The 5 Hardest MBA Interview Questions and Tips for How to Answer Them

MBA interviewAlthough euphoria is the first feeling applicants experience upon receiving an interview invitation from the business school of their dreams, what follow is often a mixture of anxiety, nervousness and, in extreme cases, dread.

If you tank your MBA interview, your odds of admission plummet. You can help ensure that doesn’t happen to you by thoroughly preparing for the exchange and the hardball questions that await.

Some schools famously ask their applicants out-of-left-field questions such as, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” While you can’t prepare for every random query, here’s how to prep for five of the toughest yet most common MBA interview questions.

What is your biggest weakness?No one relishes the notion of painting themselves in a less-than-flattering light, so plan to address your weaknesses in a way that shows self-reflection and a dedication to improvement.

If you have a shortcoming from within your application, such as a lack of meaningful community service or middling undergrad academic performance, use the interview to remove doubt about any potential red flags. Explain how you have already begun the hard work of improving on your negative traits and that you have a plan for further betterment while at business school through specific classwork and activities.

Far from being a disservice, this sincerity can actually enhance your shot at admission into a top MBA program. When you convey an honest assessment of your weaknesses, any of your strengths mentioned during the interview will have more credibility.

Tell me about a time you failed.Business schools realize that failure represents a learning opportunity for everyone, from companies to individuals. In this case, the MBA interviewer is asking about a specific event, so choose your anecdote wisely and refrain from sharing pseudo failures that ultimately show your poor judgment.

Your example can come from a professional setting or something from your personal life. We once worked with an applicant from a country that has different ethical standards than the United States regarding plagiarism. During his undergrad at an American university, he was accused of plagiarizing parts of a major college term paper–something that in his home country is quite normal among students. He failed the course and had to repeat it, and the entire experience was hugely humiliating and humbling for him. Ultimately, he turned that negative episode into something positive when he later ran for student government and championed change in plagiarism standards and communications at the school.

When you discuss your failure, acknowledge your role in the incident, explain your reaction and discuss what lessons you learned from the experience or what you wish you could have done differently. Don’t blame others; your overall tone should come across as positive.

As you prepare for MBA admissions interviews, focus on discussing how you used the occasion as an opportunity to grow. It just might be the factor that differentiates your candidacy amid a sea of seemingly “perfect” applicants.

Describe a poor manager you’ve had. This question requires a delicate balance of assigning blame to another person with articulating your thoughts on good management and leadership. Your best bet is to briefly explain, with no bitterness, your issues with the manager and quickly move on to the positives: how you adapted, became empathetic, reached a compromise or confronted the situation to ultimately achieve a favorable outcome.

One of our clients previously worked for a manager with whom she got along well on a personal level but who did not provide constructive feedback on mistakes and frequently opted to just re-do work herself rather than explaining or delegating assignments. Our applicant eventually discovered she was working in a bubble, unwittingly making several errors. This was a blissfully ignorant situation, and not an environment where she could grow her competencies.

Your MBA interviewer uses this question to judge your fitness with the program. In b-school as in life, you will encounter difficult classmates and colleagues. How you handle these types of situations shows your character and how you might behave with your cohort once admitted.

Tell me about an ethical dilemma you faced. MBA programs want to equip students with the ability to analyze business situations that raise moral dilemmas or appear to call for unpopular actions. The ethical dilemma question gives the admissions interviewer a glimpse of your unique moral filter and a gauge on how life has tested you.

Choose your ethical dilemma carefully to make sure the situation has no clear-cut answer – and remember, it doesn’t need to be a large-scale conundrum. Situations that rest in the gray area are most effective with this sort of question, as those circumstances require leadership, nuance and maturity.

For example, we consulted with an applicant who, in a previous position, had discovered that his bosses were fudging the numbers of valuation reports to make a client happy, but which were not truly accurate for investors. He was running numbers and providing data, and he had to decide whether to confront his bosses or the client about the lack of integrity in the reports.

When answering this type of question, you should describe the situation briefly, explain how you responded and the action you took, and then reflect on what you learned from the experience.

The ethical dilemma question on the spot can trip up even the savviest of applicants. Seek input from friends, family or your application adviser to ensure you appear both sincere and mature in the example you’ve chosen.

Tell me about yourself. This seems like the easiest question, but because it’s so open-ended, applicants often ramble and get lost in the weeds. Structure your thoughts and come up with your “elevator pitch,” the one-to-two minute speech where you convey who you are and what motivates you, your education, work accomplishments and passions, why you want an MBA and what professional goals the degree will help you reach.

Your interviewer wants to assess whether you would contribute enthusiastically to the program, so practice your MBA elevator pitch with multiple audiences until it flows effortlessly and sounds conversational, authentic, and most of all, memorable.

A solid MBA interview won’t necessarily get you in, but a poorly conducted one might keep you out of your dream school. Do your interview homework and use these tips to boost your chances. The final step is simply to relax and enjoy the process.

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