnus or Student
Most schools follow this approach in cases where an in-person interview is not feasible.
It may be more difficult to showcase your personality in a Skype interview. However, if you are able to strike a connection over this medium, it can make a hugely positive impression.
This is because the ability to establish meaningful contact via virtual media is a critical skill in today’s tech-savvy business world.
4. Panel Interviews
This is an in-person interview where you will face multiple interviewers. Your interview panel can comprise of a mix of AdCom members, students, faculty members as well as alumni.
The advantage of this mode of an interview is that your success does not hinge on the connection you strike with one individual, so the decision is likely to be more balanced.
The difficulty is that you need to prepare yourself to engage with all the panelists and to be quick on your feet and answer questions from two or three people instead of one.
Indian schools such as ISB and the IIMs follow this interview format.
II. What B-School Interviewers Look For
There will be three things an interviewer or a panel will look for throughout the interview. These are the three Cs: Content, Communication, and Clarity.
One of the first things interviewers will look out for is whether you know what you’re talking about. Make sure you go through each and everything that you have written in your MBA application essays.
For example, if you say you want to get into Finance post-MBA, then you should be able to answer questions such as,
“What do you think will happen if the interest rates were to go up?”
“Why do you think the Rupee slipped against the Dollar?”
You need to be well-versed with what you want, why you want it, how you’re going to get it, and what you are planning to do after the MBA.
You may have aced the essays with impactful sentences and a heartfelt tone, but can you speak well too? One of the primary skills of a B-school graduate and leader is excellent articulation.
So, if you can speak clearly and with confidence, you are going to earn yourself a lot of brownie points.
How well are you able to express your ideas?
You will want to focus on body language, tone, clarity of speech, and ensuring that your answer is as crisp as possible. Yapping too much is not cool – but neither is it okay to sound curt or abrupt.
Here’s a suggestion:
Go through your application inside and out. Use whatever is in there to prepare for some standard questions that you’ll find near the end of this post.
Speaking well is an art developed over many years, so don’t worry if you do not feel like a communication guru yet. However, there are simple, actionable tips you can work on.
For one, pace your conversation well. Do not be too rushed.
If you find yourself fumbling for words, just slow down, appear thoughtful and take a sip of water or tell your interviewer that you need a minute to think. Even little things will reap rich benefits with respect to the quality of your interview.
Psst! Here’s a hint: Practice makes perfect!
What AdComs are really looking is clarity of vision and, specifically, what you want to take away from B-school and what you want from life.
As mentioned before, you need to know what you want, why you want it, how you’re going to get it and what you’re going to do with the MBA.
But simply knowing this isn’t enough. You have to be able to explain it, too. And you have to do so very clearly.
The key here is to be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you are not.
Be genuine, it will help you ensure you don’t sound confused. If you don’t know something, be open about it and say so. That’s anytime better than giving an answer that makes you look confused and unsteady.
There is an additional set of things to keep in mind. Most interviewers will have an eye out for these things as well:
Until you walk into the interview room, the only thing the AdCom knows about your personality is what you conveyed through your essays.
Now, they are trying to figure out the person behind the essays. Do you really mean what you said? Are you for real?
» What can you do?
Soak up your essays! Internalize them. Get your story right.
Allow the AdCom to see you as a person, not a cardboard cut-out of the ideal B-school candidate. Be frank about your strengths as well as your failings.
However, a word of caution here:
There are weaknesses that are best not brought up in an interview- for example, if you’re actually confused about what you want to do after an MBA, it might be best not to bring that up in this conversation.
Can you think under stress? If you do not know the answer to a question, how do you think and what do you say?
As you know, professional life is full of sticky situations where you may not have the answers and still have to plow your way through a situation or a conversation.
This is the reason why your interviewers might ask you tricky questions that require creative thinking (or curveballs, in interview lingo).
» What can you do?
Have your friends conduct mock interviews with difficult interview questions. Exercise your thinking muscles regularly in the weeks or days leading up to the interview, and you will definitely have done yourself a favor!
Leadership and Team Orientation
This is almost too obvious, but in all probability, the two most important qualities that you will need as a professional climbing up the ladder are how you lead and how you function in a team. Hence, these are definitely traits that the AdCom is evaluating you on.
» What can you do?
Prepare extensively for questions about leadership and teamwork. Also, while you prepare for other questions, reflect on what your answers are indirectly saying about your ability to lead and work in a team.
Your confidence is a parameter that is going to permeate and influence your entire interview and the rest of your career.
Actually, make that confidence and self-belief- because the interviewer is on the lookout for not just how you portray yourself in front of other people, but how you competent you feel on the inside (a very smart interviewer can get a sense of this).
» What can you do?
If you have a naturally confident persona, that’s great! Just be wary of appearing over-confident. If your confidence could do with some extra help, you can read the following sections for hacks to present the most confident version of yourself.
III. Cardinal Sins of an Interview
There are some things you simply cannot do at an interview. Or at least, there are things you can’t get away with doing at an interview.
1. Trying Too Hard or Too Little
It is good to think through your answers and evaluate the potential impact they will have on the panel, but there is such a thing as taking it too far.
If you are trying to give ‘ideal’ answers to every question, rest assured that the interview panel will see through you. After all, they’ve done this more times that you can count.
Show your unique personality, your strengths and weaknesses- do not be a cookie-cutter MBA applicant, saying only what you perceive as the ‘right’ things.
On the other end of the spectrum lies the mistake of appearing as though you don’t care if you get in or not. B-schools are looking for people who are genuinely committed to getting in.
If the message you’re communicating is that you wouldn’t be bothered by rejection, that’s probably what you’ll end up with!
2. Appearing Overconfident or Underconfident
You have to display a confidence level that is within the right range. Don’t go overboard and brag too much; it is difficult to work with an egomaniac.
On the other hand, a B-school interview is not the place for unnecessary humility either.
If you do not showcase what you have done and what you plan to do, nobody else can. What you have to aim for is a quiet confidence that speaks for itself.
3. Not Doing Enough Research
This is a crucial point. You cannot go in with half-baked information about your goals, post-MBA industry or the B-school itself.
You can cause a lot of damage to an otherwise great interview with your ignorance on crucial points about your goals and career.
Prepare. No, over-prepare!
The aura of confidence and assurance that comes from really knowing your intent and subject thoroughly is unbeatable.
IV. Preparing for your Interview
Most of these simple things are fairly intuitive but it’s very easy to forget to do them, especially if you’re stressed about your interview.
1. Decide What to Wear
They say that it takes only 7 seconds for somebody to arrive at a first impression about you.
Think about it- just seven brief seconds!
How much you communicate to the interview panel in these 7 seconds is crucial- and the clothes you wear will speak very loudly in these initial few moments.
Make your wardrobe selection as early as possible- preferably, as soon as you have the interview letter in your inbox.
For men, whether you’re applying to an Indian School or an international School, the attire remains the same – Suit Up! And make sure your suit is dry-cleaned and wrinkle-free well ahead of time.
For women, if it’s an Indian school you are applying to, either Indian formals (such as a crisp cotton salwar) or western formals (a formal skirt/pant, shirt, and blazer) should do. For international B-schools, do as they do and stick to western formals.
2. Practice with Diverse Questions and Interviewers
Prepare for a wide variety of interview questions. To start with, you can refer to the common interview questions section at the end of this post.
Also, try and get more than one interviewer to conduct mock interviews for you so that you can be prepared for a broader variety of interviewers’ personalities.
If feasible, videotape your interview so that you can observe your body language and make necessary corrections.
3. Sort Out the Logistics
Make sure that you anticipate and sort out any logistical issue you may face on your interview day.
For a Skype interview, this could mean ensuring that your internet connection is fine and ensuring that you have a backup laptop/phone and a backup internet connection (such as a data card).
For a coffee-chat interview with an alumnus, this could mean acquainting yourself with the location of the coffee shop and maybe even trying a dry-run with a mock interviewer at the same location.
For an in-person interview with the AdCom, this could mean visiting the school a day in advance and familiarizing yourself with the campus.
4. Decide how you are going to open and close the interview
There isn’t usually a lot that you can control during your interview.
Here’s what you definitely can control though:
You decide how to open the interview and how to close it.
If walking into a room full of people waiting to judge you sounds or feels intimidating, imagine walking in unprepared! Nightmare, right?
Make up your mind about the kind of impression you want to make on the interviewers and start off the meeting on that note. If you want to set a confident tone, think about the kind of confidence you want to portray.
You don’t want to seem like an overconfident person who doesn’t respect authority, but you shouldn’t appear meek, timid or afraid of authority, either.
A healthy dose of confidence is fairly easy to show.
Do something simple, like wishing the panel or interviewer a good morning/afternoon when you get into the room. Think of a few quotes or inspirational thoughts that may play out well as an endnote to your interview.
5. Prepare for the tricky ones
Know that every interview is likely to have at least a few curveballs that are thrown at you – especially if you have performed reasonably well, and the panel is looking to decide if you’re a ‘good’ fit or a ‘great’ fit for their college.
How do you prepare for these tricky questions? For starters, conduct an interview in your head. Ask yourself tough questions and write down the answers.
Ask your friends to each come up with one very tricky interview question, and try to answer those. It may not be very likely that you will get the same questions on the actual interview, but your mind will be better able to confront a difficult question, with all this practice.
You can also read our section on tricky questions for some help.
V. What to do on Interview Day
1. Visualize Success
On the day of the interview, wake up early, eat well and keep yourself hydrated. Get to the venue early and try this exercise in visualization:
Think of an incident in your life that you are very proud of.
Picture yourself at that moment, with all the joyous, powerful sensations coursing through you.
Do this a few times before you enter the interview room, so that you are in the best frame of mind to tackle your interview challenge!
A pleasant demeanor and a smiling face will have a powerful effect on the tone of your interview.
This is because of the ‘mirroring effect’:
During a conversation, we unconsciously mirror the expressions of the other person. So, make sure you smile even if you are in the middle of a stress interview with an interviewer who looks uninterested, bored or irritated.
If you maintain a positive presence throughout the interview, you can actually ‘de-stress’ a stress interview.
3. Stay Calm
You do not have to be the Buddha, or Master Oogway while giving an interview. Some amount of stress is ok; it’s even good for your interview since it helps you be alert and on your toes.
If you feel yourself freaking out in the middle of an interview, the best advice we can give you, at the risk of sounding obvious, is to take a few (not-very-obvious) deep breaths and sip some water.
If you have been asked a question and have temporarily blanked out, it is perfectly ok to tell the interviewer that you need a minute to think about the answer.
Recite your favorite calming-down mantra, and give the question your best shot.
4. Ask the Right Questions
A special note here:
When the interviewer asks you if you have any questions, please refrain from asking when you will be notified of the results, even though that may be the biggest thing on your mind.
Ask thoughtful questions, for which you cannot find the answers elsewhere.
For example, you can ask the alumnus what he/ she enjoyed the most about B-school, or in what area his/her learning curve improved dramatically.
5. Strike a Conversational Tone
Think of a B-school interview not as a quiz, but as a conversation with your interviewers. This means paying attention to all of the below points –
During the early minutes of the interview, try to establish a rapport with a little small talk.
Make eye contact consistently during the interview.
If you’re not clear about what the interviewer is asking, ask for a clarification.
If you are not clear about what kind of an atmosphere you need to create, imagine the entire interview as though it were a conversation with a friendly manager at work (in other words, be friendly, but not too informal).
6. Write a Thank You Note
Well, you’ve given your interview your best shot! What can you do now to improve your chances?
The last arrow in your quiver is the thank you note.
Write a simple, heartfelt note to your interviewer, expressing your thanks. You can briefly touch upon something memorable from the interview that you appreciated.
Close it with a statement to the effect of how excited you are at the prospect of joining their MBA program. Keep your note brief- a couple of paragraphs at the most.
Now, sit back and wait for your results!
VI. Commonly asked MBA Interview Questions
The Basic Questions
The below questions are what we would call the fundamental, ground-level questions you can expect in a B-School interview. In other words, it would be madness to enter an interview unprepared for any of these questions. We recommend that you start your interview preparation with this bunch of questions.
- Could you walk me through your resume?
- Why MBA?
- Why do the MBA now?
- Why our school?
- What are your short term/ long term post-MBA career goals?
- What are your three greatest strengths?
- What are your two greatest weaknesses?
- What do you think will be the biggest concern of the Admissions Committee in evaluating your application?
- Do you have any questions for me?
- What was the most rewarding aspect of your undergraduate experience?
- What are you most proud of about your undergraduate period?
- Why did you select this undergraduate major? Would you have changed your decision today?
- To what do you attribute your strong academic performance?
- In which campus activities did you participate? What did you learn or gain from this involvement?
- Have you ever dropped a class? Why?
- Which college classes did you like the best/ least? Why?
- Do you think you received a good education?
- Do your grades accurately reflect your ability?
- Were you financially responsible for part or all of your college education?
- Describe your work experience (in general or with specific employers).
- What did you find most frustrating at work?
- What kinds of changes would you make at your work if you could?
- Do you have any opportunities for innovative thinking?
- Could you describe an incident where you disagreed with a superior? How was this settled?
- What aspect of your job do you most enjoy? Why?
- Of what accomplishment at work are you most proud?
- If I ask your manager what he/she values in you, what will he/she say?
- What problems have you solved in your previous positions?
- What have you disliked in your job with employer X?
- What are some recent responsibilities you have taken on?
- What do you think it is about yourself that enabled you to earn achievements?
- Describe a typical workday.
- Why did you leave job A for job B?
- What will you do if you are not accepted to any of the MBA programs you applied to?
- What will you do if you are not accepted to our MBA program?
- Why did you choose to do X?
- Describe your ideal job after completing the MBA.
- How does your education or work experience relate to your career goals?
- Don’t you think that your career path has been a little disjointed?
- If you do not bag a job in the area you like, what will you do?
Leadership and Teamwork
- Give me two examples of times when you demonstrated leadership.
- How would others describe your leadership style?
- What do you think is the right way to get things done through others?
- What would you do if a team member wasn’t pulling his own weight?
- What qualities should a successful manager possess?
- Could you name someone you view as a strong leader? Why?
- Do you prefer to work under supervision or on your own?
- Give me an example of your teamwork experience.
- Do you prefer large or small companies? Why?
- What kinds of people do you enjoy working with?
- What kinds of people frustrate you?
- What kind of people struggle to work with you?
- Tell me about yourself.
- Have you ever done any volunteer work? What was it?
- Were your extracurricular activities worth the time you put into them? What have they taught you?
- What do you like doing outside of work?
- Tell me about something in your life you would have done differently if you had the opportunity.
- What three adjectives would others use to describe you?
- Can you recall a creative/ innovative activity of yours outside work?
- Tell me about a time you took a risk and what the experience was like.
- If you were to establish a set of values and beliefs on which to build a business, what would they be?
- What do success and failure mean to you?
- Tell me about a time in which you failed.
- How do you make big decisions?
- What would you like to change about yourself?
- Discuss any experience you have had abroad.
- Describe a life experience that had a strong impact on you?
- What do you get passionate about?
- Do you get bored or feel stagnated? How do you resolve boredom?
- What is one thing you want to convey as your interview comes to an end?
- In dealing with a customer, think of your most difficult situation and tell me how you handled it.
- Give an example of a case when you felt your boss made a bad decision and explain how you would have handled it differently.
- Describe a time when you had to bend the rules a little in order to accomplish a goal.
- Describe a situation where many different things had to get done at once and how you handled it.
- Describe a disagreement you had with your boss. What did he say? What did you say?
- Describe a major problem you have faced on the job and how you handled it.
The MBA Progam
- What are you looking for in our program?
- What can you contribute to your class?
- Why do you think you would enjoy your chosen area of study?
- What clubs are you considering joining?
- It’s two years after graduation, what three words would your MBA team members use to describe you?
- Which other B-schools are you applying to?
- If you got into our B-school and B-school ‘X’, which one would you go to and why?
- What is the most interesting conversation you have had this week?
- Explain something to me as if I were an eight-year-old.
- Tell me something you want to start doing, something you want to do more of, and something you want to do less of.
- What is the one thing I would have never guessed about you, even after reading your application?
- Assume you’re a cell phone salesman and I’m a goat herder in Spain. How would you convince me I need to buy one of your cell phones?
- See that paperclip on the table? Sell it to me.
- What is the worst thing you’ve heard about joining our B-school
- How many truck tires are there in the United States?
- How would you evaluate me as an interviewer?
- Why are manhole covers round?