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.


Interview Preparation 3: The Admissions Perspective

We’re lucky at Agos to have staff with all sorts of experience. In particular, one of our Admissions Consultants, Mengdan Chu, used to work on the other side of the application, as a member of the Admissions Team at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Whilst her views are entirely personal, it can be invaluable to get some insight into the interview from someone who conducted many of them!


  • Can you give us a brief perspective on what role the interview plays in the entire application evaluation?

The interview is an important piece of the puzzle. It may tip the weight toward your favor, or break the deal in some cases. Most would say that the interview is an additional perspective on you, or an independent evaluation of your candidacy when the interviewer only gets to see your resume, not your entire application. So, the interview is an additional voice about your application, and an up-close, personal view of you, more dynamic and revealing than just your essays and recommendations on paper.  The purpose is to get to know you as a person face-to-face, to get a sense of your fit with the school and the class. Of course, it is also an opportunity to assess your English communication skills, and certainly your overall qualifications such as your experiences and skills, you focus and your goals, your personality and your fit with the program.



  • Considering how many interviews you’ve conducted, which candidates were most memorable and why?

The candidates that I remember are the ones who shared with me a unique story, or the ones who convinced me with their focus and plans, who have done thorough research about the program and their fit. The latter is the kind that I can see him/her in class contributing and making the most out of his/her MBA experience. And someone with a unique story can add unique perspectives to the class and to the overall educational experiences of his/her peers.



  • Do you have any tips on how to stand out in the interview?

Most candidates or interviewees are reasonably accomplished possessing considerable skills, both hard and soft, to be successful in the program. In that sense, your professional accomplishments can be viewed more as an equalizer to other candidates. For example, the $100 million deal that you sealed is just a $100 million deal. It does not make you stand out by itself. You need to rise above it, or dig down deeper shall we say, to get across the meanings of that deal, the lessons you learned from the process and from the people that you got to know in that process. If you reflect on that and share with the interviewer, you are then effectively sharing a personal story, not some glamourous numbers. It demonstrates your maturity, awareness and thoughtfulness, indications of more potential or further capacity to grow and improve as a person and as a leader. So I would say let your personality shine through the interview, be reflective, thoughtful and passionate. If you leave the interviewer the impression of a vivid person, not just another fairly accomplished applicant, you would more likely stand out among the five or even ten people the interviewer has met for the day.



  • What kind of ‘red flags’ do you commonly see in interviews?

People who are not prepared, can not answer questions about why MBA why this program, or are just giving very generic and superficial answers. There’s really no excuse for not preparing well. The interviewer would think you might not be serious about the program and he/she would not be thrilled either.



  • How do you advise potential interviewees to prepare?

Take the time to reflect on your past and design your future, make sure the MBA program/experience connects in between.  You really need the time to lay out the basic blocks first, such as why MBA, why this school, why you, and a few (not just one or two) examples to draw from and illustrate your skills and perspectives on key parameters such as teamwork, leadership, conflict resolution, creativity, perseverance, etc. It might not be a bad idea to write down some key bullet points to help you frame/structure your answers and your stories. AGOS consultants can help coach you how to answer questions in a structured way, providing key details while staying concise and to the point. Overall, lots of practices will pay off, even if you’re a native English speaker. No one is born to be magic story tellers, we all practice and learn.