Preparing for the MIT Sloan MBA Admissions Interview

By Vincent Ho-Tin-Noe (last updated: December 31, 2014)

Last week, MIT Sloan started inviting candidates to participate in its Behavioral Event-Based Interviews (BEI). As often in the past, the school will be inviting candidates on a rolling basis. In the US, it started with West Coast candidates but will be extending invites to candidates located in other regions over the next few weeks. For example, East Coast invites should start going out on October 27, while the last batch might be sent in three or four weeks from now only.

For the lucky ones who have already received an interview invitation from MIT Sloan, we’d like to share some advice regarding MIT’s Behavioral Event-Based Interview. While perhaps not as radically different from the traditional MBA admissions interview as Wharton’s Team-Based Discussion, MIT Sloan’s behavioral interview requires a healthy amount of respect and a unique style of preparation.

How is MIT Sloan’s Behavioral Interview Different?

Unlike most MBA admissions committees, MIT Sloan focuses its interview exclusively on a candidate’s past actions. As the adcom writes in its interview preparation guide, “Instead of asking how you would behave in a particular situation, the interviewer will ask you how you did behave.”

If you’re lucky enough to be invited to interview, this distinction will manifest itself in two ways:

  1. It’s unlikely that you’ll be asked any non-behavioral questions (e.g. “Why an MBA?”).
  2. The interviewer will likely probe each one of your answers, asking several follow up questions or encouraging you to provide more details and specifics.

As a result, you’ll spend a lot longer answering every question than you would during most MBA admissions interviews. Consider that MIT Sloan candidates are typically asked around 6-9 questions; in comparison, HBS candidates are usually asked around 10-15 questions.

These two differences are important, and they should drive most of your preparation strategy for MIT Sloan’s behavioral interview.

Typical MIT Sloan Behavioral Interview Format

Perhaps one benefit of Sloan’s behavioral interview is that it follows a seemingly predictable format. Although there’s no guarantee, most MIT Sloan interviews will likely be structured along these lines:

  • The interviewer will ask if your application has changed in any way since you applied.
  • Then the interviewer will ask two or three clarifying questions about your application. If you were a little short on details around how you accomplished something that you wrote about in your essays or resume, or if the interviewer didn’t understand a sentence or two, expect it to come up at this point.
  • The behavioral interview questions will typically follow after that. You will likely be asked around three to six questions, although obviously this will vary, and you’ll almost always be asked probing follow-up questions. So, be prepared to elaborate on any one of your behavioral interview answers for several minutes.
  • The interview will likely conclude with an opportunity for you to ask questions of the interviewer. Don’t waste it! This portion isn’t a formality; it’s a chance to demonstrate real enthusiasm for MIT Sloan, something any admissions committee wants to see from its applicants.

How to Successfully Prepare for MIT Sloan’s Behavioral Interview

Pick the topic areas for your answers wisely. This is perhaps the most important advice any applicant can heed headed into a behavioral interview. As mentioned previously, behavioral interviews lend themselves to prolonged focus on a small handful of situations that you choose, and each situation will require you to elaborate at length and in detail. Therefore, your success during MIT Sloan’s behavioral interview hinges on your ability to pick topic areas for your answers that you can talk in detail about.

After the interviewer asks you a behavioral question, take a moment to consider how you want to answer it. Studies on human interaction have shown that pauses of between four and seven seconds are perfectly normal; any longer, and the break starts to become a bit uncomfortable. So, take the full four to seven seconds (which sounds shorter than it really is!) before launching into your answer to make sure its a topic you’re eager to talk about at length.

If that time isn’t enough, ask for more. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do during an interview, and in fact it is a near-mandatory part of any interview for one of the major consulting firms (which obviously recruit heavily form MBA programs like Sloan). Simply say, “That’s a really great question, and I haven’t thought about it before. Do you mind if I take a few seconds to consider it?” While the break may feel unnatural at the time, it demonstrates professionalism and poise; more importantly, it is far better than jumping into a question with a poorly thought out answer.

Understand the STAR framework. The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) framework doesn’t work for everyone, but it is the gold standard for answering behavioral questions, and there is a reason for that. It’s worth practicing using the STAR framework during mock interviews so it becomes second nature during the real thing.

If you aren’t familiar with the STAR framework, this excerpt from Wikipedia is as good a place as any to start reading up on it, and there are dozens more resources out there that elaborate on it further:

  • Situation: The interviewer wants you to present a recent challenge and situation in which you found yourself.
  • Task: What did you have to achieve? The interviewer will be looking to see what you were trying to achieve from the situation.
  • Action: What did you do? The interviewer will be looking for information on what you did, why you did it and what the alternatives were.
  • Results: What was the outcome of your actions? What did you achieve through your actions and did you meet your objectives? What did you learn from this experience and have you used this learning since? (Quoted from Wikipedia).

Practice with someone who is willing to grill you. As with any type of interview, practice is critical. For MIT Sloan in particular, make sure you practice with someone that is willing to (if not eager to) grill you. The more detail-oriented they are, the better. And, because it will prompt them to ask more clarifying questions about your resume and essays, it’s helpful if they don’t know you particularly well personally or professionally. (This is a service we provide to many candidates. We offer one mock interview package for $295 and two for $495. You can find more details about our services here).

Prepare smart questions to ask. Succeeding at MIT Sloan’s behavioral interview is not only about the questions you answer but also about the question you ask. Admissions committees want to admit candidates that will say yes, and one really good barometer of a candidate’s intent to do so is the questions they ask at the end of the interview. (You’d be surprised how easy it is to separate out the candidates who aren’t really sold on a particular school or program; they often do little to no research, or they limit their research to reading a school’s website or watching online videos).

Make sure the questions you ask reflect your own personal application. That is, the questions should be ones that make sense for you in particular to ask. They shouldn’t be generic questions that any candidate could ask, and they shouldn’t be questions with answers easily accessible through Sloan’s website or admissions material.

Send a thank you note. At the bottom of MIT Sloan’s interview preparation guide, the admissions committee clearly states that candidates “may send a thank-you through email or postal mail.” Don’t miss the opportunity!

…and it should go without saying, but in case you haven’t already: read MIT Sloan’s interview preparation guide.  

Finally, prepare your best stories. You won’t have a chance to talk about all (or even most) of the stories or examples you prepare, but it’s worth having a handful of situations and stories (use the STAR framework if helpful in preparing them) that you can talk about in the behavioral interview. This post on mastering every admissions interview question is a great place to start, as it provides a thorough guide to preparing stories for behavioral (and other) admissions interviews.

As we discussed earlier in a post, we estimate that the post-interview admissions rate at MIT Sloan stands at around 60%, although precise numbers don’t exist. So taking the extra time to prepare for and practice your behavioral interview is critical.

If you’re looking for additional guidance, including to prepare for your MIT Sloan Fellows interview, please reach out to Kyle or myself via our free consultation link or founders@mbaadmissionsadvisors.com. We’re happy to help, even with last-minute questions and requests. Good luck!

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