How to Answer Tough B-school Interview Questions (Part 1) Are there many questions that you think can ruin your interview? Surprisingly, most of these will be the most basic yet deep HR questions. But, those are not HR questions. I call them Marketing questions. So in this article, I will share with you how you can market yourself better and make these tough questions simpler.

Are you appearing for your B-school interviews really soon? You’ve prepared well but still aren’t sure how to answer tough interview questions?

That’s so common!

You thought the common HR questions were easy. After all they’re about your own life and you’re supposed to know all about it.

But guess what?

No one’s had a perfect academic life. Year gaps, quality of work experience, poor grades in graduation, lack of hobbies. There’re so many things that you think you need to cover up for! 

Your mind is clogged with all of that.

But wait second. 

Why I’m telling you about HR questions and interview preparation? Wasn’t this supposed to be a Marketing blog for MBAs?

This is certainly a Marketing blog and that’s why the first thing you should learn is how to market yourself!

If you aspire to be a marketer this is where it begins for you. And therefore, in this article I will also present to you a Self Branding Journal that will help you ace these tough interview questions.

Here’s the thing.

I have never been in the interviewer’s seat at a B-school interview (not even in the next 10 years). But if I were, I would never select you if you told me you’re passionate about marketing but couldn’t even market yourself to me.

That’s why what I am going to tell you is important. Here’s my take on how to answer tough interview questions.


What I will cover in this article and what I will not?

You might want to become a marketer. Or you might even be a Finance aspirant. But I am sure you are still reading this article because like a wise MBA student you know that marketing is important.

So while you want to know how to answer tough interview questions from this article, let me do some expectation setting with you.

Here’s what I will cover and what I won’t in this article on how to answer tough interview questions.

What I will cover in the article:

  • The approach to think about the answers
  • How to market yourself like a great marketer
  • Experiences from my life and that of my friends

What I will not cover in the article:

  • The exact answers for the questions
  • How to do a sales pitch like a dishonest salesman 
  • Hearsay

And the best tool that I will give to you in this article is the Self Branding Journal. With this journal, you will be able to create your brand identity and will be able to answer these tough questions in a better manner.

Important! Self Branding Journal for B-school Interviews

To be able to find the answers in the directions where I will lead you to, you will need this short journal that I have compiled for you. This Self Branding Journal will help you create a brand identity for yourself, pretty much like how marketers do for brands. And once to do that, all you need to is market yourself.


How to Answer Tough Interview Questions?

Before you think about how to answer tough interview questions, you have got to do some pre-work. By the end of this article, you would have carried out some really important marketing exercise that brands actually do.

And if you are aiming to become a marketer or a business person, what’s better than starting it right now on yourself?

Each one of you aiming to get into a B-school is a brand.

Just like the names of Nike, Pepsi, Zomato, Paytm and Google remind of the brands that they are, your name when said out loud in a room full of your friends reminds them of your personality. And that happens in an instant.

The other night a really promising aspirant asked me this same question - how to answer tough interview questions?

Almost instantly, I drew this chart and replied back to her.

How to Answer Tough Interview Questions

This chart, this marketing exercise is all you’ll need to start thinking about the answers to what you think are tough questions.

I’ve made a Self Branding Journal for you which looks exactly the same but is more detailed and has blanks in it. If you want to master how to answer tough interview questions, the ones I’ll be explaining below or any other tough questions, you’ll need this.

Once you do this self branding exercise on yourself today, it will help you not only in these B-school interviews but also when you’ll be appearing for your summer placement interviews just 6 months down the line. Or even in your final placement interviews next year.

So go for it, download this journal from here. Take a print or just use the PPT, fill it up and keep it with you ready to frame the answers of the ‘tough’ Questions mentioned below.


What are the 10 Tough Interview Questions in MBA interviews?

Not very long ago, I’ve been in this situation that you’re in right now. There have been questions that I couldn’t answer adequately.

Why?

Because I hadn’t prepared for them as much as I should have.

And why didn’t I prepare for them? Because I thought they were easy!

In fact, they were easy. No doubt.

What made them difficult was the lack of thought that I had put behind them.

Now, I had never really thought about my interviews again since then. But recently when I saw you asking the same tough questions all over the Internet, I realized that “hey! It was my problem as well!”


So based on this incredible amount of primary research that provoked me to write this, I have been able to put down in a list the 10 Tough interview Questions in MBA interviews.


Q.1. Why MBA?

This is has turned out to be the toughest nut to crack for MBA aspirant across batches. But that’s no surprise.

In a society where we do things just because someone else is doing it, ‘why?’ hits straight where it hurts. At the point of logic.

Naturally, you would ask how to answer tough interview questions in an MBA interview like this one.

Like most of the others, you could fake this answer or ask someone to make a script for you. But that will be a bad marketing job. Marketing is never inauthentic. Marketing is not about lying or being phony.

Here’s something about the ‘Why MBA’ part. In India herd mentality prevails over and above well-thought-out career decisions. And Engineering and MBA are two of the two main courses that students ‘succumb to’.

Therefore, more than just evaluating you on this answer, the panel is ensuring from their end that by selecting you they are not becoming guilty of sending another student down the path of this herd mentality.

They do care about this, apart from obviously evaluating your clarity of thought.

So, while you may think that you require a really creative answer for why MBA that will amaze the panel out of their wits - that’s an incorrect presumption you have in your head.

They don’t ‘expect’ anything, per se. They want logic, they want to know your story.

Now, I recently read Seth Godin’s amazing book titled This is Marketing. You can’t read that book just once. Because each time you read it, you get a different perspective of how we should look at Marketing.

Seth mentions a great example there. When a person buys a drill machine, is he really buying a drill machine?

Or is a actually buying a hole in the wall?

When a person buys a treadmill, is he buying the treadmill or a feeling of a fit lifestyle?

You are a smart enough marketer to know the answers to both. Or else, Seth Godin's book will certainly make you a smart marketer even before MBA!

In the same way, are you doing MBA for the degree? That piece of paper. Or for something else that you can do with it?

What is the final objective that you are running after? The answer to the question could be as simple as the answer to the question 'Why do you want to buy this drill?'

"Because I want a hole in my wall"

"Because I want to hang that beautiful portrait"

"Because I want to feel intellectual when I hang that bookshelf on my wall"

When you think in that direction, you have successfully adopted a Marketer’s mindset. Think deep enough in that direction.

The answer has n-degrees of freedom. What will be your answer?

The Self Branding Journal that you downloaded will help you find your goal. Spend time in filling that small journal and your Why MBA question should have an answer somewhere there only.


Q.2. Why don’t you pursue a career in engineering (or your field of graduation)?

People stress over this answer way too much. I have come to the inference that the only reason why students find this question difficult is their guilt. That’s correct.

And there are different kinds of guilt and different reasons why people find this common MBA admission question tough.

  • Engineers think it is really difficult to justify this difficult question, partly because most of them are already guilty of not knowing why they did engineering in the first place. So, they don’t trust themselves now while going for an MBA.

  • Commerce students are stuck in a different loop. They strongly believe in their inadequacy (or their degrees) for not being able to get a job of their dreams with a basic B.com degree. But they’re shy in admitting this inadequacy and in admitting the fact that doing an MBA will solve this job crisis for them.

  • Doctors and medical practitioners feel shy in mentioning their motivations because the contrast between medical and MBA as profession is too much to digest for them. Or maybe because according to them it is shame that a person from a ‘noble profession’ wants to switch to business studies.

Different people, different types of people have really different reasons which makes them ask everyone how to answer tough interview questions like this one.

But here’s the thing with MBA and with B-schools. You need to know these facts before you think about it.

For engineers - B-schools are full of engineers. They’re in most of the B-schools in India.

So the point is - whatever you might think, however illogical an MBA after engineering may seem to you - the fact is this. Engineers, of all kinds, of all kinds of colleges - good or bad - make it to the best of the  B-schools every year.

My advice to Engineers - if you could take that guilt away of (a) not knowing why you did engineering and (b) of switching from technology to business, you’ll be able to answer this question with ease and, most importantly, authentically.

For commerce, medical and all the other students - Here’s the thing about MBA and B-schools that you should know. B-schools hate engineers!

I am not even kidding.

B-schools hate clueless, aimless, non-ambitious engineers who choose to remain that way since class 12th when they had to make their career choice but they didn't. You just don't have to come across as one of those.

The next thing you need to know is that B-schools love diversity. They want people like you. Many more people like you than there currently are.

But, while I am telling you that, here’s one final thing you need to know with it.

They won’t go for diversity just for the sake of it. You can’t seek entitlement because of that.

But then, the solution is really simple for you.

Plan out what you want to do in life well. Use some of the techniques that I will be sharing in my next article on How to Market Yourself. Give your goals some nice words and tell the panel all of that authentically.


Q.3. You’re a fresher, why should we select you?

“Because I have clear career goals than most working professionals and MBA is one of the best ways to get to those goals quicker!”

There. That’s your answer.

But it's not yours as yet.

Do you have that kind of clarity of your career goals to say that statement with that kind of a conviction?

I know I didn’t.

And probably, that’s why it was better for me to work for a couple of years to get the clarity. That’s what made more sense to me.

At the same time, had I got my career goals sorted way back during engineering, I would have aced my B-school interviews that year itself.

You can’t write the screenplay and the dialogues before you have your script/the story line sorted.

You aspire to become a marketer and probably that’s why you are on my blog, subscribed to it. And therefore you should know that you can’t sell your product unless and until your brand knows what it stands for.

Therefore, you need to know some Self Branding, to write down your goals and see how MBA aligns with it. In most cases MBA would make sense and you just need to explain it in the most simplest of the words.

For those who believe in the fact that having work experience makes MBA a better experience - I don’t doubt that one bit.

And therefore, you need to ensure that you are not going in for a crappy B-school or a crappy curriculum.

Choose a curriculum that provides enough work opportunities. Things like the following are great indicators of that kinds of B-schools

  • Great brand name

  • Super-active student clubs (check their Facebook pages for this)

  • Nature of live projects offered (get in touch with their consulting club which usually brings in these projects)

  • Industry opportunities apart from summer internship

Finally, my advice to you is to sort out your brand identity. Know the things you stand for and know the things you want to achieve. Believe in it.

And get this natural conviction from within that I mentioned above.


Q.4. Why do you have to do an MBA to build your startup?

While for many interview experts and interviewers this is a valid question, to me its not.

If you are an aspirant who has serious entrepreneurial dreams then you are likely to hear this in your interview:

  • “Why don’t you invest the 20 Lacs you’re going to spend on MBA in your startup idea and make it work right away?”
  • “MBA program makes managers, not entrepreneurs”

I would tell you an experience that happened today itself which would tell you how I feel about this. I am pretty sure the experience itself will show you the direction in which you need to think to craft an answer for this.

I have been a part of the Entrepreneurship Cell of my B-school. And just today, I attended its flagship event, Prarambh, where entrepreneurs from all over India pitch in front of real investors (and not faculty filling in as judges).  

I was the Digital Media Partner for the event and it was heartening to see this event which once I had organised doing so well.

Digital Media Partner at Prarambh '19, IIM Udaipur

Just like every year, this year as well I saw real investment opportunities and money being discussed between the entrepreneurs and the investors.

But then there was this young lady representing her startup which was involved into producing an ‘organic version of thermocol’. This was a team of 6 people, all Microbiologists and Chemists. Technical people.

The product was great. She brought in the samples and the investors were floored. She really wanted that money, the number that she mentioned on one of her slides, to scale up the business.

They were probably burning a hole in their pockets by now because all they were working with were petty bank grants and sort of mercy money from acquaintances.

Here’s what happened next.

The questions and answers begun after her presentation. And, she flopped in it completely!

Do you know why?

Because she couldn’t talk business with the investors and venture capitalists. She couldn’t tell them whether she is offering equity or seeking a loan. Because, she didn’t knew what equity was!

Even had she known what equity means, she could not have talked business with them. She wasn’t just capable of that at the time.

Remember this was a startup of 6 people with Masters in Microbiology and other similar domains. All technical people.

Do you know what one of the investors told her?

This. “You should get a marketing person on board really soon. Or else you are near collapse and it will be sad if a product like yours died”

Her pricing, product finish, target audience, and positioning were not what it should have been.

And guess what? She wasn’t the only participant who was told that.

Another team with a great product, looking to raise money, was also advised to “get a marketer or a business person on board”. That’s because she was “taking 10 sentences to say something which a marketer should say in half a sentence”.  That's what one of the investors told this person.

I’ll end this story right here and will leave all you smart future managers and entrepreneurs with whatever inference you can take from it.  


Q.5. Why don’t you just join your family business instead (when your dad has one)?

Does it seem too different from question #4 on startup? If you think for a while, it shouldn’t.

That’s because its not. The interviewer is again asking you the same thing. That why don’t you just get on with your life right away (which you are anyway planning to live after MBA)?

After all your family business is also a startup. It is a business. And if you plan to join a business at the kind of decision making position that you will, you need to have business education.

Heck, you require MBA more than others maybe!

Why?

Because it's your family business. Unlike others going out for a job, in your job you will join directly at the top. At the decision making level.

You need to grow that business. That responsibility will be entirely on you. You will need to employ new strategies right now before you are ousted from the industry by your competition?

Where will you learn all that stuff from?

This question would be a bigger pain in your final placement interviews, because “why should we hire you when you’re anyway going to leave?”. But as far as your B-school interviews are concerned, this question should cause the slightest of the headache to you.

Important! Self Branding Journal for B-school Interviews

To be able to find the answers in the directions where I will lead you to, you will need this short journal that I have compiled for you. This Self Branding Journal will help you create a brand identity for yourself, pretty much like how marketers do for brands. And once to do that, all you need to is market yourself.


Finally, you should feel better

This was the Part-1 of the article where I shared with you 5 of the 10 tough MBA admission interview questions. If you were looking for advice on how to answer tough interview questions then I really hope this article helped you.

I picked up these 10 questions from my experience and the most dreaded questions I saw. Moreover, my objective to address this topic of how to answer tough interview questions on my marketing blog was to tell you that a B-school interview is your first experience of marketing.

The first opportunity to market yourself.

Therefore, as a marketer you should first learn to market yourself before you get on to market products and brands.


Which questions do you find tough?

Most aspirants tell me the questions they dread and ask me how to answer tough interview questions. I am writing the second part of this article right now.

If you have any question that you want me to address, which you may find tough, please comment below and let me know.

I will address those questions in Part-2 apart from the next 5 questions that I have already planned to discuss.

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About the Author:

Darpan is a Marketing and Product development strategist at an edu-corporate in New Delhi. He has also worked at a multinational business process outsourcing company in their Marketing & Artificial Intelligence business. He is an engineer by qualification and an MBA from Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Udaipur.