If you’ve got an MBA interview invitation for Stanford GSB, you’re in the top 10-15% of applicants. Congratulations!
However, your chances of admission are still under 50%, so you’ll need to give a great interview.
To help you, we’ve put together this complete guide to the Stanford GSB interview: how it works, typical questions and how to answer them, and how to prepare.
Here’s our first tip: use a repeatable answer framework to prepare for the bulk of the interview.
What we’ll cover:
- Interview process
- How to prepare
Ready? Let’s get started.
Before we dive into the types of questions you’ll face and how to answer them, let’s see an overview of how the interview process works at Stanford GSB.
1.1 Interview rate
Between 10-15% of Stanford MBA applicants are invited to interview, according to Kirsten Moss, assistant dean of MBA admissions at Stanford GSB. That means that if 7.5K people apply (as they did in 2021), they’ll interview around 1,000 candidates.
Given that the class of 2023 has 426 students, that adds up to a little over two candidates interviewed for every available spot.
As outlined on the Stanford GSB website, interviews take place during the following periods:
- Round 1: early October to late November
- Round 2: late January to mid-March
- Round 3: late April to mid-May
Invitations are sent out on a rolling basis during these times. That’s to say, if you applied in Round 1 you could receive your interview invitation in early October, or you could be kept waiting until mid-November.
There is always a lot of speculation on sites like Reddit as to whether being invited early or late in the window is indicative of your chances of admission. As far as we can gather, it isn’t. It’s just logistics.
1.3 How it works
You’ll be invited to interview with one of the following:
- An MBA admissions officer from Stanford GSB
- A trained Stanford GSB alumnus
Again, who you interview with depends on logistics, not likelihood of admission. Stanford will try and match you with somebody from your country and/or your industry, so that they can have a deeper understanding of your background and the context of your achievements.
If your interviewer is an alumnus, they will have been through Stanford’s interview training program and will have a standardized set of questions to choose from. They will have seen your resume (you’ll have been asked to email it to them), but not the rest of your application.
Interviews may be in person or remote, depending on how feasible it is for Stanford to send an interviewer to your location. There are no on-campus interviews and no official interview locations, so if your interview is in person, it could be at any place that’s convenient for the both of you.
1.4 What to expect
You can expect the interview to last 45-60 minutes. The tone is usually friendly, but many candidates report interviewers being quite direct and diving into tricky questions without spending much time breaking the ice.
If your interviewer is an alumnus, then they’ll be doing it voluntarily, as part of a desire to participate in the Stanford GSB alumni network. This is important - we’ll explain why in section 2.
1.5 What to wear
If you’ve been invited to an interview with Stanford GSB, you should wear “business attire.” For men this means a dark navy, black or gray suit with a button-down shirt, belt, and black or brown shoes. For women, this means a conservative skirt suit, trouser suit (pantsuit), or similar.
The exception to this is if you ask your interviewer beforehand about the dress code and they tell you to come casually dressed.
If this is the case, we recommend you dress “smart-casual.” You don’t know what your interviewer's idea of “casual” is, and it’s not ideal to arrive looking like you’ve made less effort than they have.
If you need more specifics about how to dress in “business attire,” check out the guide we wrote for candidates at consulting interviews (for which the same dress code applies).
Now we’ve laid out how the interview process works, let’s take a look at what questions you can expect to face.
Your Stanford MBA interview will likely contain three types of questions.
- Getting to know you questions
- Behavioral questions
- Your own questions
Let’s take a closer look at these question categories, and how to answer them.
These may be asked at the beginning of the interview to break the ice and to get a sense of your personality, although some interviewers may be more direct and skip straight to the behavioral questions.
Try to use these to give the interviewer a real sense of who you are and the motivations that really drive you. Show that you have a real desire to make a positive change through your work.
You should also try to convey a clear sense of progression - that you’re somebody who is going somewhere. Talk about your long-term goals and the experiences that have helped you shape them.
If you can get them to be inspired by your journey, or at least give them an insight into what really inspires you, they’ll be more likely to mark you highly in the rest of the interview.
Let’s take a look at the most typical getting to know you questions asked in Stanford MBA interviews.
The most obvious way to answer this would be to chart a brief chronological path of your professional life, from college to present day. However, there are more powerful ways to answer this question.
One approach we like is to describe yourself as a certain type of person and then back this description up with specific examples from your past.
Example answer for "Tell me about yourself":
I would say that I was born a builder. Ever since I was a kid I loved making things, and my parents’ house is still full of all sorts of models and constructions I made with my dad. Over recent years I’ve made myself lots of little gadgets, such as a beeper to help my partner find his keys. I also have a bit of a side project going on in robotics. And so this passion led me to study engineering, and then onto getting a job in a global construction firm.
I’ve managed to grow my team from 4 to 12 over three years, and I now travel across the world to supervise projects, which is incredible. I’ve seen that better engineering has a huge potential to improve people’s lives, by making key infrastructure better, more sustainable, and more affordable. However, to make the really impactful decisions, I need more business expertise. Not just knowing how to manage and lead large teams, but things like knowing how to make financial models and how to communicate with policy makers.
I know Stanford will give me this knowledge, and so much more, and that’s why I’m here today.
As you can see, this type of answer allows you to convey a lot of personality very quickly, and allows you to demonstrate “How you think” and “How you see the world” (Stanford GSB’s evaluation criteria).
You should have already written a top quality Why Stanford? essay in your application. If your interviewer is an alumnus, they won’t have seen this (and even if they’re adcom, it doesn’t matter). So you can simply give a much briefer version of your essay answer.
Example answer for "Why Stanford?":
I come from an immigrant family, who have always taught me that nothing worthwhile comes easy - you have to make your own opportunities by working as hard as you possibly can. And when you do something, try do it better than anyone else. It’s that mentality that has led me to build my own company and then rebuild it when the COVID pandemic forced us to start from scratch.
When I visited GSB, I saw that same mentality, in abundance. Not just from the students, whose ambition was indeed inspiring, but in every detail - the cleanliness of the facilities, the way the curriculum is crafted, the attitude of the professors.
I’m also attracted by the small class size and the close-knit nature of the alumni community. My most valuable learning resource has always been the relationships I’ve forged with others,and so getting to know alumni and faculty who will continue to support me, and challenge me throughout my journey is extremely important.
The interviewer wants to see that you have a compelling reason for wanting to do an MBA at Stanford, and that you plan to use it to help you do great things, rather than just as a stepping stone in your career ladder.
Again, you should have discussed a lot of this in your “Why Stanford?” essay answer, so you can draw on that. The important thing here is to transmit real enthusiasm for the MBA program and to explain how it is going to help you make a real impact, and even change the world for the better.
Example answer for "Why this MBA and what do you want to do after it?"
A year ago, I left my job at a pharmaceutical company to work at a health-tech start up called SmartLife. We use technology to help patients recover more quickly through improved behavior, and help doctors conduct better analysis. We have an incredible engineering team and a very innovative data science team, and I really think we have the potential to be part of big, exciting changes in the healthcare space over the next ten to twenty years.
However, I have a mainly scientific background. And so in order to lead our scaling up process over the next few years, I need a first-class, total immersion in business management in order to help take our company where it deserves to be. Plus, Stanford's GSB alumni network, with its high tech contingent, would enable me to make game-changing connections.
The potential for businesses to have a life-changing impact in the health-tech space is huge. I want to be a leader in that area, and an MBA at Stanford would give me the skills and connections I need to achieve this.
The interviewer wants to get a brief sense of your professional trajectory. You should be prepared to pick out the most important points of your resume and tie them into your overall story, charting a clear progression.
Be careful to sound humble while answering this question, even though you’ll want to highlight some of your most impressive achievements. Phrases such as “I was lucky enough to work on….” and “I had the opportunity to” will help you avoid sounding arrogant.
Behavioral questions ask you to describe past actions and experiences, usually focusing on soft skill areas such as teamwork, communication, and leadership. They will form the bulk of your Stanford GSB interview, the theory being that your past behavior will predict future behavior.
‘We conduct a structured behavioral interview to gain a deeper understanding of what you have done and how you have done it. We focus on your past actions, rather than on hypothetical situations, and invite you to discuss meaningful professional or community-based experiences you’ve had in the past few years.’ (Stanford GSB website).
Here are some typical behavioral questions that, according to our research, often get asked in Stanford GSB interviews:
- Tell me about a major impact you had at work / a major achievement
- Tell me about a time where there was team conflict at work - what did you do?
- Tell me about a time when you solved a hard problem at work
- Tell me about a time you led a team
- Tell me about a time you created culture within a team or organization
- Tell me about a time you failed
It’s very important to center your answers to these questions on yourself, specifically, rather than always talking in general terms about what “we” did as a team. As Kirsten Moss puts it, you should “be the hero” of your story.
That’s not to say you need to make out that you did everything on your own, but you do need to give examples of specific actions that YOU took.
2.2.1 Behavioral question answer framework
The most effective way to answer behavioral questions is with compelling “stories” about your past experiences. You can use an answer framework to give these stories a strong structure.
The STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is popular because it’s easy to remember. However, we’ve found that candidates often find it difficult to distinguish the difference between steps two and three, or task and action. Some also forget to include lessons learned in the results step, which is especially crucial when discussing past failures.
With that in mind, we’ve developed the SPSIL method to correct some of the pitfalls we’ve observed when using the STAR method.
Let’s step through our suggested five-step approach:
- Situation: Start by giving the necessary context of the situation you were in. Describe your role, the team, the organization, the market, etc. You should only give the minimum context needed to understand the problem and the solution in your story. Nothing more.
- Problem: Outline the problem you and your team were facing.
- Solution: Explain the solution you came up with to solve the problem. Step through how you went about implementing your solution, and focus on your contribution over what the team / larger organization did.
- Impact: Summarize the positive results you achieved for your team, department, and organization. As much as possible, quantify the impact.
- Lessons: Conclude with any lessons you might have learned in the process.
You’ll notice that this method covers very similar themes to the STAR method. We like it because a lot of the candidates we work with find this framework easier to use, as there’s no overlap between any of the steps in your story.
2.2.2 Behavioral question example answer
To give you an idea of how the SPSIL method works in practice, here’s a quick sample answer using the framework.
“Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership.”
Situation: “In my last position, I was on a team of analysts working on a live deal to try to bring on a new client. We hadn’t worked with them before, and it was a big name, so this was a huge opportunity for the company.”
Problem: “One day before a key meeting with the potential client, the associate taking the lead on the deal got sick. As her symptoms developed, it became clear that she would not be able to attend the meeting and pitch our services to the new client. We had to decide whether to try to reschedule the meeting, or to go ahead without her leadership.”
Solution: “I knew that rescheduling the meeting at the last minute would make us appear unreliable to the potential client, so I made it a point to maintain the meeting. I called the other analysts as soon as we found out about the associate’s condition, and I volunteered to give the pitch. They agreed, and we rehearsed the pitch together.
The next day, I gave the pitch and did my best to answer the potential client’s questions, with help from the other analysts. I was able to remember most of what we prepared with the associate, and my teammates were able to support me in the other areas.”
Impact: “The client asked for extra time to consider the deal, but did ultimately come back to us and accept. They are now one of our regular clients, and through that relationship alone we’ve brought in a little over $215,000 in revenue for the company.”
Lessons: “So I learned how important it is to prepare in advance for all eventualities. Had we set up a contingency plan prior to the pitch, the associate’s illness would not have created such last-minute stress leading up to the meeting. So now I work to stay aware of needs outside of my job description, and to anticipate risks ahead of time.”
The last 15 minutes of your Stanford GSB interview is where you get the chance to ask the interviewer about their experience of Stanford.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this part of the interview is unimportant. As we mentioned earlier, your interviewer has likely given up their time voluntarily, and this shows that they are interested in creating relationships with people like you.
What’s more, the peak-end rule means that if you manage to end the interview with an interesting, enjoyable conversation fueled by your insightful conversations, this may positively impact on their memory of how the first part of the interview went.
With that in mind, we recommend that you:
- Research your interviewer on LinkedIn and beyond
- Arrive prepared with more questions than you’ll need
- Make sure they’re all interesting and, if possible, personalized to the interviewer
- Ask whichever seems most appropriate in the moment
- Make it a conversation, not an interrogation
If you’re struggling to make your questions unique to your interviewer, here are a few examples of good generic ones to fall back on.
- How did your MBA experience change you?
- What did you find most difficult about the experience?
- What would you do differently, given the chance?
- Which classes did you get the most from?
Now we’ve covered the interview process and questions, it’s time to start preparing. Here are three steps that you can take to prepare for your interview.
3.1 Learn about Stanford GSB’s culture
Stanford is prestigious, and it's therefore tempting to assume that you should definitely accept a place, should you get one. However, prestige isn’t everything, and what is optimum for some MBA students doesn’t always work for others. Take the time to make sure that Stanford offers the kind of learning experience that you’re looking for.
In any case, learning about Stanford’s culture will help you give better answers in the interview and will make it easier to make good conversation with the interviewer.
If you have access to any recent Stanford alumni, make contact with them and ask them about their experiences of the school. In addition, we recommend the following resources:
3.2 Practice by yourself
Acing a behavioral question is much harder than it looks. You’ll stand out if you put in the required work to craft concise and direct answers.
3.2.1 Write down your stories
First, work out which stories you’d like to tell. Make a list of key moments in your career (e.g. accomplishments, failures, team situations, leadership situations, etc.) that you can use to answer one or multiple questions.
Take another look at the leadership competencies that Stanford lays out in this PDF, and find one story from your past that exemplifies each one.
After you’ve finished your list, write out a story for each key moment in your career using the SPSIL structure we've laid out in section 2.2. Be sure to emphasize your impact in each of these examples, quantify the results of your actions, and explain the lessons you learned from the experience.
Once you have a bank of stories, go through the behavioral questions in section 2 and make sure you’d be able to answer all of them, either by using one of the stories you’ve written directly, or by adapting it on the fly. If you identify any gaps, add stories to your bank until you’re comfortable you can cover all the questions listed in this article.
3.2.2 Practice your stories out loud
After you've written everything down, a great way to practice your answers is to interview yourself out loud. This may sound strange, but it will significantly improve the way you communicate during an interview.
You should be able to tell each story naturally, neither missing key details nor memorizing them word-for-word.
Play the role of both the candidate and the interviewer, asking questions and answering them, just like two people would in an interview. Trust us, it works.
3.2.3 Do mock interviews
Practicing by yourself will only take you so far. One of the main challenges of behavioral interviews is communicating your different answers in a succinct and clear way.
As a result, we strongly recommend practicing with a peer interviewing you. If possible, a great place to start is to practice with friends. This can be especially helpful if your friend has experience with behavioral interviews, or is at least familiar with the process.
To really hone your answers, you may want to practice with someone more expert. That’s why we’re creating a coaching service where you can practice 1-on-1 with Stanford interview coaches. If you’re interested, put your email into the form below, and we’ll get back to you when it’s up and running to offer you a discounted session.