Strengths for MBA Interviews – Wharton, Kellogg, and Columbia Business School are just a few of the top programs that ask applicants to discuss their strengths during interviews. This can be a daunting task for even the most confident candidate.
Some people have trouble talking about themselves or coming up with answers to questions they haven’t been asked before. Others have trouble getting the tone right — sounding too boastful or not confident enough. And still, others don’t know how to present their strengths for MBA interviews to make them sound unique and essential.
But there are ways around these problems. Here’s what you should never say when talking about your strengths for MBA interviews for a top program:
You can’t fake your way through an MBA interview. The time has come to get honest, not just about what you’ve accomplished but also about your limitations. This is especially important if you’re applying to a top business school — the schools with the best faculty, students, and resources are looking for people who can bring something unique to the table.
Most candidates are aware of highlighting their strengths during an MBA interview. But there’s a fine line between bragging and selling yourself. Here’s what you should never say when talking about your strengths for MBA interviews during an interview:
“I’m smart.” (most common mistake seen as a strength for MBA interviews)
This is the worst thing you can say in an interview because it makes you sound arrogant. And arrogance is not something that admissions committees want to see from prospective students representing their schools and alumni for years to come. Instead, focus on other strengths besides intelligence.
“I’m a hard worker.” (another common mistake taken as a strength for MBA interviews)
This is another cliche that doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything about who you are as an individual or how you approach work. Be specific about what you do to demonstrate commitment to your job and how it contributes to the company’s success.
Hard work is expected of all potential students who apply to top MBA programs, so there’s no need to bring this up during your interview unless specifically asked by an interviewer. This statement is vague and doesn’t tell us anything about your true motivation and drive — two things admissions committees want to see in their students. Instead, explain why you’re so passionate about your chosen field of study or career path, what challenges it presents and why you feel confident that you’ll overcome these obstacles with ease.
If you want to talk about how hard you work, give an example or two of when you have gone above and beyond what was required of you, or even just talk about something interesting that happened during work hours that didn’t have anything to do with work at all!
“I’m great at networking.”
This is so generic that it’s almost meaningless. Suppose you’re interviewing for a job in management consulting or investment banking. In that case, it’s okay to say this because those jobs require many interpersonal skills, and management skills will be one of the most important criteria for hiring someone. But suppose you’re interviewing for an MBA program. In that case, many other skills are more critical than managing people — such as leadership, finance, marketing, and strategy — that are more relevant to the job you’ll be doing after getting your MBA degree.
Networking is an essential part of business school and beyond, but it sounds like bragging if you say it in an interview setting. Instead, focus on specific examples of how you’ve used networking skills to accomplish something. For instance, if someone helped connect you with someone else who provided valuable advice or resources, mention that person by name (if they’re known). Or, if you’ve been able to use your network to help someone else advance their career or get ahead at work, talk about that experience instead of just saying, “I’m good at networking.”
“I’m a perfectionist.”
This is a typical response, but it’s not suitable for two reasons. First, it sounds like you’re trying to hide something from the interviewer or protect yourself from criticism by claiming perfectionism (e.g., “I work too hard”). Second, it’s often unclear what this means — whether you’re referring to work or personal life — and therefore, difficult for an interviewer to respond to appropriately. If you want an honest answer, stick with something specific and concrete (e.g., “I’m not always great at managing my time”).
This ‘strength’ (which many people also mention as a weakness) is an easy trap for people with high self-esteem. It’s a trap that many successful leaders fall into: They can’t accept that they’re not perfect. They don’t like to admit that there are things they’re not good at or don’t like doing because it makes them feel less than ideal — and nobody wants to feel less than perfect! But this kind of overconfidence is not what admissions committees wish from applicants; they want people who can identify their weaknesses and work on improving them rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist.
“I lose track of time.” or “I’m good at multitasking.”
Multitasking is an essential skill in today’s workplace, but it’s not something that everyone can do well — especially MBA candidates interviewing for a highly selective program like Harvard Business School (HBS). To avoid sounding like everyone else, be specific about an instance when you had to juggle multiple projects at once and how you handled it effectively without sacrificing quality or efficiency. If you can’t think of an example right now, don’t worry — just choose another strength that speaks to your ability to multitask effectively on the job (e.g., “I have excellent time management skills”).
This is another vague statement that tells me nothing about your skills or personality. If you’re willing to work late nights or weekends, wouldn’t it be better to say to me you’ve worked late or weekends in the past? Or if you have international experience, wouldn’t it be betold if you tell me you speak another language fluently? These facts help me the better picture you as an applicant and employee.
“I can use authority well.”
This is another standard answer that doesn’t tell me anything useful about how you would fit into our program or organization. The best way to demonstrate that authority is important to you is by talking about how much responsibility you’ve taken on in your previous jobs — and how well it went!
Aaargh, enough already! So, tell me, how do I talk about my strengths?
Here are a few tips for answering this question:
- Think about your experience and skills about the program’s mission and culture. For example, if you’re applying to an entrepreneurship program (like Babson) and have worked in social impact organizations developing scalable models for impactful startups, emphasize those aspects of your background. Highlight them if you’re applying to a design program (like the Kellogg MMM) and have considerable creative flair and design skills. The point here is that there should be some alignment between what makes up your unique strengths profile and what’s important at that particular school.
- Provide concrete examples of how you have demonstrated these strengths in the past. Don’t just say, “I’m good at budgeting.” Instead, say something like, “I was responsible for managing our company’s budget, and I was able to cut costs by 10% without sacrificing quality.”
- When talking about your strengths, focus on the positive aspects of your personality or work style rather than listing all of your weaknesses (which may make you seem like an egotist). Your interviewer wants to know what makes you great — don’t turn them off by including any negative aspects of yourself!
- Focus on what you’ve accomplished, not just what you want to achieve. The interviewer wants to hear about how you’ve used those strengths in the past, not just how you plan to use them.
- Show that these skills are transferable by giving examples of how they’ve helped you succeed in previous positions or challenges.
- Don’t brag or exaggerate; instead, provide concrete examples of how these attributes have benefited you professionally and personally (if applicable).