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

hardest MBA interview questions

Euphoria is the first feeling most MBA applicants experience upon receiving an interview invitation from the b-school of their dreams. What follows is often a mixture of anxiety, nervousness, and, in extreme cases, dread. If you blow your interview, your admission odds plummet. You can ensure that doesn’t happen by practicing for the exchange and reviewing some of the hardest MBA interview questions you may encounter.

The 5 Hardest MBA Interview Questions

Certain schools infamously ask 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, you can prep for some of the tough yet common questions.

1. What is your biggest weakness?

No one relishes the notion of painting themselves in a less-than-flattering light. The key is to address your weaknesses in a way that shows self-awareness and dedication to improvement.

Say you have a shortcoming in your application, such as a lack of 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 progress while at business school through specific classwork and activities.

Ultimately, you can use this question to show how you’ve used a weakness as motivation to grow personally or professionally. Far from being a disservice, this sincerity can enhance your shot at admission into a top MBA program. When you convey an honest assessment of your weaknesses, any strengths mentioned during the interview will have more credibility.

2. 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. Refrain from sharing pseudo-failures that backfire and show your poor judgment.

hardest mba interview questions

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. In the end, 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.

3. Describe a poor manager you’ve had. 

This question requires a fair amount of diplomacy. It’s a delicate balance of assigning blame to another person and articulating your thoughts on good management and leadership. Your best bet is briefly explaining—with no bitterness—your issues with the manager and moving on to the positives. Discuss 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. What’s worse, she 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.

This is one of the hardest MBA interview questions, and your interviewer uses it 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.

4. Tell me about an ethical dilemma you faced. 

MBA programs want to prepare students to analyze business situations that raise moral dilemmas or call for unpopular actions. The ethical dilemma question provides the interviewer with 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.  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 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 MBA applicants. Seek input from friends, family, or your application adviser to ensure you appear sincere and mature in your chosen example.

5. Tell me about yourself. 

This seems like an easy question, right?  But we think it’s one of the hardest MBA interview questions because it’s so open-ended. Invariably, applicants will ramble on and get lost in the weeds. You can avoid this fate by structuring your thoughts beforehand and coming up with your “elevator pitch.” That’s 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 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 homework and use these tips for the hardest MBA interview questions to boost your chances. The final step is simply to relax and enjoy the process.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Wharton, Booth and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Anthony, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Kim, who was an Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Chicago Booth.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.

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