Tricky MBA Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Man in blue shirt answering interview questions: Trick MBA Interview Questions
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Excitement is the first feeling you are likely to have when you are invited to an MBA interview. After that comes the nerves. Sometimes anxiety at the realization that you are so close to admission at the institution of your choice, but still so far. You cannot prepare for everything, but there are some things to expect. Here is an informative list of tricky MBA interview questions.

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These include:

  • What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to pursue an MBA now?
  • Tell us about a time you failed at something important
  • Which other business schools have you applied to?
  • Have you ever had to work under a poor manager?
  • What do you feel would be your biggest challenge in this program?
  • Do you have any questions for us?

Motives behind Tricky MBA Interview Questions

Before we delve into some common questions to expect, it is essential to understand why interviewers ask them. This gives you a better idea of how to respond favorably.

An interviewer may ask specific questions for reasons you are probably aware of, such as:

  • To learn more about the candidate
  • Clarifying unclear points made
  • To dig out the candidate’s opinions on issues of interest

Other less obvious motives could be:

  • To observe how well the candidate can think on their feet
  • To see how the candidate reacts when challenged
  • A clever way to force an overly rehearsed candidate out of their ‘script.’

7 Tricky MBA Interview Questions

What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?

Questions on strengths and weaknesses are common in all kinds of interviews, whether they are for a job or, as in this case, for further education.

Talking about your strengths is relatively easy. You know what you are good at. It may even be fun to talk about them. It is the weaknesses part that is difficult. No one likes to convey themselves in a negative light. Especially not in an interview.

Striking a balance

You need to pick two or three relevant strengths and back them with brief examples. After that, select one or two weaknesses and address them such that you bring out a sense of self-awareness and a commitment to improving.

The reason this is a tricky MBA interview question is because it calls for a balance. For starters, it is best to highlight more strengths than weaknesses and not vice versa. Secondly, make a point to recover from the blow of a negative trait. For every weakness, you mention, be sure to steer the conversation back to a positive.

Why do you want to pursue an MBA? Why now?

It is easy to answer the first part of this question. Reasons why anyone would want to pursue an MBA, are more or less the same. They usually revolve around self-development and career advancement. However, linking your answer to the second part of the question introduces the challenge.

Why now?

It steers the conversation in a more personal direction.

You will need to discuss where you are in your career and how pursuing an MBA now would be ideal. Your answer may involve your personal life. This may include where you are in that respect and how it ties in to make now a great time to embark on this kind of challenge.

Perhaps you are young, unmarried, and in the early years of a promising career. Now would be an excellent time to take the program before getting your hands full with a full-time job and family.

Maybe you are a middle-aged entrepreneur who has been practicing business for decades but now wants to add formal education to the many years of experience.

Tell us about a time you failed at something important

Failure is an inevitable part of any individual’s life. The difference is in attitude and if we choose to learn from our failures. The interviewer is looking to find out if you have a positive attitude towards failure and if you appreciate that there is always a lesson in failure.

Anecdotes for tricky MBA interview questions

This is a tricky question because it calls for an anecdote—a well-selected one from a professional or personal setting.

Try to keep it as brief as possible while conveying all necessary information. After that, discuss the failure. Acknowledge your role in it, making a point not to blame others or paint yourself in an overly positive, blameless light. Finally, explain your reaction to the failure and describe anything you wish you could have handled differently.

Finally, finish with the lessons learned from the failure while maintaining an overall positive tone.

Tricky MBA Interview Questions: Have you ever had to work under a poor manager?

This is one of the tricky MBA interview questions because there is a lot an interviewer can gather from your answer. This could be from your opinion on what constitutes poor management, to your temperament and communication skills.

You may need to tell a brief anecdote or simply describe the individual. Either way, you will need a delicate balance between politely assigning blame to the manager and articulating your opinions on good management and leadership practice.

Focus on the positive

It is best to explain these details briefly and move on to the positives of how you handled it. It could be by adapting to a situation, becoming empathetic, or communicating it to the manager to compromise. Even if you had to confront the problem more aggressively, be sure to show the interviewer that you eventually had a favorable outcome.

Which other business schools have you applied to?

This one comes top on the list of tricky MBA interview questions. In fact, some experts say it is an unfair question. You can’t ask them for a list of other candidates they are considering for the MBA program. Either way, it is one you ought to be prepared for.

The ideal answer should be based on why the interviewer is asking. There is no way of knowing that, but here are a few possibilities.

  • The institution and interviewer are concerned about their yield. They don’t want to admit applicants who then take up another offer elsewhere.
  • To understand your approach to school selection. For example, did you apply simply because they are a well-ranked institution; or because you have understood who they are and believe they are a good match for your career goals?

The best response is an honest answer of other institutions you have applied to for an MBA, followed by a demonstration that your selection results from thorough research combined with consideration of your personal career goals. A critical conclusion involves demonstrating why you feel this particular institution you are taking the interview with would be the best choice.

What do you feel would be your biggest challenge in this program?

Anticipated challenges are a typical question. They allow you to demonstrate an understanding of the task ahead and that you are ready for it.

Make it clear that you are aware of the demands of this MBA program. Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. It could work in your favor.

It won’t be a walk in the park.

Perhaps add that you realize it will not be easy and even mention a few foreseeable obstacles. For example, challenges could be based on workload from assignments and projects and social challenges such as having less time to spend with friends and family for the duration of the program.

Keep your tone confident and positive, always assuring the interviewer that you will overcome them.

Do you have any questions for us?

An end-of-interview question you are almost sure to get. Common as it may be, it can be difficult. Firstly, because you may not be sure if you should ask any questions at all. Just to be clear, yes, it is perfectly fine to pose a question to the interviewer when given a chance.

It gets tricky if you don’t know what makes for a good question or one which may work against you.

From your research on the institution, arm yourself with a few school-related questions for the interviewer. Also, make a mental note of questions you think of during the interview.

Some examples

Examples of good questions at this point are ‘What would you say makes this MBA program better than others?’ or ‘How does the institution keep abreast of specific needs of the business world today?’

The point is to demonstrate that you have done your research and are keen to join the institution. Therefore, avoid questions that are answered directly on the school website.

Conclusion

Preparing to answer tricky MBA interview questions can be nerve-racking if you have no idea what to expect. But, now you know that there are some general themes to expect.

You will likely get questions around personal strengths and inadequacies, your leadership skills, and competing MBA programs.

Reasons why you want to pursue the degree shouldn’t surprise you, and neither should an opportunity to pose a question or two to the interviewer.

Remember that you cannot prepare for everything. However, do your best to prepare as much as you can. Beyond that, your greatest asset will be confidence and a clear mind to be able to think through whatever questions the interviewer throws your way.  

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