Sharing Leadership Experiences

How should you talk about your leadership experiences in an MBA interview? My research has focused on the leadership conceptualization process, and the way in which people talk about leadership is contextually bound (Knight, 2015, 2017). In other words, the way in which you talk about leadership depends on many things including your education, your experiences, who you are talking to, and why you are talking about leadership. You exercise your freedom to choose how to talk about leadership.

What is leadership?

You may have heard the saying that there are as many definitions of leadership as there are leaders. I would take this a bit further by saying that one person may talk about leadership in many different ways. An overall definition of leadership may state that leadership involves being a change agent; i.e., the leader changes the situation and the way that others think about the situation. In your MBA interview, you may want to frame yourself (i.e., cause others to see you) as a leader, who is able to achieve change in a group and in an organization.

Framing yourself as a leader

In my previous Agos blog post, I wrote about the STAR/CAR frameworks for which the parts are Situation, Target, Action, and Result (STAR) and Challenge, Action, and Result (CAR). These two frameworks (used to respond to behavioral interview questions) are excellent ways to highlight your actions as leader who introduces and achieves change. For example, let’s say that an interviewer asks you to talk about a leadership experience. You could take that opportunity to first define leadership and then to give a STAR/CAR example that illustrates your definition of leadership and highlights your actions and results as a leader.

Defining leadership

How should you define leadership? “Influence” and “direction” are often key words associated with leadership. I see leadership as creative action that is represented by the following quotations:

  • “Leadership [is] a communication process consisting of two parts: 1) communicating to create a vision and 2) communicating to achieve a vision” (Knight, 2013).
  • “Leadership is making real a vision in collaboration with others” (Knight and Candlin, 2015, p. 36).

My personal conceptualization of leadership came from my own leadership research and experiences, and it fits nicely into the STAR/CAR frameworks. However, you may have different ideas about leadership. You need to identify your own beliefs about leadership and how you can show (in an MBA interview) that you are a leader.

Who are your leadership models?

As you reflect on your leadership beliefs, you should try to identify your leadership models. Consider the following questions:

  • Who do you see as leaders?
  • Describe their leadership styles. (How do they influence others and achieve their goals?)
  • What can you (and have you already) learned about leadership from these leaders?

I would also encourage you to talk to as many good leaders as possible about leadership. Such interactions can help you to grow as a leader and provide you with content for your MBA interviews.

Learn leadership communication from leaders

Another benefit of talking to good leaders is the opportunity to learn how leaders communicate. My advice would be to study the communication of leaders, who are very effective in influencing others and achieving their goals, and learn how they utilize their communication skills. In your MBA interviews, you want to display your outstanding leadership communication skills. I look forward to helping you to share your leadership experiences in your MBA interviews!


Knight, K. (2013, December 3). Looking at communication through a leadership lens [Web log post]. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.

Knight, K. (2015). Analysing the discourses of leadership as a basis for developing leadership communication skills in a second or foreign language. Sydney, AU: Macquarie University.

Knight, K. (2017). Exploring leadership conceptualizations in semi-structured interviews from multiple perspectives. In C. Ilie, & S. Schnurr (Eds.), Challenging leadership stereotypes through discourse: Power, management, and gender.Singapore: Springer.

Knight, K., & Candlin, C. N. (2015). Leadership discourse as basis and means for developing L2 students into future leaders. In P. Shrestha (Ed.), Current developments in English for academic and specific purposes: Local innovations and global perspectives (pp. 27-50). Reading, UK: Garnet.


Framing Accomplishments


How should you talk about your experiences in an MBA interview? How should you frame your accomplishments? In a recent MBA interview preparation class, the participants and I were talking about this subject, and in this blog post, I would like to share with you some information that can help you to succeed in your MBA interviews.


One of the common frameworks that you can use to talk about your accomplishments is the STAR or CAR framework. The participants in the MBA interview preparation class were already familiar with this framework, and I expect that you know it, too, because it is widely used in essay writing as well as in interview responses. As a quick reminder, the parts of the STAR are Situation, Task, Action, and Result. The CAR stands for Challenge, Action, and Result. When the listeners hear your “challenge,” you want them to respond with “Wow!” When the listeners hear your “action,” you want them to say, “Amazing!” Finally, when the listeners hear the absolutely incredible “result” that you achieved, you want them to cry out, “Incredible!” You also want them to applaud loudly (at least in their minds).


In the words of the famous business guru, Tom Peters, how do you get your listeners to the point of “Wow”?  One of the things that we talked about in the MBA interview preparation class was Aristotle’s powers of persuasion: ethos, logos, pathos. I used to teach these powers of persuasion to the students in my communication courses at Sony. These powers are used often in advertising and promotional campaigns. Since you are promoting yourself in your MBA interviews, these powers can help you as well.


Ethos refers to credibility. In other words, you may be asked about your future goals in an interview. What do you plan to do after you get an MBA? Do you have evidence that you can do what you say you will do? For example, are you being sponsored by your company to achieve your future goals? Do you have a specific schedule in mind? Are all of the steps in your plan feasible? As I listened to the participants tell their stories in the MBA interview preparation class, I asked myself how believable these stories were. If I listened to your stories, do you think that I would believe you?


Pathos refers to emotion. When I worked in the financial services industry, I was taught that clients make decisions for emotional reasons, and I was taught to ask clients, “What is important about money to you?” So let me ask you the following question: “What is important about getting an MBA to you?” Do you feel excited about getting an MBA? Why? Do you feel excited about the school? Why? Are you excited about interacting with your classmates? Why? What makes you excited about your future? What are your dreams, and how does the MBA experience fit into those dreams? I hope that you feel excited because you need to project that passion in your interview. Are you able to make me share your excitement about attending the MBA program and achieving your goals?


Logos refers to logic. Why do you need an MBA? Why do you need it now? Do you have evidence for what you say?  A good example of using “logic” appears in a crowdfunding campaign in which a company was seeking 50 thousand dollars to make the world’s first 9 dollar computer. The company needed the money to buy components in large quantities to make a computer for a low cost. (That is logical.) The company raised over 2 million dollars by using the three powers of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. The company’s financial supporters believed that the company could build the 9 dollar computer because they saw a working model (i.e., ethos). They were excited about what the company was attempting to do and shared the dream of building an inexpensive computer (pathos), and they were given a good reason for providing financial support (logos).


Think about how the powers of persuasion apply to you. In addition, keep in mind that the interviewer may be thinking about whether you have the communication skills to succeed in the MBA program for which you are applying. What kind of communication skills am I talking about? In the MBA program, you will be expected to work in learning teams with other students to prepare for class discussions about business cases. Will you be able to read and analyze the case materials and interact smoothly and confidently with your professors and peers inside and outside of the classroom? In addition, will you be able to socialize effectively? By socializing, I do not mean for business networking purposes only.  You need to make friends because your friends can be your allies in many different situations at school. In the interview, you need to show that you have the necessary communication skills to do all of these things.

Good luck with your MBA interview preparation, and be sure to use the three powers of persuasion. Are you ready to improve your performance? Attend a class, and make appointments with consultants. I look forward to meeting with you soon!


Interview Preparation 2: Contribution

One of the common, yet challenging, interview topics often focuses on how you would contribute to your chosen school, class, and community. Answering well requires strong knowledge of both your own strengths and unique points and the school’s resources, mission, and opportunities.

Consider your professional career. Could a particular first-hand experience  or challenge be useful to share in a case-study discussion?

How about your perspective? Maybe your group could use your legal expertise?

In extracurricular clubs, there are frequent opportunities to both exercise your leadership and benefit your classmates. What could you initiate or improve? Is there a club you’d like to establish yourself?

Could you open up your network for someone looking for a job in your industry or company?

Finally, why would you be a good addition to the community based on your personality? Are you especially innovative? Good at motivating others? Where would this be most useful?




Interview Preparation 1

With round 2 deadlines almost here, it’s time to start preparing for interviews! Throughout the application process, you’ve hopefully clarified your post-MBA goals and polished a few representative stories from your career. The next step is to prepare to share these in person, and convince your chosen school that you’re a great fit. It’s not enough to hope that the interviewer asks you the right questions-it’s important that you go in with a strong message about how and why you will add value to next year’s class, and at the same time demonstrate that you have the personality and communication skills to succeed in both the MBA and your future career.

Whilst you prepare for the common interview questions (hint: the Agos MBA Interview Manual and will be very useful here), it’s worth considering some other important questions:


What do I want the interviewer to know about me? What will make me memorable?

What new information can I provide to complement, rather than repeat, my application?

What makes me unique, and how can I leverage this at business school?


As you practice for upcoming interviews, record yourself, and see if you’re including these details or not. Get feedback from your consultant/friends/family/colleagues. How would they summarize your answers? What did they learn about your skills, strengths, and personality? Does this match your intention?

Building confidence in your message will help build your confidence for the interview itself, and hopefully enable you to make an even better impression on your interviewer.


Re-applying to MBA programs – the OPTIONAL ESSAY

If you were rejected by a business program, it is often very hard to put your doubts aside and reapply.  Before you begin the reapplication process, try to under what areas of your original application were weak.

Many re-applicants assume that a business school will reject them again since they rejected them the first time. Every applicant risks a rejection and a re-applicant is no different. However, it is important to understand why you were rejected the first time. There is a better chance of success if weaknesses in the first application are directly addressed. Most MBA programs view the re-application on its own and will generally refer to the previous application if there is a major discrepancy. A re-application may demonstrate commitment to the program; however, re-applying alone will not get you admitted unless the application is strengthened.

The re-applicant is often required to submit the optional essay.  The optional essay prompt usually asks for a statement outlining how you have improved your candidacy since your last application.  The Admissions Office is looking for substantive change in your qualifications.

If your GMAT scores changed substantially compared to your previous application, it will demonstrate your ability to succeed in the academic environment. If it was a lack of leadership experience, you want to look for ways to demonstrate that you took greater initiative or responsibility at work. Perhaps unexpected personal events have occurred – family death or illness- that have matured you and help clarify your goals.

The schools will be evaluating re-applicants in terms of the school’s hard admissions criteria such as GMAT scores, GPA and the new year’s applicant pool. If your application survives these first two criteria will the Committee begin to ask how your new application differs from the last one.

Therefore, the schools will be interested in developments that occurred in the intervening year – specifically the actions you took, the impact you had and equally important, the lessons you learned and HOW you are applying it today.


HINTS for successfully writing the MBA essays

The business school application process can be an intimidating process with competition particularly fierce at top business schools. In general, candidates are screened based on the following;

  1. GPA and GMAT scores
  2. Personal attributes. Prior to being invited to an interview, the applicant’s “fit” with a particular program is assessed based on his/her essays and recommendation letters.  Invariably, the essays and reference letters collectively must draw attention to the skills and characteristics that business programs seek including maturity, motivation, strong work ethic and solid communication skills. A great essay will provide color to your performance and potential.

To write a strong essay, you need to understand your audience. It is imperative that you understand what the Admissions Committee is looking for.  From your admission essays, the Committee hope to better understand the following relative to other candidates:

  1. Depth of your academic and professional experiences
  2. Unique traits and interests that are not covered in other parts of the application
  3. Your commitment to the MBA program

Writing Hints:

In your essay, be passionate and sincere. Show Admissions Committee who you are and what you will bring to the program. Some hints are:


  1. Answer the question being asked. Many candidates gets lost as they write their essays. Instead of focusing on the question being asked, he/she rambles on and on without focus. Always come back to the question.
  2. Convey positivity and optimism.  A typical essay question is “Write about an experience that has shaped your personality.” Very often, applicants write about an unfortunate event and writes from a perspective of being the victim. AVOID this perspective. Instead, focus on what you have learned from the experience.
  3. Use active voice. Be clear and use simple sentence structure. Often, essays have word limit and every word has to count.


  1. Resist the urge to describe. Applicants often spend the better part of the essay tediously describing an experience or event. The description is only a part of the essay. Demonstrate what you have learned including perseverance, stamina and knowledge.
  1. Don’t repeat information that can be found in other parts of your application. The essays are your opportunity to demonstrate who you are. Rehashing the same information/experience only makes you one dimensional; business programs seek candidates that have depth and are multi-dimensional.
  2. Don’t try to explain weakness on your record. It is almost impossible to explain poor grades and/or test scores without sounding defensive or worse, irresponsible.  If there is a reason for an academic weakness, write in a separate short essay and avoid in the body of the essay.

As much as possible, you should craft your narrative around your achievements and experiences that have enabled you cultivate your strengths.  Use the whole essay set to “speak” to the Admissions Committee about who you are and not just disparate traits that you think the school wants to see.


The Millennial Paradox

One thing MBA applicants (rightly) hear again and again is how important it is to really get to know your business school, but which ones do the best job of getting to know you as a prospective student? Every year, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) surveys MBA applicants on their experiences during the admissions process. Here are the most recent findings:

Its worth keeping this information in mind as you determine your fit with your prospective schools, and also as you consider what you want them to know about you. What are your unique skills and experiences? What value will you add to the class? What makes you stand out among the crowd?

As you narrow down your list of schools, this is a good time to get on the mailing lists to keep up to date with any webinars, coffee chats in your city, or admissions events. The next step would be to reach out to current students and alumni to hear their first-hand experience of the programmes. Finally, if time and finances allow, visiting the school will give you insight into its culture and opportunities.


Should I apply early?

As the cherry blossoms, apple blossoms and almost all other blossoms have gone with the wind that stirs up all-too-soon warmth in the air, it becomes inevitable that summer is upon us whether we are prepared or not. So are graduate school application deadlines. The heat is being turned up.

As someone who has applied to US graduate schools as an international student and someone who has both evaluated and consulted numerous applicants, I would venture that three or so months would be a legitimate period of time to prepare your application. That puts the next three summer months at the front line for beating the first round of application deadlines of at least most top business schools.

So, are you mentally prepared to submit your application to your dream schools in September or October? Why do admissions keep pushing their deadlines ahead? What are the pros and cons of applying early, say, first round?

According to my experience, Admissions tend to perceive first or early round applicants as typically more put together, more proactive and more focused. Admission rates are usually higher for first round than later rounds. As a result, it should be no surprise that they would want to compete for those applicants and push their early deadlines to stay ahead of the game.

So clearly there are advantages to applying early. The question becomes whether you would like to get ready, to rise up to the challenge.

Obstacles to applying early can seem insurmountable. Summer is your craziest time at work. Your employer is yet to announce its pick for sponsorship. Family events all happen in this season. Your TOEFL and other scores just aren’t there. Therefore, you need those heated months to get over all the above, and you secretly place your hopes on those last two holiday weeks of the year to catapult you to the second round in early January, to compete in a much bigger pool of applicants.

Understood and understood. Yet the fact of the matter is, if you do not prepare yourself early, if you do not aim for early round, chances are you might not ultimately prepare yourself in the most optimal way regardless of rounds. Or shall we say, if you do not prepare, how would you know whether you are prepared? You do not want your second round to be your test round, do you?

There will always be obligations and obstacles. The only time to lay the foundation of your application to your dream schools is nevertheless now, when things just start to heat up. Reflect on and summarize your experiences and accomplishments, clarify and broaden your professional and personal goals, research and connect with the schools and people, get your resume ready and write and rewrite your essays. And in case all those things are under control, start preparing for your interview! The saying is: it is never too early to start.


MBA Applications: Deciding between Round 1 and 2 for International Candidates

One of the challenges with the MBA application is choosing which round or deadline to apply.  Generally, US MBA programs have up to four application rounds.  However, these rounds are mostly applicable for US applicants.  For international candidates, a different approach is necessary because there is a visa requirement that they must adhere.  Given this, most international candidates are encouraged to apply to either Round 1 or 2.

Regarding choosing between Round 1 and 2, the best advice is to self-assess one’s own background and application progress; then, select the round in which he feels most comfortable applying.  Since candidates only have one application opportunity per school each year, they should ensure that their application is at its highest potential before submitting.

To distinguish the advantages and disadvantages between these two rounds, use the following descriptions as guidance.

Round 1 Analysis

Benefit:  Since Round 1 applications are early, one of the benefits of applying in this round is that an applicant will get his results early as well.  This will provide him with the flexibility to apply to additional MBA programs in Round 2 if his results are not satisfactory.  As such, those who apply in Round 1 with unfavourable results will be able to reassess their application, strengthen any areas of weakness, and develop a stronger application for Round 2.  In essence, they will be able to pace their applications better.   Another benefit is that generally in Round 1, there are fewer people who apply.  Given this, the opportunity to stand out is stronger.

Challenge:   Conversely, the main challenge with Round 1 is that it is an early deadline.  Therefore, depending on when an candidate started his application, he may have less time to develop his goals and essays, strengthen his test scores, and request letters of recommendation.  Also, since most international MBA information sessions and events happen later in the year, this might present a dilemma for the candidate in terms of researching about a school and figuring out his “fit.”

Suggestion:  An international candidate should only apply for this round if he has strong test scores (GMAT/GRE and TOEFL), a clear sense of his goals and aspirations, and sufficient time to research about a school beforehand.    This round is also recommended for re-applicants as it will show their dedication to the school.

Round 2 Analysis

Benefit:   The main benefit of Round 2 is that an applicant is given more time to strengthen his MBA application.  This entails more time to develop his MBA goals and essays, to improve his test scores, to request letters of recommendation, and to research schools.    This extra time may be critical for many candidates as it helps to develop their competitive advantage.

Challenge:  The primary challenge with this round is that most MBA applicants (both domestic and international) will apply during this time.  Therefore, the competition is intense.  Also, given that most schools do not encourage Round 3 for international candidates, this means that applicants who apply solely in Round 2 may need to apply to more schools to increase their chances of admittance.   As such, the pacing of these various applications may be challenging.

Suggestion:  Besides having a strong application (i.e. test scores, letters of recommendation, etc.), an applicant needs to develop stories that help differentiate him from the rest of the MBA applicant pool.  This requires self-analysis and reflection.  Thus, personal branding becomes a critical part of the application even more so than in Round 1.

Posted by Lee Moua