How to Ace Your MBA Interview: With Prep Questions & Answers

Applying to top business schools? Here's how to ace your MBA interview, with expert tips & tricks, as well as real-life interview questions (and answers).

Posted January 10, 2024

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First, What Is the MBA Interview?

Quick — what comes to mind when you think about business school applications? Most likely it's the most basic parts you have to submit before the deadline: application essays, GMAT or GRE scores, grades, letters of recommendation, resume, etc. Of course, if you're concerned about those parts of the application, we've got you covered. Read more here:

There is one more step on your way to a top MBA program, however, and it's often overlooked: the MBA interview. Everything else in your application goes on a piece of paper; the MBA interview is your chance to show up as a real candidate, your opportunity to make your two-dimensional application come to life.

If you're lucky enough to earn an interview at a top school, that's a great sign: it means the school is interested and thinks you have the intelligence and career potential to attend their program. The interview is their way of assessing whether you're a good fit for their program, as a human being.

That being the case, it's critical to prepare properly. Read on to find out how.

When Should I Start Preparing for My MBA Interview?

Many candidates will wait until the last minute to prep for their MBA interview. Don't make that mistake! Ideally, you'll start preparing well before you receive an interview invitation. Generally, it's a good idea to start researching and preparing for your interview once you've submitted your application. As with most components of your application, you want to be proactive, not reactive!

How to Prepare for Your MBA Interview

You have submitted your application—good job!

This is the time when top MBA candidates differentiate themselves by preparing for the interview. Not sure where or how to start? You’re in luck. Below are some guidelines to help you on your journey, and to make sure you show up as your best self during the interview.

Research the School

Just as every MBA program is different, the interview at each MBA program is different. Each school has specific objectives and formats for its interview. It's critical to understand these specifics so you can set yourself up for success.

A good first step is to visit the admissions section of the program’s website. Many schools outline the exact format of the interview and provide tips and tricks directly from the faculty or Assistant Director of Admissions.

Consider the information you learn from the program’s website as table stakes: it's what every other applicant (should) be aware of: so it's important to go a step further to gain more insight.

One way to do this is to reach out to the school’s community to see if they'd be willing to share their experiences or offer any advice. Search LinkedIn for an alum or current MBA student that has some connection with you: perhaps someone from your alma mater, someone who played the same sport as you, or volunteered at the same organization. Reach out, let them know you’re a prospective applicant, and ask if you can set up a brief chat. Most times, you'll find people very willing to share their experiences.

We’ve also got lots of school-specific articles that can help you familiarize yourself with the nuances of each program. Check these out on the MBA Library page.

The Most Common Interview Questions of the Top 10 MBA Programs

Every MBA program looks for different qualities and characteristics when interviewing applicants. To help you prepare for each individual interview, we've compiled all the most frequently asked questions for the top business schools. Drop your email below and we'll send it straight to your inbox.

Understand the Types of MBA Interviews

Once you've done your initial research, it's important to get acquainted with the different types of interview formats. Here's a primer on some common varieties.

Invite Only vs. Everyone

First, let's look at interviews based on who gets the invite.

Some programs prefer to interview only those candidates who have a good probability of admission based on their application. Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan are examples of this preference. Getting an interview is a good sign but by no means a guarantee of admission.

On the other hand, some programs consider the interview a key component of the overall application and therefore interview as many applicants as they can. Kellogg is one such program.

Blind vs. Not-Blind

The next difference in interviews is how much the MBA admissions interviewers know about you before the interview.

Some programs are blind, meaning that the interviewer either hasn’t read your application or has only received a portion of it, perhaps your resume. In this case, you have the opportunity to express who you are from a clean slate. This also means you have a lot of information to convey in a limited time, so being succinct and cogent in your answers really matters here.

Other programs are not-blind, meaning that the interview is well-versed in your application. They will likely come prepared with specific questions related to your professional or educational background. Many programs will go a step further and pair you with an interviewer who has experience in your current or desired industry. You can expect very specific questions to gauge your understanding of the details of your experience.

Led by Admissions Committee vs. Alumni vs. Second-Year MBAs

Another difference in interviews is who is conducting the interview. Some programs have a dedicated MBA admissions committee, with members who are experienced in the interview process and have interviewed thousands of applicants. Other programs allow involved alumni to act as MBA admissions officers. Still, others use current students, typically second-year MBAs, to conduct interviews.

In any case, expect the interviewer to have a vested interest in protecting the reputation of the program. And understand that they may ask themselves, “Is this a person I would be happy to consider a classmate or fellow alum?" Ultimately, that's the message you're trying to leave behind.

Video vs. In-Person

The final variety we’ll cover is where the interview is held. Before COVID, many schools preferred in-person interviews. These were conducted either on campus or at a chosen location with local alumni. Since COVID, many schools are opting for remote interviews online via Zoom or some other teleconference provider. Make sure you know which your target program is offering, and prepare accordingly.

Read our guide to virtual interviews at How to Nail Your Virtual MBA Interview.

Understand School-Specific Interviews

Now that we've covered the basics, let's get into some details about specific schools, particularly ones with unique or distinctive interview protocols. Note: the information below stays at a high level; it's not a replacement for your own research and preparation!

Harvard Business School

  • Type: Invite-only
  • Format: Resume-driven, non-blind, and approached like a case study. You will be questioned about your entire application
  • Interviewer: Conducted by an interview board, a group of individuals trained to conduct thousands of interviews per year

See more information on the HBS MBA program at Harvard Business School—MBA Program and Application Overview.

Stanford GSB

  • Type: Invite-only
  • Format: Behavioral, remote, or in-person
  • Interviewer: Conducted by trained alumni or an admissions officer
  • A note from the GSB page on interviews:
    • We conduct a competency-based behavioral interview to gain a deeper understanding of what you have done and how you have done it. We focus on your past actions, rather than on hypothetical situations, and invite you to discuss meaningful professional or community-based experiences you’ve had in the past few years.

Learn about the GSB MBA program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business—MBA Program and Application Overview.

Northwestern University Kellogg

  • Type: Kellogg invites everyone to interview (the interview is one component of the entire application)
  • Format: blind, based only on the resume; conducted virtually

Read more at The Kellogg School of Management—MBA Program and Application Overview.

MIT Sloan

  • Type: Invite-only
  • Format: Virtually, scheduled on east coast time
  • A note from the MIT page on interviews:
    • Those invited to interview will be asked to respond to two additional questions prior to the interview. Details for submitting your essay will be included in the interview invitation. Candidates will be invited by email to interview up until the decision deadlines.

A full overview of the Sloan program can be found at MIT Sloan School of Management—MBA Program and Application Overview.

University of Pennsylvania Wharton

  • Type: Invite-only
  • Format: Group (a team-based discussion with 4 or 5 other MBA candidates)
  • A note from the Wharton page on interviews:
    • The Team-Based Discussion (TBD) is meant to model the highly collaborative nature of the Wharton MBA environment in order to identify characteristics (communication style, level of engagement, leadership skills, decision-making process, etc.) that we believe contribute to the success of a Wharton student. This is an opportunity for you to express who you are as an individual and as a member of a functioning team.

      The TBD is one element of the admissions process that, when pieced together with your written application, helps to paint a clearer picture of who you are and how you would fit into the class. Our hope is that through a team-based discussion, you 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, firsthand, the teamwork and learning dynamic that is central to our program.

      TBD groups are assigned randomly. Following the TBD, you will participate in a 10-minute one-on-one interview with a member of the admissions team regarding your interest in Wharton.

Read our article on the TBD at Wharton Interview Guide: The Team-Based Discussion or learn more about the program at the Wharton Business School—MBA Program and Application Overview.

Berkeley Haas

  • Type: Invite-only
  • Format: Prerecorded video or remote
  • Interviewer: A current student or alumni

Here is more info on the program at Haas: University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business—MBA Program and Application Overview.

For Columbia, read: Ace Your Columbia Business School MBA Interview: Expert Tips and Sample Questions

How to Practice for Your MBA Interview

Okay, we've covered the types of interviews and school-specific details. Now, it's time to practice! Here are some tips and tricks for prepping for that MBA interview!

General MBA Interview Tips & Tricks

1. Know Your Interviewer

As discussed, research the format of the specific school’s interview process and objectives. If you're able to find the exact name of your interviewer (especially if they're an alum), find out everything you can about them, so you're completely prepared for a discussion with them.

2. Know Yourself

Be ready to speak about/explain every fact on your resume or in your application. You don't want to be grasping for facts when you're in the interview. Have several compelling anecdotes in your back pocket, ranging from your professional accomplishments to personal achievements.

3. Understand Your Stress Behaviors

Do you rush through answers? Do you get long-winded? Do you use a lot of filler words (e.g. um, so, like, right)? Be aware of your tendencies, and practice to minimize these. Develop calming strategies to mitigate these behaviors during the interview itself.

4. Answer the Question

This sounds obvious, but answer the question the interviewer asked you! Don’t force an example simply because you're prepared for it. Stay on topic. Don't be afraid to pause if you need time to think. It's perfectly fine to say, "Great question. May I have a moment to think about that?" Requesting time like this will show the interviewer that you're mature and are genuinely preparing a thoughtful answer to their question.

5. Be Clear and Cogent

Practice organizing your thoughts and communicating clearly, and for anecdotes, use the STAR method: situation, problem, action, result. Don't rush through your answers, but don't be long-winded, either.

6. Don't Sound Scripted

You aren't a robot (we hope), so be flexible. Trying to repeat canned answers won't work; the admissions committee is looking for real human beings!

7. Practice, Practice, Practice

Ask friends, trusted colleagues, or family members to conduct a mock interview with you. Pretend it's the real thing; don’t break character. Ask for honest feedback about your pace and clarity, and repeat this many times.

8. Be Personable

This one sounds obvious too, but make a connection with your interview. It can go a long way. When you're done, genuinely thank them for their time, and reiterate your interest in their MBA program. Remember: your interviewer was very likely once in your shoes. They're thinking: Is this someone who I'd be proud to work with, or call a fellow alum? Give them a reason to answer "Yes."

MBA Interview Practice Questions

All right, now we've come to the practice questions sections. Here are some common MBA interview questions. This list isn't comprehensive, but it will give you an idea of what you can expect.

And a quick pro tip:

The first question you will undoubtedly get is: “How are you doing?” Of course, this is just the start of a conversation, but don't treat this as a formality. Don’t just say “Fine.” That's a dead end. Come up with another answer to build rapport and connect with your interviewer. It's also a chance to shake off some of those early interview jitters. Be honest. Be genuine. Show a little personality — then you can kick off the interview on the right foot!

Now on to the questions:

Getting to Know You

Whether the interview is blind or not, you will be asked to describe yourself. Be prepared to talk about who you are, specifically those characteristics that define you and differentiate you from others.

  • Tell me a little bit about yourself. / Walk me through your resume.
  • Why do you want to pursue an MBA?
  • What other programs have you applied to?
  • What questions do you have? (usually reserved for the end of the interview)

Behavioral Questions

You'll almost certainly encounter behavioral questions in your interview. These are used to explore how you have reacted to various situations in the past, either personally, academically, or professionally. These can be questions like:

  • Describe a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
  • Describe a time when you were faced with an ethical dilemma.
  • Describe a time when you had to make a decision with limited information.
  • Describe a time when you had to persuade team members to do something your way / they didn't want to?
  • Describe a time when you had to adapt to an opinion or idea different from your own?
  • Describe a time when you had to step up in an area outside of your authority.

Questions About the Program

Certainly, interviewers will want to know why you want to be in their program. These questions might be phrased like:

  • Why did you choose to apply to this program?
  • How does this program fit into your career goals?
  • If shifting careers:
    • Why do you want to change industries/careers?
    • Do you need an MBA to shift to that field?
  • What do you anticipate will be the major challenges being in this program?

Spoiler alert: “Because you’re highly ranked” is NOT a good answer. Be prepared to discuss your career goals in detail. This includes both your short-term and long-term goals. If you don’t have a clear career trajectory mapped out, that's okay — share what you do know about what you want to do with your career, and explain where you still have gaps.

Probing Questions to Test Your Knowledge and Self-Awareness

Many programs will throw in questions designed to cut straight to who you are as a person. These might sound like:

  • What is the biggest problem your current CEO is facing?
  • How would your friends describe you in three words?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • Tell me more about [bullet/project] I see on your resume. What was the result?

Curveballs

Finally, know that there are scenarios you simply cannot prepare for. Some interviewers or programs may throw in a question like “If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?” You can't prepare for these, and that's by design. These questions are meant to test how you think on your feet. Rest assured, there is no right answer to questions like these. Remember, a confident mind is a nimble mind, so give yourself a moment to think and be yourself.

FAQs

Let's wrap up with some commonly asked questions about the MBA interview.

How Important is the MBA Interview?

The MBA interview is a critical component of every application. It can help to think of MBA candidates in three camps: those highly likely to get accepted despite the interview (the top 10%); those highly likely to get rejected despite the interview (the bottom 10%); and those who need to compete for open seats (middle 80%). For the majority of candidates, then, the interview can be the difference between getting accepted or rejected. It's your chance to differentiate yourself by conveying personal qualities you weren’t able to fit in your written application.

Do all MBA programs have interviews?

Every competitive MBA program will have some interview component. If you're seeking an MBA from a top business school, expect to have an interview.

Does everyone get an interview for an MBA?

As discussed, MBA programs take different approaches to the interview. Some schools, like Kellogg, interview as many students as possible before considering admittance. Other programs, like Sloan, only interview candidates who have passed an initial round of consideration and use it to make the final cut.

What should I wear to my MBA interview?

It's important to research the expectations of the particular program you are interviewing with, but generally speaking, it is a good idea to wear business attire to your interview. Some programs may allow business casual, but it is better to err on the side of caution and dress as you would for an important job interview.

How do you introduce yourself in an MBA interview?

Introduce yourself as you would in a job interview. Take cues from your interviewer. If they introduce themselves first, listen to what information they provide, and offer a similar reply. It's important to establish a connection and convey confidence. Smile, look the interviewer in the eye, tell them your full name, and let them know you are pleased to speak with them today.

What questions should I ask in an MBA interview?

One question every interviewee can expect is “What questions do you have?” This is not a formality. The interviewer expects you to engage in conversation, and to have done your research on the program. They want to know if you have been thoughtful in your consideration of MBA programs and why you think their program is right for you. Ask questions about the program, or ask them to confirm if their experience aligns with the expectations you have about the program from prior research. For example, “I spoke with a few alumni who said that they found (X rewarding or Y challenging); was this your experience as well?”

Additionally, your interviewer is looking to see if you can build a rapport with someone new. If they are alumni or current students, they were very likely in your shoes at one point. Ask them about the decisions they made or the challenges they faced. Show interest in them and their story; this will demonstrate that you're serious about their program and make it more likely that they'll remember you fondly during the selection process.

How long does it take to hear back after an MBA interview?

It really depends on the program and how they schedule interviews. For those programs that interview candidates early on, you can expect to wait longer than those programs that interview as a final round of consideration. A typical timeframe can be a few weeks to a couple of months.

The MBA interview isn't a formality, and it's not something to dread. Whether the program interviews every applicant or only a select few, consider the interview as your chance to set yourself apart. It can be the difference between hearing "Better luck next time” and “We’ll see you in the Fall!” so give it the time and attention it deserves.

Remember above all that the interview is a conversation, not a scripted dialogue. Not even the best candidates have perfect, flawlessly delivered answers to every question. Your interviewer will have specific questions, but at the end of the day, you're having a conversation. Be prepared, then relax and have fun! And good luck — you can do this!

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