Mastering Every Admissions Interview Question

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: December 17, 2013)

When I set out to write this post, my intention was to compile a list of common interview questions that spanned the spectrum of what applicants might be asked. But after gathering a handful of what I thought were good questions, it occurred to me that I never had to answer any of the ones I had compiled during my own admissions interview at HBS.¬†Instead, I was asked 30-minutes worth of nearly impossible to predict questions — which, granted, is what HBS tells applicants they will try to do.

My interview began when the admissions committee member asked how my leadership role as a resident assistant compared to other leadership experiences I’d had. At one point she just said, “Recommend something to me.” I’m not sure any list of MBA interview questions, no matter how long, would have reasonably catalyzed me to prepare for such prompts. However, there is a method that will get you ready for questions like those — or whatever the admissions committee throws your way.

While there are an infinite number of questions an admissions committee could ask you during an interview, the number of ways you could respond is somewhat limited. This is because each response should rely at least in part on a mini story you tell about yourself. It’s true that the immediate answer to every question may begin slightly differently, but then your goal should be to pivot from the question to a related story that reflects your application strengths.

Therefore, rather than focusing your interview preparation efforts on answering scores upon scores of questions that you may never be asked, just practice the broadest few: your strengths/accomplishments, your weaknesses/failures, your narrative, why you want an MBA, and why you want to go to that school specifically. From there, invest the majority of your time in brainstorming the stories that will really add depth to your answers. After all, that’s what the admissions committee is looking for. They provide questions as prompts to hopefully help get to that depth and color, but if you can help take them there, all the better.

A good approach to brainstorming the right amount of stories from a variety of aspects of your background is to walk through your resume and essays, and for each accomplishment, bullet point, or topic, come up with one or two short anecdotes. These will serve as the substance in almost any interview question, and may also help you create stronger essays. More importantly, they will help ensure you don’t violate one of the most important rules of interviewing: show, don’t tell. We (and many other blogs) preach the importance of “showing, not telling” in essay writing a lot. However, we probably fail to reinforce that idea as much in interview preparation. Yet, it is equally important. You need to keep the interview interested, and you want to be memorable. Stories about the lengths you went to visit an ancient ruin during your trip to China will help do this in a way simple sentences like “I love to travel” cannot. You must illustrate your answers.

Preparing these few dozen short stories about who you are and why you want to get an MBA will be the most useful time you spend getting ready for your MBA admissions interview.

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