When a seemingly simple and innocuous question is put to you at an MBA admissions interview, you may start to feel overconfident and tell yourself that you’re almost there. But beware. Looks are deceptive, and you may be about to trip and fall.
A few business schools are known to ask their MBA applicants bizarre interview questions, such as, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?”
You could confidently say, ‘Lion – because I work for 4 hours a day and sleep for 20!‘ and you’ll still be scratching your head till the results are declared, wondering if it was the right thing to say.
There’s really no way to prepare for such unconventional questions and there may be no right or wrong answer. You just have to do your best on the spot.
But there are questions which you, as an applicant, can expect and prepare for.
First let’s look at the most common questions that are also among the hardest MBA questions to answer.
The key to answering this question is to know that the interviewer is trying to find out whether you have done some introspection on your own personality, and thought about your biggest weakness and how to overcome it. Show humility and self-awareness when answering.
For example, if you have not mentioned much social service or participation in community programs, the interviewer may try to find out whether you have identified this shortcoming.
Your reply to the question may get him interested if you say that you feel you have not done adequate work for the community and are making sincere efforts to involve yourself in more programs. You could give an example of a program you have started to attend.
You are fully prepared to answer a question about your successes, but you don’t normally expect a question about your failures. The objective of the interviewer is not just to find out where you failed but also to know whether you have learned from the experience.
Instead of only narrating an episode where you failed, you also need to show how it taught you something, how you faced your fears, and how you emerged stronger.
For example, suppose you failed in your first year of engineering, because of some reasons (ranging from a lack of seriousness to a severe disconnect from the chosen subject).
Instead of giving up and letting the failures pile on, you did some self-introspection to understand where you were going wrong. You then created a study plan for yourself to not just catch up with the subject but also be among the top 10% of the graduating class.
By doing so, you created a positive experience from a humbling one. Remember to take the blame and not pass it on to someone else. [Read how to deal with low percentage / GPA in college]
Be wary of giving an answer that really only hides a success story.
For example, “We missed the delivery deadline, but we delivered a product of great quality.” The interviewer may feel you are avoiding the question. Don’t give an answer that shows your failure caused difficulties for your organization.
The interviewer wants to find out whether you are a people person and can manage difficult colleagues and classmates once you have been admitted into the MBA program. While answering the question, you need to keep at bay any bitterness from your experience with a poor manager and try to show that you are capable of being empathetic with and sensitive to others.
For example, maybe a senior manager you worked with was initially under the impression that you were trying to replace him and didn’t respect his experience and knowledge. You had a personal discussion with him where you cleared his apprehensions and expressed interest in learning from him.
This transformed your relationship, and the senior manager not only passed on some rare tips but also provided you an environment where you could give your best. You have shown that you not only confronted the situation but handled it maturely and professionally to make things better for yourself, the manager, and your organization.
The interviewer is trying to test your emotional intelligence and what picture of your company and colleagues you give others. You cannot heap blame on someone for a conflict as that would be like throwing that person under the bus.
You cannot say you really had no role in it and only others were involved as this could mean that you aren’t important enough at your workplace. You need to show that you were capable of seeing both sides of the conflict. Of course, you shouldn’t imply that you started the conflict.
It pays to be ready with an example. Explain who was involved in the conflict, how it was addressed, what your role was, and what the outcome was. How did it shape your leadership style? Show what the resolution of the conflict taught you. Were you able to use what you learned to resolve another conflict? If yes, you win full points.
The interviewer wants to test your moral compass but also whether you have the maturity to resolve such situations.
Suppose you found when compiling data that your company had been exaggerating numbers to keep the investors happy. You know that your manager had a hand in the fudging but should you confront him and let him know that you have found out the fraud, or should you let things be?
You should explain to the interviewer how you analyzed the situation and what action you took that shows not only that you want to score high on the moral scale but also that you handled the problem with tact and maturity.
This question is widely perceived as unfair to the candidate, because the candidate cannot ask the interviewer what other applicants the admissions committee is considering.
The objective may be to assess whether you are wildly applying to all the top schools or only to certain schools where you have a good chance and which offer programs suitable to you.
Or the aim may be to find out what the chances of your accepting admission if it is offered, and whether you would rather prefer another school in your list. Read more about how bschools manage yield.
You should honestly list the schools in your target list, explain why you chose them (for their academic programs, teaching style, campus environment), and say why the school you are interviewing for is an excellent choice for particular reasons that you also need to explain. Mention a specific reason why this school is your first choice, compared with another school.
“Show them the love,” says an expert in admissions and recruitment. You need to show you understand the school’s culture and will be able to gain from and contribute to it.
If you’ve been accepted by another school, say so. It would make your candidature more attractive for the school.
This is the time to turn the tables on the interviewer, as it were. Use the opportunity to clear your doubts and curiosity. But select your questions wisely.
Among good questions would be, “Since you’ve graduated from this school, what are the advantages of doing an MBA here?” “How does the school maintain ties with the business world?” “What changes are on the cards for the school’s MBA program?”
Go prepared with school-related questions based on your research, note down questions that arise during the interview, and avoid questions that the school website can answer.
Now for some tough questions that may get thrown at you.
Simple, right? Well, yes. But make sure that your answer is well-structured, you mention your education, career, extracurriculars, you highlight your career goals, and you take not more than three minutes. You should sound genuine and conversational, and you could practice the answer in front of family or friends.
Based on your discretion, you may (or may not) address some related questions: how are you the right fit for the school and how will the school benefit from having you on campus? Why do you want to do an MBA and why at this school? Why should we admit you?
Explain specific skills that you hope to pick up and apply at your company or future career. Say how an MBA is essential to your career plans. Talk about the uniqueness of the school’s academic programs, faculty, campus, or location.
Getting an MBA involves spending time and money. Try to explain how the degree is a good fit for your long-term plans.
Speak about your concerns honestly, but explain that an MBA from the school you are interviewing would be great, briefly giving a few points.
It’s similar to another question: What words would you want to have on your tombstone? Assessing your self-awareness and emotional intelligence is the goal.
What do you think others think of you? You might ask a few friends or colleagues to describe you. Goes without saying that positive adjectives such as “sensitive, ambitious, helpful” or “informal, loyal, sincere” would work better than “a real pain in the neck”. But simply listing them isn’t enough. Be prepared to give examples for each.
Do not give vague and general reasons that may apply to every other school you’ve applied to.
The only way to give a good answer is to research three considerations: the school’s academic program, extracurricular activities, and career services.
Select the highlights of each and be specific to show that you have studied the school’s plus points carefully.
If you don’t have examples to share from work, your best answer could involve your participation in extracurricular activities and organizations outside your company. Show that you have organized events, managed people and other resources, and created something of substance.
Even if you hate your current job (and that’s the primary trigger for your MBA plans), you could still try to find something you’re passionate about or something good about your company.
You could include your company’s strategic business goals in your ideas: for example, diversifying its business or building a new team for entering a new market.
On the other hand it could also be smaller, subtle changes that could achieve a big impact.
For either of these, you’d need to first do a SWOT analysis on your company.
We have already sampled one tricky question at the beginning. Let’s look at some more.
A great interview may not guarantee your admission, but a poor interview will certainly keep you out.
Practise the tips, and think about other possible questions that the interviewer could come up with.
The other thing to keep in mind.
It’s not about knowing all the questions upfront and having the ‘right’ answer to each. It’s more about how your answer ties in with the rest of the story and your positioning.
Which is why while preparing you should focus on the nuances too – such as the overall profile positioning. That way, if you are unable to provide impressive answers to some of these tricky questions, you’re still in the reckoning.
And if you’re still wondering about it – don’t lie!
Stick to the facts and know how to present them well.
All the while, remember to enjoy both the preparation and the interview when the big day arrives.
And if it all appears too much to handle on your own, our experienced MBA consultants should be able to hand-hold and train you with some mock-interviews to tackle the final hurdle between you and your dream university. Drop us an email: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com