Here is how I prepared for my MBA interviews, and it didn’t involve digesting the business section of the L.A. Times daily.
I was fortunate enough to have my friend Khalid (you met him here) offer to help me prepare for my first MBA interview, I wanted to extend the favor to the internet. As a currently MBA student at Stanford, Khalid knows a thing or two about acing an MBA interview.
Here is what Khalid prepared me with, and I will be using my real-life experiences to provide example answers.
*This post is really text-heavy and I apologize for that!
How to Prep for an MBA Interview:
Things to Know Going Into the Interview:
-Go into the interview knowing that the interviewer will be looking to answer three things:
- Is this candidate the same person that fill out the application and wrote the personal statement?
- How well can this candidate answer generic interview questions?
- Will this candidate be a good fit for our school?
-Your interviewer will ease you into the interview by opening with a few things about themselves. During their statements, listen for cues, specifically around:
- Why the interviewer wanted to join academia (i.e. to develop youth)
- What the interviewer is interested in (i.e. connected to innovation, entrepreneurship, sports marketing, brand management)
Once you have picked up on these cues, try to drop in later, during your answers, that you were paying attention. For instance, “Like you, Stacy, I am very interested in technology, specially around how we can get more women into coding.”
-The number one rule is NO NEGATIVITY. No matter your experiences, be sure to keep all of your statements positive. Remember, happiness is an attractive quality.
-The interview will probably last about 45 minutes, depending on the number in your panel.
-Bring water, a pen, and a small notepad (but try not to use it, focus more on listening).
Mapping the Interview:
A good way to keep your interview clear and focused is with a mental map. Break your interview down into four sections, during each of which you present new information. Doing so will keep your audience engaged and will keep the pace of the interview moving along. Be sure to not exceed 5 key points for each part of your mental map.
Here is how I broke my mental map down:
This is a two-minute overview about yourself. Make sure to “show, don’t tell” by providing examples instead of just making statements. Feel free to get personal with details about your family and interests. Let the interviewer get to know you.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: Well, I grew up in Los Angeles, California. I lived in the same house my whole life, along with father Rick, my mom Jeanette, and my brother Nick, who is now attending aviation school in North Dakota. Wanting a larger taste of the world, I chose UC Davis for my undergraduate studies, to pursue a double major in neurobiology and psychology and eventually have a career in medical research. During my freshman year at UCD, I started an internship at the UCD Center for Neuroscience where I did medical research for Parkinson’s Disease, something very near and dear to my heart as my dad was diagnosed with the same five years earlier. This felt like a way that I could help my father, and other PD patients. During this internship, I learned that my social and personable personality better suited a career working one-on-one with people, and – deciding to better play to my strengths – I committed to earning a degree only in psychology. With this major, I was able to graduate from UCD in three-years, which allowed me to take on an Executive position with Target, after having already worked with the company for the final two years of my undergraduate studies.
Before the MBA:
Here, focus on your life experiences leading up to the decision to go back to school. Draw upon work experience, internships, or courses you took during your undergraduate studies. You might also draw upon non-academic life circumstances that propelled you back into the world of academia, such as noticing a need for X product or Y service.
Q: Tell me about your work experience.
A: Well, as the Executive of Asset Protection, I spent two-years ensuring the safety and profitability of my store. What I particularly loved about my role was that it allowed me to make an impact on someone’s life. I was able to intervene at a really pivotal moment and help someone realize their mistakes and make positive life changes, which was very rewarding. My background in psychology helped a lot in this role, allowing me to some insight into the mind of the offender.
[Notice how I discuss what I liked most about my position by including an example of how I was able to impact their life. I also tied in how my desire to help others was fulfilled in this position and how my educational background also paired well with my work. Adding in these connects makes a more complete answer.]
Q: Have you even been witness to an unethical situation? How did you react?
A: Through the type of work I did, I was witness to many unethical situations, and I reacted to those situations in accordance to the law and Target policy. But, I think that my particular job makes for a skewed representation of the company. Target fostered a very strong open-door policy, ensuring all team members knew who to talk to if an unethical situation did arise. I am proud that my work contributed to the culture of the store by ensuring that any unethical behaviors would be dealt with seriously, which created a very fair working environment.
[Once again, we are keeping it positive! If you don’t have an unethical situation to discuss, then focus on what your company did specifically to drive that ethical culture.]
Q: What did you learn from your superiors?
A: I learned that we won and lost as a team. Target did a great job of pulling the focus away from one superstar performer and instead worked hard to ensure the success of the entire team.
Q: What was your position in a group or team?
A: Aside from my position on the executive team at my store, I was also a District Resource and District Trainer for Target. In these roles I trained seven executives for Target, even deploying to other states or working outside my district to do so. It was a great opportunity to gain leadership exposure outside of my store and taught me a lot about collaborating with people remotely.
[Focus not just on what your role was, but what you learned from the role.]
Q: Hypothetically, what would you do if you had a problem performer? Or if someone wasn’t pulling their weight?
A: I would schedule some one-on-one time to discuss the situation. I would draw upon my background in psychology to get to the root cause of the problem. I would be sure to document conversations with all parties involved and put in all possible efforts to retrain, reset expectations, or performance out a problem performer. Like I said earlier, we win and lose as a team, so problems within the team need to be addressed with swiftly, but with empathy.
[Use specific examples and tie it into your academic background if you can.]
Q: What would a good leader do if the majority of the team did not get along with the star performer of the team?
A: I believe in team work and in fostering a cohesive and collaborative team, so I would follow the steps I outlined in my last answer to manage the performance of this amazing, but un-collaborative, employee. I can train someone to be successful in the work they are doing, but I cannot train someone to be collaborative. I will preserve my team and my culture over one person, no matter how good.
*If you no longer work for the company, be prepared to go into why you left. Again, keep it positive.
Q: Why did you leave Target?
A: Although I love Target and believe in the impact of my work, my position began to be consolidated after some restructuring done by our new CEO. I made a difficult decision and left the company on good standing to take a step back to get a better idea of where my life’s passion lies.
During the MBA:
In this section, be ready to talk about why you want to earn your MBA. Why is the timing right for you now?
Q: Why do you want an MBA?
A: As my parents both have their MBAs, the idea was never a foreign concept growing up. I had told myself I would take two years off after graduating from UC Davis and then go back. Well, here I am three-years later and just barely finishing the application process. The main reason I put my MBA off was because I did not have a clear idea of what I would do with an MBA. Now that I have given myself this 6-month period to step back and reflect, I have the inspiration and drive that I was missing before.
Q: What brought about this change for you specifically?
A: When I first moved back home, I started a blog to chronicle my journey and hold myself accountable to things other than watching an entire season of House of Cards in one day. Through my blog, many people have reached out to me stating how I have inspired them in some way or another, it reinforces my desire to help people achieve happiness and fulfillment in their life, much like I have in mine over the past six months. An MBA will give me the skills needed to take this desire and make it into a commercially-sustainable business.
[Saying, “I want it” just isn’t going to cut it. If you don’t have a clear idea of what you would do with an MBA – which is 100% OK – then focus on everything an MBA will give you, like connections to professors/experts in the field you want to go into, access to new business practices, or just simply becoming better qualified for more jobs. Saying, “I don’t have all of the answers, that’s why I want my MBA” might be answer enough.]
Q: What skills will you gain from an MBA?
A: An MBA will introduce me to thought leaders, both current and future, through my professors and my MBA cohort. I will learn how to apply theoretical concepts to a real-world context. With my background in retail management, an MBA will also help me transition to a new industry, specifically learning the process of starting my own business. An MBA will allow me to use my background in psychology to deliver a product or service to people in a commercially-sustainable way.
[If nothing more, at least state how an MBA will connect you to the big four: accounting, finance, strategy, and marketing.]
Q: Why is this the right program for you?
[When answering this very important question be ready to go into specifics. Is it the network you will be a part of, the class sizes or type, or the specialization options that draw you to this program? This is your chance to show that you have done your research on the specifics of this program.]
After the MBA:
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: I see a future for myself in being a small-business owner. I know that I want to empower people to make hard decisions that will lead to their greater happiness, much like I did when I decided to take a step back. I also want to write a memoir someday, chronicling my experiences on what it is like to be the daughter of a Parkinson’s patient.
Q: What is your biggest area of personal growth?
A: I have long let myself be too easily influenced by social pressures and expectations. One of the things that I am most working on is setting aside what I believe society thinks is best and instead doing what I think is best. My last seven months have been a huge testament to that. I did something completely out of character when I quit my job and moved back in with my parents after five years of independence. But for the first time in my life, I feel like I am becoming the person I was always meant to be, instead of the person I agreed to be.
[In this question, really talk from your heart. Answers like, “I am a perfectionist” are overdone, even if it is true. I could have gone with a more unexpected answer, like, “I am really trying to take time each week for a hike.” Although this answer might seem ‘shallow,’ I can go deeper into how hiking is a part of my life that I love, but have not always made time for. I could explain how I am working on disconnecting myself from social media and why I feel introspection and sense of self is so important and how hiking provides for that. I could also tie my answer into how the university I am applying to is surrounded by great hikes! Basically, get creative.]
As your interview comes to a close, be prepared with a question for your interviewer, as they will open the floor up to you.
Here are a couple options that I mulled over:
- What support do you have available for your students post graduation, especially in the realm of small-business start-ups?
- Would it be possible to sit in on an MBA class?
- What is the alumni network like? Is there a recent graduate that I talk to further?
A braver route would be something like this, “I feel really confident that this university is the perfect fit for me. How else can I convince you that I am the perfect fit for this university?” Obviously, that is one gutsy sentence, so feel out the interview before you drop that on-liner (read: nail the interview before you drop that one-liner). In a sense, this is where you “ask for the job.” Make sure they know how much you want a spot in the program. Passion is an amazing thing.
A final option would be to just say, “I have really enjoyed our conversation and most of my questions were answered through our discussion, but would it be OK to email you if something comes to mind later?”
At the end of the day, this should come easily and naturally. Speak openly from your heart (just keep it positive!) and the conversation should flow. I hope this helps if you are prepared for an MBA interview, or was at least interesting to read. Now go out there and rock it!
What are your best interview tips? Let us know below.