The Questions Behind MBA Interview Questions

What are MBA interview questions really measuring?

The Most Common MBA Interview Questions

The questions you’re likely to face in MBA admissions interviews are, in general, predictable.  At most schools, you can expect to be asked about your background, your career goal, why you want an MBA, your fit with the school that’s interviewing you, and the value that you would add to the incoming class.  Besides these, you are likely to be asked a number of behavioral questions, such as ones about a time you faced a challenge, solved a conflict, worked without direction, achieved success, or similar.

Even at HBS, where questions are tailored individually to each applicant, the most common topics are predictable.  Favorite topics include asking you to explain the choices you made during your education and professional career, current events in your industry, the strategy of your company and its competitors, why you want to attend HBS, what you’re reading now, and your plans for the future.

Does this mean that the best way to prepare for your interviews is to drill endlessly on variations of these questions?  Practicing your answers during mock interviews is a necessary part of interview preparation because no one can give their best performance on the very first time that they’re answering a question.  But MBA interviews aren’t really about questions and answers.

What is the MBA Admissions Interview Really Measuring?

In short?  Your emotional intelligence.  Although an MBA admissions interviewer does want to check a few basic facts, like whether you have a clear, realistic career plan, the majority of the interview is evaluating the softer factors:

  • Do I like you?
  • Can you speak clearly, as you’ll need to do in classroom discussions?
  • Are you a generous, outgoing person who will help your fellow students?
  • Do you seem passionate and knowledgeable about our school?
  • Are you self-aware, showing some knowledge of your own strengths and weaknesses?

Passing these tests is not about memorizing the answers to an endless list of interview questions, but about connecting with the interviewer as a human being.  For this reason, focusing too much on writing out your answers to common interview questions, and then delivering those over and over again can actually backfire!  If your interview answers have an overly formal quality because you’ve written everything out in advance, you’ll seem a bit standoffish.

If your interviewer gets the feeling that you’ve memorized everything, they’ll feel like you aren’t listening to THEM, and are more focused on giving the answers that YOU prepared.  This is the opposite of what you want — you want the interviewer to feel like you’re listening closely, and are totally focused on them.  Worst of all is if you try to use a memorized answer from one question to answer a different question.  This isn’t a political debate where you can answer the question that you wish you were asked!

Common Interview Mistakes

OK, fine.  You’ve agreed not to write out and memorize your answers, and you won’t do the endless rote practice.  How else can the interview go wrong?

  • Too Boring

It’s easy to forget that your interviewer may be interviewing tens or even hundreds of candidates in a season.  When they ask you to “Tell me a bit about yourself”, and you start with a chronological description of where you were born, where you attended college, and how you secured a job in finance or consulting after you graduated, do you think they’ve heard that one before?  Take the chance they’ve given you and say something more interesting!

  • Too Vague

When you answer behavioral questions about the challenges you’ve faced, are these full of general statements about nameless colleagues who aren’t described in any detail, or solutions like “bringing the team together to align on priorities”?  The interviewer probably can’t visualize the situation and your role in it.  If you were telling the same story to a friend, wouldn’t you describe the people in the story, what each one was thinking, and the actions you took in response?

  • Too Arrogant

The interviewer might ask you how other people would describe you, or even how you’d describe yourself in a few words.  If every quality you list is highly positive, is this a realistic description?  Anyone honest would admit that their colleagues see both positive and negative qualities in them.

What’s the Best Way to Prepare for an MBA Interview?

At Menlo Coaching, we believe that interview preparation needs to address both the content side of the interview and the softer emotional side.  For this reason, our interview preparation process includes working with professional actors.  This process involves a physical and emotional warm-up, impromptu speaking exercises, and a focus on the mindset that you bring into the interview and how this impacts the interviewer’s perception of you.  The goal is to make sure that you feel confident and authentic when telling your story.  As our former clients have described it:

  • The most fun part of the process
  • Helped me become open, enthusiastic and joyful
  • I really love working with Eduardo. He will really get you out of your shell by doing some pretty ridiculous exercises and vocal warm-ups. It really allowed me to find that energy within myself to communicate in a very positive, concise and efficient manner.

Eduardo Placer, Professional Actor and MBA Interview Coach

MBA Interview Quetions with Menlo Coaching

Ace Your Interviews With Menlo Coaching

Do you want to relax, connect with your interviewer, and perform your best during your upcoming interviews? Contact Menlo Coaching for help with your interview preparation.

BOOK MY INTERVIEW PREP NOW.


After a 15-year career in the tech industry (SVP at Travelzoo, Sr. Director at Yahoo, GM Europe at a startup acquired by Adobe), David White has recruited, managed and developed dozens of talented young professionals in startup and corporate environments.  David has worked on MBA applications since 2012 and has a special focus on helping applicants to choose the right career goals.