The video component in MBA applications has become more common among top MBA programs over the last several years. Just this month, Texas McCombs reduced its written essays to a single required question and debuted a seven-question video assessment.
After more than two years of pandemic-imposed Zoom meetings, most of us are well-practiced at talking into our computer screens. But if you think the MBA video questions are an easy win, think again. Says veteran Fortuna Admissions coach Cassandra Pittman, a Columbia MBA and former member of the admissions teams at both INSEAD and London Business School: “You may be surprised at just how much easier and more natural talking to a computer feels when you know there’s a human listening at the other end and a clock isn’t ticking down every single second.”
The MBA admissions committee wants a peek into who you are in an unscripted way – your motivations, your personality, your communication style. They want to know how you think on your feet (a vital skill in the MBA classroom). For non-native speakers, it’s also an assessment of your verbal communication skills. But the video questions are also a great opportunity for candidates – it gives you another way to express yourself and let your personality shine (some people struggle to bring their story to life in written essays).
3 Tips on How to Prepare for the MBA Video Questions
Cassandra, who has successfully rehearsed MBA candidates since the video questions debuted, distills her best advice into three key tips:
1. Don’t just rehearse. Dress rehearse.
Video questions vary slightly school by school. Some schools, like London Business School and Kellogg, let you know some or all of the questions in advance. Others, like Rotman and INSEAD, select them entirely at random. Texas McCombs may be a mix of both – with five randomly generated prompts plus two every candidate will answer. Meanwhile, MIT Stern asks you to ‘introduce yourself’ in no more than 60 seconds.
No matter which schools you are applying to, match your practice as close to what your real-life experience will be. This means recording yourself in a single take, to time, with no one else on the other end of the line.
For questions you know you are going to get in advance, you can practice many times until you feel you’ve got your answers down. To practice randomized questions, research a list of sample questions and answer three at a time. Do not allow yourself to re-record if you don’t like your answers. Instead, send them to someone for feedback — an admissions coach if you are working with one, or a trusted friend or mentor if you aren’t. (If you can’t find a feedback buddy, evaluate yourself, but it’s best to watch them at least a day after recording in that case). Do this as many times as is necessary until you feel comfortable, not only answering the questions you practice but thinking on your feet to answer any question that may come up within the allotted time.
2. Set the stage.
A common question applicants have is, ‘do I need to wear a suit?’ The answer is no (although you are welcome to) but appearance does matter (view this related article by Fortuna’s Karen Hamou, What to Wear on Video). Recommended dress is business casual, but on video, your appearance doesn’t stop there; it’s everything that the camera and microphone pick up.
So, before you record, set the stage. Pick a spot to record where your background is uncluttered (a bare wall behind you is often best). Check that you are well-lit (if lighting is an issue, consider purchasing an inexpensive USB ring light). And, finally, make sure your voice is clear and easy to hear. In most cases, this will mean using an external microphone or headset, as inbuilt microphones on even the best computers can be insufficient.
3. Smile like you mean it.
Unless you are already a TikTok star, you are likely to find it a little weird talking to a computer with no one connected on the other end. It’s a situation that naturally lends itself to a somewhat robotic style of communication – after all, you’re talking to a machine. As admissions committees are looking to get a sense of warmth and personality that they cannot glean from your written essays, it’s vital that you convey enthusiasm and emotive impact. The very best way to do this is with appropriate smiling. Your feedback buddy should tell you if you’re going overboard, but in my experience, applicants are much more likely to underdo it than to overdo it, so when in doubt, err on the side of great, big smiles.
Sample Video Questions
View this video strategy session with Fortuna’s experts hosted by the GMAT Club. And as a starting point, here are 10 practice questions to work with:
1. How would your boss describe you?
2. What risks have you taken in your life and what did you learn from them?
3. Did you ever get negative feedback, and if so, how did you react?
4. If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
5. Who has had the greatest impact on you and why?
6. What is your favorite book and why?
7. What will your classmates be surprised to learn about you?
8. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
9. What is the most meaningful thing you have done for anyone else?
10. Tell us which project in your work has been a key milestone in your career and why?
What Success Looks Like
Be yourself, be authentic, and avoid being overly scripted or rehearsed. While practice is essential for conveying your story powerfully and concisely, you’ll want to maintain a conversational tone. (View the 6-minute strategy session on how to tackle the MBA video questions with Fortuna’s Melissa Jones and Poets&Quants’ John Byrne, above.)
Also, convey confident body language. While most candidates overfocus on what to say, in reality, it is how to say it – along with other non-verbal cues – that can have an even greater influence on the impression you give in a video. If you’re using a laptop, I suggest standing it on a shoebox or a pile of books so that the camera is level with your eyes – you don’t want to be peering down at the viewer (and it’s rarely a flattering angle).
Fortuna’s Sharon Joyce is a big fan of adding two minutes of ‘power-posing’ to your prep ritual. Not only is it a set-up for a more effective interview experience, but research shows it boosts your internal state by making you feel more powerful. As you practice, inventory your visual rapport – from your posture and expression down to your breathing, gestures, and energy. As you do, visualize success.
Before going on camera, ask yourself these five questions:
1. Do I sound natural and can I hear myself well?
2. Am I ready to offer concise, interesting, and genuine responses?
3. Is the background uncluttered, pleasant, and absent of distractions?
4. Is my face well illuminated?
5. Are my non-verbals consistent with how I’d show up for an in-person interview (e.g. posture, attire, and general presentation)?
Mistakes to Avoid for Your MBA Video Questions
1. Not managing your time. It can be stressful when you know the clock is ticking down: for example, with INSEAD you have just 60 seconds to respond to the question. I’ve seen candidates take half that time for their preamble, so inevitably they don’t manage to convey their full response. Get straight to the point, and don’t try to cram in too much – you have to keep things short and sweet.
2. Speaking mechanically. This is all too common when you’re talking to a screen without a person on the other end. While it’s awkward and somewhat artificial not having the real-time feedback of watching someone react to what you are saying, make the effort to be lively. You won’t have the benefit of seeing an interviewer’s eyes glaze over when you go off track, or light up when your response to their question resonates with them — and this lack of interaction can be disorientating.
3. Repeating your written narrative. Finally, avoid regurgitating what you’ve already said in your MBA essays – admissions reviewers want to learn something new. Your entire application should convey a coherent narrative and avoid duplication.
When you enjoy yourself, it shines through and makes a connection with the viewer. It’s remarkable how a smile can animate your whole being – your face, your voice, and your message. Using your hands while you talk may also help you inject some liveliness into your delivery. We tend to speak in more of a monotone when we are still.
Lastly, keep some perspective. The video component is just one piece of the MBA application puzzle that helps the admissions committee assemble a picture of who you are and what you would bring to the school. So, while your video responses matter, remember that they doesn’t carry more weight than the other application elements, such as your MBA essays, letters of recommendation, or MBA interview. Try to think of the videos not as just another hoop you have to jump through, but as another opportunity to shine, and to communicate to the admissions committee that you’re someone they want to know better by inviting you to interview.
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Fortuna Admissions Co-Director Caroline Diarte Edwards is the former INSEAD director of admissions, marketing and financial aid. She is also an alumna of INSEAD’s MBA program. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.