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I provide the most intensive, effective MBA interview preparation service in the world. My interview coaching clients get results because I help them figure out what to say (logical content), and how to say it (impressive delivery).

I teach some of the world's top engineers and scientists at The University of Tokyo how to present their ideas on paper and in person.

I am a professional stage actor who has performed with The American Shakespeare Center.
At Stanford, I studied improv theatre with Patricia Ryan Madson, who has taught everyone from college students to Silicon Valley executives from companies like Google how to tell believable stories.

I provide one-hour mock interview sessions with feedback. I also provide extended multi-hour training. We begin with an initial diagnostic mock interview, which helps me determine your strengths and weaknesses. In subsequent sessions, we can work on strategy, answer modeling, and mock interviewing.

For Vince's latest tips, plus service details, please go here. Then, please contact Vince when you are ready to start your preparation.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The "Difficult Team" question

One answer I ask all of my clients to prepare is the "difficult team" story. The question goes something like this, "Tell us about a time that you had to work on a team that did not get along. What happened? What role did you take? What was the result? Based on this example, what would you do if your MBA study team members were not getting along with each other?" There are many variations to this question, as you can see below.

Please note that the example question above is compound. I included the second part (based on this example...) in order to demonstrate the purpose of the question (how you will behave at MBA).

Please do not panic - I have never heard of an interviewer asking the entire question at once. An experienced behavioral interviewer knows how to pace your story by asking follow-up questions. Let her do so rather than talking non-stop for five minutes. Remember - an interview should be conversational. It is not a speaking test.

Why do I encourage my clients to prepare an answer to this question? Because many schools ask some version of it. For example, I have recently seen instances from Kellogg, Wharton, IMD, and IESE interview reports.

Why is "difficult teams" a common question topic? Think about it. Even at independently minded programs like Chicago Booth, you will work in countless teams during your MBA experience. For example, you are likely to collaborate with others on class projects, business plan competitions, in clubs, consulting projects, international study trips, and so on.

Even teams composed of members from similar backgrounds do not always agree. To make matters even more complicated, at MBA, you may often find yourself working in teams with people from different cultural and functional backgrounds (many countries, many professions and industries). In such teams, conflicts are even more common. How will you handle such disagreements?

The core premise of behavioral interviewing is that your past actions indicate your future behavior. By asking you to share examples how you handled (and hopefully helped) difficult teams, your interviewer is trying to gauge if you can work well with your future project and study team members at MBA. Consciously or unconsciously, she may also be asking herself, "Would I want this person in my team?" By preparing multiple examples of how you helped improve team dynamics, you can increase the chances that she would answer, "Yes!"

  1. Describe a time when you worked towards an important goal and had to address conflict between two or more team members.
  2. Describe a time when you got an un-collaborative member committed to the team.
  3. Describe the time when you solved a conflict between any two members of your team. (The interviewer specifically mentioned that the question does not imply a conflict between my team member and me).
  4. Describe a scenario where you worked on a team and one of the team members was not pulling her weight. What did you do?
  5. Tell us about a time that you had to work on a team that did not get along. What happened? What role did you take? What was the result? Based on that example, what would you do if your MBA study team members were not getting along with each other?
  6. Tell me about a time when you experienced cultural conflict and how you handled it.
  7. What has been your most difficult teamwork experience? 
  8. Describe a situation in which you had to arrive at a compromise or help others to compromise. What was your role? What steps did you take? What was the result?
  9. Tell me about a time when you resolved a conflict in a group.
  10. Tell us about the most difficult challenge you faced in trying to work cooperatively with someone who did not share the same ideas? What was your role in achieving the work objective?
  11. Have you ever been a member of a group where two of the members did not work well together? What did you do to get them to do so?
  12. What is the toughest group that you have had to get cooperation from? Describe how you handled it. What was the outcome? 
    Difficult Teams Matrix (Please fill out this chart or create your own version.)

    ProblemCross-cultural conflict
    Cross-functional conflict
    Btwn you and someone else
    Btwn two other people (you mediated between them)

    Action Peacemaker / Bridge / Facilitator / Mediator

    ResultsNew idea
    Agree to disagree
    Mutual understanding

    LessonsHow to resolve conflict in a constructive way
    How to find common ground
    How to persuade specialists to share information and collaborate
    How to negotiate with a certain cultural and/or functional mindset

    Application To MBA life Club activity
    Study group
    Project team
    Consulting project

    Please be careful. Questions about difficult team experiences are NOT the same as mistake or failure questions. Only offer examples of your mistake or failure when asked for them DIRECTLY.

    In a mistake or failure, you were part of the problem. Your attitude or actions caused actual damage:
    • Loss of time
    • Loss of money
    • Loss of reputation
    • Loss of relationship (trust)
    On the other hand, in a "difficult team" story, you were part of the solution.

    Please prepare your answers, then practice them with mentors and trusted advisers. I wish you success!

    Best Tips / Hints / Tools / LINKS for brainstorming and structuring teamwork stories


    -Updated by Vince on 14 March 2012

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