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4 MBA Interview Formats You Need To Know About

Admissions expert gives insight to interviews at Harvard, LBS, HEC Paris and more

Tue Oct 25 2016

By Chioma Isiadinso

You've finally done it. Your essays have been written, official transcripts compiled, recommendation letters turned in. Your MBA application is done! Time to sit back and wait for a response, right? 

Not quite. At most schools, the MBA admissions interview is a vital part of the application process. It's a chance for the admissions committee to get to know you as the real person behind the application. But if you don't understand how interviews are used at your target schools, you absolutely won't be able to prepare effectively. 

There are three primary points to consider when it comes to MBA interviews: 

Who you are interviewing with (admissions committee, current student, alumnus, etc.), where you are interviewing (on-campus, off-campus, phone or video call), and how you are interviewing (one-on-one, group interview, panel discussion, presentation, etc.).

1. Admissions committee interviews

Interviews with members of the admissions committee are typically what applicants think of when they imagine their MBA interview, although alumni interviews are just as common (if not more so). Usually, the admissions committee will be very familiar with your application package, and will be able to ask detailed questions about the trajectory of your work experience and your reasons for applying to their school. 

Interviews with an admissions committee member can feel intimidating, but they are also likely to flow smoothly as the interviewers are very familiar with the process. Schools that use admissions committee interviews include Harvard and IESE.

2. Alumni or student interviews

MBA interviews with second-year students or recent alumni are increasingly common with top business schools. These interviews may be conducted on-campus or off, in conjunction with an admissions committee interview or as the only application interview. Alumni interviews can feel more conversational and less intimidating than admissions committee interviews, but you absolutely still need to present your best self and stay focused on your personal brand message. 

Interviewing with someone who has a student's perspective is a great way for applicants to understand whether they would enjoy what the school has to offer. Come prepared to a student or alumni interview with lots of questions about their perspective of the program and how you can make the most of your time at the school. Schools that use alumni or student interviews include Columbia GSB, London Business School, HEC Paris, and Michigan Ross.

3. Group or panel interviews

There's no question that when you add more people to an interview situation, it adds to the stress level of an already stressful situation. This is true whether you're talking about a group interview (where multiple students are being interviewed together) or a panel interview (where a group of multiple people are interviewing a single candidate). In either scenario, you'll want to devote extra time to your interview preparation, so be sure to pay close attention to whether your target schools require multi-person interviews. 

Wharton is one school that uses a group interview format. They have designed their “Team-Based Discussion” to reflect the school's heavy emphasis on collaboration. Prior to a one-on-one interview with an admissions committee member, students are randomly assigned in groups of 5-6 to discuss a prompt and “work together to achieve a tangible outcome”. If you want to do well with this style of interview, you'll need to brush up on your teamwork and collaborative discussion skills. 

Applicants to CEIBS are interviewed by a panel consisting of faculty, alumni, department managers, and admissions managers. That's a lot of people to address in an interview that is only slotted for 30 minutes, so practicing clear, concise answers and focusing on the person who asked the question you're responding to will help you stay on track. 

4. Phone or video interviews

MBA programs vary widely in their acceptance of phone and video interview options for applicants. Some schools, like INSEAD, require a video interview in addition to two alumni interviews from all applicants. Many do their best to interview students in person whether on- or off-campus, but will arrange phone or Skype/ video interviews whenever necessary. 

Other schools have stricter requirements about interview arrangements: NYU Stern, for example, specifies that they “almost never grant” alumni or phone interview requests, and expect you to interview in person in New York or one of their selected international interview slots. IMD conducts an Assessment Day in Singapore and Sao Paulo where students are asked to complete an impromptu presentation and case study discussion in addition to their interview. 

Every MBA program designs their interview process to reflect their school's personality, and to highlight applicants who will be a great fit in their environment. If you want to interview well, you have to do the research. Understand why your target schools conduct the interviews they do, and you'll be able to prepare in a way that showcases your strengths and compatibility with the school.  


Chioma Isiadinso is an education entrepreneur and co-founder/CEO of EXPARTUS, the first MBA admissions consulting firm to integrate personal branding into every aspect of the MBA admissions process.

She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.

Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.