Preparing for Your Stanford GSB Interview 2023–2024
Written by Alex Salton, Gatehouse Consultant and Stanford MBA.
First off, what can you expect from the GSB interview?
Once candidates’ written applications have been submitted, the GSB Admissions Office thoroughly reviews all materials and selects 12%–15% of applicants to interview. Receiving an invitation to interview is a very positive sign! If you have gotten this far in the process, take a moment to relish your accomplishments. Stanford is the most selective MBA program, and receiving an interview invitation means that the admissions committee is taking your candidacy seriously.
Stanford’s interview process is intended to double down on the questions it asks for its application essays. The school leverages its interview process to get to know applicants in greater depth: their experiences, motivations, values, leadership traits, and inspirations. The GSB’s motto of “Change Lives. Change Organizations. Change the World.” permeates all aspects of the interview process, and the interview is geared toward past actions, rather than hypothetical situations. The questions can be incredibly open-ended, most often beginning with “Tell me about a time when….” At its core, the exercise is intended to grant applicants the opportunity to showcase more nuanced facets of who they are. What have you done in the past that informs the type of leader you want to be? All interviewees should be prepared to discuss their most meaningful professional or community-based experiences from recent years.
The interview lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, and nearly all interviews are conducted by willing GSB alumni who have received specialized training. A small number of interviews are with members of the school’s admissions office.
How can you prepare adequately for your GSB interview?
Stories. Stories. Stories. The GSB interview is open-ended enough that anticipating every question you could be asked is impossible. Yes, you will likely be asked “Why an MBA?” and “Why Stanford?,” and you should prepare detailed responses to both of these prompts. But beyond these more typical focus areas, the questions will vary significantly.
Some questions you could receive are as follows:
- Tell me about the time you felt most proud.
- Tell me about a time when you faced a large obstacle in your life.
- Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult colleague.
- Describe a time when you led a team.
- Tell me about a time when you went beyond authority.
Note, this list is just a sampling of potential questions. The possibilities are infinite with respect to the questions you could encounter (read about my own GSB interview later in this post!). The best way to prepare for the ambiguity of the GSB interview is to come up with a list of stories that you want to share with your interviewer, regardless of the questions they ask.
- Do you want to speak about certain projects you led? Did you have to navigate an incredibly challenging conversation with your manager? What times in your life stand out as especially meaningful learning experiences for you? Rather than attempting to address every possible question, think about your most impactful experiences and the most profound stories you can tell.
Stanford’s admissions committee wants to understand your professional accomplishments and leadership potential, but they also want to get to know you on a genuine personal level. The school values empathy, self-awareness, drive, passion, vulnerability, and integrity. Applicants who are looking for an MBA purely to advance their career and climb the ranks will not appeal to the GSB. The school wants to shape a class around individuals who will meaningfully contribute to their peers’ experience and the Stanford community.
What about my own GSB interview?
I interviewed for the GSB in 2019. Going into the interview, I knew Stanford was my top choice and wanted to show up prepared. I had my list of stories down and had prepped extensively. By the time I interviewed, I had reframed the experience as a fun opportunity to convey my values to the school. Yes, I was nervous, but the most helpful mind-set was to think of the interview as a conversation with someone about who you are and who you want to be. The interview was not a test, just an opportunity for me to show a GSB alumnus my best!
The school deliberately pairs applicants and alums in similar professional fields. At the time I interviewed, I worked in CPG [consumer packaged goods] product development/operations. I was paired with the chief marketing officer of a fashion brand for plus-size women and tall men. He had spent his entire career in the consumer and e-commerce space, notably founding the e-commerce business unit at Lands’ End.
I was asked only one formal question: “Tell me about the time that you felt most proud.” I answered truthfully and discussed my experience as the national conference director of an LGBTQ nonprofit organization that helps queer undergraduate students explore careers in finance, consulting, and other, more-traditional business functions. From there, my interviewer asked approximately 20 follow-up questions all related to my involvement in the organization. How many people did I manage? How did I go about building my team? How much topline revenue did we bring in? What was our approach to fundraising? What was the most difficult fundraising conversation I had? How did I manage costs while growing top line? What was the most impactful programming session?
My answers came naturally, because this was such a profound experience for me. I found it easy to talk about it, having spent so much time investing in the organization.
The interview concluded with me asking my interviewer questions about his own career and values, and I left feeling fulfilled that I was able to learn from such an experienced CPG leader.
Where should you go from here?
Again, if you receive an interview invitation from the GSB, congratulations! A huge piece of the legwork on your application is done. Think about who you are and what stories you want to convey to your interviewer. Dig deep and investigate your values. Come to the interview with anecdotes that you are prepared to double and triple down on, all of which showcase your leadership. And ultimately, have fun with it! The interview is a unique opportunity for you to learn from a Stanford graduate.
If you would like to practice with me before your GSB interview, I am ready! You can read more about our GSB Mock Interview services here.