After taking the time to write meaningful essays, gathering strong recommendation letters, and nailing the GMAT or GRE, the next step of the MBA application process is receiving an invitation for an interview. While some may think of the interview as a mere formality, for others, the encounter can prove to be a significant stumbling block in what is already considered a competitive application process.
How can you start your MBA interview preparation? What do you need to know about the process? What do schools expect? How can you put your best foot forward? To help you answer all these questions and more, we’re going to give you some of the top tips to help you to prepare for your MBA interview.
MBA Interview Purpose
Receiving an interview invitation is a strong sign that the school believes in your potential. The primary purpose of the MBA interview is to allow schools to get a stronger sense of who you are and how you think.
The admissions process is quite competitive; there are thousands of capable applicants each year, many possessing stellar credentials and experience under their belts. The interview is an excellent way for business schools to narrow down the stiff competition, see if who you are in person matches up with your application, and determine if you have what it takes to complete an MBA.
The interview isn’t just an opportunity for the school but for you as the applicant. You have the chance to prove that you are a good fit for a school while also determining if a school is the right fit for you…
Interviews are an essential step of the admissions process that needs to be taken seriously. Before we talk about what you can do to begin your MBA interview preparation, let’s first discuss what you can expect from the interview process.
What to Expect
The best thing you can do to set yourself up for success is to familiarize yourself with the MBA interview process, the types of interviews schools may conduct, and the questions they may ask.
There are several interview styles that you should familiarize yourself with before starting your MBA interview preparation:
Blind vs. Non-blind
Like Columbia Business School and Yale School of Management, some schools firmly believe in the idea of holding “blind” interviews. In blind interviews, your interviewer will know near to nothing about you before sitting down with you, other than what appears on your resume.
Blind interviews allow the interviewer to give a non-biased assessment of the candidate in question. One of the main benefits of this type of interview is that it gives applicants almost a clean slate; the interviewer is not influenced by your academic record, GMAT or GRE scores, recommendation letters, etc.
As a result, the conversation that you have in a blind interview will likely be focused mostly on the experiences articulated in your resume. Schools that opt for blind interviews also tend to draw from a larger group of interviewers, including alumni or even second-year students.
Schools like Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management prefer to conduct nonblind interviews. In this type of interview, the interviewer has a chance to review a candidate’s entire application before sitting down with them.
A conversation with a nonblind interviewer, who is usually a member of the admissions committee, tends to be a bit more in-depth, as the questions will be tailored specifically to you and your application. The majority of questions asked are behavioral or personal questions that help you show your personality, illustrate your communication or leadership skills, and uncover the reason behind your career goals and your interest in your school’s MBA program.
Another type of interview that you may have to prepare for is a group interview. As the name implies, candidates are placed into a small group with five or six other applicants for an interactive discussion about real-life business scenarios. Group interviews evaluate your ability to work as a team, solve problems, and communicate.
This is a newer type of interview that is designed to underscore and replicate the importance of team-based learning experienced in MBA programs. Wharton School of Business is an example of a business school that has chosen team-based discussion as its preferred interview type.
On their website, Wharton asserts that group interviews “will not only be able to present how you approach and think about certain challenges and opportunities, but that you will also have a chance to experience, first-hand, the team work and learning dynamic that is central to our program.” Group interviews test your emotional intelligence and your ability to read group dynamics.
Pre- and Post-Interview Additions
Leading business schools have recently started to expand on the MBA interview; whether these additions come before or after the interview depends on your school of choice. Harvard Business School, for example, requires applicants to submit a post-interview reflection within 24 hours of the interview. While this question may change, the purpose of the question stays the same—it asks you to tell them about your interview experience.
Although there is no word limit, this reflection is not expected to be an essay-length response; it should be brief, to the point, and should follow the parameters of a typical email. This post-interview gives you another chance to interact with the admissions staff at Harvard in a format that is more reflective of real-world scenarios.
MIT Sloan is an example of a school that requires candidates to complete a brief essay prior to their interview. The instructions for this essay are outlined in the initial email that informed candidates that they were invited for an interview. This response, according to the instructions, should be answered in 250 words or less and uploaded at least 24 hours before the date scheduled for your interview. This essay is typically the first item discussed within the interview, as it may have been the last thing that was reviewed by the evaluator before the start of the interview.
If your school doesn’t require you to do anything before or after the interview, we recommend sending a brief thank you email, where you express your gratitude for the opportunity, what you learned about the program, and how you were impacted. It is best to share just a few key points from your conversation. Thank you emails should be sent no more than 24 hours after your interview. While this thoughtful act may seem small, it can have a significant impact on your interviewer.
There is a range of questions that you can be asked during an interview. They have been designed to help the interviewer learn more about your story, skillset, and aspirations for the future. While interviewers may ask generic questions, others may be designed specifically for you and candidates with a similar profile. To help you jumpstart your MBA interview preparation, here are ten MBA interview questions that you’re likely to be asked:
- Tell us about yourself.
- Why do you want to pursue an MBA?
- Why did you choose our business school or program?
- What are your weaknesses?
- Tell us about a time you demonstrated leadership. What did you learn from it?
- What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
- Walk me through your resume.
- What makes you a suitable candidate for this business school?
- How will you contribute to our campus?
- Do you have any questions for us?
Top Tips to Help You Ace Your MBA Interview Preparation
Even if you’re confident in your interview skills, you have a small window to make a lasting impression on your interviewer. To make the most of the time that you have, you will need to focus on the essentials and get your point across clearly and efficiently. To do well, it’s best if you start your MBA interview preparation as early as you can; be proactive, not reactive.
1. Do Your Research
Before you begin your MBA preparation, you have to do your research. Take the time to really dive into your school, learn about the program, different opportunities that they have available on their campus, the culture of the school – anything that will help you to get a complete picture of your school’s values and expectations. As previously mentioned, each business school has its own approach and expectations when it comes to conducting an MBA interview.
This is the time to find out the logistical details surrounding your interview; where it will take place, how long it will be, etc. Business schools typically discuss all of this and more on their website. Along with getting information directly from your prospective school, we also recommend finding out what current students, or even alumni, went through during their interview process.
This can be found on social media in Facebook groups, in Youtube videos, or within blog posts. It is also worthwhile to do a bit of research on your interviewer if you know their name before the interview. You can look up their LinkedIn profile to get a sense of the trajectory of their career; this will also help you to determine which questions to ask at the end of your interview.
2. Reflect on Your Experiences, Accomplishments, and Background
Once you have done your research, the next step in your MBA interview preparation is to identify your key selling points and supporting stories. Think about how you want to represent yourself in the interview: what strengths and accomplishments do you want to highlight, which soft skills (like leadership and teamwork) do you want to demonstrate?
When thinking about which experiences to focus on, keep all of the research that you’ve done on the school, especially their core values. Once you know which selling points you want to draw on during your interview, reflect on how these will help you to achieve your long-term and short-term career goals, how they can benefit the MBA community, and ultimately reflect the school’s values.
The best way to respond to MBA interview questions is from your answers to a story. To help you structure your story and to make sure you don’t leave out any important details, try following the S.O.A.R. technique.
Sticking to the S-O-A-R technique will help you to keep your answers concise and to the point.
3. Practice with Sample Questions
A big part of your MBA interview preparation is not just thinking about how you are going to respond to common questions but also practicing your answers out loud. You can record yourself answering practice questions or get a friend to help you facilitate a mock interview and give you feedback on your performance. Hearing your answers aloud will help you to keep track of your pacing and make sure your answers are specific and concise.
4. Think of the Interview as a Conversation
While it’s good to prepare and practice your answers for the MBA interview, it’s important to find a good balance. You don’t want to practice too much so that your answers sound overly rehearsed and robotic, but also not enough where you are unsure and rambling.
The goal is to sound relaxed and confident when giving your answers. The best way to do this is to think of your interview as a conversation. Your interviewer wants to know more about you, what sets you apart from the other candidates, and what drives your career aspirations.
Don’t be afraid to speak with enthusiasm and to show your personality. Instead of worrying about giving the right answers, focus instead on being authentic and honest.
5. Prepare Questions to Ask Your Interviewer
Be ready to ask meaningful questions at the end of your interview. Taking the time to pick your interviewer’s brain on their knowledge and experience with the school will help to demonstrate your genuine interest. Don’t waste time asking questions that are easily answered on the school’s website.
If your interviewer is a current student or alumni, perhaps ask them about their experience with the MBA program so far, their favorite classes, or any internship opportunities. If your interviewer is a member of the admissions committee, consider asking questions that focus on logistical questions about support or the strength of the school’s community.
1. When should I schedule the interview?
While some schools have limited dates and times for scheduling interviews, others leave it up to you. It’s best to schedule your interview as soon as you can; this will demonstrate your interest in the school and your reliability.
2. Who will be conducting my interview?
Depending on the school and the type of interview, it can be conducted by either a member of the admissions committee, an alum, or even a current second-year student. Different interviewers may have different expectations or qualities that they are looking for in candidates. Alumni may be more interested in your long-term goals; what you plan to do after receiving your MBA.
A current student may be looking to see if you can handle the MBA program and if you are the type of person they can see themselves going to school with, whereas a member of the admissions committee may have a more holistic approach to the interview, wanting to fill in any gaps in your application and to see what you have to bring to the table. No matter who will be scheduled to interview you, they are going to be knowledgeable about their school and MBA program.
3. How do I prepare for a virtual interview?
MBA interview preparation, whether in-person or online, is virtually the same. Follow the same tips that we outlined in this article. Once you have done your research and practiced, test your internet connection to make sure your camera, microphone, and speaker are all connected and working before your interview begins.
A good way to make sure everything works the way that it should is to do a virtual mock interview with a friend on the same platform your interview will take place on such as Zoom, Skype, etc. You also want to make sure your background is simple and plain and that there’s nothing that would be distracting to the interviewer.
4. Will I be asked questions about my essay?
Yes, there is a good chance that you will have to explain the reasoning behind the answers that you provided in your essay and other parts of your application in your MBA interview. This is especially true if you have a non-blind interview.
5. How long will the interview last?
The exact time depends on the school, but the majority of interviews will last for about 30 minutes to an hour. Interviewers are very stringent with making sure that the interview doesn’t run longer than it is supposed to, so when giving your answers, make sure to be as pointed and efficient as you can.
6. Should I bring anything with me to my interview?
It can be a good idea to bring a notepad and a pen, in case you want to make a note of anything, along with a copy of your resume. There’s no need to bring a laptop with you.
MBA interview preparation does not have to be a stressful process. The interview is designed to give you an opportunity to communicate with the admissions committee directly. You have the chance to show them who you are and what you hope to achieve. The best way to prepare for an interview is to do your research on your school’s expectations and values, prepare your main points and stories in advance, and practice with sample interview questions.
Remember to think of the interview as more of a conversation—your answers should be relaxed, confident, and to the point. If you take advantage of these tips, you will be on your way to a successful MBA interview.