Congratulations! All your hard work seems to have paid off, and you have jumped that first hurdle in your race to get into business school—securing an MBA interview! Good for you!
Now what? You need to prepare. A business school admissions interview can take many forms. In years past, it was often just a casual conversion in a coffee shop with a graduate of the program wanting to find out whether you would be a good teammate. These days, your interview could be a Zoom call with a second-year student looking to learn how much you know about the school. For some programs, it could be a thorough grilling by an admissions committee member who has read every part of your application and wants to dig down and understand what you are really all about.
No matter what the setting or who your interviewer is, the first thing you need to know before beginning to prepare for your interview is whether it will be “blind” or “comprehensive.” In other words, will your interviewer have seen and studied your application in full before you speak together (comprehensive), or will they have seen only your resume (blind)? Knowing this bit of key information will have a direct impact on the questions you will be asked and the strategy for answering them.
If your interview is blind, then you are free to draw information and talking points straight from your application. Go ahead and repeat anything you have included in your essays—your interviewer will have seen none of it. Leverage all the hard work you put into the various parts of your application, and use the stories and facts you included in them when responding to your interviewer’s questions. Not only is this a very good strategy but it also makes your preparation for the interviewer much easier.
For comprehensive interviews, however, you have a different imperative: know your application inside and out. In a comprehensive interview, the interviewer will often make reference to something you included or discussed in your application, so you need to be familiar with and remember everything in it. Study your entire application before your interview to make sure you will not contradict or be tripped up by something in it.
Whichever type of interview you might be facing, here are a few basic strategies to remember:
Know who you are.
Your business school interview will very likely start with a prompt like “Walk me through your resume” or “Tell me about yourself.” These might sound like easy starting points, but you really need to prepare for them properly. Although the exact wording might differ, your response will involve sharing who you are and explaining how you reached this point in your life and career.
This does not require going all the way back to first grade and detailing every formative experience you have had between then and now, but it does demand that you communicate what is important to you and to outline the path you envision for your future.
A good approach is to walk the interviewer through your resume backward, meaning that you begin by describing what you are doing now and work your way back to your earliest entry. The advantage of this strategy is that you do not risk running out of time talking about something that happened long ago that might be a lot less relevant to your current situation—and a lot less compelling for your interviewer. That is the fatal mistake you want to avoid when asked this question—going on for 20 minutes, never quite getting to the present day, while your interviewer becomes increasingly bored and totally loses interest.
The simplest way to avoid such a scenario is to practice. Start your stopwatch and deliver your resume spiel. How long did you take? If you were able to respond in less than three minutes, great! If not, keep practicing and refining until you can hit that mark.
Be ready to answer the three “whys.”
1. Why business school?
Keep in mind that fundamentally, business schools are institutes of higher learning, so answers like “for the credential” or “to network” are not good. In fact, they are bad. Business schools fully understand the market value of their degree and how much this might appeal to you. They also recognize the value of the network they offer. But first, they want you to be a student, an active member of the community, someone who is there to learn what they want to teach. So, to prepare yourself to effectively answer this question, think about what an MBA education provides that you need to be able to reach your goals. What skills must you develop? Clarify for your interviewer that the future you want is possible only with an MBA.
One question that comes up in practically every admissions interview is why the candidate wants to attend that business school in particular. This is a great opportunity to earn some positive interview points. Lean in to the research you have done on the program: prepare to offer the names of any students and alumni you have spoken with, professors whose TED Talks you have watched, conferences you are excited about, and so on. This is where being specific is key. If you are interested in the school because you want to study entrepreneurship, for example, you will need to say more than that and go into some detail. Every business school teaches entrepreneurship, so how would studying the topic at this particular school be different? What courses, faculty members, experiences, and/or other resources does it offer that resonate with you? Be prepared to go into some depth with this question.
3. Why now?
This question might be somewhat less relevant for some candidates. If you have been working for five years in a profession that requires an MBA to progress, such as consulting, you will not likely be asked this, because the reasons behind your pursuit of the degree are understood. However, if you are older or younger, you want to be ready to respond to this query and explain your situation. If you are an older candidate, your interviewer will probably be interested in understanding why you have chosen to attend a full-time MBA program rather than an executive MBA (EMBA). So, be prepared to talk about your preference for the more immersive experience a full-time program provides and the exposure you will have to a broad and diverse range of people, versus what you would generally experience with an EMBA.
If you are a younger applicant (one with fewer than three years of experience), be ready to outline the well-formulated career path you have devised for yourself and to explain how critical earning an MBA sooner rather than later is for your best chance of success.
Because these three questions are core components of a traditional personal statement, we encourage you to download a free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which offers in-depth guidance on how to approach these queries, along with multiple illustrative examples.
Prepare some flexible core stories to use with behavioral “Tell me about a time when” questions.
For many applicants, these types of behavioral questions are the scariest because there is an almost endless number of them. Tell me about a time when you served as a leader. Tell me about a time when you failed at something. Tell me about a time when you needed to ask for help. And on and on. How do you prepare for such questions without having to formulate individual, tailored answers to the 50 or so options you can imagine—let alone the 500 or more you cannot?
First, think broadly. These questions tend to fall into a few different categories: a time when you led, a time when you followed, a time when you succeeded, a time when you failed, a time when a team experience went smoothly, and a time when it went less smoothly. So a good strategy is to have three to five go-to stories that you can mold to fit a question that falls into any of these categories.
For example, perhaps you once led a team that really went off the rails, and you had to pull things together and get everyone back on track. That one experience could be used as the basis for a response to any sort of team, leadership, or conflict/challenge question. You could also prepare by working backward, so to speak. In this case, you identify two or three compelling stories about yourself that you really want to share with your interviewer. Start examining those stories now to figure out how you might frame or present each one as a fitting answer to any of these kinds of questions.
Remember, “Tell me about a time” questions never have a wrong answer. Go with whatever comes to mind, include sufficient detail, and you should be all set.
For additional help with preparing for your admissions interviews, download your free copy of the mbaMission Interview Guide, which goes into more detail on the different kinds of interviews you might encounter, as well as the types of questions typically asked (including 100 common interview questions), and provides tips for what to do before, during, and even after your interview. Another useful resource to consider is mbaMission’s suite of school-specific Interview Guides, which break down what you can expect in an interview with your target school and how to prepare accordingly.
Let me offer a final word of advice: too much practice can backfire. The purpose of an admissions interview is for the school to get to know you in a less formal and more dynamic way. Your interviewer wants to get an idea of how you will be in the classroom, conference room, and extracurriculars. They are looking for people they want to invite to join their community. If you have clearly memorized all your answers, that will give the interviewer pause and make them wonder how you truly are at thinking on your feet and interacting with others. Business schools want engaging people, not robots.
Finally, rather than viewing your upcoming interviews as a challenge, see them as an opportunity, a chance to show how excited you are about attending that particular school. Let your interviewer see your enthusiasm, and that in turn will make them enthusiastic about you.
To learn other strategies for improving your interview performance, sign up for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.