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September 30, 2015

How to Prepare for MIT Sloan MBA Admissions Interviews

In this post, which is significantly updated, I discuss how to prepare for an MIT Sloan MBA admissions interview. If you have been invited to interview for the Class of 2018, this post is for you!

Beyond my 18 comprehensive service clients admitted to MIT Sloan since Fall 2008 entry (I began my own consulting service in September 2007), I have worked with additional clients only on interviews. and more still from 2001-2007 when I was working for a top test prep company’s consulting service.  The advice below is thus based on working with clients on MIT interviews for almost fourteen years.

I do believe in the value of intensive preparation and doing mock interviews that are harder than the actual ones. As my client admitted in R1 for the Class of 2016 wrote in his testimonial, “Once I got the interview invitation, Adam gave me two comprehensive mock interviews that made my real interview looks like children’s game in comparison.” Whether you prep with me or otherwise, I hope this post helps you view the real interview in the same way!

Before reading the rest of this post, I strongly suggest reviewing  MIT’s  Preparing for Your MIT Sloan School Interview, because reading it first will maximize the value of my comments below.
The STAR technique is really the core method you need to use for answering Behavioral Event Interviews (BEI) questions. It is simply this:
 Situation: define the situation or "set the stage."
• Task: identify the task/project performed.
• Action: describe the action you took.
• Result: summarize the outcome
The STAR technique was created by Bill Byham, who originated the behavioral interviewing method in 1970. When you are using STAR, just keep in mind that you need to be introspective as well, so in an interview say what you thought as well as what you did. Don't just present "the facts" but actively interpret your actions. There is really nothing overly complicated about this as long as you understand that you need to tell a DETAILED story. Pure abstractions disconnected from a concrete set of action steps are highly likely to result in a weak answer. Similarly, grand actions not told in any depth are also likely to be weak. Identify specific actions that contributed to the result so as to establish a clear link between cause and effect.
As when answering any kind of question, another important consideration is to think very critically about what your story selection, understanding of the task, actions taken, and results say about you. Keep in mind that the whole point of asking behavioral questions is to determine how someone acts and thinks as a basis for selecting or rejecting that person. It is obviously critical to be aware of your own message. Specifically think of examples you can use to highlight your intelligence, creativity, leadership skills, interpersonal communication skills, and conflict resolution skills.

How To Prepare Outlines for Practicing BEI Questions
I would suggest making some simple STAR (Situation Task Action Result) outlines.  For example:
Team Story 1: Project X
S:  Harry was not cooperating with the rest of the team on Project X.
T: My job was get the team to work together because Project X really required everyone to participate. Harry was important because of his technical skills.
A: In order to get Harry to cooperate I..  (ACTION 1) first talked with him privately to better understand his perspective.  Next, (ACTION 2) I talked with the rest of team to try and make an adjustment so that Harry would feel more comfortable. Finally (ACTION 3) Established information sharing sessions so that everyone understood what needed to be done and how our work fit together.
R: Project X succeeded.
The above outline could be used to answer such questions as “Tell me about a time when you were part of a team that had poor dynamics/didn’t get along well,” “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with someone who wasn’t pulling his/her weight,” and "Describe a time when you have worked as part of a team working towards an important goal, when you have addressed conflict between two or more team members." Now, when you actually practice the above for a behavioral interview, you would need to flesh out the story and provide more details.  If you have outlined a STAR story, you  have not practiced it yet.   The only reason to outline STAR stories is if you cannot systematically turn any spoken story into STAR automatically.  Actually once you start using STAR, chances are that you will not need any outlines.  STAR is actually a highly intuitive way to tell stories and useful for telling stories in any situation.

A “typical” MIT Interview, which can last anything from 20-60 minutes (assume approximately 30 minutes), might consist of the following questions:
1. Any updates since you last applied?
2. 1-2 questions based on specific details from your application and/or resume related to a hobby, award, or work activity.
3. 3-6 of the above behavioral questions.
4. Perhaps a question about your goals or motivation for Sloan.
5. Questions for the interviewer.
DISCLAIMER: The above is just a general guide as the actual interview will vary greatly. If I do multiple MIT interview prep sessions with a client, I alter my style to account for the different interviewing styles an interviewee might encounter.

The Questions
Like he has done with many other schools, my colleague, Steve Green has compiled the following list of questions from from all the reports submitted to accepted.com   and clearadmit.com.  In addition to our client reports, we use lists of questions like these as part of our prep sessions with clients.
Two things that Steve encourages all applicants to remember:
1. Expect detailed follow up questions about the content of your answers.
2. Expect questions based on specific points in your essays. (Your essays may be quoted back at you.) 
The questions in Italics were reported to Clear Admit and Accepted.com over the past year.
Resume and Background (Not usually BEI questions)
  • Do you have any recent accomplishments you want to share? / Are there any changes to your resume since you submitted it? /  Tell me about a recent accomplishment that is not in your application.
  • Tell me more about 
  • Walk me through your resume. (FOLLOW UP)
  • Why did you change jobs? / Why have you changed jobs frequently?
  • Tell me more about the leadership role you played in (NON-PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITY ON RESUME.)
  • What do you do outside work?
  • How do you have time for all the things that you do (REFERENCING RESUME)
  • Tell me about your job, have your responsibilities changed since your promotion.
  • Tell me about yourself, what have you been doing in the last two years.
  • What exactly do you do? What have you been doing in your position recently?
  • Tell me about something at work you have been proud of in the last year.
  • What’s a personal goal that you’ve set for yourself recently?
  • Where do see your business heading?
Goals (Not BEI Questions: They did not ask about your goals in the essays, but they can certainly do so in the interview!)
  • Why an MBA?
  • Why now?
  • What do you think about MIT?
  • Why did you decide to apply to Sloan? Tell me your thought process.
  • What are your professional goals?
  • What are two professional goals you've set for yourself?
  • What are two personal goals you've set for yourself?
The BEI Questions
While public reports over the last year show a smaller range of questions, based on my own client reports, I do recommend preparing for questions beyond those that are italicized.
Teamwork and Relationships 
  • Tell me about a time when a colleague had a different opinion or gave you feedback and how you incorporated that into your approach.
  • Tell me about a time when someone challenged your opinion.
  • Describe a time when your idea was rejected. How did you feel?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to work with people not at your intellectual level.
  • Describe a time when you had to manage a conflict. How did you resolve it?
  • Tell me about when you had a difficult time with your job.
  • How did you manage to resolve a conflict situation and move the team forward?
  • Tell me about a difficult conversation you had to have with someone.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to present something to someone who you did not like.
  • Tell me about a time you had a challenging interaction with someone.
  • Tell me a time when you influenced someone
  • Tell me about a time when you butted heads with a co-worker/client/employee.
  • Tell me about a time when you were part of a team that had poor dynamics/didn’t get along well.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with someone who wasn’t pulling his/her weight
  • Tell me about a time when you mentored someone.
  • Tell me about a mentor or someone in your life who influenced you. Describe that influence.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to persuade your colleagues.
  • Tell me about a time when you set a goal and moved towards achieving it.
  • Tell me a time when you thought outside of the box.
  • Tell me when you did something innovative.
  • Tell me about a time when you were managing someone who did not meet your expectations.
  • Tell me about a time when you took the lead on something.
  • Tell me about a time you led a team to a solution.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to persuade/convince others.
  • Tell me about a time you convinced others to follow your plan.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to decide among multiple options.
Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Tell me about feedback you've received, and how you responded to it.
  • Describe a time when you took a big risk.
  • Tell me about a recent setback at your current position. What happened, how did you feel and what did you do?
  • Tell me about something you’ve done that you’re proud of.
  • Tell me about a recent disappointment where you believe you failed or did not do justice to your responsibilities.
  • What would recent team members say about what it was like to work with you?
  • How would a friend describe you? A client?
  •  Tell me about a time when you had to step out from your comfort zone.
  •  Tell me about a time you had to ask for help.
  •  Tell me about a time you failed.
  • Tell me about a time your idea was rejected.
  • Tell me about a time when your expectations were not met.
  • Tell me about a time when someone needed your help.
Conclusion (Not BEI)
  • Any questions for me?
  • I’m meeting a lot of people today, what is going to make me remember you?
  • What do you wish I had asked you?

 Further Advice on Practicing for MIT Interviews
The map is not the territory!
Clients often want me to read their interview preparation notes. I usually refuse because I think it is a total waste of their money to have me do that.  I believe such outlines are useful for the person doing the preparation, but all I can really evaluate is their performance.  If I have a client with a TOEFL under 100, I might review their scripts because given that they may lack basic English vocabulary for effectively telling their stories. This is not case with the vast majority of my clients, even those with TOEFL scores at the 100 level.
An outline is a map, but in the case of an interview it is really limited map because an interview is all about performance, the territory. You can have the best stories in the world, but if you can’t deliver them effectively, you are dead.
Actual Practice
Depending on your communication skills, available time, and comfort with interviews you may need days or weeks or months to be at your best. Whatever amount of practice you think you need, try to actually do more than that.  One of my clients who had already been admitted to two top schools, did 50 hours of practice on his own to get ready for HBS.  He was successful because he put in enough time actually speaking the answers  to many common questions that he could feel comfortable and confident.  He did just a couple of hours of interview practice with me and one of my colleagues. He was admitted to HBS. I wish all my clients followed this example of extensive self-practice.  While the exact ratio of counseling hours (strategy sessions focused on developing good answers and mock interviews) to self-study will vary, I think somewhere between a 1:5 and 1:20 ratio is ideal.  I am always depressed when a client only does interview practice during sessions with me and then does no practice by themselves because I know they are not maximizing their performance. Like a great musician or actor, you need to internalize your script/notes/outline to perform it effectively. I can best help a client by judging that performance.  Something could look great or horrible on paper, but very much the reverse when actually performed.
How to practice:
1. Speak.  Doing it in your head is not enough.  Actually perform to the hardest audience you will ever encounter: yourself.
2. Record yourself and listen and/or view the results. Note problems and practice more.
3. Speak in front of other people who can give you feedback.  Even if you are using a consultant try to practice in front of other people. This will help make you comfortable having an audience.
4. Have school specific mock sessions, either with a admissions consultant or someone who can at least ask you the questions.
5. Given that the MIT Interview will be either with an admissions officer (Always the case if the interview happens overseas. My International clients have had a much higher chance of interviewing with Rod Garcia than those who were based in the US!) or a contracted interviewer (Usually an MIT Sloan staffer, but not in adcom) who has read your file, you should closely review your own Sloan application.  It is best not to repeat the stories you told in your essays, but feel free to discuss variations based on the same situation. You don’t want to make your interviewer feel like they hearing the same story they already read.

For additional suggestions on interview strategy, please see:
-MBA Application Interview Strategy
-Interview Practice is ABOUT SPEAKING!
-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
-When to start MBA interview practice? How to prepare?

I know that what I am suggesting might be burdensome and time consuming, but so what?  The whole application process is like that.  And at least with interview practice, you might actually become better at telling stories (Good for making friends!) and interviewing for jobs. Best of luck with your MIT Sloan MBA interview!

-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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