You’ve applied to the business schools of your choice and have received interview invites from one or many schools. Congratulations. It’s now time to prepare for the next step in the process: the MBA interview. This is a chance for the school to get to know you and ask questions that aren’t immediately obvious from your application. It is in this stage that they likely get a complete picture of who YOU are, and whether you fit with the school.
If you’ve received an invitation to an interview, it mean the school has taken your application seriously and considers you a likely candidate for admission. However, it’s still not a guarantee that you’ll get accepted.
It’s important that you thoroughly prepare for the interview, so that you make a good impression and show that you are ready for an MBA program. Depending on the school, there are several different types of MBA interviews that you might be invited to, each of which have their own pros and cons.
MBA Interview Types
Before we look at the different MBA interview types, you should find out whether your school conducts a Blind Interview or not.
Blind interview – your interviewer will not have access to your application and would not have read your essays or recommendations. They will only have access to your resume. These interviews may follow a more standard interview structure.
Non-Blind interview – your interviewer will have read your entire application and essays ahead of time in preparation for the interview. Here the interviewer may dive deeper into the nuances of your essays much sooner than the blind interview, in addition to the standard questions we’ve listed below.
Whether you are facing a blind interview or not, always be prepared to speak in-depth about your experiences, goals and motivations to pursue an MBA. So, what are the different MBA interviews you could encounter?
Some schools will invite you to be interviewed by an alumnus, rather than an admissions team. While the alumnus won’t make a unilateral decision on your candidacy, they will provide a formal recommendation to the admissions team which will be evaluated by the admissions committee in light of your entire application, and a very strong alumni recommendation can make or break your candidacy.
- Duration: Usually, 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Location: Typically off-campus for international candidates, likely in coffee shops or alumni office etc.
- Schools that offer this: Stanford Graduate School of Business, Columbia Business School, Michigan Ross School of Business, INSEAD, among others.
- More relaxed and friendly interview
- Can establish rapport in-person and get a favorable interview response
- Showcase body language and be more expressive
- Conducted during regular hours in candidate’s local timezone
- Potentially non-standard interview – alumni interviewer can take the interview in any direction
- Could go on longer than an hour
Several schools rely on MBA alumni to interview candidates in countries outside the U.S.
MBA alumni can choose to volunteer as ambassadors for the school and interview candidates around the world. This is a great opportunity for someone who understands the culture of the school first-hand to evaluate a candidates fit with the school. INSEAD, which has campuses in Europe and Asia, uses two separate alumni: one with a background similar to yours, and one that’s different. This helps to give the admissions team a well-rounded view of your skills and communication style.
For the most part, your alumni interview will be a blind interview. They will have a copy of your resume, but aren’t likely to have access to your whole application and would not have read your essays However, they may bring prepared questions based on guidance from the school, or simply have an open-ended conversation in evaluating your interest and fit with the school.
The alumni interviews can be more casual than an admissions committee interview, and may take place at an office, or even a coffee shop. But do not take the alumni’s casual and friendly demeanour as an invitation to be less professional. Assume that they are always judging you and evaluating your fit. If you can, look up your interviewer on LinkedIn, so you can gauge their background and anticipate the questions they may ask – especially if they have similar background to yours.
Another possibility that is similar to the alumni interview is a student interview. In this case, the school will pair you up with a current second-year MBA student rather than an alumnus.
- Duration: Usually, 30 minutes
- Location: Typically remote (video interview) for international candidates, and on campus for local candidates
- Schools that offer this: UCLA Anderson School of Management, Yale School of Management Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Indiana Kelley School of Business, among others
- Short interviews
- Fairly standard questions – not much deviation expected
- Easier to prepare for these interviews
- Harder to establish rapport via video
- Could be late night / early morning if you live in a different timezone
As with the alumni interview, this is likely to be a blind interview — the interviewer won’t have read your essays. If you are interviewing with U.S or European schools that recruit student interviewers, you’ll typically be interviewing via Skype video and will typically last only 30-minutes. In comparison with alumni interviews, you can expect very little deviation from the standard set of interview questions with student interviews. It can be less stressful to present yourself to a peer than to the admissions committee, but remember: the student will provide the committee with a report of the interview, so take the process seriously.
Towards the end of the interview, take the opportunity to learn about the school from a current student. Take the opportunity to ask questions about the program and show a genuine interest in the interviewer’s experience there.
Admissions Committee Interview
The third type of interview you should prepare for is the admissions committee interview. This could be more challenging than a student or alumni interview, since the entire committee may have read your application and can ask more direct questions.
- Duration: Usually, 30 minutes
- Location: Sometimes, remote (video interview) or in-person at a Hotel for international students. Typically on campus, for local candidates and those that choose to travel to the school to interview.
- Key schools that offer this: CMU Tepper School of Business, USC Marshall School of Business, many other schools.
- Short interviews
- Fairly standard interview – not much deviation expected
- Easier to prepare for these interviews
- Harder to establish rapport
- Could be late night / early morning if you live in a different timezone (for video interviews)
Admissions Committee interviews are likely to be non-blind interviews, and are known to be fairly standard and quite similar to student interviews. The admissions committee sticks to a standard set of questions in a limited time frame. Have a good idea of what the committee is likely to ask you, without coming across as rehearsed and over-prepared.
Do as much research about the school as you can beforehand. If you can, ask current or prior students what they were asked in their interviews.
In short, prepare for it the same way you would for a job interview: have a brief “elevator pitch” that describes your career history, goals, and what makes you stand out as a candidate. What would you bring to the school that distinguishes you from other students?
Choosing Between In-Person and Remote Interviews
Depending on how far you are from the schools you’re applying for, you may have the option of either interviewing in-person or remotely. Some schools, such as Darden School of Business in Virginia, only offer Skype interviews to applicants living outside of the U.S.
Stanford has student and alumni interviewers all over the world, so none of the interviews are held on campus, and phone interviews are only available in “particularly remote locations.”
Statistically, your chances of getting in are about the same regardless of whether you interview in person or online, but you may want to consider your own preferences if you have the option. Are you a better conversationalist in person or via video? Do you use a lot of gestures when you speak that will be lost over the Internet?
When given a chance for an in-person versus a video interview, I’d always recommend going in for the in-person interview – as you have a chance to build better rapport with the interviewer in-person than over video. If you’re a non-native English speaker, consider that a video interview may offer some room for body language, but not as much as an in-person interview. Don’t hesitate to let the interviewer know if you’re having trouble understanding them due to technical issues or communication challenges. Better to ask them to repeat a question than get it wrong.
Regardless of the interview format, remember to follow basic interview etiquette: dress for the occasion, be aware of eye contact, and don’t ever carry notes to your interview. Be sure to thank them for taking the time to interview, and follow up with a thank-you message the next day.
Quick side note: if you’re struggling writing your MBA Statement of Purpose, read this article here.
New Interviews: Group Discussions & Team Based Interviews
Another interview style that you might encounter is the group interview. In this scenario, you’ll be interviewed along with several other applicants who are also being considered. This allows the admissions team to get a sense of how well you’ll work with other students in the program.
Rather than a standard question-and-answer format, the group interview may require you to address a real-world case study and problem-solve as a team. Some schools, such as the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, provide the question in advance. Others like the Ross School of Business won’t, so in that case, you can prepare by studying generic case study problems.
In a group interview, the goal isn’t to show off and compete against other members of the team. Instead, show off your people skills by working together on the problem. Practice good listening, make eye contact, and acknowledge other people’s contributions to the discussion. Don’t talk over other people at the table or insist that your way is the only way.
Schools that Use Group Discussions
Not all schools offer group interviews, but they are a requirement for some programs. At the Wharton School, applicants must participate in a Team-Based Discussion with five or six other candidates. A typical prompt requires the team to develop a plan for a “one-day, high-impact conference” that a student-run committee might create. Participants can have an individual interview with a member of the admissions team after the exercise.
At the Ross School of Business, the group interview is optional. It won’t count against you if you skip it, but is highly recommended for all applications. In this exercise, you aren’t given a prompt in advance, but are instead have thirty minutes to come up with a business scenario based on a series of random word pairs. Second-year MBA students evaluate the outcome.
At the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), applicants participate in an Assessment Day, which includes an individual interview, a case study, and group exercises. While still uncommon, more schools are beginning to use formats of this kind.
How much weight do interviews have in overall selection?
The importance of the admission interview varies from school to school. According to GMAT Club, the acceptance rate of students who have been interviewed is 56%. That means that if you’ve been offered an interview, you may have better than a 50/50 chance of getting in.
Some schools have an even higher acceptance rate. INSEAD accepts 74% of students who interview, with UCLA and NYU close behind. This means that these schools only extend the offer of an interview to the most promising students. On the other hand, Kellogg will interview any applicant who visits the school, and only accepts 37% percent of those students.
What the committee is primarily looking for is to make sure that you’ve accurately represented yourself in your application. A student or alumni interview will be asking themselves how well you would participate in classes and contribute to the program.
In general, the interview accounts for 12% of the decision process. That makes it the third most important factor, just behind your GMAT score (16%) and essay questions (15%), and slightly more important than your GPA (10%).
What MBA Interview Questions to Expect
I’ve listed over 20 questions for you to to consider preparing for. Preparing for all of these questions may seem daunting, so I’ve organized the questions into the 20 most common questions, and questions around areas of your life and career that you may be interviewed on. During my time as an MBA interviewer, I’ve use a combination of these questions to evaluate the candidate. I’ve attempted to include variations of the questions you may be asked – even though the answers should be the same.
20 Most Common MBA Interview Questions:
MBA and Fit with School
- Walk me through your resume / Introduce yourself in 2 minutes
- Why do you want to pursue an MBA? Why now?
- Why this school? / What research have you done about this school? / What have you learnt about this school that makes you feel it’s a good fit?
- What are your career goals post MBA? How will you get to the goals through this school?
- What classes and clubs are you most interested in participating in? / How will you contribute to the school?
Team and Leadership Skills
- Tell me about a time where you had to deal with a difficult co-worker?
- Tell me about a time when you had to build or motivate a team to achieve something?
- Tell me about a time when you convinced someone of an unpopular decision?
- What is your leadership style? / How would your co-workers describe your leadership style?
- What is your most significant leadership accomplishment (professional or extracurricular)?
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a superior? How did you deal with it?
- Tell me about the last negative feedback you received and what did you learn from it? / What is your greatest weakness (or 2 / 3 weaknesses)?
- What are your greatest strengths (or 2 / 3 strengths)?
- Tell me about your last failure and how you dealt with it?
- Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma, and how did you deal with it?
- What other schools have you applied to?
- If you are denied admission by this school, what will you do?
- What do you think is the biggest weakness in your application? / Why should we admit you to this school?
- Is there anything you’d like to address that I haven’t asked?
- Do you have any questions for me?
Besides the most common MBA Interview Questions, you can expect the interviewer to ask you about any area of your career, goals, experiences, and projects in much greater depth.
How to Answer Interview Questions: The STAR Format
The way that you answer interview questions will depend on which type of interview you’ve been invited to participate in. A coffee shop conversation with a student or alumnus will naturally be more casual that a formal interview in front of the entire admissions team.
However, there are some methods you can use to answer questions effectively regardless of the interview type. One popular strategy is the STAR format, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. This helps you frame your answer in the context of a story, and is particularly useful for questions about behavior (such as “How did you respond when … ?”)
You can use the STAR format to tell your story clearly and concisely by focusing on:
- Situation: What point in your career did this situation occur. What exactly were the circumstances, and who were involved?
- Task: What was the task you had to accomplish in the situation expressed above
- Action: What were the exact actions you took to accomplish the task?
- Result: What were the results of the action you took? Did it result in a success or a failure? How did it benefit your company, your client, or you.
It is important that you spend approximately 25% of your time on each of the STAR elements in a response. Most candidates spend an eternity rambling about the Situation and the Task, but few ever explain the Action they took and the Result as a consequences of the action.
Rather than let yourself get carried away by a story, or leave out some details that are important to your point, the STAR format can help you stay on track – even for questions that you haven’t heard before. Practice telling stories in this format before your interview. The art of answering questions this way will help you not only during your MBA interviews but also when recruiting on campus during your MBA.
If you can, get a friend to give you a mock interview. Choose from the questions listed above in preparation for the interview. You don’t have to have a rehearsed answer for every question, but the more practice you have, the better your interview will be.
Key Differences between Global and Indian MBA Interviews
Interviews for MBA programs in India are very different from interviews in the U.S. In fact, many of the questions that are commonly asked in the U.S. don’t apply here. General questions like “Why do you want to get an MBA?” and “Why did you choose this school?” are asked less frequently, and may be skipped altogether.
In India, the focus is more likely to be on real-world scenarios and current affairs. Particularly at the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) and Indian School of Business (ISB), you can expect the questions to be drawn from your work and educational experience.
For example, one application to the ISB says that he was asked about “the cultural impact and clash between business philosophies” at a company he worked at. Another was questioned in depth about fashion management, and asked to do a “market size estimation” on the spot.
If you’re applying for one of the MBA programs in India, it’s important to take this into account. Instead of just preparing for the generic questions asked at U.S. interviews, consider how your career goals and background fit into a broader socio-political context. Start reading the newspaper early, and learn to form opinions on subject-matter shaping the global economy.