MBA Interview Prep – How to Plan for the Unexpected

Preparing for your MBA interviews can seem fairly straightforward at first. All you need to do is bullet out and practice your answers to the standard questions and you should be good to go, right? Hopefully so, but not always.

While interviews with members of the adcom may entail a certain level of consistency between candidates, this is by no means the rule (especially for places like HBS where interviews are highly personalized). It is less likely to be true if you are interviewing with an alumni or current student, as they are generally given latitude to ask what they like so long as they can assess you according to the school’s designated criteria afterwards.   

So, how do you prepare for the dreaded oddball question that you never thought you’d be asked? At the end of the day, you can’t prepare for everything and that’s exactly why the interview is informative to assess your candidacy. Great leaders shine in the real world because they can think on their feet and respond well to an unexpected challenge. Reacting well to an unanticipated interview question is one small way you can demonstrate your potential to be a great leader.

That’s not to say that your MBA interviewer is trying to stump you, as nine times out of ten they aren’t. It might just be that they phrase a question in an unexpected way or ask for an example of a time that you have a perfect story for…if you hadn’t used it for your last answer (argh!).

As I said earlier, you can’t prepare for everything but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you can. Absolutely spend the bulk of your time on ‘the biggies’ like your resume walk through, post-MBA goals, etc., but it’s also helpful to scan a list of the less common questions you might be asked and think about how you would answer them. In my experience, even 30 seconds of thought can result in a stronger answer than having to come up with something on the spot. 

With that in mind, here is a list of somewhat surprising questions compiled from past clients and publicly available sources like ClearAdmit:

  • What are some challenges you would face in your MBA?
  • What’s your plan B if you can’t get the role you want after graduation?
  • What are the three attributes a good team needs?
  • Tell me about a time you showed resilience.
  • What does equality and diversity in the workplace mean to you?
  • Share your proudest accomplishment, either personal or professional.
  • What are the top three factors that led to your success?
  • What would you like your legacy to be at [X school]?
  • What is trust and how important is trust in our society? 
  • Please tell me about three failures you have had.
  • If you could change one thing about your current company, what would it be?
  • Do you read for fun? What was the last book you read?

Clearly this list is far from comprehensive, but it is a start. Another place to focus your preparation is on any school-specific principles, concepts, etc. For instance, Fuqua is known to ask about ‘DQ’ or ‘decency quotient’, Haas may question how you’ve demonstrated its four ‘leadership principles’, and Tuck may ask whether you exhibit the ‘four characteristics’ that form the basis of its admissions criteria. These programs will expect you to be familiar with these concepts if you have done an appropriate amount of research.

At the end of the day, please don’t stress if you get stumped. You’re human and your interviewer knows this – and has likely been in your same shoes! It is totally fine to take a pause to gather your thoughts, even if it means an uncomfortably long silence. Worst case, if you end up blurting out a jumbled answer, you can always address the situation in your thank you note and offer more cohesive thoughts (briefly, of course).  

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like some help with your interview preparation or anything else related to your MBA admissions journey.

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