10 Questions That May Stump You in Your B-School Interview (And How to Answer Them)

It’s impossible to predict with certainty which questions you’ll be asked in an MBA admissions interview. And there aren’t enough hours in the day (or night!) for a busy applicant to rehearse answers to each of the possibilities.

One of the best ways to prepare is to tackle some really tough questions — ones that make your palms wet, your mouth dry, your heart race, and your head spin. That way, the more conventional interview queries that you get later won’t feel as intimidating, and the curve balls won’t feel as threatening.

In addressing any interview question, the most important step of all is to have a clear objective in mind before you respond. You can seize each question as an opportunity only by knowing what you want to accomplish with your answer. Once you know your objective, be sure to compile a list of anecdotes you can draw from to support the values you want to present.

Our team at The MBA Exchange has advised thousands of b-school applicants since 1996. We drew from our experiences as former admissions officers, interviewers, and admissions consultants to create this list of 10 questions that every MBA candidate should know how to answer. We’ve also developed some sample answers — these will be differ from yours (which should always be true to your own perspectives and experience), but they can give you a sense of the kinds of things that interviewers expect to hear from soon-to-be admitted candidates.

1. What’s your biggest weakness?

Objective: Convey authenticity and self-awareness without tarnishing your candidacy. Focus on the tangible steps you are taking to improve this part of yourself, and articulate what you’ve learned through that process.

Potential Reply: “Impatience. Sometimes, the outcome I envision is so clear and compelling that I can’t wait to get there. I’m learning to pace myself, moderate my efforts, and consider my options before I leap. I’m finding that the journey can be just as valuable as the destination. For example, …”

2. Why should we admit you?

Objective: Show self-confidence without appearing arrogant. Discuss how you can make a positive impact on the campus.

Potential Reply: “One of my college professors used to tell me that I teach while I learn. That is, by asking thoughtful questions, challenging the status quo, and testing my hypotheses on others, I always strive to help those around me grow and develop with me. For instance, …”

3. Tell me about yourself.

Objective: Summarize and balance your professional, intellectual, and personal strengths. Be concise.

Potential Reply: “I strive to make every day count. I do this by delivering tangible results, learning something new, and helping others in tangible ways. Whether I’m leading a team at work, practicing my Mandarin skills, or recruiting new grads for my college alumni chapter, I want to fall asleep each night with a sense of real accomplishment.”

4. What do you want to be remembered for?

Objective: Underscore your values while remaining humble.

Potential Reply: “Leaving a legacy is not something I think about every day. I relate that more to world leaders, great artists, and brilliant scientists. But, if there’s one thing that I’d like others to remember about me, it is that I always lived up to my word. I want my family, friends, and colleagues to recall that my promise, my handshake, represent a total commitment, no excuses, no matter what. For example, …”

5. What is a value that defines you and a time when that value had to be compromised?

Objective: Demonstrate integrity without rigidity.

Potential Reply: “I believe that taking on challenges is a trait that creates personal and professional growth. At work and at school, I was always eager to take on more projects, more classes, and more extracurricular responsibilities, especially when they were out of my comfort zone. During college, however, I had to moderate my view on challenging myself when one semester, I decided to become the president of the debate team while also taking a graduate-level course. To ensure I wasn’t spread too thin and could engage fully in all of my courses and activities, I decided to …”

6. If you had one minute in front of the admissions committee to state your case, what would you say?

Objective: Sell yourself by helping the admissions committee “buy” your candidacy. Demonstrate your ability to ace an elevator pitch.

Potential Reply: “I view MBA education as a value exchange of the highest order. I absolutely want and need this amazing learning experience in order to achieve my goals. But equally important to me is sharing my perspective and past experiences with classmates so we can grow together. I thrive in environments where I am challenged while challenging others…”

7. Tell me about your childhood years.

Objective: Model openness without being sappy or trite.

Potential Reply: “As the oldest of four siblings and the daughter of two working parents, I always felt — and wanted to feel — responsible for the well-being of my sisters and brothers. They could really test my patience sometimes, but they knew I was there for them when they needed to share a big accomplishment, solve a tough problem, or cry over a disappointment. For instance, …”

8. Are you a better teammate or leader?

Objective: Redirect a leading question to your advantage.

Potential Reply: “I have to say that it really depends on the situation. If someone else on the team has the vision and skills to achieve our goal faster or better than I do, then I’m all in as a teammate, taking on a support role where I can add maximum value. But if I see us spinning our wheels, then I’m going to frame the issue, propose a solution, and engage others to work with me toward shared success.…”

9. To what other schools are you applying?

Objective: Reinforce your commitment without sounding desperate.

Potential Reply: “First of all, I want to make it clear that this is the b-school for me. Given my background and post-MBA goals, there’s no better fit anywhere. If offered admission, I’ll accept with pride. Still, I know how competitive this school is. So, because I’m such a strong believer in MBA education, I have applied to two other schools — (one ranked slightly higher, and one ranked slightly lower). But again, if School X says yes to me, I’m here!”

10. Have I asked you everything? What question did I miss that you wish I had asked?

Objective: You should alway take advantage of this opportunity to learn even more about the target school and to talk about another one of your qualifications. Be sure that all of your key strengths are known by the end of the interview, and demonstrate school knowledge by posing a thoughtful question.

Potential Reply: “One aspect of my candidacy that we didn’t discuss is my community leadership. My leadership role with XYZ has allowed me to make a positive difference for those in need. In my research, I found that you have a Net Impact Chapter that does community outreach. Are there any other groups here that have more of an international focus? If not, what would be the process for me to start such a group?”

Closing Note

In addition to pondering these tough questions and considering how you’d answer them, the other key to interview success is practice, practice, practice. Having a trusted, knowledgeable friend play the role of a poker-faced MBA interviewer can really help. Or you can engage the services of a professional admissions consultant to provide one-on-one prep and a mock interview as a “dress rehearsal” for the real thing.

In any case, a thoughtful, thorough, and strategic approach to preparing will maximize your chances for success on interview day.

Looking for more help getting into business school? Check out: 8 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know — But Should — About MBA Admissions.