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The Seven Hardest MBA Admissions Interview Questions—and How to Answer Them

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4. What concerns do you have about getting an MBA?

Why It’s Tough

This is a difficult question to answer because your interviewer is essentially asking you to point out the flaws in the very product you purport to want to buy. It’s the equivalent of having a date where your love interest asks you to divulge what you don’t like about him or her—only to have to then spend the rest of the evening trying to have fun while worrying that the critique you provided was taken personally…

Key Considerations

While this question is rarely used, you should prepare to acknowledge potential concerns, especially when the MBA entails such a significant personal investment. You’re looking at putting in as much as $200,000—which doesn’t even include the opportunity cost of one to two years of lost earnings. It would be entirely reasonable to cite this as a concern. Non-traditional candidates who are embarking upon an MBA with a less clear-cut roadmap going forward could also cite that as a concern. Older candidates, meanwhile, might understandably have some “nerves” about a return to the classroom.

Planning Your Response

Regardless of which concern makes the most sense for you, the most effective way to address the issue is by focusing on your long-term ambitions, which show you have thought long and hard about this issue. You essentially want to make the point that, like any major life decision, the MBA comes with some risks. But then you want to show that in light of your overall plan, it is a great fit (and that the school you are interviewing for is especially appealing because of X, Y and Z). This type of answer will also help to reaffirm your goals and choice of school.

5. How would those close to you describe you in three words?

Why It’s Tough

Assessing your own character or personality is always challenging. It’s even harder to do when given only a few words to describe the way you think others perceive you. While perhaps not quite as tricky as the famous strategy consulting interview question—“What would you like to have inscribed on your tombstone?”—it falls into that same genre of questions regarding self-awareness.

hardest MBA admissions interview questionsKey Considerations

What you’re really being asked is how you think you are viewed by others. Of course, the “others” in question could just as easily be your colleagues at work or your classmates in college or some other group, depending on your interviewer. Likewise, you could be given three words, four words or something much more open ended in terms of how to respond.

Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are clearly important factors that admissions committees take into account, and this question is a good measure of those traits. Keep in mind, in the case of a non-blind interview, your interviewer will have already read your letters of recommendation and may have a good sense of just how your colleagues at work actually perceive you. In this case, the interviewer may well be using this question to see how your perception lines up with reality.

Planning Your Response

The key to answering this question is simple preparation. Have three to four characteristics ready that you know represent you well, through the lens of others. You might even ask some of your peers, colleagues or mentors to weigh in. This can serve both to give you some concrete examples and to check your own perceptions against their impressions. Once you list the three words for your interviewer—or four, or however many you’ve been given—be prepared to expand upon them, explaining why you selected each one. If you say, “outgoing, doer and loyal,” then follow up with examples that prove those points.

6. How will you take advantages of the resources we provide at school X?

Why It’s Tough

On the surface this question may feel like a variant on “Why school X?” If fact, it’s a bit more complex in that it specifically asks you to explain how you will make the most of the MBA during your time in the program. You are being asked to provide more detail than in the case of the “Why our school?” question.

Key Considerations

From the admissions team’s standpoint, this question is a great way to weed out the less serious candidates who haven’t done their homework and to figure out if a candidate is truly prepared to maximize his or her time in business school.

Preparing Your Response

To answer the question, you need to do some real research into how the specific program fits your personal, academic and professional goals—as well as how you are going to use the program’s offerings to get closer to those goals.

Your answer should show that you have researched and considered the program in terms of at least three considerations: coursework, extra-curricular activities and career management offerings. What classes, especially electives, will help you fill your knowledge gap to prepare you for your short-term goal? Which clubs and activities will help you develop your skills and expand your network, opening doors to the opportunities you seek? How do you hope career management will help you through the internship process and with gaining employment after the MBA?

7. People you remember the most break the rules. Do you agree?

Why It’s Tough

It is definitely tempting to agree with this statement and then offer up a couple of examples of innovators, world leaders and humanitarians who have broken the rules. The danger in doing so is that you risk coming across as someone who thinks it’s fine, even admirable, to break the rules. This is a potentially vulnerable position to place yourself in, especially given that MBA programs are paying closer attention than ever to their brands in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Key Considerations

In a rules-based society, it’s dangerous to advocate that ‘rule breaking’ is acceptable, which means that a more conservative approach is in order.

Preparing Your Response

One way to tackle this question would be to first acknowledge that plenty of people who break rules end up harming others—and must ultimately pay the consequences. This paves the way to then point out the difference between rule-breaking—essentially “cheating” your way to an advantage—and rule-changing, as in innovating in such a way that the old rules or paradigm are no longer relevant and a new set of rules become the norm.

Other Awful Questions?

Have you faced challenging questions in your MBA admissions interviews? Heard accounts of zingers that caught your peers completely off guard? If you’d like our take on how to respond, leave us your terrible questions in the comments and we’ll share our thoughts and strategic tips! And for more in-depth analysis of interview questions and preparation, don’t miss our full series of school-specific interview guides.

Want to listen to this advice? Play our podcast episode about the hardest MBA interview questions below.

Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast
Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast
Episode 24: 7 Hardest MBA Interview Questions and How to Answer Them
See more about the podcast episode here.
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