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Answering MBA Interview Questions Authentically

This article is sponsored by Menlo Coaching.

Connecting with your interviewer – confidently presenting yourself and building camaraderie – far outweighs logical arguments if they fall flat. Evaluation forms at many top programs often start out with criteria like, “general impression and presence,” “communication skills,” or “emotional maturity.”

How do you show that you are a real human in your MBA interview, and not simply a set of test scores, grades and job titles? It starts with the right preparation, and, as Eduardo Placer puts it, leading with what you love. Successful MBA applicants Julia (Wharton, Class of 2021) and Vicky (HBS, Class of 2021) talk about how they managed to stay relaxed and make a genuine human connection with their interviewers:

Using Stories to Answer MBA Interview Questions

Some MBA admissions officers might have already heard “cross-functional leadership” or “love for working in teams” ten or fifteen times the day of your interview. But a story about you that you tell with passion and clarity will be memorable and engaging.

The Most Common MBA Interview Questions

Be ready for all types of questions: standard interview questions (“Why do you want an MBA?”), behavioral questions (“Tell me about your strengths/weaknesses”), and even unexpected follow-up questions (“Great, now tell me one more weakness”). But, don’t prepare for every possible question you could ever get. Preparing to remain calm when faced with unexpected questions will do you a lot more good than trying to prepare for every question you can find in a Google search.

Story Framework and Flexibility

Choose 4 or 5 of your best stories and write a few bullets covering the situation, the actions you took, and the results. The STAR format (Situation, Task, Action, Result) works well for behavioral questions that ask you to “Tell me about a time when…”. Next, practice applying the same story to two or more different MBA interview questions. One of your leadership experiences probably also came with a set of challenges on the team, and the right story can cover both questions easily.

Keep it Brief!

The interviewer will not interrupt you mid-narrative if you go on for too long, and the conversation will become one-sided if you continue to ramble on. When your stories are short and focused, the interviewer has time to engage you with follow-up questions and meaningful conversation.

School-specific Nuances in MBA Admissions Interviews

Preparing for HBS, Wharton, Sloan, Ross, or other top schools? Whether it’s the team-based interview at Wharton, Sloan’s intensive behavioral questions, or nuances in questions across top MBA programs, you should be very familiar with the style and format of MBA interviews  across schools where you are interviewing. The Harvard Business School interview attempts to keep you on your toes. Instead of beginning with, “Nice weather we’re having, right?” you might be asked a more aggressive first question like, “So when did you leave your last job?” A carefully prepared story that relates to a direct question like this will keep you calm and focused, proving that you can act under pressure with grace and poise.

Demonstrating “Executive Presence” in MBA Interviews

Play to Your Strengths

It’s easy to get lost in self-doubt or worrying that you don’t have the perfect GMAT score. Pick your top three strengths and focus on those so you can bring your authentic self to the conversation in the natural way you show up in the world.

Practice With Mock Interviews

Find a friend to practice with and have some fun! It may seem counter-intuitive to practice a relaxed, laid-back demeanor while prepping for something so high-risk and important. Shouldn’t you approach it more seriously? You have to remember that you will be talking to another human being. It can even be helpful to practice on your own while relaxing—while on a walk, while doing chores around the house, while riding your bike—that way you won’t agonize over being exact about your diction or too precious about your phrasing. At Menlo Coaching, we offer MBA admissions interview prep for applicants who want professional support.

Strive for Connection, not Perfection

On the day of the interview, you can use all of this preparation to your advantage. Don’t agonize about using exact diction or be too precious about your phrasing. Relate your story to the interviewer in a way that feels natural and comfortable.

Breathe

Just like your parents or your teachers have likely told you for ages, deep-breathing—in through your nose, out through your mouth—will help keep you relaxed and even contribute to speaking at a reasonable rate.

MBA Interview Tips

Having the right set of tools is necessary to getting a job done and done well. Let’s look at the some of the things you should feel comfortable doing during the interview to ensure that things go smoothly.

What if I Make a “Mistake?”

Take advantage of your ability to correct yourself by practicing easy transitions to get back on track. For example, if you find yourself rambling, you might say, “Let me get back to my main point, which is…” This will let you re-center your argument and let your interviewer know that you understand what is important about both their question and your response.

What if I’m *Beyond* Nervous?

Acknowledge your nervousness. It’s completely natural to be nervous during such an important process! In most cases, your nervousness won’t be obvious to the interviewer (who, remember, is interviewing people morning ‘til night, all of whom are nervous) but in the rare cases where something does show up—clammy hands, trembling—you can always acknowledge it in a helpful way. By saying, “Sorry, I’m a bit nervous, but this school is my absolute favorite and I want things to go well,” you put them at ease, acknowledge the high-stakes situation and account for anything that might look amiss.

What if I “Freeze?”

Give yourself time to respond. Some interviewers will ask purposefully tricky ones (like we talked about with HBS interview questions above) such as “You’ve given me two weaknesses, I want to know about a third.” You can buy thinking time by repeating the question, which also lets the interviewer know that you are considering your answer. You can even stretch this out with some well-chosen words: “Hmm, a time I had a conflict with a manager? I’d have to talk about the time that I…” And before you know it, you’re back to feeling prepared and confident!

About Menlo Coaching

Alice Van Harten started coaching MBA applicants in 2007, founded Menlo Coaching in 2012, and now enjoys seeing the number of non-traditional applicants admitted into top-tier MBA programs grow steadily, year over year. Together with David (her partner), Rebecca, Alice W., Leslie, Julie, Marissa, Olga and Yaron, the team at Menlo Coaching offers the perfect blend of 1-on-1 coaching, interview prep, career consulting and step-by-step guidance through the MBA application process. If you want to get into a top MBA program, there’s no better place to start than right here: Winning Admission to a Top MBA: An Exhaustive Guide.

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