Getting to the interview stage at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) is no easy feat. With just a 7% admissions rate, the Stanford GSB MBA program is one of the most selective in the world. They seek candidates with a strong sense of self-awareness and drive who have “excelled by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well”.
If you’ve been invited to an interview, congratulations!
It means that Stanford values your worldview and considers you a strong candidate for their MBA program. Unlike other Ivy League programs that like to ask interviewees about their career goals and MBA aspirations, Stanford prefers to explore candidates’ life experiences, personal qualities, and community contributions.
In this article, we’ll show you how to answer the top Stanford MBA interview questions.
Will I have to complete an interview as part of my Stanford MBA application?
The interview is an essential part of the Stanford GSB admissions process.
GSB admissions officers use the interview to delve deeper into your passions and aspirations. They want to understand how well your leadership personality aligns with their “give more than you take” culture, which puts a large emphasis on helping others reach their potential.
What to expect during your interview
During your interview, an MBA admissions officer or a trained member of Stanford’s global MBA alumni community will ask you questions about your previous work, leadership, and community engagement experiences. Interviews usually take the form of a conversation where the interviewer will try to explore how you responded to different types of challenging situations.
GSB interviews typically last between 45 to 60 minutes. Your interviewer will make sure to allocate about 15 minutes for you to ask them any questions about the GSB experience.
Stanford states on their admissions website that while being invited to an interview is a positive sign, it does not guarantee admission into the program. That’s because there is typically only one place available for every 2 to 3 candidates invited for an interview.
Types of interview questions
According to previous GSB students, interviewers focus on asking you competency-based behavioral questions about your past actions. They will try to gain a deeper understanding of your leadership potential, analytical skills, and personal qualities.
You will usually be expected to provide summaries of what you did or said in specific situations along with detailed explanations of how you handled particular challenges. The interviewer may identify certain behavior traits they want to learn more about and follow up on your answers with more in-depth questions to understand your motivations and values.
When will my interview take place?
Your interview will typically take place between early October and late November (Round 1) or between early February and mid-March (Round 2). Stanford sends out a more specific timetable after your application has been processed.
Applicants who pass the first stage of the admissions process will be invited to an interview via email. You will be paired with an interviewer and asked to arrange a suitable date to conduct the interview, normally within a week. Interviews may be conducted remotely or in person.
The top Stanford MBA interview questions (and how to answer them)
To help you ace your Stanford GSB interview, we’ve put together the top 10 interview questions admissions officers like to ask candidates. Stanford likes to keep their interviews friendly but also highly rigorous.
Past GSB candidates have said that officers appreciate the use of the plural “we” instead of the more authoritative “I” when applicants answer questions. This helpful Stanford Recommender Leadership Grid can serve as a useful guide when deciding which qualities and behaviors to highlight in your interview answers.
Question 1: Why do you want to do an MBA?
This is a classic personal MBA interview question that explores your motivations for going to business school as well as your future career plans. The interviewer is looking for any research interests you might have or social and extracurricular activities you’d like to contribute to during your MBA.
The best way to answer this question is to be genuine about your motivations. You could explain how the MBA will help you build on your current work and academic skills and prepare you for a future career in Silicon Valley. You could also elaborate on specific GSB societies and activities that you’d like to get involved in.
Question 2: Why did you choose to apply to Stanford School of Business?
With this question, the interviewer wants to know why you chose to apply to Stanford’s MBA program among hundreds of others available worldwide. It’s a chance for you to demonstrate that you’ve done your research about the program, whether by speaking to alumni or listening to podcasts by GSB professors.
You should try your best to make your answer personal and unique. Use your knowledge of the program to explain how the GSB experience will help you achieve your personal ambitions like no other program. If you’re determined to go to GSB because you want to start a business, this is a good opportunity to start sharing your plans.
Question 3: What are your post-MBA plans?
This question focuses more specifically on your future ambitions and projects. While it might be tempting to say that you’ll explore your options after you get into business school, admissions officers are usually looking for focused, well-thought-out answers from applicants.
They will normally want to understand how you’ll use your MBA knowledge to collaborate with others to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. It can be best to take a results-oriented approach when answering this question. Talk about how a particular GSB class will equip you with the analytical skills to tackle an issue you’re passionate about, such as problems faced by smallholder farmers, for example.
Question 4: What is your leadership style?
Stanford takes a lot of pride in its ability to nurture principled, global leaders. Admissions officers will use the interview to evaluate your leadership potential and determine whether you are someone who will leave a mark in your field.
To impress your interviewer, you may want to share stories about your past leadership achievements. Select ones where you went above and beyond your responsibilities to challenge the status quo and influenced others to do the same. You will usually want to show your interviewer that when you get accepted into the program, you will hone your leadership skills further, for example with their Leadership Labs course or Arbuckle Leadership Fellows program.
Question 5: Please give me an example of a time when you handled conflict while working on a team.
As part of their blind interview policy, most GSB interviewers will have only read your CV before the interview. So when responding to a situational question like this, you may want to choose a specific situation from a previous job or side project where you displayed outstanding conflict resolution skills.
Stanford seeks candidates who can reach a consensus without being authoritative or abrasive. You’ll want to show your ability to listen to others, express empathy, and negotiate to a win-win situation. The key here is to be honest about your response and show that you reflected on the situation.
Question 6: Tell me about a time when things didn’t go according to plan. How did you respond?
In the world of business, things don’t always go to plan and Stanford knows that. This question probes at your ability to handle uncertainty and complex interpersonal dynamics under pressure. More importantly, the interviewer wants to know how you deal with failure.
A good answer to this question would typically involve an explanation of how you recover from failure. You’ll want to come across as someone who is resilient, able to put together a solution through teamwork, and has an eye on the big picture.
Question 7: Tell me about your greatest accomplishment.
Stanford GSB believes that your past performance is the best predictor for your future performance. And with that conviction, they may ask you about your greatest achievement to identify your key strengths, ability to think strategically, and initiative in seeking new challenges.
Whether you choose to provide an accomplishment from work or one of your extracurricular activities, make sure to highlight why this accomplishment is important to you and how it aligns with your values. If that accomplishment helped you learn something new about yourself, share it with your interviewer as it shows that you seek out challenging experiences to improve yourself.
Question 8: Tell me about a time when you didn’t agree with an idea. Were you able to reach a resolution?
Admissions officers like to seek out candidates who can communicate their opinions and concerns clearly. The ideal candidate should be able to disagree using well-founded reasons and remain open to constructive dialogue; all without shying away from constructive criticism.
When answering this question, you’ll probably want to demonstrate that you displayed respect for the other person’s idea. You’ll want to guide your interviewer through the methods you used to reach a resolution with the person or group you were disagreeing with.
Question 9: What would you do if money were not an issue?
Some admissions officers have been known to ask offbeat questions like this one to evaluate candidates’ personal values and priorities. While there’s no right and wrong answer to this question, you’d still want to give the best answer you can that reflects your passions in life.
The key to answering this question is to highlight your passions and describe any coaching or mentoring you did while pursuing them. Stanford wants to know if you can identify potential in others and inspire them to join your cause. They want to hear about a cause that you would throw your heart and soul into and maybe even contribute to at GSB.
Question 10: What are your favorite hobbies? Which are you most proud of?
Another way that an admissions officer might explore your personal interests is by asking you about your favorite hobbies. They want to see how you used your hobbies to fine-tune your leadership and teamwork skills.
You’re best off choosing about 3 hobbies that you are most proud of. Describe how they bring value to your life and why they help you stand out from the crowd of future GSB-educated business leaders. You may even want to explain how your hobbies help you cope with the rigors of business.
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