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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

January 13, 2014

Stanford GSB MBA Admissions Interviews

Stanford GSB’s is the hardest MBA admission interview invitation to get on the planet.  If you have been invited, your chance of admission just went from about 6.5% (depends on the year) to 50%.   The odds are much better, now you must close the deal.  While a poor interview is unlikely to result in admission,  the admissions process at Stanford is holistic and a great interview is no absolute guarantee of success.
You can find results and/or testimonials from my clients admitted to to the Stanford Classes of 2016 (2 in Round 1), 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010 here.  My full Stanford results prior to the Class of 2014 can be found here. My clients admitted to Stanford GSB have come from China, India, Latin America, Japan, South Korea, and the United States and have had extremely diverse professional and educational backgrounds. The advice I provide below is based on that experience.

Stanford GSB MBA admission  interviews, while so hard to get, are not necessarily hard interviews because (1) most of the questions are relatively predictable,  (2) the overall style of the interview is typically conversational,  and (3) time constraints are either minimal or non-existent.  This is interview about fit as typically determined by an alumni “gatekeeper.” Interviews with admissions or other Stanford staff do happen as well, but this is relatively rare.  Chances are good that this gatekeeper might be in your industry or in some manner have a complementary background for assessing you.  For example, if you might be perceived as lacking a particularly important attribute (professional experience in the field related to your goals or English skills for example), don’t surprised if the alumni is someone who is in a good position to judge this. While I imagine in some places with few alumni, a high level of complementary assessment (e.g., Mc Kinsey applicant interviewed by Boston Consulting Group alumnus) would be less likely, I can say that it is the rule rather the exception if you reside in a location with numerous Stanford alumni.

Interacting with the interviewer
You can typically expect a lively exchange and hopefully a good conversation. If your interview is scheduled for late on a workday or on a weekend or outside of the interviewer’s office, whatever you do, don’t make any plans for it to end on time as Stanford interviews are well known for going long.

Reported interview length for interviews is official 45 minutes, but can go on for longer than that. It usually consists of 30-40 minutes of questions from the alumni followed by 5-15 minutes of question to the alum, but often the interviews go longer, an hour or more is not uncommon. In my own experience with clients, I would say that if the interview goes for an hour or more, that is a good sign, but a 45 minute interview is not necessarily a bad sign. Interviews that last 75 minutes to 120 minutes are not uncommon.

Whoever you interview with, they are likely to be quite friendly and the style of the interview is conversational. Stanford alumni are provided with very clear guidelines for how to conduct interviews. The alumnus will be provided with a list of questions,  which they utilize.  The extent to which the alumnus does this appears to be highly variable. You may get more of an informal conversation with the occasional behavioral question or you might get something consists of many of the standard interview questions mentioned below.

Just because your interviewer is friendly, it does not mean that you are doing well. Don’t assume a friendly interviewer is not actually a super critical one. Alumni are the gatekeepers and Stanford can afford to reject anyone. Take nothing for granted.

Preparing for the interview
Given the mix of standard interview questions and behavioral  questions, I do suggest you prepare extensively for both kinds of questions.   For my  detailed suggestions on overall interview preparation, please see:
-MBA Application Interview Strategy
-Further Comments on MBA Admissions Interviews 
-General Characteristics of Admissions Officers, Students, and Alumni Interviewers -Recovering from a bad answer during an MBA admissions interview -10 Ways to Blow an MBA Admissions Interview
  • Tell me about your background/walk me through your resume.
  • Tell me a bit about yourself
  • What extracurricular activity are you most proud of?
  • What did you take away from your undergraduate experience?
  • What do you like to do outside of work?
  • Tell about a time you streamlined operations/made things more efficient? What did you do?  How did you measure its success?
  • What metrics did you use?
  • Tell me about your international experience.
  • What is your favorite place you've traveled?
  • What is your company's strategy?  Is it succeeding?
  • Tell me about a specific time when you realized you needed an MBA.
  • Why a Stanford MBA?
  • Why do you need an MBA?
  • Why now?
  • Why Stanford?
  • How would you decide between schools if you got into multiple MBA programs?
  • What will you bring that is unique to the program?
  • How will you contribute to Stanford?
  • What are your short-term goals? Long-term goals?
  • Where else have you applied? How have those worked out?
  • Explain how you are ready for academic rigor.
  • Tell me about a time you faced an obstacle and what did you do about it?
  • Tell me about a time you faced an ethical situation.
  • Tell me about a time you had your beliefs challenged.
  • Tell me about a time you had to stand your ground and how did you do it?
  • Tell me about a time your values were challenged and you had to consult your moral compass?
  • Tell me about someone difficult to work with that was in a position above you and what you learned from it.
  • Tell me about a time when others have pointed out a weakness of yours.
  • Tell me about the most valuable piece of feedback you’ve ever received. How did it change your relationship with that individual? Why was it important?
  • What is a valuable piece of feedback you have received?
  • Tell me about a time things didn't go according to plan and you failed? What did you learn from it?
  • What did you learn from a failure?
  • Tell me about an individual or group failure.
  • Tell me about a time when you failed. What did you learn from that event and how have you implemented what you learned from that failure?
  • How do you deal with failure?
  • Name a book that you’ve read recently that was not for work. We then discussed that book.
  • What is your favorite book that is not work related?
  • What are your 3 favorite books?
  • Tell me about what inspires you.
  • Is there anything you've done merely out of passion?
  • If money were not an issue, what cause would you pursue most vigorously?
  • Tell me about a time you wanted to give up but found the motivation to keep going?
  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • Tell me about a time you had to make a trade-off between two equally attractive opportunities?
  • Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult team member or manager.
  • Tell me about an individual or group failure.
  • Tell me about a team experience.
  • Have you ever led a team?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to lead a team of individuals. What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about leadership?
  • Tell me about a leadership experience.
  • Tell me about a time you knew you were an effective leader and how did you know?
  • What is your leadership style? Give me an example of how you’ve led that way.
  • When have you led peers and how?
  • Tell me about a time when a leader fell short and you had to step up and lead.
  • Tell me about a time when you’ve been challenged as a leader and what you learned from it.

-and my more recent post, When to start MBA interview practice? How to prepare?

The above posts are my general remarks on MBA admissions interview strategy and apply here.  For  answering behavioral questions, please see MIT Sloan MBA Interviews, which will teach you how to be a STAR (if you don’t know what I am talking about, read the post for sure).

Typical Questions
My colleague, H. Steven Green, has put the following together by reviewing interview reports of Stanford University GSB interviews found at accepted.com and clearadmit.com.

Demonstrate Fit
You need to be able to explain in-depth why you should be admitted to Stanford, what you can contribute, and what you want to learn. Be willing to openly discuss what soft and hard skills you need to improve/acquire. Show yourself to be open, dynamic, change oriented, and a highly motivated person because the alum will be.

Prepare good questions
Since there is supposed to be time for you to ask questions to the alum, you need to give some significant thought to formulating those. Consider what year the alum graduated and any other background information if you can determine that through Linkedin or other sources of information. Develop four or more questions to ask.

For more about my interview services, please see here.

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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