How To Answer Common MBA Interview Questions With Confidence

If you have gotten to the interview stage of the MBA admissions process, first of all: congratulations! It’s a big step. But you will likely be feeling a lot of stress about how to handle the interview. While preparing for an MBA interview is a complex combination of multiple factors, the most direct advice you are probably looking for is “how do I answer the interview questions?”

On this page, we cover some common MBA interview questions and offer up our tips on how to answer them:

“Tell Me About Yourself.”

This is a question you will get in nearly every MBA interview. It is as vague-sounding as it is ubiquitous. It is intended to set you at ease, feel at home, and give you a softball question to start out with. Unfortunately, if you are stressed out about the interview, it can have the opposite effect. How do you answer this question asked in almost every MBA interview?

Most people’s instincts are to give broad strokes about their life: “I was born in X; I graduated high school and then went to Y for college; then I got a job at Z.” The problem with that kind of answer is that the poor admissions committee officer will be conducting dozens or even hundreds of admissions interviews in a given season.

So if many applicants begin with some version of that— they will start to blend together. Furthermore, all of that information is readily available on your resume. They will almost certainly have just reviewed your paperwork and know all of these things, especially when some version of those things will be true for every single MBA applicant. 

Instead, try to answer with something that is interesting and memorable about you.  The trick is making sure that it is still related to your desire to get an MBA. Here are some possible prompts:

There is no right answer to this question. But any of the above ideas will be more engaging, memorable, and impressive than a redundant, chronological walkthrough of the basic facts of your life. 

“Why Do You Want to Pursue an MBA?”

The next question that you are likely to be asked during an MBA interview is some variation of “why get an MBA?” This can be a tricky question to answer, and you definitely need to provide an answer in the “Goldilocks zone”: not too ambitious, not too modest.

If you say something that is wildly ambitious—for example, that you believe the MBA will put you next in line to be CEO of Google—you will read as unserious and perhaps a little bit unqualified. Conversely, if you set your short-term and long-term goals too modestly—for example, that you think the MBA will help you get a 5% raise—the AdCom will not be sufficiently excited by the prospect of your attending the program. 

The best way forward here is to show that you have a realistic idea of how the MBA might advance your career while also making it sound a little bit inspiring and value driven. You will likely be referring back to your Career Goals essay when this question is asked.

“Why Is Our Business School the Right Fit For You?”

This is another classic among MBA interview questions. The schools that interview you know that you are likely applying to multiple programs, but they still want to feel special. This is not just ego-stroking (though a little of that is fine).

What a school’s AdCom wants to know in this question are two things:

If you have done your research and are thinking about why the specific business school is a good fit, you will be able to contribute to its programs and clubs in a way that strengthens their brand, their alumni network, and, ultimately, their ranking.

The way to approach this question is to think about it as though you are showing off the depth of your research. In order to answer it in a sufficient way, you will need to display a mastery of the school’s basic details: your major/concentration, classes you are eager to take, clubs and programs you are interested in joining. It also doesn’t hurt to throw in a little bit of color or a personal touch: an interaction you had with a current student or an alum.

It is very important to remember that, as you show off this knowledge, you don’t end up sounding like their catalog. Your knowledge of their program needs to sound like it comes from an interest in it. Refrain from bringing up elements of the MBA that you are aware of but have no bearing on you as an applicant.

Behavioral Questions in the MBA Interview

The last category of questions we are going to give tips on for the admissions interview is a broad set of variations that begin with a phrase like “tell me about a time when…” These questions might end up being about leadership, or teamwork, or (commonly and insidiously) a time that you failed.

You can prepare for the MBA interview here by readying details about the situation and your response to it. Obviously, depending on the question, you will want to emphasize different things.

Showing Leadership and Achieving Success

If the question is, for example, about leadership, you will want to show how your actions resulted in success, and how you dealt with your team to implement your ideas. Specificity is important here because if you lay out your accomplishments in broad, unspecific strokes, you will sound like you don’t have much personal investment in what happened.

For example, if you say “I had five workers on my team and assigned each one of them some work so that we could do the work faster than if I did it all myself, you will end up sounding like you believe that your workers are all interchangeable and that you never took the time to get to know them.

Talk about the people. Mention names if possible and, while you shouldn’t give too much unnecessary detail, the AdCom should come away feeling that this example was an important moment in your career and that it impacted you.

Demonstrating Teamwork and Working with Others

Another common behavioral question is about teamwork. This could take a couple of different forms: “tell me about a time you faced a difficulty or a conflict on a team”; “tell me about a time when you dealt with a team member that wasn’t pulling their weight”. These questions are all about showing the AdCom how you will behave when in contact with other students during the MBA program.

This means that the wrong answer is one where you call out a teammate in a dismissive way: “Steve? Oh yeah, he did everything wrong, a real bad guy. That’s why I kicked him off the team.” In business school, you can’t kick someone off your team and the AdCom will not be impressed by this kind of behavior. The better answer is one where you discuss being conciliatory, or practicing a kind of cooperative exchange. Let the interviewer know that you are both able to identify problem actors and help the team be more successful by bringing them into the fold. 

Talking About Overcoming Failure, Even if it is Difficult

If you are asked about a time you failed at something, don’t dance around it or try to pick something unimportant. Tell them about a time you failed at something meaningful. The interviewer wants to know that you have self-knowledge and humility. It’s never a good look to answer a question about an important failure by implying that you have never failed. 

In the video below our communications coach for admissions interview preparation, Eduardo Placer, shares three tips on how to tell a story gracefully while making a connection with your interviewer–a great approach for discussing failure!

Courageous Storytelling for the MBA Interview

In any given interview, for business school or otherwise, there will be other questions, of course—far too many to cover all of in a single post—but these cover the basics. If you’re looking for professional help with interview preparation, we’d love to speak to you. 

If you’re looking for more advice on preparing for MBA interviews, see our article, 3 MBA Interview Tips to Stand out from the Crowd.