The Top 3 Pitfalls to Avoid in Your Business School Interview

To make your MBA dreams come true, don't fall prey to these business school interview pitfalls


With Round 2 MBA deadlines in the rearview mirror, many of our clients are (smartly!) turning their focus to preparing for business school interviews. We love mock interviewing with them in the lead up to the real thing. Additionally, many on our team previously served as admissions interviewers. Through these experiences, we’ve noticed some common pitfalls to which even the most impressive candidates can fall victim.  

Here are our top 3 business school interview pitfalls and how to avoid them:

MBA Interview Pitfall #1: Jumbling the chronology of your resume walk through.

The opening question in many business school interviews is ‘walk me through your resume’ or ‘tell me about yourself’. First, recognize that these are essentially the same question. The interviewer wants you to share your background, primarily focused on college and thereafter. They want to hear about your career progression and accomplishments, but they also want to understand the ‘why’ behind each of your choices (college major, job changes, etc.).

In our experience, when asked to walk through their resume, many candidates begin with their current role (i.e., the top of their resume) and work their way backwards (i.e., down the page). This can get very confusing and come out awkwardly. We find that it’s way more coherent to begin with college and talk through your experiences chronologically, through to present day. Further, this ordering more naturally leads into the likely follow-on discussion of why you are choosing to pursue an MBA.

For each ‘section’ of your resume – college is one ‘section’, as is each job you’ve held – talk about three things: the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. The ‘what’ refers to a high-level description of your company, function, and role. For college, briefly cover where you went and your major/minor(s). The ‘why’ refers to the rationale behind your decision to pursue that opportunity. As it relates to college, this may entail why you chose your school and/or major. The ‘how’ refers to adding in a top or key accomplishment that highlights your impact or “brings to life” what your group does.

An example could sound like this: “I joined ABC Consulting in their healthcare practice where I focused specifically on operations improvement projects. A defining moment for me was when I partnered with an RN to develop a new process for X hospital to materially reduce the risk of sepsis, a possibly deadly infection. This project gave me a taste of the deep impact I could have through a career in healthcare, but it also made me curious about other questions such as XYZ. So that’s why I took my next role at ABC company, to explore the issue of access…”

After working your way through your current role, it can be a nice touch to wrap up with a brief mention of your involvements or interests outside of work. This demonstrates that you are engaged in your community. It can also serve as a potential connection point between you and your interviewer, if you happen to share a hobby or interest.

MBA Interview Pitfall #2: Diving into ‘why MBA’ without sharing your career goals.

In addition to sharing your background, the other key thing your interviewer is looking for you to communicate is why you want to pursue an MBA and why their school is at the top of your list. When asked, ‘Why do you want to attend X school?’, we find that clients often get a bit flustered and dive right into the characteristics (classes, clubs, etc.) of that program that are appealing.

This isn’t inherently bad, it’s just hard for the interviewer to interpret why certain things are appealing to you if you haven’t shared the context of your post-MBA career plans first. In our experience, a better approach is to begin by sharing what you plan to do after graduation (immediately and a little further down the road) and then talk about how the program in question will set you up for success in your target career.

It may feel a bit like you are dodging their question at first and that’s ok, so long as the bulk of your answer is spent impressing them with your knowledge of the program and specific insights as to how it is a perfect fit for your needs.

MBA Interview Pitfall #3: Telling stories that are too complex.

A final pitfall we commonly see in business school interviews is responding to behavioral questions (‘tell me about a time when…’) with stories that require too much upfront context. In our experience, candidates are more apt to flub a complicated story or tell it in a way that is confusing to the interviewer. This makes it difficult for the interviewer to accurately recall what you told them when it comes time to submit their evaluation. Additionally, to be honest, people tend to zone out when they don’t follow what someone is talking about.

More importantly, however, spending too much time sharing the upfront context of a story limits the amount of time you can spend on your actions, which are ultimately what you want to emphasize.  Practice your stories out loud and focus on those where you can cover the ‘setup’ in ~30-45 seconds (max). You want to keep your answer to a behavioral question around two minutes, so this leaves plenty of time to cover your actions and the ‘result’ of the story.

Did you know that we provide mock business school interview sessions accompanied by written feedback? We’d love to help you prepare. Reach out to learn more.  

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