How to Survive Difficult MBA Admissions Interview Questions

How to Survive Difficult MBA Admissions Interview Questions main image

You’ve reached the final hurdle of the admissions process. Your application has been received by the admissions office, it’s been independently reviewed by the admissions committee, and committee members have extended you an invitation to interview.

Reaching this goalpost is a huge feat, however, now the nerves of what to expect from the face-to-face element of the application process have set in.

It’s worth noting if you get an invitation from a business school to an interview that your chances of admissions have already improved. Although admission rates at top schools are roughly 10-15 percent, once you land an interview and are sitting in front of the interviewers, you have a greater opportunity to cement a place at your chosen school – if you handle it correctly that is.

What the school knows about you

The committee member interviewing you knows that, on paper, you’re completely qualified for a spot on the program. They’ve seen your work experience, grades and all other qualifications needed for admission to the program, so now it’s your turn to show them what sets you apart from other applicants.

What the school is looking for

When it comes to the interview, MBA applicants need to convince the school of three things:

1) That you’re familiar with the school, its mission, and how you will take advantage of its resources. You could do this by demonstrating you understand the school’s values and history and how you’d fit into the program.

2) The aspects that make you unique from the other applicants. This element may seem tough, as your fellow candidates are just as qualified and accomplished as you are. This is where you can shine. Talk about your background and who you are as a person, your values, as all these elements differentiate you from the next candidate. It’s also worth talking about what you enjoy outside the classroom. Let them know which programs and clubs you’d enjoy being a part of, and how you’d contribute.

3) Demonstrate you know your personal goals, and how both you and the school can benefit from your MBA experience. Show the committee you know who you are and where you’re going.

Below is a list of some challenging admissions interview questions that may come up.

Can you tell me about a time you failed?

Applicants are keen to highlight their achievements and strengths, but it’s worth preparing answers to discuss failures or low points – as a curveball question like this could throw interviewees.

The best course of action will be to discuss a failure you were involved in which wasn’t detrimental to the organization. Explain your role in the failure and what it taught you, and, if possible, note a recent situation where you applied the lessons learned.

What other schools are you applying to?

This question will be one of the more delicate ones. It’s important to not be offended, as admissions officers usually ask to assess the likelihood of you attending the program. Candidates should answer tentatively to ensure their answer is interpreted in the correct way.

If you answer honestly, you’re admitting you’re interested in other programs, and if you don’t you may seem ill-prepared for possible outcomes, or even defensive.

To cover your bases, you can say you’ve applied to a few other schools whose programs align with your coursework interest, career goals, and other criteria.

Demonstrate to the admissions officers that your selection is based on a careful, forward-thinking analysis, but tell the interviewers their school is the best fit and you would love to be considered.

Or, you could choose to disclose everything – especially if you’ve been offered a place elsewhere. This shows you’re an attractive candidate and could boost your chance of getting into your favorite school.

Can you describe a conflict at work and how you handled it?

This question could be dangerous if answered incorrectly. Don’t be tempted to speak about colleagues negatively or disregard your role in the conflict. Also, if you actually started the conflict, you could be seen as argumentative or ill-tempered. Basically, it’s hard to describe a conflict and remain objective.

Don’t speak ill of your colleagues, bosses, or the organization, as this will make you seem like a disgruntled employee. Admissions officers want to see if you’re able to view conflict from different angles and perspectives.

To prepare, think of a work conflict you were involved in. During the interview describe the conflict in detail and your role. If the conflict ended, explain how and why. Most importantly, mention what you learned, and, if applicable, demonstrate a situation where you were able to apply those lessons.

How would those close to you describe you in three words?

This question takes self-awareness and emotional intelligence into account, which is important to admissions committees, but also includes a twist to throw you off as it focuses on how you think your personality and character is viewed by other people, rather than on how you perceive yourself. Interviewers may ask for three, four or five words, or you might need to speak in more open-ended terms.

Pick words that describe you favourably and prepare to expand on them. You can ask those closest to you how they’d describe you, allowing you to check if your personal perception is in line with others. If you answer with “ambitious, loyal, and hardworking,” be prepared to elaborate why you think others see those traits in you.

Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Assistant Editor of TopMBA.com, creating and editing content for an international MBA student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of the business world.  

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