Tips for Handling 10 Challenging MBA Interview Questions


What do you do when the MBA Admission Investigator asks if 3,599 is a prime number? (Besides trying not to have a cold sweat.) Or, what if the government should charge tariffs based on a product’s environmental sustainability? Or how has the pandemic influenced the impact you would like to have in your community? Now imagine that this is happening on Zoom, where you can’t necessarily read the body language of the other person!

The questions above are real questions asked by the Top 10 Schools of recent Fortuna Admissions clients. As interview season begins, my colleagues and I take candidates through the test in mock interviews – from HBS to Wharton’s team chat (register for a dedicated interview preparation with one of Fortuna’s former MBA admissions controllers).

As a former Wharton admissions director, I can assure you that tough questions are not motivated by schadenfreude. (Although in the case of the prime number, our client had a first alumni interviewer who may have been a little too impatient.) I certainly threw up a curved question to shake up an over-repeated candidate from their script or to deepen the conversation. As the goal of the interview is to better understand who you are and how you think, your authenticity and professional presence are essential.

So how can you prepare to answer the tough questions? Read on for the best tips and ideas from my fellow Fortuna people on 10 tough questions you should be prepared to meet.


  1. What other schools are you applying to?

Every school wants to know that they are your first choice. But beneath that question is a subtle test of your deep understanding of this school’s unique culture, values, and offerings. “Of course, they also know that you are applying to other programs – they expect that and it is a sensible thing to do. But to gain their acceptance, show them love, ”says Amy Hugo de Fortuna (former LBS admissions and recruiting manager). “It means going the extra mile to prove that you understand a school’s unique culture and values, and that you’ve thought about both how you will contribute to their community and what you hope to gain from it. “

At the same time, you want to show why you are applying to other programs in the context of why this school is still number one, says Karen Hamou of Fortuna (former CBS student and former head of recruitment at Deloitte ). For example, if you are interviewing with Columbia, Karen advises contextualizing it this way: “Given my interest in doing my MBA in New York, I am also applying to Stern. While Stern can also provide me with a solid education in finance, CBS remains my top choice due to its unique value investing program. It helps set up your thinking and cement your choice in the mind of your interviewer.

  1. What do you think of the current trends in your industry?

Viewpoint questions like this are an opportunity to show that you are knowledgeable about business and macroeconomics. Just take your time to answer and avoid anything overly ambitious or complex. In the lead-up to your interview, stay on top of news sources such as The Economist, Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. This can be a great opportunity for you to tie your news interests to areas related to your career goals.

  1. Give an example of a time you failed.

This question invites you to consider the circumstances and pivotal points that have shaped you into an ever wiser human being and the challenges you have faced and overcome along the way. According to Caroline Diarte Edwards de Fortuna (former head of admissions at INSEAD), “What is most compelling for the admissions committee on the subject of failure is what you have learned from your experience, if you had to face your fears and if you “I have shown courage and perseverance to bounce back and move forward with a new awareness.

In his article on HBS writing tipsFortuna’s Karla Cohen says some of the best essays she’s ever read open up about a candidate’s failure story and how he shaped it, building credibility through her introspection and its authenticity. “From my perspective, if you never make mistakes, you don’t work hard enough,” says Karla.

  1. What are your weaknesses?

As with the failure question, present an example of weakness in a way that allows you to demonstrate your growth. For example, describe the initiative you took to overcome the weakness and what you learned from that experience. One way to talk about a weakness is to provide a situational weakness (as opposed to a character weakness). For example, instead of saying “I’m a perfectionist,” you might want to talk about how you learn to build in time to allow for further overhaul with a deliverable to meet your standards. Be careful, however, not to evade the question. Demonstrating humility and self-awareness is essential. Schools don’t expect you to be perfect; they want to know that you are able to learn and grow during your experience on their campus.

  1. How many rooms can this room contain?

    Coins in a room, cookies in a jar – when an interviewer is looking for a problem to solve, they are interested in how you view a problem. It’s not about having an exact answer, but about facing the unexpected with confidence and curiosity. Karla says so in her article on pass the HBS interview: “Be yourself – it is your unique perspectives, reasoning and thought process that sets you apart from others with a similar or identical profile. “

  2. Tell me about… the gap in your CV.

    Perhaps you have initiated a career change, taken time off to start an entrepreneurial business, or been laid off during the Covid pandemic. Perhaps illness or other personal circumstances were to blame. Whatever the reason, you want to provide a simple explanation rather than an excuse. Again, explain not only the circumstances surrounding any employment gap, but what you have learned from the experience. (Find out more about how to fill a gap in your CV, see this related post by Jessica Chung of Fortuna.)

Likewise, if there is a red flag in your profile – for example, a record of disorderly driving in an unfortunate undergraduate moment – expect to be asked about it and be prepared to respond in a straightforward manner. thoughtful. After all, an interview invitation is a signal that the school believes in your potential, but there may be an issue they want to clear up. Respond in a down-to-earth tone, take your time and don’t be defensive. As Jessica says, “How you choose to present your challenges and upheavals as opportunities and learning lessons can make all the difference. “

  1. What don’t you like about your job?

    Consider your short and long term career goals, and make sure your answer doesn’t conflict with them. For example, don’t say you don’t like office politics if your goal is to become a CEO. Instead, you can focus on what you are currently missing and what you are actively doing about it.

  2. What was the price of gold this morning?

    Fact-based questions come in many forms and can really make you feel stuck. If you don’t know the answer, admit that you don’t know it and relate it to your goals in terms of developing your business knowledge and why you are applying here for an MBA. In most cases, the interviewer is looking to see how you behave under pressure – a test of how you will handle stress in the MBA program. Remember, if you lose your temper, it’s hard to come back. At the moment, you can always take a sip of water or a short break to breathe, and then redirect yourself.

  3. Give an example of a time when you worked with a difficult team.

    Again, focus on what you learned from this experience and avoid a lengthy explanation of the scenario. Isn’t the story as important as the impact of that experience on your more recent team experiences? Or how has this experience helped you define your leadership style? If you’re wondering about a difficult boss, focus on how that made you stronger (e.g., more empowered, made you look for a mentor, etc.).

  4. You don’t need an MBA to achieve your goals, why are you applying?

    Here, you are asked to show that you have thought long and hard about what business school will bring you and how it will help you go further and have a bigger impact than if you did not have an MBA. You can also grab a page from the playbook of UN Peacekeeping Chief and LBS graduate Paul Heslop, who spoke with Fortuna’s Matt Symonds at Forbes on the value of the MBA in a non-traditional path like his. Heslop says, “I use the skills I learned in business school every day. And, because not many people at the UN have an MBA, it has given me a unique perspective that has been recognized and rewarded with rapid promotion to my current position.

It’s also not uncommon to be asked about something your interviewer finds intriguing about your application, such as undergraduate degree courses in your country. Left-field questions can be a way for an interviewer to stay engaged in the conversation or to satisfy a curiosity. (It can also be a sign that your interviewer is not an interview expert; it can happen more often with a sophomore or alumnus.)

Finally, keep perspective and try to enjoy the challenge. Over the past year, several Fortuna clients have faced questions related to politics, the pandemic, and Black Lives Matter (read my related article on tips for answering the tricky questions of an MBA interview for more on these topics.)

Instead of being put off by difficult questions, embrace the spirit of conversation. Focus on formulating clear, concise answers and, more importantly, frame the interview by remembering to proactively insert your key selling points. Most of the time, unexpected questions are deployed to elicit more honesty, clarity, and substance, which makes the conversation more interesting for both of you.

Judith Silverman Hodara, is Co-Founder and Director of MBA Admissions Coaching Company Fortuna Admissions and a former Acting Head of Admissions at Wharton. You can Register for the preparation for the MBA interviews with one of Fortuna’s former MBA admissions custodians – from HBS or MIT specific preparation to one of our TBD session simulations in Wharton starting October 31, 2021.


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