Interviews are an essential part of the MBA admissions process. In order to build a strong application, applicants should understand what kind of questions admissions officers may ask.
Stacy Blackman, a contributor at US News and founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recently discussed some common questions asked in MBA interviews.
- What is your biggest weakness?
Blackman says this question is an opportunity to explain any shortcomings in academic performance or other potential weak points in an application.
“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,” Blackman writes.
Everyone has weaknesses, but Jen Weld an admissions consultant for Accepted and Former Asst. Dir. of Admissions at Cornell’s EMBA program, says one strategy is to paint your weakness as a strength.
“For example, being too detail-oriented might bog you down with too much work, but it ensures you are thorough, leaving no stone unturned,” Weld writes in an Accepted blog post.
- Tell me about a time you failed
A moment of failure can serve as a powerful learning opportunity. According to Blackman, when talking about failure, every applicant should be prepared to reference specific examples.
“When you discuss a failure during an MBA admissions interview, acknowledge your role in the incident, explain your reaction and discuss what lessons you learned or what you wish you could have done differently,” Blackman writes.
Most importantly, applicants should convey what they learned from failure.
“Don’t blame others; your overall tone should come across as positive,” Blackman writes.
- Describe a poor manager you’ve had
Similar to the previous questions, it’s crucial to maintain a positive tone in response to “describe a poor manager you’ve had.”
“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,” Blackman writes.
Janet Raiffa is an investment banking career coach, the former head of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs and a former associate director in the Career Management Center at Columbia Business School. In an interview with efinancialcareers, Raiffa stresses the importance of maintaining an optimistic tone and never “trash talking” a previous manager or boss in an interview.
“While they very well may be have been terrible, you don’t want to suggest that you are a malcontent who has trouble getting along with people,” Raiffa tells efinancialcareeres. “Complaining is also not a positive thing to do in an interview, and shows lack of judgment.”
- Tell me about yourself
This may seem like an easy question to answer, but Blackman says this question is where applicants tend to ramble on and lose focus. To answer strongly, Blackman recommends applicants to come up with an elevator pitch.
“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,” Blackman writes.
What types of terrain should you cover in this deceptively simple question? In a Poets & Quants article, Linda Abraham – founder of Accepted – lists several questions that are directly related to knowing yourself as an applicant.
What are your short-term goals?
What are your long-term goals?
What do you hope to gain from attending this program?
What will you contribute to your peers? To society?
Which examples will you provide if asked about a leadership experience, a time when you failed, or your response to criticism?
Interviews are designed to help you paint a more in-depth illustration of your application. While it’s important to prep beforehand, remember to relax. It’s a conversation after all.