My Stanford MBA Interview: M&A Expert’s Experience
At the time of my interview invite I had been working for 3 years at a bulge bracket investment bank. I had worked on some well-known and many less-known M&A deals during the course of my time at the IB. I did get promoted from an analyst to an associate in record time, at least for my bank and that too without an MBA. I realized that going further from an associate position without an MBA was going to be difficult.
My Background: Had a 750 GMAT, 3.83 GPA from a US non-Ivy undergrad. Had a promotion under my belt and also few high-quality extra-curricular activities. Helped out at several charities, and served on the board of a small charity. Had solid recommendations. Also made it to Harvard, but got rejected after my interview. Of French origin, but US citizen. This probably helped. Post-MBA objective I mentioned was to get into the top-management team at an investment bank.
My Interview Prep: Nothing unusual. Got a few interview questions from very close friends who had applied in the first round that year and got an invite. Very grateful to a trader friend who shared interview questions, even though he was wait-listed at the GSB. Got a couple of good deals from MBA admissions consultants, though in my case consultants didn’t work very well. I expected a lot more help – I made it through in the end, but only by the skin of my teeth. Always kept hearing that Stanford doesn’t like bankers. I must say this is quite a rumour that kept me awake during my interview prep. Well, Stanford doesn’t like anybody and likes everybody. The odds of getting into Stanford definitely depend on your background as well as your work experience. Stanford has preference for some jobs over the others. But going to the extent of saying Stanford never likes bankers is just silly. In my year about 6 banker friends got in from my firm in the US alone.
At the Interview: Interviewed off-campus with an alumni, who was very warm and considerate. We had our interview in a nice, quiet place. The interviewer asked probing questions, but never probed to an annoying extent. Most of the interview seemed to not be very structured – but I’ve heard that’s sometimes what you get in your Stanford interview. Some of the questions did take the usual ‘aptitude-type’ form but were tailored to my work experience – this impressed me quite a lot since my interviewer a very impressive person himself, seemed to know about me.
- Tell me one interesting thing about yourself, that people will be surprised to know about you?
- Why is Stanford the school of your choice to achieve your post-MBA goal?
- Who inspires you the most and why?
- Narrate one experience in your life, where you have had to overcome adverse circumstances to meet your manager’s expectations? How did you do it?
- How did your responsibilities change before and after your promotion? How did you cope up with it?
- Which M&A deal that you primarily worked on do you remember the most and why?
- Narrate an experience where you have had to deal with difficult colleagues and yet delivered beyond expectations?
My HBS MBA Interview: A Consultant’s Account
So I had landed an MBA interview, at HBS. This was pretty expected at my place. The previous year almost 4 senior colleagues from my office (MBB consulting) got an interview invite. But the story really is in the fact that only 1 of them managed to matriculate at HBS. I had good admission stats, as you can imagine. But it was really the interview that gave me the blues. It was my dream to get into HBS (as is that of any Tom, Dick or Harry in management consulting), but the interview was giving me the jitters. Anyway let me set out for you my path leading to my successful interview at HBS. I’m doing this at the request of the phoney site-admin “Carl”, who also happened to be a colleague at my office, and one of my recommenders (Aha!).
My Background: 3 years at an MBB consulting firm, 750+ GMAT. 3.8 GPA from an Ivy leaguer in finance, US/white male. Lots of extra-curricular activities, recommendations from an HBS alumnus as well as a Director at my firm. Stated post-MBA goal was to start a startup. If you used this as your post-MBA goal now, you may likely get dinged depending on your profile.
My Preparation: The dismal conversion rate the previous year scared me to shreds. I was desperately searching for Kreisbergs and Blackmans to help me with the interviews. I did multiple mock interviews. I’m really grateful because a top MBB_consulting office (such as Boston/NYK/London) always gives you a rich list of alumni who would have made it to HBS. In that sense its also not a very level playing field. Of course I’m not going to rant here since I’m among the advantaged. Anyway I reached out to a couple of alumni and after several back-and-forth emails we were able to schedule sessions. Most of the advise was very similar, however there were quite a few differences. I figured its not really about the interview questions that are making the rounds on the internet, but its also about how well you adapt (and NOT defend) the challenges put forth by the interviewer. I say ‘adapt’ instead of defend because in many cases HBS aspirants tend to take on the incorrect perception that you have to answer all interview questions thoroughly and to the extent that the interviewer has no doubt about your application at the end. Well, wake up. This is not even humanely possible. There will certainly be loose/weaker aspects in your story. Instead of trying to defend/deny them its best to acknowledge the doubts/interjections conveyed by the interviewer and try to bring up alternatives that support your story. Here’s an excerpt from my interview:
Adcom: So I see that you’ve stated your post-MBA goal as starting a startup. Is an MBA even necessary for starting a startup?
Me: I must say, this is a question that many of my recommenders have asked me and honestly I’ve stumbled a little bit with this one. Some of the most successful startups in the world have had CEOs who never had an MBA and are even dropouts in some cases. But I think I do need an MBA because of the nature of my startup. I’m looking to found a management consultancy, with great emphasis on specialist practice. This is a domain in which the knowledge-barrier is quite high. Many successful management consultants have spoken out about the benefits of doing an MBA mid-career. If I’m looking to take on the best management consulting firms out there, I need to be great at consulting myself. This is why I think…….
I’m not sure if my answer really convinced adcom. Certainly my candid acknowledgement went a long way. Without much further ado here are the questions:
- Take me through your work experience and tell me which experience has deeply affected your professional thinking? Why?
- What is the one decision you have regretted the most in your professional life? Why?
- About your post-MBA goals, why do you think an MBA is necessary for starting a startup?
- Why do you think HBS is the best school to take you to your post-MBA goal?
- If you matriculate at HBS, what clubs will you join and why?
- What was the most recent feedback you received from your manager? How did you react to this feedback?
- If a conflict was to arise between you and your manager on doing things a certain way, for example in a client-case you are trying to solve, and there isn’t much time to resolve the conflict, how would you act/behave?
My Duke Fuqua MBA Interview: Pharmacist’s Tale
I had been working as a pharma manager at a reasonably popular firm. I was really looking for a change and applied to several MBA programs in the US. I got invited to interviews at several programs, and was fortunately able to convert all these schools. However I chose to matriculate at Fuqua (Duke) since I was really impressed with the school.
My Background: I had about 3 years of work experience prior to my application, and had a promotion in my kitty. Got an undergrad in the sciences from a well-known, but non-Ivy US university. Had a GMAT of 740 and my GPA was hovering above 3.8 at that time. As my post-MBA goal I stated that I wanted to transition into top managerial positions within pharma.
My Interview Prep: Did the usual drill: went through past questions and rehearsed the interview process. I was not at all nervous since I already had an admit from other schools in the first round. Though its considered best to apply earlier, based on my own experiences I would strongly recommend applying to your favorite MBA program in the second round. That way, if you do get invited for an interview with your favorite program you have the experience you get from round 1 interviews as well as confidence if you are able to convert round 1 interviews. I preferred to interview off-campus. I chose to interview with an alum instead interviewing with a second-year student over-skype.
The Actual Interview: Meeting the Duke alum was absolutely delightful. We met at an informal location and the interviewer was very kind and polite. He made sure that I was comfortable and begun the interview with a joke. The tone remained in the rest of the interview: friendly yet sometimes challenging. It was the perfect mix of getting to know Fuqua better and deciding if I was good enough to join Fuqua. If there’s one suggestion I’d like to make: stay relaxed and positive. Sometimes there’s no correct answer to the questions that are asked. The more (politely) firm you are as you speak the more confidence you emanate and hence greater your chances of getting through. The questions asked were:
- Tell me about yourself? What’s the most interesting aspect of your work life?
- Tell me of an instance where you disagreed with your manager. How did you resolve the contention?
- What is your management style?
- Why is managing pharma different from managing any other industry?
- Why is Fuqua an ideal school to help you achieve you post-MBA goal?
- Narrate an instance where you had to go out of your way to deliver a project. What are the challenges you faced and how did you react to these challenges?
- If granted admission at Fuqua, what clubs will you join and why?
- What are the ethical conflicts that are unique to pharma? What are the ethical qualities that you possess to successfully operate in this industry?
My Judge MBA Interview: Retail Banker’s View
I was a retail banker at a very well-known international bank. I had been working for 6 years and received 3 promotions two of which were ahead of schedule. But I realized that by now I had saturated my promotion potential and getting an MBA was the best bet to catalyse my ascent. Judge is a big name in the UK, and I thought getting an MBA from there would be quite an investment. I applied and got an interview invite.
My Background: British male, undergrad from a top-tier UK university in finance. Good GMAT (700+) and a First-Class Honours bachelor’s. Had 3 promotions as part of my 6-year stint at the retail banking giant.
My Interview Prep: I did most of the typical prep: getting mock interviews, training with previous years’ questions and going through my app.Nothing extra-ordinary.
My Interview: The interview was on campus with a faculty member at Judge. The interviewer seemed to be an expert in corporate finance. From the start the interviewer ensured there was a casual yet professional atmosphere. He was very keen on hearing from me and seemed to know my background inside out, at first this unnerved me a little, but ultimately I was very impressed at the amount of work that goes in at selecting students at Judge. There were other activities throughout the day that really helped get acquainted with Judge. Overall I think Judge is a great place to get an MBA from, and though isn’t very popular like Harvard/Stanford internationally, I think Judge very well portrays the Cambridge brand. The small class-sizes at Judge is also a very big positive. The interview questions were:
- What aspects of retail banking impress you? What are the qualities a retail banker must have to succeed?
- What is your leadership style? How would you manage a difficult colleague?
- Why is Judge the best place to help you achieve your stated post-MBA goals?
- What concerns you the most on the role of retail banking in the global economy?
- What is your biggest weakness and what steps have you been taking to resolve it?
- Tell me of a time when you overcame a difficult situation to accomplish something you thought was never possible? How did you do this?
My HEC Paris MBA Interview: HR to Consulting
I’ve always wanted to visit Paris, and stay there for a couple of weeks. Though most of my family now lives in the US, I always wanted to go back to my French roots. My joy knew no bounds, when I received my HEC Paris interview invite. It wasn’t just about the interview, but it was also about the possibility that I would be studying here for the next year (1 year + 4 months actually), if I succeeded in the interview.
My Background: American (female) with about 5 years of experience working as an HR assistant manager at a mid-level staffing/HR consultancy firm. In my post-MBA goals, I mentioned that I intended to transition into management consultancy and build on my HR background to specialize in human capital management consultancy. Had a GMAT of 700 and a GPA of 3.6 from a non-Ivy school in the US, majoring in liberal arts. Had one promotion during my 5 year stint.
My Interview Prep: I did quite an intensive preparation trying on the aptitude questions, mock interviews with friends and going through my application several times. I realized that the weak link in my story was the reachability of my stated post-MBA goal. Not sure if many people transitioned from HR to management consultancy in the past.
At my Interview: HEC Paris has a very interesting interview process: its a a double interview process, interviewed by alumnus. So there’s always the safety shield, if you happen to screw up at one of the interviews. In addition you are to prepare a presentation of your choice for the interviewers on a topic that affects you/interests you. Here are some tips on the presentations:
- Prepare a topic that is interesting and meaningful. Brownie points if it’s somehow related to your post-MBA goals.
- Ensure that you know the topic inside-out. Obviously your interviewers may ask you questions on your presentation.
- As much as possible, avoid controversial views or opinions.
- Double brownie points, if your topic can make a connection with global trends, and show how these trends have affected your day-to-day work.
- The presentation must not be an esoteric management topic in which you display interest/knowledge. It should be something that’s out of your career and/or interests and help to demonstrate your personality and qualities based on your actions.
Now coming to the juicier-bit, the interview questions:
- Why are you looking to do an MBA at HEC Paris? In most cases there’s a reverse-trend that we see, where many students from Europe look to do an MBA in the US. Why is it that you a US citizen are looking to do an MBA in Europe?
- Transitioning from HR to management consulting requires a great deal of work. How prepared are you to make the transition?
- How can HEC Paris, help you achieve your stated post-MBA goal?
- What is the greatest regret you have in your professional life? Why?
- In the course of your 5-year career in HR, what is the greatest lesson that you learnt?
- What other schools have you applied to? Why is HEC your top priority among these schools?
- What aspect of living close to Paris do you enjoy the most?
- How will you take advantage of living in Paris to develop yourself professionally during the course of your MBA study?
- How likely is it that you would consider settling down in Europe/France after your MBA?
Some of these questions were interjected as I was giving my answers, but the interviewers were always very respectful. At one point the interviewer even apologized for interrupting me. Both the interviewers were warm and friendly and suggested that I should seriously consider the program if I were granted admission. The professional yet friendly behavior of the interviewers only helped place HEC Paris on a higher pedestal in my personal opinion.
In the end, I did get admitted to HEC Paris and a couple of top-10 US business schools. I chose HEC Paris for the diversity of experience and to have the privilege of living close to my beloved Paris.
My Haas MBA Interview: Oil Drilling to Consulting
Delighted as I was at having received an interview invite from Haas (UC Berkeley), I began furiously preparing for the interview. I had gotten interview invites from other schools such as MIT Sloan and Chicago Booth and I preferred both these schools to Haas. Nonetheless, I decided to give Haas a shot, since MBA admissions are uncertain and its difficult to predict outcome. In the end, of course I didn’t make it at Chicago Booth and MIT Sloan, and chose to matriculate at Haas. Today as I look back, some of my mates who did get into MIT Sloan and Chicago Booth haven’t done as well as me. I realize that its only up until a certain point that the brand name of your school can help, beyond that its your own hard work and dedication. Though initially I chose Haas since I didn’t have an alternate, I have to this day never regretted the decision. I have had the best time of my life at Haas. The cohort has been amazing and most of them have done very well for themselves.
My Background: My pre-MBA work experience revolved around oil exploration and prospecting. I worked as an engineer at a lee-known American oil drilling company. Had a pretty good GMAT – 750 and a GPA of 3.7, which were both above the Haas stats. Had several extra-curricular activities under my belt, the only problem however was that I never had any promotion after my 4 years of work experience.
My Interview Prep: I unfortunately didn’t choose application rounds wisely. Instead of distributing my applications, I applied to all 3 Booth, MIT Sloan and Haas in the same round. So most of my preparations were targeted at Sloan and Booth. I did however notice that many past interview questions were similar in all the 3 interviews.
My Interview: I chose to be interviewed by an alumnus off-campus. The interviewer was friendly and war. The interview tried to make this seem more like a conversation than an interview. Of course there were interjections and he deeply probed some of my responses, but that helped me better so that I knew where I had to emphasize. This helped me save quite a lot of time. The interview went on a little longer than expected, and this was a very positive sign for me. Below are questions from my interview:
- Why have you chosen to apply to Haas? What makes you believe that Haas is the ideal place to get an MBA given your profile?
- Your stated goal was to convert from Oil Drilling to management consulting. How feasible is this given the specialized nature of oil drilling?
- What are some important milestones in your career? How has your responsibilities within the organization changed over the past 4 years?
- You have a good GMAT and GPA, can you narrate times when you had to overcome difficulties to achieve these?
- What is your greatest weakness? What steps have you taken to overcome your weakness?
- Someone under you in your firm seemed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. How do you deal with this person? What actions will you take?
- If selected to Haas what clubs will you join and why?
My NYU Stern Interview Questions: Tax Advisor’s Tale
Ever gulped a beer can in under 60 seconds celebrating having got something after a long time ? Well, that’s what I did after hearing about my NYU interview invite. My MBA Admissions consultant assured me that NYU Stern was bit of a stretch. Anyway, he was wrong, and I did make it all the way through to the interview (and even matriculated at Stern)!
My Background: I was a tax adviser at a non big-4 audit firm in Chicago. I really wanted to transition into consultancy and eventually to private equity. It was too ambitious for me. Anyway, I had an undergrad in finance from a little known, no-name university. I think I had decent GMAT – 720, and a decent GPA – 3.8/4. I had been working for over 4 years at my job and had been promoted from an analyst role.
My Interview Prep: Like I said, B-School was a pretty big deal for me, particularly, Stern. I prepared for the interview quite sincerely and earnestly. I looked through all interview questions and took prep packages from a big-shot MBA admissions consultant. Cant tell if it helped, but it certainly helped calm my nerves in making me feel prepared.
The D-Day: I think if there’s one thing I could go back and changes in my interview, it would be my nerves. I was unnecessarily nervous. The pressure that I had to convert this interview was too heavy on me. Even in the first couple of minutes, I could hear my voice shuddering as I started my first answer. I think I made it through because the adcom was incredibly understanding. Offering me water and suggesting that she was really impressed with my app so far. I regained confidence and was able to give a great interview. Since I panicked I forgot many of the answers I prepared, but decided to calmly reflect the real reasons, and genuinely make an attempt at the answers. In the end I would like to think that I wiped out the blot of a nervous start. This could be you, if you are looking for advise on beating the NYU Stern interview, there’s just one thing I would like to tell you: don’t over-prepare! While you must always prepare, don’t obsess. I think in my case my undoing was that I thought way too much of the consequences of messing this interview up. Don’t think about those things. Do your best and leave the rest to God (if I may). That was just my 2 cents, here are the questions:
- Tell me about yourself. What is the one interesting thing about you that I wouldn’t know by looking at your resume and the rest of your app so far?
- What is the biggest regret you have so far in your career and why?
- Think of a time when you motivated your team to complete a difficult project which required lots of cooperation. How did you achieve this?
- Why have you chosen to do your MBA at NYU Stern?
- What are the risks professionally for you in giving up 2 years of your work-life to do an MBA?
- Why do you think this is the ripe time for you to get an MBA? Why not later?
- What values has your work experience in audit taught you?
- Several candidates have made the switch from audit/advisory to management consulting after an MBA from Stern. However the path is incredibly difficult and several others have failed. Why do you believe you can make this switch?
Darden MBA Interview Questions: A Consultant’s Account
I was working as an associate/analyst at a less-known consulting firm in the US, and was looking to climb up the corporate ladder. It seemed to me an MBA was very essential to make the climb, so I decided to go back to school. I applied to several mid-tier US schools like Darden, Tuck and UCLA. I got an interview invite from several schools and was successful at 2 of these. Finally chose to matriculate at Darden.
My Background: US Female, undergrad from a less-known state school. GPA around 3.6 and GMAT just below 700. Post-MBA goal I wrote in my application was to get into higher management positions within consulting, and use tools from MBA to be a better consultant.
Prep for my Interview: I looked up all interview questions on the internet for Darden. Some places had frightening questions, for which I couldn’t think of answers. I chose to be interviewed over Skype by an Adcom member.
Interview Questions: Before I get to my interview questions, if there’s one thing I’d like to tell all the readers, as far as Darden is concerned, while my interview questions may not be relevant to you – the interviewers are super friendly. This is based on the experiences of several of my friends, who interviewed at Darden. Don’t read off too many questions of the internet and get yourselves unduly burdened. Have a genuine story (which you should have by this stage), and reflect on the purpose of why you need an MBA and why an MBA from Darden, and that’s about it. Before I ramble further, here are my interview questions:
- Tell me about yourself. What is one interesting aspect about you that is not in your resume?
- What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?
- Why are you looking at getting an MBA particularly from Darden? Is it just that Darden is one among the several schools you have applied to, or is there a specific reason you have chosen to apply to Darden?
- Could you elaborate on your post-MBA goals and why Darden is the best place to achieve them?
- What are your unique qualities that will help you achieve your post-MBA goals?
- Could you narrate a time in your professional life when you were stretched to the limits and had a lot of ground to cover? How did you manage the situation?
- Tell me about a time when you went out of your way to help a struggling colleague? Why did you help him/her?
At the end of the interview, I really felt that I did my best. A few weeks later I got my accept and was thrilled. All the best to you!
My Tuck Interview Questions: From an E-Commerce Manager
I’m a Canadian E-Commerce tech/IT manager, looking to transition into product management. I was delighted when I got my Tuck Interview. The interview invite was all the more special to me as Dartmouth was an Ivy league US school. I’m sharing this on the request of the administrators of this site.
My Background: Canadian E-Commerce tech/IT manager. Got an undergrad from a top-3 Canadian University in Business. Have a 690 GMAT score and a 3.8 GPA. I stated my post-MBA goal as wanting to break into product management, building on my IT management experience. I’ve been on this job for over 5 years now, but managed only a single promotion.
My Interview Prep: I scheduled an interview on-campus, since I was travelling from outside the country I made quite a lot of logistical arrangements. Of course a Skype interview was available, but I wanted to visit Tuck and decide if this school was right for me, since I already had offers closer home. I did most of the basic fit questions, and especially concentrated on some basic ones such as ‘Why US MBA and not get an MBA in Canada?’ I was also told that even a slight amount of disinterest on my part may make me seem unlikely to matriculate and I may be wait-listed since some of these schools were concerned about yield – this was just hearsay.
At my Interview: I met the second year student, who seemed much older than me. Our conversation was very casual, he inquired about my journey and how I found Hanover. As the interview progressed, I began to focus, and thanks to the cordial atmosphere which the second-year student created, I lost most of my nervousness. We spent quite a lot of time discussing my motivation at getting an MBA and attending Tuck in particular. There were some back-and-forth questions on these aspects. At the end of the interview I felt a lot relieved and pleasantly thanked the interviewer, who no doubt made my life easier I felt. After the interview, my respect and appreciation for Tuck grew. Anyway, here are particular interview questions:
- Tell me of an example in your E-Commerce career that required you act fast on a sensitive issue? What did you do and what precautions did you take?
- Why will your classmates at Tuck benefit in having you in class and learning with you?
- What are the clubs and organizations in Tuck that you are looking to join if you happen to be accepted?
- Why is Tuck in a great position to help you to reach your stated post-MBA goal?
- How would you cope up with having to move from your home country to do an MBA?
- Narrate one incident where your leadership skills came to the fore? How did you distinguish yourself as a leader that day?
- What two skills/qualities of management do you think are most important and why? Did you get a chance to inculcate these qualities/develop these skills in your professional life?
Result: I was delighted to know that I had made it. I did have offers back home, but turned them down to matriculate at Tuck.
My INSEAD Interview: Story of a Flow Trader
It was always ringing in my mind – a 1 year INSEAD ‘international MBA’ vs. the 2 year MBA offered by US schools. With some research and due to personal reasons, I decided to give INSEAD a shot. I had a fairly impressive profile, but was still on the edge. I was relieved following my interview invite from INSEAD. But the relief was short-lived as I started preparing for the interviews.
My Background: I did my bachelor’s in business from a well-known German university and had a grade of 1.0 (‘sehr gut’/ very good). I gave my GMAT and had a score of 720. I had about 5 years of experience as a flow trader at a mid-level European investment bank. I was looking to do an MBA was to get into private equity and venture capital. Trading was lucrative , but I always wanted to have a taste of the buy-side, and of course there’s the obvious incentive of more money. I chose the alumnus interview off-campus part of the round 2 stage in 2015.
Before the Interview: I was warned of some INSEAD specific difficult questions such as ‘Why 1 year MBA? Why INSEAD and why not US Schools?’ I did prepare for most of them. I went through my app again and again, just to do some last minute fire-fighting.
At the Interview: Unlike other 2 year schools which schedule a single interview, INSEAD schedules 2 interviews, being a 1 year program. This was the most striking and interesting feature of the interviews. The alumni were very well established and were people that I aspired to be 5 years after my MBA. However, they were very casual and seemed to be very interested in what I had to say. At no point during the conversation did I ever feel that I was being interviewed/assessed – the ambience they created and the conversation that ensued was all smooth and genial. I walked off from the interview feeling like I could have done better. Nonetheless, I really felt a sense of accomplishment at having met these greats. The first thing I did when I headed home was to add them on LinkedIn. Here are the interview questions:
- As a flow trader what was the biggest ethical conundrum you faced? What listen did this teach you and why did you react the way you did?
- Why does INSEAD inspire you? Why INSEAD and not some other US MBA program?
- After 5 years of working, you must have enough business experience to not do an MBA. Yet why do you want an MBA and why now?
- Your goal is to get into private equity, why do you want to get into private equity? Why do you think INSEAD can get you to your goal?
- What do you know about the INSEAD ‘international MBA’?
- Speak about 1 extra-curricular activity that excites you? Why does this excite you, and how can you take the lessons learnt from this activity to your professional life?
- Tell me of a time when you felt you have been treated unfairly? How did you respond? Why did you think you were treated unfairly?
- What are your alternatives if you didn’t get admitted to INSEAD?
- Is there any 1 thing that you think you could have done better in your first interview?
- What is the unique contribution to the learning experience that you can bring to your prospective classmates at INSEAD?
- Tell me about a team project that you undertook, in which you had a great influence on your team and were able to influence and challenge some of the basic things?
- What do you think is the greatest achievement in your professional life?Why do you consider this to be the greatest achievement in your life?
- What’s the most valuable feedback you have received in your professional life so far? How did you react to this feedback?
My Columbia Business School Interview: Story of a Quant
I applied online to CBS and even as I was making up my mind wondering if an MBA was right for me, I got an interview invite from Columbia. The subsequent sudden firmness in getting an MBA, I think can be attributed to my effortless success in landing an interview. It was rare for quants to get an MBA.
My Background: I worked as a quantitative associate at a top-3 US Investment Bank. I was pretty satisfied with my job, when the urge to actually make trades instead of working for someone making the trades caught up with me. The ‘quant to trader’ urge is in fact a pretty common phase for every quant. Most overcome, I didn’t. I prepared for the GMAT for about 3 months, and I ended up scoring a 790! Had a 4.00 GPA from an Ivy undergrad. Also had a master’s with a similar GPA from another Ivy. The only problem was that I had been working on this job for 7 years and was over 30. My MBA admissions consultant pointed out that because of this and my unconventional background I either had an extremely good or an extremely bad chance of getting in. He explained that it really depended on the perception of the adcom. I already had 3 promotions, and was probably the equivalent of an investment bank vice president already.
My Interview Prep: If it was a quant interview, I obviously would have done pretty well, revising C++, Stochastic Methods and Partial Differential Equations (PDEs). But this was a slightly different interview, and I prepared earnestly for the behavioural/psyche questions. I trained pretty hard on the motivation (‘Why MBA at this point of time/Why MBA at all/Why CBS?’) questions.
My Interview Questions: I chose to be interviewed off-campus by an alum. The alum looked pretty friendly and warm, but he seemed to be slightly younger than me, and that was quite embarrassing for me. As we started conversing, the slight embarrassment vanished and I was warming up for the interview. To not sustain any unnecessary suspense, let me say that there was nothing very difficult or unexpected from the interview, except for a couple of questions. I think this interview solely had to do with execution, and I’m happy to report that I did my interview quite well. The questions are:
- Why have you decided to do an MBA at this point of time in your career? What are the risks associated with quitting your job to pursue an MBA?
- How would you explain your job and what you do on a daily basis to a 8-year old?
- What was the most important lesson you learnt out of your undergrad experience?
- I see that you have a very strong GMAT, and from your line of work, I believe that you are very logically wired, but, sometimes business is more of an art than an exact science. What makes you up for the challenge?
- Think of a time when your views were at odds with that of your manager. How did you reconcile your differences and what was the lesson you took out of this?
- Think of a time when you overcame adversity, personal/professional, what was the impact of this situation in your life, and how did it change you?
My London Business School Interview: From Auditing to Consulting
Having accepted the interview invite, I chose to do it off-campus with an alum. This was one of the greatest experiences and the best B-School interviews I had till date (I did do a couple of top-5 US schools as well).
My Background: I had been working in the Paris branch of a mid-level investment bank, and was mostly on the risk/in-house audit side. I had about 5 years of work experience and one promotion. I was looking to break into the investment bank ‘glass ceiling’, and knew that only an MBA degree (at least for me) could make this possible. I had a decent 720 GMAT and undergrad in business from a well-known French school.
My Interview Prep: Unlike many of the US B-Schools in which I did land interviews, the LBS interview was differently structured. It had 3 distinct parts: 1. an initial interview where I would be asked questions, 2. an impromptu case/presentation on a specific scenario and 3. hearing from the alum about their LBS experience and any final questions I had for them. So obviously prepping for the impromptu presentation was out of the question. Yet, the one thing I really liked about LBS is that the interview process is not blinded – you know about the alum beforehand and you can make copious use of Linkedin to get to know them. So I did that. Most of my prep however centered around answering the ‘Why LBS’ and several other fit questions. I was always nervous about these, but knew that these would certainly be asked of me.
My Interview: We met at a very informal location at my chosen hub city. The alumnus was very warm and welcoming. He had a pleasant manner about him, and seemed politely inquisitive. In all, I enjoyed the interview and was actually a great opportunity for me to learn more about the school.
The alumnus really inspired me, making me want to matriculate at LBS – he narrated his experiences very passionately. He also briefly touched upon his time with LBS clubs as well as some informal aspects such as the night-scenes in London.
The impromptu case/presentation was not at all impromptu for me. I had dealt with this several times before. I was asked to give a very high-level overview of changing regulation following the 2008 financial crisis, and how investment banking has changed as a result of this. This was right up my alley, coming from a risk/audit background. I enjoyed answering the question, and at the end of this round I grew very confident. I must say that in my case the topic was very well-chosen.
Finally, coming to the interview questions, many of them were expected, some caught me completely off-guard. Here are the questions:
- What is the biggest professional risk for you in terms of coming over to London? What aspects of LBS make you overlook this risk?
- Tell me about a time when you think you failed despite making immense sacrifices for a project or a task? How did you cope with this failure?
- If there’s a person, who won’t forget you for the rest of their lives, who is this person and what is the unforgettable impact you’ve had on them?
- What are the challenges you face when it comes to working in a team? Tell me of an instance where you were able to compromise on conflicting team requirements ad personal growth?
- Your background in audit/risk sometimes may have had you oversee trades/transactions of your banking colleagues. What steps did you take to not seem pushy, but yet at the same time get maximum cooperation ?
- What according to you is the single largest risk facing the global community? If you could be whoever you wanted to, to mitigate this risk, who would you choose to be and why?
My Kellogg Interview: An Engineer’s Account
Getting an interview invite from Kellogg (Northwestern) was a dream come true. I didn’t have a great GMAT, but somehow made it through to the end.
My Background: Indian male, 28 years old at the time of application. Worked as a software engineer for a renowned MNC for almost 5 years. Had 2 promotions. Class of 2018. GMAT just sub-700.
Pre-Interview Prep: Got in touch with an admissions consultant in India who was with me right from the initial application. Had several mock interviews, and attempted many generic questions. Practised answering the ‘why’ questions.
On the day of the Interview: My interview was off-campus and hence conducted by an Alumnus. Met the alumnus at a well-known hangout. He gave me a sense of ease and seemed to be very friendly. We spoke at length about the software industry and how Indian developers, many of them are increasingly looking for a US MBA given the surge in opportunities abroad. He seemed to have a very thorough and knowledgeable perspective of IT industry in general – I was very impressed by the alumnus. Getting to the questions, while answering the questions I did feel less confident sometimes, wondering if the alumnus bought my story. But he did listen very carefully, and was very interested with whatever I had to say. I felt I had over-prepared a bit. Could have been a little more spontaneous in handling some of the fit questions. Here are the interview questions:
- Switching from an engineering background to a business background is an exciting switch. But in many cases after an MBA you may not have a chance to use some of your engineering skills. How do you feel about this?
- What was the biggest challenge you faced and why do you consider this to be your biggest challenge?
- There are other great MBA programs out there, both in India and abroad, what excites you about Kellogg?
- Why do you think this exact application cycle is the ripe time for you to get an MBA? Why did you not consider an MBA earlier or later?
- I’ve seen your resume and am impressed with your achievements. But certainly there are non-quantitative and intangible aspects to these that are well beyond just what’s been portrayed on your resume. About which one of your achievements do you feel this way and why?
- What was your single largest failure and why?
- Then as we went through the resume, he probed deeper into certain aspects. Asked me to highlight leadership in those instances, and asked me how I could have done better.
My Chicago Booth Interview: News from a Newsman
Excited as I was, I looked forward to my Booth MBA Interview with an alumnus in London. I had no other invites at popular US MBA programs, though I was wait-listed at Duke (Fuqua) and rejected at Wharton. I didn’t apply to others such as Harvard and Stanford, I thought it was too much of a stretch.
My Background: I applied by the R2, 2015 deadline – aiming to matriculate joining the class of 2017. I did my BA in political science from a Russell League school in the UK. I worked for about 4 years as an editor at a renowned news outlet and had secured a promotion about 2 years after I joined. I had a 750+ GMAT, with a particularly strong performance in the verbal section. This was my forte, and hence the performance improved the overall consistency of my app. The one problem I had however was that I had a low score on my IR section.
Pre-Interview Prep: Didn’t do too much prep, I was told not to prepare answers at least not to a very firm extent since the adcoms were skilled at telling off fabricated/made-up answers to questions. So, I decided to go with the flow, but I contemplated my career path until then and genuinely tried to think how getting an MBA perfectly fit in the larger scheme of things for me.
At the Interview: The interview was held at a very casual yet high-street cafe overlooking the Tower Bridge. The location somehow assured me that this was my place and I was going to own the interview. The interviewer was very friendly and told me that he enjoyed the city and being part of all that it embodied. The interviewer worked for an American bulge-bracket at Canary Wharf, the European counterpart (in my opinion) of Wall Street. Overall the interview went pretty smooth, and I was very satisfied with how I answered the questions. One thing though: I feel I could have done a better job if I had prepared for some of the fit questions. Its always easy to improvise if you do have a sincere need and goal, but improvising takes time and its possible that your delayed responses may be construed as lacking drive. Here are some of the questions from my interview:
- What is the most important management skill according to you? And why is Booth the best place to acquire this skill?
- Who inspired you the most in your life and how have you served to put in practice some of the aspects of this person’s life in your own?
- He spoke at length about how media is loosing its ethical grounding these days and is biased towards viral stories. He asked me how and why I would be any different?
- Think of a time when your moral instinct was dominated by your professional practice? Why did you act the way you did?
- What is your greatest regret in your professional life and why?
- How do American business models compare with their European counterparts, and what are the 3 things that Brits/Europeans are doing better than Americans in the business sphere?
- What Clubs at Booth would you join in your first year and why?
- How would you balance between activities, academic time and networking opportunities at Booth? Which previous experiences will help you towards this?
The Alumnus was very cordial and warmly shook hands with me after the interview. Going by his manner I promoted Booth several rungs up in my mind.
My MIT Sloan Interview: FMCG Manager’s Take
I was super-excited with the interview invite: for one, I always thought that MIT Sloan was pretty much a stretch for me. I applied by the R2 deadline in 2014 (Class of 2016). I got through, after a pretty difficult interview that I managed to somehow convert. I was wait-listed in similar ranking schools such as Booth and Kellogg. Ultimately I was very pleased with my successful convert at Sloan.
My Profile: Female. I did my undergrad at a non-Ivy state school in Industrial Design. I managed a 3.8/4.0, but never thought highly of it since this was a non-Ivy state school. Got a decent 750 GMAT and top-notch recommendations from my managers who were pretty cool and from the convener of a woman’s group whose activities I sometimes helped organize. I worked at an FMCG for about 42 months at the time of my app, and had a couple of promotions up my sleeve.
My Interview Prep: I didn’t prep too much since I heard from past students to not spend too much time preparing bespoke answers since there was always a danger of appearing non-spontaneous and upsetting the interviewer. So instead I just had a look at past MIT Sloan questions and saw if I could answer some of them. Spent a lot of time going through my app several times, to ensure that I came across in the interview as the same person that I seemed to be in the online app.
On the Interview Day: I arrived on-campus on a cold day at Boston. Spent quite a lot of time conversing with the students who had already arrived. When it was my turn, I was beckoned into a large room and my interviewers were seated at a corner. The interview was overall very conversational, and was over in a flash. When I looked back at my watch 45 minutes had already passed and it felt more like 15. The interview was very conversational and casual. Unlike in some interviews where the interviewers literally have a poker face, I got almost instant feedback looking at reactions on the adcom faces as I answered their questions. They did engage in small talk, but though casual and conversational there were probing questions. The focus was always on why I did something and not on how I did it. Here are some of the questions I faced that day:
- Tell me of a time when there was a conflict between what your experience as a successful manager told you to do and what your instincts told you to do? Which did you choose to follow, and why? What were the consequences of this choice?
- There is an important decision that you need to make and you need to react quickly. However the information available at your disposal is incomplete. How would you handle the situation?
- Is the role of women in today’s corporate culture diminishing? If so why do you feel that way and how can B-Schools take steps to ensure a reversal in this trend?
- In your experience as a FMCG manager, think of a time when you had to work very hard for something but in the end saw it fail. Why did it fail and what did you learn from this experience?
- Why is MIT Sloan most suited to help you achieve your stated post-MBA goals?
- What do you think are the 4 most successful qualities of a good manager and why?
I felt I did fairly well in answering most of the interviewers’ questions. I heard back from Sloan about 3 weeks later, congratulating me on my successful interview and informing me of my acceptance.
My Wharton Interview: Hear from an I-Banker
Looking back, I remember that my Wharton Interview or the Team Based Discussion (TBD), was the most stressful, among all B-Schools to which I did get an interview. This was back in 2013 when the TBD was first introduced. I’m graduating from Wharton this year (Class of 2016) and I can look back all this with nostalgia. I had an interview with Harvard and Stanford – I had applied to both these schools by the first-round deadline, and preparing for these schools wasn’t very different – they had the familiar interviewer-interviewee format. Some questions were available online, and candidates knew what to expect. My strategy was to split B-School applications across rounds so that if I did get an interview invite I could focus prepping exclusively for that particular B-School. Got an interview invite from Wharton and all hell went loose following that. There was quite a lot of tension, since I got dinged at Stanford and was wait-listed at HBS in R1.
For starters there wasn’t much information online, and even admission consultants had only a vague idea of what to expect and what Wharton expects from the candidates (criteria on which your performance would be judged). However this was compensated by Wharton’s detailed follow-up emails and the quick response on queries. Must applaud the admissions team for that!
My Background: I was an investment banker working for Goldman Sachs prior to deciding to put in a B-School app. I was looking to climb the investment banker and it was clear to me an MBA was necessary. I was already an Associate after 4 years working at a top-3 US IB. This was pretty unusual (at least in my time) since you usually became an Associate only after a 2-year analyst stint+an MBA. Anyway, to become a VP/Assistant VP from here on, I figured the climb without an MBA was going to be too steep. My MBA goal was to leverage on skills already acquired and use my MBA to launch myself into the top management of a financial services firm.
My Interview Prep: Like I said, all hell was going loose. There wasn’t much information online, but with the helpful Wharton emails, I was able to stay sane. I practised team discussions, simulating them with some of my helpful friends. Our particular cohort was very outgoing. I remember there was a FB group for class of 2016 MBA aspirants in the NY area. Some of us who got an invite from Wharton decided to meet up and do a couple of mock simulations. The best way to tackle a TBD is to go at it with as many new/random people that you aren’t familiar with sticking to the tight time frames. Adaptability is really the key here.
At the Interview: This was on-campus R2, in 2013 and I remember the TBD was on coming up with an investment pitch for a 1 million fund to achieve the 3 defining Wharton MBA goals: Social Impact, Global Presence and Innovation. I can’t really remember my pitch, but I observed that the adcom member is busy taking down notes as the TBD is underway, you can be sure you are being judged. The focus is indeed on team progress but you are obviously assessed at an individual level. So keep in mind that an important yardstick to compare your performance is how you steer/contribute the team discussions.
Its also very essentially how well you balance personal agendas with larger team progress. There was a guy who came across as annoying since he kept dominating discussions. He didn’t make it – there might have been other reasons for this – yet, don’t be that guy.
In the 6 member TBD team, there was this lady, a manager in a less known real estate firm, who did balance between controlling, introducing new ideas and also complementing good points made by others. I did ultimately make it, but that day I so wanted to be her. She came across as a nurturing, mature leader. Some of the things she said that day, that I still remember:
I think this is an excellent point, but there are some issues that may arise out of this…..for instance this could lead to……Are there any others that you guys can think of?
There was a shy guy, who hadn’t said much. This was an excellent comment she made:
….these reasons would make us give up the idea. Anyway I’ve spoken way too much on this issue, maybe I should give a chance for someone else who hasn’t spoken yet. Do you have anything to add (Looking at the shy guy)?
Then, as the TBD was under way, the time-keeper told us that we were half-way through. She made this remark:
Now that we are half-way through, it might be a good idea to see what we’ve talked about. We looked at……and finally settled on….
These are just some of the really nice remarks she made and I think that she really stood out that day. Anyway, what I learnt from the Wharton interview is that:
- Play this genuinely, try to influence the discussion but never try to dominate.
- The theme could catch you off-guard, and you might not be able to come up with great ideas on the fly. But that’s alright, if you can#’t come up with great ideas, can you at least effectively evaluate others’ ideas. Strongly note that I say evaluate, not critique.
- You must be concerned about some general things apart from coming up with ideas – like for instance she took time-off to summarize half-way through, when this was unexpected.
- You are not under pressure to come up with great ideas yourself. Even if you don’t have a great idea, you can contribute to the discussion in several meaningful ways, and that’s more important than flaunting your business acumen.
- Also try to listen and at least seem genuinely interested in someone else’s idea. A good way to see how others perceive you in the group is to see if they make eye contact with you as they express themselves. If every other person who speaks, is looking at you most of the time, you can be sure that you’ve got this.
My Stanford GSB Interview: Tech Enthusiast’s Tale
I’ll never forget this one. [dramatic pause]
Coming from a tech background, my natural leaning when I wanted to get an MBA was towards Stanford GSB. I still fondly remember the day when I was got my interview invite. I was thrilled, and wondered who this alumnus interviewing me would be.
My background: After my undergrad in CS from an Ivy league school, I completed the standard and well-known 2-year BA program at McKinsey and was gearing towards a consulting career specializing in advising tech biggies. After my consulting stint I worked for a Silicon Valley tech startup as a ‘Product Manager’. The startup was later successfully acquired by a fortune 50 tech company.
My Interview Prep: I did quite a lot of prep. Stanford was my favourite B-School to get into, and frankly I was frantic to do well. I met a couple of Stanford MBAs that I could somehow reach, and got a few helpful tips from them. I prepped about 70-80 typical interview questions (the aptitude types mostly: ‘tell me about a time when….’) and did a few mock interviews. I also reviewed my entire Stanford app several times, so that I knew my app inside out.
On the Interview Day: I was to meet the alumnus at the lobby of a well-known public library in NYC. I was only a few minutes early, but was surprised to see that the alumnus had already arrived and was seated waiting for me. This was an Indian guy who was working for a major pharma firm. He seemed very warm and polite, but many of his question were probing and sometimes caught me in a tight-spot. But at no point in the interview did it seem like he was trying to give me a drubbing, rather the questions seemed to arise out of his genuine interest. One of the most striking aspects of my interview was that the aptitude questions – ‘tell me about a time types…’ were very minimal. He kept the conversation very realistic and asked questions from my profile, with which it seemed to me he was very well-versed. Here are some of the nice questions:
- What attracted you towards tech and how did your consulting career nurture your interest?
- Why do you want to take the management consultant specializing in tech path rather than working as an in-house manager within a premier tech firm?
- How do you define corporate value? And based on this definition which is the most valuable tech company? Why?
- There’s a tendency for tech enthusiasts to be overwhelmed by scientific notions and overlook the business prospects, why would you be any different?
- Who do you think is the most impressive non-tech entrepreneur and why?
- In terms of corporate culture and values how are premier non-tech firms different from their tech counterparts? What are the 3 things that tech firms should learn from non-tech firms?
- What is the one value that you think is the most essential at the workplace? How did you react when you saw an higher colleague/your boss doing something that went against this value?
- Most MBA aspirants looking to get into Stanford GSB think that its a great school for management careers in tech-based firms. Why is this not true or What must Stanford do to reaffirm this notion?
At the end of the interview, I was pretty confident of getting in. And indeed I did get in as expected. After the decision was made known, I heard back from the alumnus a week later, he told me he was really very impressed with the interview and congratulated me for making it. It was all an incredibly humbling experience!
My HBS Interview: An Equity Trader’s Tale
It feels just like yesterday. At exactly 11:30 AM in the morning I got my email. I was refreshing my Gmail from 11:25 AM expecting the decision on my HBS round 2 app. And today here I was, about to meet HBS Adcom for my interview.
My background: Got a Computer Science bachelor’s from a less known US school, worked pretty hard and landed a monkey position (analyst) at Wall Street. Steadily grew up the ranks and became good enough to land an interview at HBS after 2 years of grunt work + 2 years of getting grunt work done. Into sports, played for state teams. 750 GMAT and a 3.8 GPA, stellar recommendations from my MD, a VP and a veteran who coached me when I played for the state team (In my year we needed to submit 3 HBS recommendations).
Before the Interview: The moment I got my interview invite, I spent quite a lot of time scouring online for interview questions and candidate experiences like everybody else. There wasn’t much information though. I must admit the one creepy/obsessive thing that I did was to search for adcom members profiles to see where they came from. I got myself a bunch of interview questions and tried them to see how best I answered them. Apart from this, I also did the routine prep – going over your resume and app several times, so that my adcom interview and app perception are consistent.
Interview Questions Without further ado, I’ll cut to the chase, these are the interview questions I particularly remember apart from the usual goals and resume questions, either because (I think) I answered them too well, or too badly (as you read these questions, keep my background in mind):
- I see that you are a distinguished athlete as well as an established trader. There are several lessons which each of these life experiences would have thought you. Were there any conflicting lessons from an ethical perspective, and if any, how did you reconcile these differences?
- What is the most interesting conversation you’ve had with your coach (the veteran recommender) and why?
- On whom have you had the most profound impact so far in your opinion, and why will this person remember you?
- What is the best use for money that you have now – other than investing in getting yourself an MBA, and why have you chosen getting an MBA over this investment?
- If you never hear back from us after this interview, what is your most important takeaway from the application process?
These are the toughest HBS interview questions I faced that day. There was a lump in my throat as I answered the last question that day. I thought this was a clear indication of how things would unroll. I felt worn out after my HBS interview that day, and was convinced that this was just not going to be my day. My only hope then, I though to myself was to convert my Stanford GSB interview.
I was however pleasantly surprised when I got a call from Harvard Business School almost a month later congratulating me on my success.
How I got selected for a PhD at Harvard Business School
(This article is on getting into the HBS PhD program, we have also written extensively about getting into the HBS MBA program.)
I had completed my MBA, specializing in finance from a top-tier European B-School and had a job lined up. It was in a bulge-bracket investment bank and I was raring to go – not much of a surprise. That was when I first heard about the HBS PhD/Doctorate program in management. Of course I had heard of HBS like any student, and had even unsuccessfully applied to the HBS MBA a couple of years before.
I did have a couple of research papers published in top-tier journals, think (Journal of Financial Economic and Journal of Monetary Economics). This was extremely rare for a MBA student, at least in Europe. I think this was adequate to show my commitment as well as aptitude for management research. These papers really made the difference for me. Here’s a short description of my profile:
-UG GPA: 4.0/4.0 (Converted on a US Scale)
-MBA GPA: 3.8/4.0 (Converted on a US Scale)
-Work Experience of 4 years at a top Audit firm before MBA
From my profile, one thing is clear: its not an extraordinary profile. What then made such a big difference and helped me secure a PhD admit at HBS? I think the main reason is my publication in academia. The journal articles I published didn’t go on to receive a large number of citations or widespread research spotlight, but I believe the very act of publishing in renowned authority journals got me in.
Most important advise to HBS PhD applicants
I think there can’t be any particular advise as far as the HBS PhD program is concerned. The diversity of the class is tremendous, some of my PhD colleagues completed degrees in STEM, so there’s no set-in-stone success formula. Nonetheless, there are a couple of things which are of critical importance:
- Analytical skills must be easily attested in your profile. The jobs you took, the degrees you completed and your competitive exam scores must all attest and reflect your analytical skills.
- You should show genuine interest for joining business academia. This is one of the more subtle and often neglected requirement that gets applicants at the HBS PhD program rejected. One of my friends who applied with me said that her goal after a PhD was to join MBB consulting. She never heard back from HBS! There could be other reasons but I strongly suspect that her post-PhD goals were not in line with what HBS expects and was therefore rejected.
PhD Specializations at HBS
Presently there are 8 PhD specializations offered by HBS. These include:
Accounting and Management (DBA)
Technology and Operations Management (DBA)
Business Economics (PhD)
Organizational Behavior (PhD)
Health Policy (Management) (PhD)
I chose business economics and specialized in corporate finance. Note that this is similar to a ‘PhD in Finance’. Harvard doesn’t offer a PhD in Finance explicitly, but assigns a very generic choice such as Business Economics, you are free to choose any sub-field to specialize in. While finance has always been a hot management category, particular fields of interest are digital strategy and digital marketing (eg. CRM). Of course both these fields are a rich synergy of management and technology.
(Opinions/advise above are as expressed by the interviewed candidate. They do not under any circumstance reflect the opinions of engineeringmba.com. For any queries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The author has requested anonymity, however we can pass on questions that readers might have to the author.)
What are some examples of top MBA admissions essays at Harvard or Wharton?
Here are the snippets of an essay one of my friends wrote and was successful at Harvard or Wharton (not going to say which one). I’m sharing this here with his permission.
Background on my Friend
My friend is an Indian IT engineer specializing in some hardware aspects in IT. He has won several awards for painting. He isn’t a well-known name in painting, but he is very passionate about it. IT engineers from India are so common that it has prompted some memes like this one!
My friend in his essay spoke about how art had inspired him and everything he did. He spoke about concrete examples such as how his VLSI designing expertise and the many laurels he had won because of his microelectronics chip-designs, actually were inspired by art. Then, he spoke about how business was also an art and how eager he was to channel and strengthen his love for art in pursuing business. He also spoke about interdependence of business and technology, and why he could thrive in both fields. His main argument was something along these lines (as far as I can remember): I love art, and have been able to succeed in advanced engineering, by adapting artistic techniques in what I do, but business is also an art, and I’m confident of succeeding using an artistic perspective. It also contained the usual: why an MBA was important for him at that point in his career.
When he approached a well-known MBA admission consultant in India, the consultant suggested several changes, and told him that this essay was surely going to get him dinged. He thought about it, and didn’t take the advise. He submitted his application on the day of the R2 deadline, without changing it one bit.
He was accepted after an interview!
I think the only key takeaway from here is that admission essays are meant to help Adcoms understand who you are as a person. You can write a great essay, and still be dinged if it doesn’t reflect who you really are as reflected from the rest of your application. Adcoms are very smart at finding this out.
So, the important question is not how best to write an essay, but rather how well can you accurately present yourself to the Adcoms in an essay.
I also agree that it does help to read several other successful essays, so that you get an idea of how successful candidates stand out in these applications. This page contains links to great books containing about 65 essays of successful applicants at HBS.