MBA, MBA Preparation

The Last Word: Ace Your MBA Interview

January 1 2024 By The MBA Exchange
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You’ve researched questions like “what is the GMAT” and “GMAT vs. GRE,” polished your resume, submitted all your other application materials and reached an important milestone in your pursuit of a seat in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program – the admissions interview.

Unfortunately, too many applicants don’t put the same amount of time and effort into preparing for the interview as they do for the rest of the application. Admissions committees increasingly are placing more importance on the interview in terms of deciding who to admit and who to reject. It’s crucial for candidates to do well in this component of the application process. 

What is the MBA Admissions Interview?

You’ve got to understand the beast before you can conquer it. Before asking how to prepare for MBA interviews, ask – what’s the point of MBA admission interviews, anyway?

The MBA admission interview is your chance to introduce adcoms to the real you, the person behind the application materials. An interviewer’s role in this situation is to test, challenge and probe – and your job is to have strong answers at the ready. 

MBA admission interviews usually allocate about 30 minutes for each candidate. So, every word counts. Clarity starts with structure – each answer to MBA interview questions should have a beginning, middle and end. Take the time you need to collect your thoughts and ace your answer.

You usually hear back after an MBA interview in a couple weeks, so don’t get antsy if you don’t get contacted right away. Many programs specify the typical amount of time it takes for interviewees to hear back after their interviews. After the interview, there’s only background verification standing between you and MBA admissions success.

MBA Interview Questions Tips & Tricks

Here are some helpful MBA interview tips and tricks. Take our advice on how to prepare for MBA interviews when you want to come out on top – it comes from experience!

Show Your Balance

While you can’t predict or control the questions being asked by the interviewer, you can and must manage your responses strategically and tactically to convey the most compelling, authentic, balanced, and convincing story possible. One way to do this is to moderate any “extremes” that may have been conveyed in your application. For instance:

  • If you come from a highly advantaged background, choose examples that convey your humility, empathy and approachability
  • If you have limited cross-cultural exposure, give some evidence that you are comfortable and confident about engaging with different people in unfamiliar surroundings
  • If your academic and/or professional profile are highly technical, then feature examples of your emotional intelligence and interest in social endeavors

Don’t Memorize Answers

Interviewers take an active role in discussing your candidacy. So, don’t memorize answers to the questions you think they’re going to ask as part of your MBA interview preparation. Rather, build stories around your strengths that you can adapt to a wide range of questions. Instead of memorizing a script, practice using talking points so your responses are thoughtful and natural.

Be Yourself (unless you’re a jerk…)

During MBA admission interviews, strive to present your best, most poised and authentic self – after all, that’s who adcoms met and liked in your application! You are the expert on the topic of “you.” The resume and application reflect and highlight important pieces of yourself, but you are the only one who has actually lived the experiences, feelings and anecdotes of your journey.  Dig deeply into your past, present and future, and you will soon realize that your are truly unique. Review your successes, failures and opportunity areas, and craft them into a cogent narrative about how you will contribute to your targeted school, industry and community in an impactful manner.

Structure your responses

Develop your key stories using the STAR format – Situation, Task, Action and Result – to convey understanding and impact in a concise and concrete manner. At The MBA Exchange, we feature this approach in our mock interviews with MBA applicants. 

Remember, there is no way to anticipate and prepare for every possible question that an interviewer may ask, but if you pre-determine the key anecdotes to be featured from your professional, academic and personal life, you will feel more poised, confident and relaxed in the actual interview situation. By discovering your uniqueness, embracing your self-knowledge and practicing for perfection, you will be well on your way to achieving your goal.

Be School-Specific, Be Prepared (and always be on time!)

Interviewers want to know that you will accept their offer of admission if one is extended to you. Be sure to include school-specific references in your interview responses. Consider how you’re going to align your candidacy with offerings like courses and clubs to show how their MBA program is the ideal fit for you.

For remote interviews, check your internet connection, computer camera, background and microphone at least a day before your scheduled interview. Ideally, you should do a practice session with a trusted resource.

Manage the Post-interview

The formal questions come to an end and you stand up to leave. Breathing a sigh of relief, you say to yourself, “It’s over!” But, remember – you are STILL being evaluated even as you walk out of the room. Casual, parting comments such as “So, how do you feel now?” or “What are your plans for the rest of the day?” are additional chances for you to portray sincere interest and to demonstrate graciousness. Always remember, the interviewer is a human being who, like you, wants to be respected and appreciated. 

Once you make it through your admission interview, there’s one last thing you need to do before you can relax and stop worrying about this part of the admissions process – and that’s to send off thank you emails as needed. Expressing gratitude shows your bona fides as a solid prospect, and, additionally, gives you the last chance to make a great impression.

Send emails to each person who supported you in getting through the challenges of the interview process. That could include contacts from jobs, college or university or other contexts in your life. If possible, send personalized thank you emails to your interviewers, acknowledging their time and attention. Initiating contact makes you look responsible, on top of things and aware of the importance of networking, all pluses from an MBA admissions perspective. If there’s one of these tips and tricks you don’t want to forget, procrastinate on or avoid, it’s this one. You might be surprised about how much impact this kind of simple courtesy can produce.

MBA Interview Questions To Practice

Planning ahead for key or common MBA interview questions lets you cut to the chase more quickly and smoothly. Here are some key MBA admission interview questions to prep for before you show up.

What are your career goals?

Adcoms want to see both ambition and an ability to make concrete, actionable plans from prospective accepted students. You should be able to talk about your career goals without sounding hazy, foggy or overconfident. You also don’t want to give an impression of aimlessness.

Why do you want to pursue an MBA?

Show that an MBA is an asset you understand and value by detailing the ways you see an MBA fitting into your career trajectory and personal goals.

And, if you’re pursuing an executive MBA (EMBA) instead of a traditional MBA, this is a great time to show your awareness of details about the program you’re targeting.

Walk me through your resume

Getting an invitation to expound on your experience is a great opportunity for you as a candidate. Be prepared to take full advantage of the chance to take your interviewer through your resume in greater depth, highlighting both what you’ve shown you can bring to the table and how an MBA could enhance your professional profile.

Tell us about a time you failed

This question is another blessing in disguise. It sounds like a bad thing to discuss past failures, but your interviewer wants to get to know the real you and assess how you could enrich the school’s community and fit into its culture. 

Avoid the temptation to be perfect. The adcom may interpret that as an attempt to hide character flaws or vulnerabilities. Arrogance, entitlement, and ego don’t work. Conversely, a bit of appropriate humor and self-deprecation convey the humility and confidence that business schools value. If you’re pursuing a long shot like an MBA with a 3.0 GPA, you need every boost you can get!

These are the types of questions you’ll face. Are you prepared to answer?

Virtual MBA Interviews

What happens when you discover there are no local interviewers available, and your interview is going to take place over the phone or via web conference? If you have a choice, it’s often better to interview in person. The school sees how invested you are in their program, and a stronger connection can often be built. However, if the circumstances require a virtual interview, here are some tips.

If you’re videoconferencing, test the audio and video link beforehand to ensure that your interviewer is able to clearly hear and see you. Ensure adequate lighting (with the light facing you, not behind you) and a professional-looking background (i.e., plain wall, clean desk or table top as opposed to a bedroom).

Do at least a couple practice interviews by phone and/or webcam with a trusted third party to increase your comfort with the medium. Relax, be yourself and smile even if they can’t see you. Your smile will come through in your voice.

When Should I Start Preparing for MBA Interviews?

You want to take sufficient time on MBA interview preparation to get it right, but not so long that your responses to MBA interview questions start sounding rehearsed and lose life and immediacy. 2-3 weeks, with at least several extended prep sessions, is a good bet in terms of your timeline.

Be sure to stay aware of relevant MBA application deadlines! You could also be on a different calendar if you’re targeting deferred admission MBA programs.

Most MBA programs require interviews, although some part-time MBA programs may not require interviews for admission. Make sure you know what you’ll need in order to complete your application, and give yourself adequate time to prepare.

If you weren’t invited to an MBA admissions interview…

If you didn’t get an MBA admissions interview, it can feel frustrating and disappointing. Without the chance to present yourself in person, the lack of feedback from admissions can be disheartening. However, this can be seen as an opportunity. Being denied now gives you more time to apply to other schools and strengthen your application.

Consider partnering with professional consultants like The MBA Exchange, who have former admissions professionals and MBA grads from top-tier schools. We can help you frame your candidacy effectively for other programs or advise on re-applying to your original target school(s) next year.