MBA behavioral interview questions aim to assess the applicant’s strategies for dealing with situations in the workplace, much like employment interviews do. It is essential to learn how to prepare for your MBA interview to be able to clearly explain what motivates you, demonstrate good judgment, and convince the interviewer that you will be a good fit with the program. As MBA behavioral interview questions feature as part of the full interview, a structured response method and the MBA mock interview are invaluable to your preparation. In this article, we’ll look specifically at MBA behavioral interview questions, explain how they fit into the full interview, describe what to expect in terms of format and questions, and suggest how to prepare for and answer them. Plus, you will get to read some sample responses that will help you formulate your own answers!
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What Are MBA Behavioral Interview Questions?
MBA behavioral interview questions are designed to assess your approach to a situation or required task in the workplace. As past performance is an indicator of future performance, these questions often center on real situations encountered by the applicant and how they handled them. However, if you are presented with a scenario that you have never experienced, don’t panic! There are strategies and decision-making steps that will enable you to confidently answer any question. There is no need to freeze or say, “well, I have never encountered this. Next question please!” What is your decision-making process? Can you remain objective? Can you identify the main issue? Can you come up with a rational solution? It is not always possible to experience everything in a workplace, so instead, outline your thinking process and the steps you would take.
The concept of behavioral interviewing was introduced in the 1970s to the corporate world by Development Dimensions, Inc. (DDI) to provide a framework for companies to collect accurate candidate data. Because MBA programs are an integral part of the corporate environment, many business schools favor behavioral interviews as part of the admissions process, but they can include some of the hardest MBA interview questions to answer.
Your response provides an opportunity for the interviewer to evaluate your skills, good judgment, and experience. Even when the question is phrased as a general or hypothetical scenario, it is best to respond with a specific example of how you behaved in an actual situation that resembled the proposed scenario, even if it is not an exact match.
When Will I Encounter MBA Behavioral Interview Questions?
MBA behavioral interview questions are an essential part of virtually every interview for admission to a business school. MBA interviews may use a blind or nonblind mode. In a blind interview, the interviewer will not have seen your detailed application and will only know basic information about you. In this case, you should prepare a full introduction to yourself and be ready to answer a wide range of questions on your background and reasons for applying to the MBA program, including hypothetical behavioral questions. In the nonblind mode, the interviewer will have read your application, including your MBA resume and MBA personal statement, and situational questions based on your experiences may figure more prominently in the interview.
What Format Is Used for the MBA Behavioral Interview?
In recent years, more flexible, convenient, and economically viable options for interviewing have emerged, leading many business schools to offer both on-campus and virtual interviews for their MBA programs. Note, however, that while MBA video interview questions/MBA video essays may also be required, these should not be mistaken for the final interview, which is a separate step in the application process. For the latter, a standard interview format will usually be adopted, in which there will be a brief period of introduction, some background questions, questions on your motivation for attending the MBA program, and then some situational or scenario-based questions, otherwise known as behavioral questions. The interview often wraps up with an opportunity for you to ask your own questions.
Many schools have current students of their MBA program interview applicants, while in others, the admissions committee is responsible for interviews. Finally, some schools, such as Michigan Ross and Wharton School of Business, use group interviews, which include team-based activities and discussions.
What Are Some Common MBA Behavioral Interview Questions?
The following are some of the most common MBA behavioral interview questions asked by business schools:
Remember, these are just a few examples. Furthermore, these same questions can be asked in a variety of formats. Instead of asking you outright about your leadership skills, you may be presented with a hypothetical scenario that assesses your leadership acumen and asked how you would deal with it. Or you may be asked to act out a firing scenario or a scenario where you need to mitigate a conflict between colleagues.
There is a variety of behavioral question formats, and you cannot prepare for every single one. So, how do you tackle them? Simple: by building an answer strategy that will help you encounter any behavioral question that may come your way. Read on to learn more!
How Do I Prepare for MBA Behavioral Interview Questions?
An important rule of thumb during your MBA interview prep is to appear ready but not rehearsed.
Consider the following guidance offered by UCLA Anderson for their 30-min. interview:
“Pre-rehearsed speeches do not make for a good interview … Remember that the word ‘interview’ implies an exchange of views between people, so be ready with pertinent questions and go with the flow of the conversation … Hint: Relax, be genuine and enjoy the opportunity for us to get to know each other.”
While this may be true, you do not want to mistakenly think that you need not prepare. Being yourself is not enough. You need to have a strong strategy for tacking all kinds of question types, including behavioral questions.
Brainstorm Potential Experiences
First make a list of situations or scenarios you have faced throughout your career. Some will likely come to mind right away, while others may require a more structured approach. Try to recall events that involved the application of one or more of the following competencies, which are all essential in business administration:
Take out your resume and go through each job. Try to recall the major milestones. For example, some early experiences in a new position may have presented greater challenges. Perhaps you regretted the way you handled certain situations. In subsequent positions, you may have vowed never to do “that” again. Perceived errors or failures are as valuable as successes when preparing for your MBA behavioral interview.
Review the previous list of commonly asked MBA behavioral interview questions and imagine that you had only rehearsed stories about your greatest achievements. You would then be placed in the position of scrambling for examples, perhaps even appearing that you are not very self-aware or are looking to cover or make excuses for past behavior. Therefore, it’s important to plan for the range of questions that may be asked in MBA behavioral interviews to enable you to present yourself as confident and truthful, even when addressing your own weaknesses. Everyone has chinks in their armor, but the most important aspect to stress is how you recognized and addressed these issues once they were brought to your attention.
One of the most engaging ways to answer a behavioral interview question is to formulate your response as a narrative. People tend to enjoy listening to stories, especially when they draw them in, enable them to picture the situation, and make them want to hear more. However, to create an engaging narrative, you must stick to a solid structure. Rambling on about an incident at work will not keep the interviewers’ attention. How to do this? Prepare solid answer strategies that you can follow.
Practice with Answer Strategies
Although a relaxed, open demeanor is recommended in MBA behavioral interviews, you must have strong and consistent answer structures to keep your answer relevant and concise. However, the emphasis here should not be on rehearsing a rigid script but on assembling a “suite” of responses and scenarios that you are familiar and comfortable with and that can be adapted to suit the moment. It might help to think of this as the “travelling salesperson” approach. If the client at the door is not at all interested in a certain product but has needs that are met by another product you have in your valise, you would not then carry on with the promotion of the first product, simply because that is what you had prepared in your pitch. Having a selection of “products” (scenarios, actions you took, and values you hold) will allow you to move seamlessly from one question to the next in the interview without wasting valuable time searching for the appropriate response.
The following takes you through a scenario-based behavioral interview response that is structured around the following components: situation, task, action, and results. The situation may be proposed by the interviewer, or you may be asked to provide your own example.
In the first case, the interviewer might present a scenario, for example:
Sales have really declined in the past two quarters in a hardware store where you are a manager. The problem has been traced to your department. You’ve been asked to investigate and report back with the cause and potential solutions.
More often, the prompt will be less specific, for example:
Tell us about a time when you were faced with underperformance in your team or department.
Regardless of the way it is phrased, a helpful strategy for responding is to think back to a similar example, describe the situation, outline your thinking process and the steps you took, and mention the results. As previously noted, even if you haven’t experienced this particular set of circumstances, you can still showcase key business skills, such as analytical thinking, risk assessment, collaboration, teamwork, good judgment, sense of responsibility, autonomy, and so on, in the way you reply.
1. Situation: This sets the stage for the interviewer (or the interviewer sets the stage for you). Here, you will describe what happened and/or outline the conditions or problem that led to the need for action. If you have not encountered this particular scenario, you could state, for example, “I was faced with a similar situation when I worked at X in Y role.” This is where your behavioral interview preparation will serve you well, as you will have a selection of go-to responses that are appropriate for each type of question.
It is important to be specific and detailed in explaining the context. Consider, for example, the following statement:
We noticed that sales of a formerly popular product had really declined.
Certainly, we get a general idea of the problem; however, what stands out in this statement is what it doesn’t say, rather than what it does:
- We don’t know who “we” refers to.
- We don’t know which product.
- We don’t know by how much sales had declined (or over what length of time).
Therefore, you could add the following details:
In the paint department, the two assistant managers noticed that sales of a formerly popular wood varnish had dropped by about 35% over the past eight months. Given the quantity of this type of varnish sold in the past, this constituted a non-negligible decrease in the total volume of sales in Q3 and Q4.
Now, we know a lot more about the situation. Right away, you have contextualized the scenario for the interviewer, and they can picture the environment and problem clearly:
- They know the type of business.
- They know the specific product and its importance to the department’s profitability.
- They know the immediate management structure.
- They can identify the business problem.
- They can quantify the impact on revenue.
- They know how long the problem has existed.
In addition to providing necessary information for the interviewer, in this response, you highlight your observation skills, your knowledge of the department you manage, and your attention to detail. You also introduce the sales problem and imply the risk it presents over time.
Working on your statement of purpose?
2. Task: The task component of your response explains the objectives associated with the scenario. These might be goals set by a third party, such as general management, or the interviewer you are meeting with. They could also be goals you set for yourself or establish for your department or business as manager.
As with the previous step, you would not describe the challenging task with which you are faced in broad strokes, as follows:
I had to try to figure out why this was happening.
Instead, you would fill in as many relevant details as possible:
As manager of this department, I had noticed the drop in revenue in Q3 and had isolated the decline in varnish sales as the main factor. I had informed the general management of this issue and had been advised to submit a thorough report with potential solutions by the end of the fiscal year if the problem was not resolved.
Now, the interviewer knows:
- Your role in the department and level of authority.
- The fact that you noticed a problem and identified the source.
- The fact that you responsibly disclosed the problem to general management shortly after it appeared.
- The task set by general management for you to accomplish.
3. Action: In the above scenario, it is unlikely that as the manager you simply waited around through Q3 and into Q4 to see if the situation changed. Instead, you probably engaged in some troubleshooting, investigation, or market research before reporting the problem. These steps, both before and after general management was informed of the situation, should be included in the description of your actions:
I had already ruled out several potential causes of the drop in sales. I first ensured that we were aware of any recalls of the product, and none existed. I knew that purchasing behavior was partly seasonal, as customers used this varnish in their summer projects. However, when I compared the sales to those of the previous year in Q3 and Q4, I could only explain a 10% drop maximum. I had asked the assistant managers to check that the shelves were consistently stocked, and that this product was not regularly on back order with the distributor. Once it was clear that none of these factors had a major influence, I brought the issue up at the senior level and requested additional resources to help in resolving the problem.
These additional details again highlight several business qualities: analytical thinking, observation skills, your knowledge of the product and its market, the potential risks associated with this type of product, your ability to delegate tasks to junior members, and your initiative. You also demonstrate that you “own” the problem and do not report it until the most obvious explanations have been ruled out, thereby underscoring both your autonomy and your sense of responsibility. Furthermore, you plan for various contingencies by asking for help in addressing the issue.
The above paragraph also points out an important feature of business problems: that they are complex and often do not follow a linear progression. It is not necessary for your behavioral interview response to be strictly sequential. Instead of proceeding chronologically, you could choose to work from certain themes based on categories of business skills and discuss the scenario in that way. For example, you might say:
This problem really tested my skills as a new manager. I needed to do some research, improve my knowledge of my own department and its sales history, analyze potential causes, and finally, make the difficult decision to inform the general management that the performance of our department was not optimal.
Whichever approach you choose, the most important thing to remember is to have strategies that are clear in your mind and that you can apply to each type of question.
The following statement reiterates that you have the ability to delegate time-consuming tasks to junior members or specialized departments, such as the marketing team, while also retaining responsibility for dealing with high-impact, high-risk major clients. In addition, you take steps to increase revenue by improving visibility and sales of the product in the short term, thereby demonstrating your ability to mitigate risk and contribute to the immediate profitability of the company. In this way, you emphasize your business acumen and value as a manager.
I then asked the daytime assistant manager to contact the varnish manufacturer and inquire as to whether any changes had been made to this product, or if their production methods had been modified. I contacted the marketing department and asked them to research whether a competing product had appeared in recent months, possibly at a lower price point. At the same time, to boost sales, I had them design a promotion and add it to our weekly flyer, email list, and website. At my end, I checked whether we had lost any contractor clients, construction companies, or other enterprises that had previously purchased large quantities.
4. Result: As part of the applicant’s response to the MBA behavioral interview question, the result carries as much weight as the other three components, but it is not more important. While in the actual business environment, the result would be prioritized, with ways and means perhaps being less emphasized, in an interview with a business school, it is equally important for you to showcase your knowledge, thought process, training, judgment, communication skills, initiative, leadership, autonomy, and sense of responsibility. You must show not only that you can achieve results for a specific company, but that you know how to do so in a range of dynamic, complicated business situations. You must also be willing to recognize your mistakes and apply such realizations to the next challenge.
In the context of an MBA behavioral interview, you should also seek to summarize the main lessons learned from a situation and connect them with how you would behave in the MBA program and what you would contribute to a team of your classmates. This is why having concrete examples at hand is so valuable, as you can demonstrate what you will actually do in similar situations.
We were ultimately successful in identifying the source of the sudden drop in sales, which could be explained by a combination of product and competitor issues. It turned out that a local small business had launched in spring of that year. The owners were known in the community and specialized in paint and varnish products, while our larger store carried a much wider range of household items. With a strategy that included promotional prices, environmentally friendly alternatives, senior discounts, and reasonably priced contractor services, this new competitor had managed to take over this niche while squeezing out a few of the other contractors who had covered the region.
Nevertheless, our company promotions did compensate our losses, to some extent, in the last quarter, and I was able to report to management both our findings and our improved performance by the deadline. By adding some new products over the winter at competitive prices, we were able to expand our range in that department. We also introduced a membership plan for regular customers and a delivery service. By Q2 of the following year, we had surpassed our sales targets, and the summer season was the best we ever had.
I should note, however, that in this process, I learned a few things. In hindsight, I realized that the time spent by the assistant managers in investigating the distribution and manufacturing issues was likely unnecessary. In addition, while the marketing team was invaluable in saving the day, they were not the ones with the answer to this problem. Instead, I learned most of what I needed to know through word of mouth from the assistant managers, our customers, and the cashiers. I recognized that I had prioritized the numbers over the human side of the business. In response, I now set aside some time each week to spend on the floor and in the yard, even if it means coming in earlier or staying later to make up some office time. This has contributed to improving the store’s overall profitability, as it enabled me to identify other client needs, including the delivery of bulky items, such as equipment, tarps, soil, seed, and salt.
In addition to detailing the specific results stemming from your actions in response to this challenging task, the above statement points to your recognition of the importance of the team by transitioning from “I” statements to “We” statements. You also acknowledge the priority that should be given to customers and a new sense of corporate social responsibility. Furthermore, you show that you are willing to invest some personal time in getting to know the clients and, thus, the business better. You also demonstrate that you are focused on the total success of the store and not just that of your own department. Finally, you return to “I” statements to accept responsibility for your errors, even though your overall strategy was clearly effective. In so doing, you fulfil all the criteria of this MBA behavioral interview, answer the question directly, highlight your values (and value), and give the interviewer a practical sense of what you have to offer the business school and the corporate world, in general, when you advance to positions of greater responsibility.
In general, your answers should be briefer and more concise than in the above example, keeping in mind that the MBA interview may last a total of 30 minutes and will include other questions about your background, motivation for attending an MBA program, and reasons for applying to a specific business school. There will likely be multiple behavioral/situational questions, not just one. Your answer to each behavioral interview question should last about 3 to 3.5 minutes. Timing your delivery of various responses in advance of your interview can help you evaluate what to include or leave out. Stick to the essential points which highlight your strongest qualities while nevertheless painting a colorful picture of the scenario through the details you provide.
Check out more tips for your interview:
One Final Tip
An important aside to the MBA behavioral interview is how you present and comport yourself. Much of your professional impression is made by the care taken with your appearance. Rather than implying that you must look “a certain way,” this means that you should aim to present a consistent, considered, and neat front. UCLA Anderson notes that business attire is expected, and photo identification is checked to ensure integrity. Your photo should be a recent, true likeness of yourself, and much like a model or actor headshot, it should be clear, well lit, and professionally produced, if possible.
Applying a structured approach to preparation will enable you to maintain a relaxed yet professional presence during your MBA behavioral interview. This can significantly enhance an otherwise strong application and your chances of getting into your chosen MBA program.
1. What is an MBA behavioral interview about?
An MBA behavioral interview aims to assess your strategies for dealing with situations in the workplace, much like employment interviews do, as well as core business competencies, such as communication, responsibility/accountability, collaboration, teamwork, adaptability, time management, crisis management, decision-making skills, diversity, and values.
2. What are MBA behavioral interview questions?
A wide range of behavioral questions can be asked in the MBA interview, depending on the school. MBA behavioral interview questions will always relate to experiences you have had in your career, typically in the workplace. They are scenario-based, and the interviewer will want to hear about how you handled an actual situation in your career, not a hypothetical one. Even when phrased as a hypothetical scenario, you should respond by citing an actual example and explain how your behavior influenced the outcome.
3. Do MBA interviews focus only on behavioral questions?
Behavioral questions are typically only part of the MBA interview, which will also include questions about your background, motivation to pursue an MBA, and interest in the school that invited you to the interview. You should be prepared to answer a range of these questions in a standard interview unless the format specifies that only behavioral questions will be asked. For example, in a Virtual Team-Based Discussion (VTBD), a group of applicants is asked to work together on a situational problem. In this case, the entire process can be understood as a behavioral interview.
4. Is the MBA behavioral interview part of my application?
The MBA behavioral interview is not part of the application process per se. A video interview or video essay may be required as part of the application process, but this is different from the final interview, which is often by invitation only. An invitation is a positive sign that the business school is looking favorably on your application. Many business schools offer an open interview period, usually in advance of the first round of admissions, for example, in late summer for the fall application deadline. Applicants can request an interview if they are planning to apply, and if this option exists, it’s a good idea to take advantage of it.
5. Are MBA behavioral interview questions hard?
MBA behavioral interview questions are among the most difficult to answer, as they require that you understand the prompt, select an appropriate example from your career experience, or come up with an alternative example if you have not had the same experience, describe the situation, introduce the task you had to accomplish, list the actions you took, and present the results. As part of your response, you should also include any mistakes you made and what you learned from the experience. Judging how to discuss failure or error is never easy, yet all these aspects should be considered in your response to an MBA behavioral interview question.
6. Should I rehearse my answers to MBA behavioral interview questions?
An important rule of thumb during your MBA interview prep is to appear ready but not rehearsed. In researching your preferred school, you will have noted what to generally expect from the interview process. In certain cases, the requirements may state the specific questions or prompts to be answered. The business school blog may also provide common questions that have been asked in their interviews. However, the most common scenario is to be faced with a range of MBA behavioral interview questions which you cannot predict, along with other question types. It is therefore advisable to familiarize yourself with these questions and to read excellent responses by others. Importantly, learn a structured approach, such as the ones we outline in this article, to answering these questions, and you will feel more at ease in flexibly responding during your MBA behavioral interview.
7. How long should my answer to an MBA behavioral interview question be?
Your answer to an MBA behavioral interview question should be no longer than 2 to 3 minutes.
8. Who can help me prepare my responses to MBA behavioral interview questions?
Interview coaching, including mock interviews, can really help you prepare for MBA behavioral interview questions. Not only will MBA admissions consulting be able to provide you with expert advice on what MBA schools expect from their applicants, practicing your interview skills will help you to feel more at ease, flexibly respond and adapt, and project confidence while covering all the criteria in the MBA behavioral interview.
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