5 types of MBA interview questions—and how to prepare for answering them

BY Kara DriscollJuly 12, 2021, 10:00 PM
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You’ve finished your MBA applications, polished your neatly crafted essay, and secured a lineup of impressive recommendations. Now, you need to ace the interview process. 

All highly competitive MBA programs require personal interviews with candidates, and they may play a significant role in the admissions process. The interview format will vary by school—with some programs soliciting the help of alumni to facilitate interviews and admissions officers taking the lead at other schools.

MBA admissions experts say that regardless of the school or admissions process, the interview is about conveying authenticity and communicating who you are and what your goals are. Interviews can last anywhere from 45 minutes to multiple hours, and a range of questions will be covered. Here are five of the most common types of questions to prepare for during the interview process.

Getting to know the candidate

Interviews will generally start out with questions that help the school’s admissions committee get to know the candidate. These questions give prospective students the opportunity to introduce themselves and provide more details about their résumé and career highlights. Don’t be afraid to get personal, recommends Eli David, cofounder and managing partner of Ivy MBA Consulting and an alumnus of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. 

“Many people work for McKinsey or Google or Morgan Stanley,” David says. “If you want to stand out, it’s your interests or hobbies that can help you do that. Volunteer experience and interests are really an opportunity for candidates to differentiate themselves.”

Technical questions and translating experience into eligibility

As you go deeper into your résumé and job experience, it is important that you explain your work in a clear and straightforward way. Candidates should be able to translate their technical work—such as computer coding or product development—into business impact, relating it to their company’s overall mission, says Devi Vallabhaneni, managing director of consulting firm MbaMission. She’s also a Harvard Business School interviewer in residence and has almost two decades of experience interviewing and evaluating HBS candidates.

“Verbalization is important. It shows if you are able to communicate effectively,” Vallabhaneni says. “Can this person tell their story?”

An example would be a Procter & Gamble employee explaining his or her job developing Tide products in steps—highlighting job duties, like analyzing ingredients and taking responsibility for defects in the product, Vallabhaneni says. This type of question is also meant to gauge how well you make the point that your roles have prepared you for the MBA program and business leadership more generally.

Scenario questions

As with any job interview, candidates will be asked questions about various situations they’ve faced in their career and personal lives. Questions like: Tell me about a time you failed. Who is the most difficult person you have worked with? Why did you move from one job to another? 

These types of questions give the candidate the opportunity to show they have reflected on their experiences and are capable of learning and growth. “You can tell how they process their emotions and how they process a situation,” Vallabhaneni says.

Preparing for the future

Candidates should think about how the MBA program they are interviewing for will help them achieve their goals. Interviewers will ask candidates questions about their dream jobs, where they would like to work, and how the specific program will aid them in reaching those goals. Schools want to see that you have done your research.

“This is a way to show your enthusiasm and your sincerity and commitment to the school,” Vallabhaneni says.

The candidate’s turn

At the end of the interview session, candidates will typically have the chance to ask interviewers any questions they have about the school, and David says there are important ground rules to follow. Candidates should not ask any questions that can be answered by reading the school’s website, and time should not be wasted on procedural questions like, “What’s next in the process?” or “When will I hear about my admission?” Any questions should be genuine and specific to the program.

David also emphasizes the importance of body language, dressing professionally, and putting in the time to research the program and prepare for the interview.

“Practice, practice, practice,” David says. “People need to understand this is a very big commitment and a lot of work. The reward, for most of them, is pretty significant.”