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MBA Admissions Edge step 8: How to ace the video questions

Matt Symonds Fortuna Admissions - November 07, 2017

How to ace MBA video essay

Video has become so instant and ubiquitous, even the apps have moved from nouns to verbs. Most of us Skype, Facetime, Google Hangout, or WhatsApp with one another, while video conferencing solutions like Zoom or Vydio are routine fixtures of our working lives.

More programs that ever before are adopting a video component in their MBA applications. This year MIT made the leap from optional to mandatory, and last year INSEAD, Rotman, and Yale incorporated the practice. While schools pose different questions and time limits to respond, all are hoping for an unscripted and authentic glimpse of your character, maturity, passions and motivations.

Since it’s nearly impossible to sidestep a camera these days, it’s easy to get complacent or think of the video question as an easy win.

Don’t fall for it.

My Fortuna Admissions colleague, Cassandra Pittman, who has an MBA from Columbia and worked in admissions at INSEAD and LBS, offers her insights on how to ace (or fail) your MBA video questions.

"MBA video essays are a newer trend for business schools and combine the most challenging aspects of live interviews and written essays with the added pressures of time limits, camera and technology concerns,” says Pittman. “And, perhaps the most challenging of all, the lack of any real-time feedback that you would get from a face-to-face discussion.”

My first piece of advice? Cliché as it sounds, be yourself. The video question isn’t just a challenge – it’s also an opportunity. Because business schools are looking for fit, this is just another way for them to get to know you.

“Some worthy candidates aren’t brilliant at expressing themselves on paper, but can do a spectacularly better job verbally,” observes my Fortuna colleague, Caroline Diarte Edwards, former Admissions Director at INSEAD. “So, video essays are a really positive evolution in terms of giving candidates more scope to express themselves in the application process.”

The single most important thing you need to do now to ace your video essay? Practice. Then practice some more.

As Cassandra alludes, unlike a real conversation, you don’t have the benefit of seeing your interviewer’s eyes light up as you wax profound – or, alas, glaze over when you’ve lost their attention. As such, your video questions are more like your written essays than an interview, because you have to put your best thinking out there without any feedback on how it’s received by your audience. But unlike written essays, you need to think on your feet – you don’t have the benefit of editing or revising. You only get one chance to convey your poise, confidence, and clarity.

So, grab your cell phone and capture yourself responding to sample questions. Some MBA programmes post sample video questions on their website; others preview questions during in-person or online admissions events. 

Here are 10 practice questions to start with:

  1. What risks have you taken in your life and what did you learn from them?
  2. If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
  3. Did you ever get negative feedback, and if so, how did you react?
  4. What is your favourite book and why?
  5. How would your boss describe you?
  6. Who has had the greatest impact on you and why?
  7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
  8. What will your classmates be surprised to learn about you?
  9. Tell us which project in your work has been a key milestone in your career and why?
  10. What is the most meaningful thing you have done for anyone else?

It’s good practice to answer a few sample questions at a time, and then, play back your recording to honestly evaluate yourself (wait a few hours, or even a few days). Notice whether you avert your gaze, pepper your statements with “like” or “um” or have any reflexive ticks when you get nervous or uncomfortable (most of us do – watch for hair flipping or throat clearing).

Even better, show your recording to a trusted friend or an admissions coach and solicit their honest feedback on your responses as well as your overall performance. Then, adjust and improve your performance a little every time.

Six questions to ask yourself before going on camera:

  1. Is my face well lit?
  2. Is the background pleasant, uncluttered and absent of distractions?
  3. Do I sound natural and can I hear myself well?
  4. Are my non-verbals (e.g. attire, posture, general presentation) consistent with how I’d show up for an in-person interview?
  5. Am I prepared to deliver interesting, concise and sincere answers?
  6. Do my answers complement my overall MBA application narrative without being duplicative?

When you’re in the moment, it’s easy to forget this is just one element of the overall package you need to convey to the admissions committee about your character, motivations and ambitions. Make sure your stories fit within the broader narrative you’ve built in your application, and, while avoiding repetition, connect to the themes you’ve raised in your written essays.

Then, sit back and enjoy yourself. Don’t forget to smile as you tell your story. Ease, authenticity and genuine enthusiasm convey beautifully on camera.


The Fortuna Admissions team are former admissions gatekeepers from top-tier institutions including Wharton, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, London Business School, Chicago Booth, NYU Stern, IE Business School, Johnson Cornell, Yale SOM, and Berkeley Haas.

This is the seventh in a 12-part series for Prodigy Finance by Fortuna Admissions on how to boost your chances of getting into a top business school (see below). Stay tuned for more.


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