If you’re wondering how to prepare for your MBA interview, it’s important to practice tricky MBA interview questions if you want to improve your chances of getting accepted. An admissions committee will typically ask a variety of MBA behavioral interview questions or questions about your background and your personal interest in the program, but to have a strong interview performance, you should expect the unexpected. Because admissions committees also want to evaluate your ability to think critically and on the spot, they will ask you questions designed to prove or disprove these attributes in candidates. In this article, we will go through what makes a question “tricky,” why admissions committees ask these types of questions, and how you can answer them, using a list of common tricky questions with sample answers.
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If you’re at the point where you’re studying for an MBA interview, your application materials have proven effective. These include your MBA personal statement, MBA recommendation letter, and essays, which may include an MBA letter of intent.
You’ll now be wondering what to expect when you show up for the interview. Beyond questions that prove your interest in an MBA, the school, or a particular program, the admissions committee or alumni interviewers will seek to expose more fundamental aspects of your profile.
Consider, for a moment, the evaluation criteria for Stanford Business School. Their goal is to develop eminent leaders who can innovate and have a positive impact on society. How do they determine correlates of these outcomes in an applicant’s interview answers? They formulate questions that give you an opportunity to discuss how you lead and see the world and demonstrate that you can think creatively and quickly. They’re also angling to know how you perceive the intention of the question and its answer.
Why Do Admissions Committees Ask Tricky MBA Interview Questions?
You’re probably thinking, “sure, there are difficult questions in an MBA interview, but what makes them tricky?” The motivation behind asking tricky questions is to test your mental acuity. Admissions committees know that the most successful applicants are going to prepare for some of the most common questions they’ll get asked: what are your strengths? Weaknesses? Why do you want to pursue an MBA at this point? These questions are known quantities, meaning that candidates are going to expect and prepare for them thoroughly.
But what about those you did not prepare for? These are asked to distinguish the strongest candidates from among those who are simply well prepared. How you answer gives the committee a better idea of how you’ll contribute to your class or perform in an internship or other business setting.
Tricky MBA interview questions are also asked with the purpose of “throwing off” the candidate, putting them on the spot, and forcing them to answer a question without any preconceived notions about what might constitute a good answer. The most deceiving questions a committee will ask a candidate will be the ones that they are least likely to rehearse or practice in an MBA mock interview.
This infographic shows what types of questions are asked in MBA interview:
Tricky MBA Interview Questions and Answers
An invitation to an interview should give you the conviction you need to proceed, but much like a job interview, you may wonder how you will come across, how many other applicants you are up against, and who your competition is. While it is true that candidates who are invited to an interview will all have stellar academic performance, test scores, and credentials, these are not aspects you can control.
What will secure your acceptance to your choice of program is an excellent interview performance, which can be ensured if you prepare and practice your answers to questions. Especially, preparing for tricky, unconventional, and difficult questions will give you the confidence that will set you apart from other candidates and enable you to stand out in an interview.
Before you start reviewing tricky questions and sample answers in preparation for the interview, you should know that your responses should be about two to three minutes long. The interview itself is typically about 30 minutes. When you’re practicing your answers, you can time yourself so you can adjust the timing as needed. Here’s a list of tricky MBA interview questions with sample answers to help you with your MBA interview prep:
What is your leadership style?
MBA programs are looking for evidence of an applicant’s ability to lead. While programs will certainly look at your personal statement, resume, and MBA extracurriculars to see if you’re capable of being a leader, this question asks you directly what kind of leader you are.
Every MBA program curriculum will have courses that intentionally challenge leadership skills. Programs will also have internships or leadership programs with exercises or simulated environments to help develop this critical skill. Consider Harvard Business School, which offers a course in organizational leadership, designed to equip students with the tools they need to communicate a complex vision to team members, drive strategies for creating enduring organizational change, and identify incongruence in internal and external conditions.
How to answer: To answer this question, you must: 1) reflect on your experiences to discover where you have manifested this skill and 2) look at the courses and development programs offered by your choice of MBA to identify the type of leader they are looking for. Using evidence from your personal or professional life, align these two conceptions.
Sample answer: One of my strengths is my ability to lead by example. Growing up, I was involved in sports and was praised by my coaches for being one of the hardest working players and always showing up to practice prepared. This trend continued as I moved on to university and played on the varsity basketball team, where I was co-captain during my freshman year.
Right now, I work as a golf pro shop supervisor. My favorite part about this is that I’m responsible for coordinating events and making sure everyone on my team knows their role. I’ve always thought that the best way I can contribute to a group working toward achieving a common goal is by being the best version of myself and always putting in the effort to complete my duties and motivate everyone else in the process.
Earlier this year, the golf course hired a new recruit who I was responsible to train. Together, we went over the process of opening and closing the shop, along with the other technical aspects involved in the position. I provided him with detailed feedback in written form at the end of each week with actionable steps for making improvements. He was making great progress, but I was noticing how he was having trouble getting used to parking the golf carts at the end of each day in the warehouse. Instead of simply telling him how to move the carts in the correct way, I showed him. Within a few tries, he’d mastered it. This was the first time I realized that I’ve always been someone who knew the power of demonstration and leading by example. I firmly believe that this is what it means to be a team player, and I’ll continue to lead with this in mind in all my future endeavors.
How do you think X program can help you address one of your weaknesses?
This question is really a two-in-one. First, it’s asking you to define how you think you will benefit from their program. Second, it’s asking you to discuss one of your weaknesses. This is essentially a spinoff of the “tell me about your strengths and weaknesses” prompt with a slight twist. Programs will ask this question to get a sense of your mindset regarding your shortcomings and what specifically about their program will help you mend that issue.
How to answer: To answer this question, first, thoroughly research the program and school. You won’t be able to construct a detailed answer about how you think the program will benefit you if you don’t know what the program offers and the values the school espouses.
While you must have researched the school before applying, repeat this step now and remind yourself of the curriculum, extracurricular activities, and student life. For example, the Stanford School of Business MBA program offers students a variety of skill-enriching extracurricular activities, such as the Business & Environment Club. The first-year curriculum also offers several opportunities for students to customize their learning with the global experience programs. Ask yourself what appeals to you about the program – if you were a Stanford applicant, you might say that the Global Management Immersion Experience is something you can benefit from. Do this for every school to which you’ve been invited for an interview to prepare for this question.
The second part of your answer concerns your weakness. When you’re discussing a weakness that you want to amend, you must have a strategic answer, because you don’t want to leave the impression that you won’t improve or that this weakness will only impede your ability to succeed in the program. For the weakness you choose to address for this question, the key is to be genuine. Don’t say that your biggest weakness is that you’re a perfectionist; this answer will only come off as pretentious, not to mention it says nothing about how the program can help you fix this issue. Be specific and straightforward. If you’re uncomfortable taking risks, you could mention that the Global Management Immersion Experience would challenge you to take the risk of working with an organization in a foreign country. By targeting specific components of the program, your responses will be more precise.
Note that your answer to this question can often be inspired by your MBA motivation letter.
Sample answer: My most significant weakness is my tendency to take on more responsibility than I can handle. Throughout my career as a content manager for a literary magazine, I’ve been responsible for making sure all my writers are completing tasks on time and are brainstorming different narrative concepts for publishing in the next quarter. As a leader, I can delegate tasks to other people easily, such as when I request edits from my writers or ask my social media content colleague to upload certain images or content to our pages. However, if my writers are having trouble completing tasks, or if I get asked to help out on another project, I am always inclined to say “yes” no matter what.
There was one instance in particular when I was working more with the editing department and I was preparing a series of short stories to be published for the next quarter; one of my colleagues asked if I could do some audio engineering on the podcast he was planning to upload in a few days, and I agreed, even though this wasn’t part of my regular duties. I missed the deadline for a few of those short stories and had to extend the publishing period. After this incident, I worked out a plan for delegating tasks using an online shared calendar with all my colleagues to assign work. If I was available to take on extra work for anyone who needed help, I made sure to notify my colleagues via the calendar.
In X program, I can rectify this weakness through the curriculum that specifically addresses organizational behavior, which I believe is at the root of this problem. The program’s emphasis on developing an adaptive organizational strategy to integrate resources more effectively will not only improve my basic time management and leadership skills but allow me to support a more efficient workplace infrastructure.
What will you do if you aren’t accepted into this program?
When an admissions committee asks this question, they want to find out if you are truly invested in their program, and if your motivations for pursuing an MBA are genuine. Your answer to this question will reveal how you handle disappointment and how resilient you are to failure. This question isn’t as common in MBA interviews but is sometimes used in job interviews to judge a candidate’s maturity level and how they adjust their expectations or goals effectively to reduce the incidence of failure in the future.
How to answer: Your approach to this answer should show the admissions committee that you’re committed to their program and school, motivated to become a business professional, and persistent when it comes to your goals. This will require you to be specific about what you’re anticipating within the program and how it will further your career. You can discuss one of your short- or long-term goals and how you think the program will be an essential piece of the puzzle.
Be honest about what you plan to do if you don’t get into their program. Will you apply to other schools? Will you wait until the next admissions cycle? Will you continue with your current employment until you decide to apply again? If you don’t already have a plan B, you should have one prepared in case you encounter this question in the interview. Also, note that your career goals can also make a strong MBA essay topic.
Another great strategy for answering this question is to talk about the job title you want to eventually have. Many graduates of an MBA program move into positions as managers, entrepreneurs, advertising specialists, marketers, investment bankers, and more. Again, being specific about your career goals will show that you’ve given lots of thought to career prospects and that you’re committed to your goals. Emphasize how you’re convinced that their program is the best possible option for your goals at this time by mentioning specific aspects of the program that pertain to those goals.
Sample answer: My role as an assistant agent at an entertainment company is to discover talent. We receive thousands of queries from authors, performance artists, and directors each year seeking representation from our company. I sort through various pitches and determine which individuals will move on to the next stage of the query, which involves a long investigation process into the portfolio and work history of the individual. Although my job is to find talent, my goal in all my interactions with prospective talent, through interviews and by parsing their submissions, is to identify the best written, presentation, and oral communication skills among applicants. My decisions must be made quickly and sometimes with inadequate information available. Because of this, I’ve been able to develop strong networking skills.
Regardless of whether I am accepted to this program, I will still be working on the skills that an MBA program at X university will provide me with, including decision making and information analysis; these skills are strong determinants of the efficacy of the business where I am currently employed. The reason I am so committed to completing the MBA program at X university is because it places a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovative thinking. Because one of my long-term goals is to open my own international talent agency, the global management program you offer resonates strongly with where I hope to be in five to ten years.
If I am not accepted in this round, I will wait until the next admissions cycle to apply again. In the meantime, I will review my materials and seek advice from the school on how to revise them to improve my candidacy while continuing to gain experience in my current job. I remain convinced that your program is the best option for supporting my goals at this time.
How would your colleagues or supervisors describe you?
If an admissions committee asks this question, they want you to elaborate on your letters of recommendation, work experience, volunteer experience, or extracurriculars. If there are any gaps in the information in your application regarding your professional relationships, the interviewers will want to clear that up. Most programs emphasize strong community values and teamwork; Harvard, for instance, has small class sizes to develop community values. Knowing more about your relationships can provide a basis for judging your collaborative capabilities. Programs are looking for information that will predict your behavior in a class setting, and how you will fit into the chosen cohort.
How to answer: To answer this question, you can reflect on information provided by your referees, if they happen to be either a supervisor or colleague. This means it is important to know what they said about you in their letters. Read them thoroughly and highlight any information you think is necessary to know to prepare for the interview. If neither of your referees will suffice, think of people from your most relevant job positions, volunteer experiences, or extracurriculars. If you have instances where you received positive feedback from a manager, you can be specific. Otherwise, you should highlight one or two traits and justify why you think your colleague or supervisor would describe you that way; ideally, you will want to use an example.
Sample answer: I work as a library assistant at my local library; I’ve worked there since the start of my undergraduate studies four years ago. My primary duty is to organize and coordinate programs for various groups; I also perform other administrative tasks, such as updating data management systems or scheduling events. My supervisor, Jane, who is someone I’ve worked closely with throughout my employment, would describe me as conscientious. For the first four weeks of employment, all new hires are subject to verbal performance reviews. They are designed to allow employees and employers to discuss progress and if there’s anything the employee should know to improve. Jane emphasized how I was a conscientious individual, which was an asset for the position that demands strong organization skills and attention to detail. She specifically mentioned how I was punctual, always completing tasks ahead of time, and a reliable team player who would always assist with other duties if possible.
What if They Ask Me a Question That I Am Completely Unprepared For?
During the interview, there’s a chance that admissions will ask a question that you aren’t prepared for. If this happens, it’s important not to panic. Listen to the question, take a moment to think, and construct an honest answer. When in doubt, you can use the S.T.A.R. method to help you answer behavioral or situational questions. The acronym stands for situation, task, action, and result. You start by describing the situation you were in, then the task you were working toward, the action you took, and the result of that action. Get creative; take your time to think about a relevant experience if one is necessary and ask a follow-up question to clarify.
Your body language is also important to consider during an interview, but especially when you’re answering a question you weren’t prepared for. To be personable, you could smile and say “oh, I wasn’t prepared for that,” or something similar, to stay relaxed and confident.
Check out more tips for your interview:
If you’re reading this article, chances are you have already been invited to an interview. Or maybe you are just looking to prepare in advance, which is a great idea!
Some candidates use MBA admissions consulting to help them organize their answers and application materials, which puts them in an even better position to succeed. Remember, programs are looking for candidates who can demonstrate excellent communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills because these traits are the most likely to improve your chances of thriving in a business career.
1. What are tricky MBA interview questions?
Tricky MBA interview questions are asked by an admissions committee to catch you off guard. They want to see if you can think quickly and communicate an effective answer to a question that you didn’t expect.
2. What are some more common MBA interview questions?
These would include “what are some of your strengths and weaknesses?”; “tell us about yourself”; “what are your short- and long-term goals?”; and “why are you interested in X program?”.
3. How do I prepare for tricky questions?
By practicing your answers to the above questions with a qualified advisor, consultant, or professional who can give you feedback. Do research on the school and program and write down promising and interesting aspects so that you can prepare to discuss them in detail if prompted in the interview.
4. What should I focus on when I answer tricky questions?
You will want to connect your current goals and skills with what a program is offering. Focus on what you can contribute to their program and how the program can help you. In your interview preparation, brainstorm answers you could give for tricky MBA interview questions.
5. What format is an MBA interview?
That depends on the school and program. Some schools use a video interview format, which can make it easier to interview for a program with a larger applicant pool. Some programs have multiple interviews; others don’t have any. During your research, you should find commonly asked MBA interview questions and what they’re looking for in candidates. Most programs will state openly that they are looking for candidates with strong leadership skills, a goal-oriented mindset, and managerial potential.
6. How do I answer questions about leadership style?
Reflect on your experiences as a leader. This may come from an extracurricular, a job, or a volunteer experience. There are many ways to be a leader, so you should define what it means to be a leader within your current or previous position. One common leadership style is the “lead-by-example” approach. Research the school to identify the specific types of leadership styles they look for; you can usually find these in the academic curriculum and experiential activities.
7. What weaknesses should I avoid mentioning if I’m asked about them?
Avoid saying things like “my greatest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist” or that “I don’t have any weaknesses.” Everyone has weaknesses, and programs are looking for candidates who are aware of how they can improve and have an actionable plan to address them.
8. When should I start preparing for my interview?
You should start preparing at least four weeks in advance. Ideally, you can start as soon as you receive an invitation for an interview, or even before. You want to give yourself enough time to study the school’s strategic plan and program. You will need plenty of time to practice your answers to specific questions and receive feedback so that you can have a strong interview performance and secure an acceptance.
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