Cracking Your MBA Interview: Tips from an Admissions Interviewer

By Arvind Kumar

Stepping into the spotlight for an MBA interview is like performing on the world’s most prestigious stage, except this time, your lines are your experiences, your application is your script, and the audience is a panel of admissions officers or MBA alumni. 

Impressing this audience is no easy task. Why? Because they have high expectations and a bunch of questions. They want to know if you’re motivated, can talk the talk, and have the ability to enhance their campus community. While schools might throw in a twist or two in their interview styles, fear not! 

In this article, we’ve put together insights and tips from my experiences both as an admissions/ alumni interviewer and a mentor to candidates who have aced their MBA interviews.

We’ll dive into the different interview types you might encounter, share some guidelines to keep in mind and mistakes to avoid so you’re not falling into the classic interview traps.

Let’s first talk about the purpose of an MBA interview.

What’s the purpose of an MBA interview?

The MBA interview serves as a pivotal gateway, where aspirations meet reality and ambitions are assessed. It’s a dynamic and intimate conversation that aims to unravel the layers of your character, motivations and potential contributions.

Beyond the metrics of transcripts and test scores, business schools are on a quest to unearth the essence of you – the individual behind the application. With a combination of curiosity, scrutiny, and a touch of finesse, the MBA interview navigates a comprehensive path toward determining your fit for the program and the enriching journey ahead.

Here are 5 key purposes of an MBA interview:

Getting to Know You Beyond the Paper

You know those essays, application forms and transcripts you sent to the business school? They’re like your official paperwork introduction.

But, just like how you can’t judge a book solely by its cover, schools can’t judge you only by your application. The interview is their chance to really meet you – the living, breathing, future business (hopefully) tycoon.

Seeing if You Click

Imagine you’re on a first date with a potential MBA program. You’ve read up on each other’s profiles, but now it’s time to see if there’s chemistry in person.

The interview helps the school gauge if you’d be a good fit for their program. Do your goals align with theirs? Do your values match? It’s like checking if you both enjoy the same TV shows before committing to a binge-watch partnership.

Testing Your Communication Skills

You could have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t express them clearly, it’s like having a treasure map written in invisible ink.

MBA programs want to see if you can talk the talk – can you explain your thoughts, your experiences, and your aspirations eloquently? Because in the business world, effective communication can indeed be your golden ticket.

Spotting Your Star Potential

No, not Hollywood or Bollywood stars, but the ones that shine in a professional setting. The interview helps schools see your potential for leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving.

Business schools want to know if you’re the kind of person who can light up a room and inspire others, or if you’re more of a wallflower.

Making Sure You’ll Contribute

Business schools are like a lively party, and each candidate is an invited guest. They want to ensure that you’ll bring something special to the mix.

Are you the life of the party, the DJ who plays the best tracks, or the insightful conversationalist who sparks interesting discussions? They’re looking for candidates who can enrich their campus community.

Now, let’s talk about the types of interviews that top business schools conduct.

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Different MBA Interview Styles

Blind Interviews

So, imagine you’re sitting across from an interviewer who’s essentially a blank slate. These are called “blind” interviews, and schools like Columbia Business School and Yale School of Management are into this style.

They’re like, “Hey, we’ll only peek at your resume, and that’s it!” This means the interviewer won’t be swayed by your academic background, test scores, or reference letters.

The good thing about blind interviews is that the focus will be on what you’ve got on your resume. It’s like your experiences are the star of the show. Schools using this method often rope in a bunch of interviewers, which could be alumni or even second-year students. They’re all about giving you a fresh look!

Non-Blind Interviews

Now, think about an interview where the person already knows your application inside out. This is the deal with “non-blind” interviews, a favorite of places like Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, and London Business School.

Here, your interviewer – usually a member of the admissions committee – will chat with you based on your whole application.

With non-blind interviews, they dive deeper. The questions zoom in on you, your personality, your knack for leadership or communication, and why you’re eyeing their MBA program. Because you’ve already given them the lowdown in your application, these interviews need some serious prep. It’s like bringing your A-game to showcase what makes you, well, you.

London Business School’s Twist

London Business School likes to shake things up. Their non-blind interview has two stages: a video chat and an interview with an alum. During the alum interview, they might throw a curveball – asking you to do an impromptu presentation. You get a tiny bit of prep time and then five minutes to shine.

The HEC Paris Twist

The HEC Paris MBA interview process consists of two non-blind interviews with alumni. Prior to the interviews, you would be asked to prepare a 10-12 minute presentation on a topic of your choice. The interviews typically cover the presentation and a candid conversation where the alum assesses your potential, motivations and fit for the MBA program.

Group Interviews

Think of a group interview as a team project but in an interview format. Schools like Wharton and Michigan Ross like this format. You and a bunch of other candidates get together for discussions and activities. The objective is to see first-hand how you tackle problems and work in a team.

Wharton says, “Hey, this team based discussion (TBD, as Wharton likes to call them) helps us see the real you and how you’d fit in.” It’s like a sneak peek into how you approach challenges and team situations, all in one shot.

So, when you’re prepping for your MBA interview, consider what kind of conversation you’re stepping into. Whether it’s a blank slate, a deep dive into your application, or a team-based discussion, knowing what to expect and prepping accordingly can really give you the edge.

So, furthering this conversation let’s take a look at most commonly asked questions in an MBA interview and what approach to take for them.

Planning to get into a business school? Read these MBA essay tips and LoR tips to boost your admissions chances.

Common MBA Interview Questions

Let’s dive into some common MBA interview questions and how to tackle them in a natural, conversational style:

Tell me about yourself.

This question might seem simple, but it’s your chance to set the tone.

Start with a quick overview of your background, then highlight your experiences and achievements. Connect these to your goals and why you’re pursuing an MBA. Keep it engaging and don’t hesitate to add a touch of your personality. 

Why do you want to pursue an MBA?

Here, they’re looking for your motivations.

Be honest and specific. Share how an MBA fits into your career trajectory and why it’s essential for your goals. If you have a story of how you realized you needed an MBA, that can add a personal touch.

Walk me through your resume.

Here’s your cue to connect the dots.

Highlight key experiences that led you to this point, emphasizing skills relevant to an MBA and your target career. Highlight the progression, growth curve and learnings from each role. Provide clear justifications in case of any career gaps or switches, ideally also indicating how these helped you evolve.

Why our business school?

This is where your research shines.

Mention unique aspects of the program that align with your aspirations. It could be certain professors, clubs, or courses. If you’ve visited the campus or spoken with alumni, drop those details for extra impact. 

Tell us about a challenge you’ve faced and how you dealt with it.

With this one, use the STAR method.

Describe the Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Highlight your problem-solving skills, resilience, and any leadership qualities that came into play. Also mention the key learnings and takeaways from the challenge and how it shaped you as a professional and person.

Describe a time when you worked in a team.

Show off your teamwork chops.

Share a story that demonstrates collaboration, communication, and your role in achieving the team’s goal. Highlight what you learned from the experience, and ideally also how you helped your team evolve.

What’s your greatest accomplishment?

This is your moment to show impact.

Choose an accomplishment that’s relevant to your MBA and post-MBA goals. Focus on the impact you made, the skills you utilized, and the lessons you learned. Showcase your growth and determination, while staying humble. 

How do you handle failure or setbacks?

Be honest but emphasize your resilience.

Talk about a time when things didn’t go as planned, what you learned from it, and how you used the experience to grow. Highlight your ability to adapt and bounce back.

Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership.

Pick a story that showcases your leadership style.

It doesn’t have to be a formal leadership role; it could be leading a project or influencing a team. Highlight your decision-making, communication, and motivational skills.

Do you have any questions for us?

Absolutely ask questions.

This is your chance to learn more about the program and show your enthusiasm and research. Ask about student experiences, opportunities for hands-on learning, or any recent developments at the school.

Remember, these questions are a way for the interviewer to get to know you beyond your application. Approach them as if you’re having a chat with someone who’s genuinely interested in your journey.

Be yourself, and let your passion for your goals and the program shine through.

MBA Interview tips to impress the admissions officers

Here are some tips to help you shine during your MBA interview and stand out from the crowd.

Know Your Story Inside and Out

Your story is your anchor – the thread that ties your experiences, aspirations, and motivations together. Be prepared to talk about your journey, your career, and what led you to the decision to pursue an MBA.

Highlight the turning points, challenges you’ve overcome, and skills you’ve developed. The more authentically and confidently you tell your story, the more memorable you’ll be.

Research the School Thoroughly

Diving deep into the specifics of the MBA program you’re applying to shows genuine interest.

Familiarize yourself with the curriculum, professors, unique opportunities, and even the school’s culture. Align your aspirations with what the program offers, and weave these connections into your interview answers.

Practice Makes Perfect

Conduct mock interviews to simulate the real experience. Enlist friends, colleagues, or ideally mentors (who have experience interviewing candidates or helping them) to play the role of the interviewer.

Practice answering common questions, refining your responses, and working on your delivery. Mock interviews not only boost your confidence but also help you iron out any stumbling points. 

Prepare, but Don’t Over-Script

While preparation is essential, avoid sounding rehearsed.

Outline key points you want to cover, but allow room for natural conversation. Be ready to adapt to the flow of the interview and engage in thoughtful, unscripted discussions.

Be Authentic and Passionate

Admissions officers can spot sincerity from a mile away.

Be yourself, and let your genuine passion for your aspirations and the MBA program shine through. Share anecdotes and examples that resonate with you personally – this will make your interview memorable.

Be Ready for Behavioral Questions

Expect questions that assess your skills, leadership, teamwork, and adaptability.

Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your responses. Provide specific examples from your experiences to illustrate your abilities.

Post-Interview Reflections

If applicable, take advantage of post-interview reflection opportunities.

Use these reflections to reiterate your interest in the program, highlight key takeaways from the interview, and address any points you may have missed.

Be Ready for Curveballs

Not every question will be standard. Be prepared for unexpected queries that might test your critical thinking or creativity.

These questions are designed to see how you think on your feet. Maintain composure, take a moment to gather your thoughts, and respond thoughtfully.

Connect Your Goals with the Program

Clearly articulate your short-term and long-term career goals.

Explain how the MBA program will equip you with the skills, knowledge, and network necessary to achieve these goals. Show that you’ve thought deeply about your post-MBA path.

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Prepare questions for the interviewer that go beyond basic information found on the school’s website.

Ask about opportunities, experiences, or aspects of the program that genuinely interest you. This demonstrates your curiosity and engagement.

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MBA Interview mistakes you should avoid

Interview is an opportunity for you to showcase your potential, personality, and passion. However, it’s also a stage where many applicants falter due to common interview mistakes.

To help you avoid these pitfalls, we’ve compiled a list of MBA interview mistakes to steer clear of at all costs.

Overconfidence

Confidence is great, but overconfidence can be detrimental.

Arrogance can make you come across as entitled and dismissive. Remember, humility and a willingness to learn are qualities schools look for in candidates.

Rambling Responses

Clear and concise communication is key.

If your responses go off on tangents or lack structure, the interviewer might struggle to follow your points. Practice using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to organize your answers.

Negativity

Avoid speaking negatively about past employers, colleagues, or experiences.

Focusing on the negative can portray you as someone who dwells on setbacks instead of learning from them.

Ignoring Non-Verbal Cues

Your body language matters.

Avoid fidgeting, maintain eye contact, and offer a firm handshake. Non-verbal cues play a role in conveying your confidence and professionalism.

Monologuing Instead of Conversing

Yes, you’re there to talk about yourself, but that doesn’t mean you should turn it into a monologue. An interview is a two-way street.

Engage with your interviewer, listen to their questions, and respond thoughtfully. If you’re too busy rattling off your rehearsed script, you’ll miss the chance to connect on a deeper level.

Final Thoughts

Acing the MBA interview is a big deal if you want to land a spot in a top-notch business program. We’ve dived deep into the different types of MBA interviews, given you the lowdown on the questions you’ll likely face, and dished out some tips for success. 

Don’t forget, it’s all about getting ready. Get comfortable with the various interview styles, practice your answers to the usual suspects, and aim to follow the proven strategies we’ve shared.

By dodging common blunders and displaying confidence, you’ll shine as the A+ candidate, ready to grab those MBA opportunities that are headed your way.

Feel free to reach out to us at consultingteam[at]admitstreet[dot]com if you’d like to schedule a mock interview and turbocharge your preparations.

Get a free profile evaluation

If you would like a candid assessment of your profile, book your free profile evaluation session now.

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