What are Common Business School Interview Questions?

It’s easy to look good on paper. But looking good on paper doesn’t always translate into real-world success. Business schools know this, and it’s why they conduct interviews with applicants. Don’t brush the interview off as a piece of fluff; business schools say the applicant interview is a more important consideration than the applicant’s GMAT score.

Some schools, like Harvard Business School, will use interview questions specifically tailored to you. Others may select some intentionally tricky questions to see how you respond. Still, a survey of the top business schools finds many of the same questions across each interview.

While they won’t be the only questions asked, getting the most common questions down pat gives a candidate a good head start on their business school interview. To get a glimpse at the most common business school interview questions (and how to prepare for them), check out our guide below.

Question 1: Why did you choose this school for your MBA?

Some MBA students drop out in their first year, and others stay enrolled but perform poorly or don’t blend with the student body. This is usually because the school wasn’t a good fit for the applicant in several ways, and it’s something business schools seek to avoid. Asking an applicant why they’ve chosen a particular school for their MBA is a way to gauge how much the applicant has considered the pulse of a particular MBA program, and how they’ll fit into it.

Menlo Coaching, one of the top MBA application consultancies, says business schools are trying to build a community, and they’re looking for applicants to express an interest in being a part of that community. Use this question to show why you’d add to the unique features of that school, and be specific in highlighting particular clubs, classes, professors, alumni, and events that match your profile. Your admissions packet already explains why you’re qualified for an MBA, but the interview should help determine why you’re right for this MBA.

Question 2: Why are you pursuing an MBA now?

A lot of flexibility exists in deciding when to pursue an MBA. Some choose to pursue it straight out of undergrad, while others accumulate years of experience first. The timing of an MBA says a lot about an applicant’s character, and the decision of when to get an MBA should align with an applicant’s medium-term and long-term goals.

Melissa Rapp, associate dean of MBA admissions at Emory University, says the key in preparing for MBA questions like this is reflecting, not rehearsing. By honestly approaching the question of why you’re pursuing an MBA now, you may arrive at some deeper understandings of the vision of the future you have for yourself. One of the goals of the interview is to test an applicant’s level of self-awareness, so do your homework and start out by interviewing yourself.

Question 3: Walk me through your resume.

A resume is an important business tool, but it’s often a colorless object. This question is meant to fill in the gaps and add some reasoning behind the decisions that have carried an applicant from point A to point B to point C. While the question may seem straightforward, it’s highlighted by many as one of the most important; it often sets the tone and tenor of the rest of the interview.

Tips from Stacy Blackman Consulting suggest the following formula: highlight your undergraduate experience, along with one to two key accomplishments; focus on skills and accomplishments from your first job; emphasize job transitions as deliberate steps; and create an arc towards the MBA program. Most professionals suggest aiming for two to three minutes in your response, with a focus on key points rather than memorized passages.

Question 4: Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership. What did you learn from it?

This question can take a few different forms, but its goal is to test your understanding of what it takes to be a leader. That doesn’t have to be in a traditional and hierarchical business sense, either, so don’t fret if you lack a lot of professional work experience. Prepare yourself with a handful of anecdotes that can demonstrate the skills that make a leader: vision, teamwork, and communication.

Wayne Atwell of MBA Data Guru believes questions like this should be attacked in a three-part structure, with 10 percent of the response time dedicated to explaining a problem, 75 percent dedicated to the decision or action taken to rectify the problem, and 15 percent dedicated to the impact of that decision/action, both on yourself and others. Atwell further emphasizes the power of specific numbers to drive-home the impact section of the answer (e.g., increased profitability of X million dollars).

Question 5: Are there any questions you’d like to ask?

Don’t neglect this question. While it might be tempting to breathe a sigh of relief at having reached the finish line, you’re not there yet; the opportunity to turn the tables by asking questions of your own is also a chance to demonstrate initiative, curiosity, and self-confidence.

Dr. Don Martin, who has acted as an admissions dean at Columbia University, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, considers this section to be a critical one for gauging an applicant. He says the key to asking the interviewer your questions is quality, not quantity. Questions which show the applicant has done their research (and questions which do not have publically available answers on a program’s website or brochure) can demonstrate commitment, while incisive questions about particular features of a program can show that this school is a particularly good fit for that applicant.

As a business school student, you’re going to be given the opportunity to speak with some of the world’s experts, and an MBA program is hoping you’ll be the type of student who asks good questions. The interview is your first chance to make a good first impression. Fire away.

Tips to Prepare for a Business School Interview

Find a Story

A researcher at Johns Hopkins who performed a two-year analysis of Super Bowl commercials found that regardless of the product, plot development (i.e., a clear story) was the most certain predictor of a commercial’s success. Furthermore, ads that hemmed closely to Freytag’s Pyramid of storytelling were the most popular. So if you’re looking for direction on how to answer an interview question, consider a story where the ending is you sitting in an MBA interview.

If 30 seconds of storytelling can sell watered-down beer in a world full of infinitely better options, it can sell you to an MBA program, too.

Study Your Throughline

Canned answers will get you nowhere. To ace your business school interview, you’ll need to dig deeper in preparation for the common questions. According to Psychology Today, many actors learn their lines not through rote memorization, but through a dogged study of a script’s throughline, meaning the causal chain of events happening around the dialogue. When engaging in this micro-level processing, internalization of the dialogue comes naturally, and performances come alive in ways that simple memorization can’t enable. In practicing for your business school interview, look for emotional beats and inflection points in your answers, and hone in on them; the words will come more naturally.

Don’t Stress Yourself Out

When preparing for the most common business school interview questions, remember that they’re just that: the most common business school interview questions. They’re not meant to trip you up. In practice, they’re a way for an interview to put you through simple drills and make sure you don’t make too many obvious fumbles.

Studies show that soccer players under pressure are more likely to miss penalty kicks, with stress being identified as a more negative factor in the process than a lack of skill or energy. So take a few deep breaths, go into your interview, and do what you have to do.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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