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Preparing for Top MBA Program Admissions Interviews

By Puja Daga (last updated: December 11, 2019)

The Landscape of Business School Interviews 

In recent years, business schools have introduced new interview formats to assess business school applications. Getting familiarized with the different styles of admissions interviews is an important step for any candidate applying to leading business schools.

If you have recently received an interview invite, then it is a strong signal that the school sees you as a potential fit for their program. You might also have a high chance of getting in and it is a good time to start preparations. You may be confident about acing the interview, but remember you have a short window of time to impress the interviewer. So, you need to focus on the essentials like trying to get to the point quickly and preparing yourself to various MBA interview styles.

We have seen that admissions interview methods vary greatly based on the institution and preparing for different kinds of interview formats is vital. The following sections show a few examples of different interview styles followed at some of the most elite business schools.

Interview Formats of Top MBA Programs 

In a Harvard Business School (HBS) interview, you just have 30 minutes to make a good impression. You may have a two-on-one formal interview, where one admissions officer is actively interviewing while the other is observing. The interviewer is already familiar with your resume and has studied your application in depth – so the interviewer might ask questions focusing on “why” – for instance, why you choose economics as your majors? Why did you work/want to work with consulting firm? Your response to such questions should illustrate on your motives, values, role you have applied in your team.

Although, HBS tends to concentrate less on ‘behavioral question’, but there are chances that the interviewer may ask questions to know your motivations, decision making process and experiences. During the interview, HBS is interested in knowing your rationale for making the choices and moves. To evaluate a candidate further, HBS requires you to submit a post-interview reflection within 24 hours.

On the other hand, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) places emphasis on ‘behavioral questions’, so one has to be very clear and specific while explaining. Why you studied a specific course, what was the idea behind working on a particular issue, or the impact it had on others, are the kind of questions it prefers to ask. It is generally an hour-long blind interview with an alumnus and the interviewer has only seen your resume.

So be ready to walk them through your background and your motivation to pursue an MBA. Highlighting skills such as creative instincts, leadership potential, personal qualities and performance-oriented tasks help you increase your admission chances.

At the MIT Sloan School of Management, just like an HBS interview, the interviewer has studied your application in depth but conducts ‘behavioral based interview questions’. The concept behind this format is that the MIT Sloan believes that the past behavior is a reliable indicator of the future response in a similar situation. So while preparing for the interview, a focus on the life based events, relating to work experience or leadership examples helps. Explaining such experiences in a generic fashion doesn’t help, giving details yet keeping it concise is the key. Before the interview, MIT Sloan requests its applicants to complete a brief essay. 

Apart from these, there are other schools like Wharton and Michigan Ross which uses ‘team-based interview’ format for its MBA admissions. For instance, they assign a real-world business scenario to a group of candidates and asks them to work together. This kind of dynamic task helps interviewers to observe candidate’s behavior and how they operate in an unknown condition. For Wharton and Michigan Ross, community building is an important value, by employing ‘team-based interview’ they unearth candidate’s values on team building. Further to team-based interview, Michigan Ross also conducts a traditional interview while at Wharton a ten-minute one-on-one debrief with an admissions representative is followed.

Recently, in addition to traditional invite interview, schools like Kellogg, Yale, INSEAD and London Business School have introduced a video essay as an important part of the application. They expect candidates to answer questions spontaneously with very little preparation time. This newer trend sometimes adds pressure on the applicant, limiting the time to answer with confidence and clarity.

At the other end of this new trend, London Business School conducts five-minute impromptu presentations. This might seem unwarranted, but these exercises have a real-life application and gives you an opportunity to influence the admissions decision by sharing details about your life story.

Quick Tips for MBA Interviews

In short, to ace your business school interview:

  • keep some concrete examples ready, 
  • master the interview style and 
  • make an impact by researching important aspects about the school. 

This will help you to feel prepared, confident and the interviewer will find you more compelling and appealing. Even if there are different mechanisms for evaluating prospective students, at the end of the day, the interviewer wants to “know you” and “why you’d be a good fit” for the institutions. Being authentic, real and goal-oriented is what pays off.

Wharton Round Two Decisions

By Vincent Ho-Tin-Noe (last updated: March 29, 2016)

Having helped a number of first round applicants prepare for their Wharton interview, we are excited about the school’s round two decision notifications on Tuesday, March 29, 2016.

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