Cornell Johnson MBA Interview

The typical Cornell Johnson MBA interview is 30 to 50 minutes long. It can be given by either a second year student, alumni or an admissions committee member. It is even possible to get an interview with an adcom member while a second year student is observing for interview training purposes. Interviews can take place on campus, off-campus or over Skype. Expect the interview to be semi-blind, which means that they have seen your resume but probably nothing else. 

Practise sample behavioral interview questions online, identifying a weakness in your application and assessing how you would properly (and positively) address it, reflecting on why you need MBA now and how that fits into your career goals, and thinking about what you can contribute to Johnson.

One of the most important thing that Cornell MBA candidates should remember is to be yourself. The Cornell Johnson MBA Admissions Committee highlights that they are not looking for that “perfect” applicant, they are looking for applicants who have the ability to showcase who they are, and are confident and authentic with enthusiasm. Additionally, the characteristics that you should be able to display during various phases of the admission process are the ability to work with others, flexibility, professional maturity and confidence, and the ability to analyze, break down problems and formulate good, innovative solutions.

Frequently Asked Interview Questions

1) Tell me about yourself or walk me through your resume.

2) Tell me about a challenging situation at work or a work conflict. 

3) Why Johnson?

4) Why get an MBA? Why now? 

5) How will you contribute to Johnson? 

6) What are your post MBA plans or goals? 

7) Describe a time when you managed or lead other people? 

8) What are your biggest weakness? 

9) Why did you make XYZ transition? 

10) What is your leadership style?

11) Have you applied to any other schools? What do they have in common with Johnson?

12) Is there anything else you want me to know?

Interview Transcript - 1

This was a skype interview with a member of the admissions committee. The interview started right on time, and opened with a series of questions:

  1. Walk me through your résumé.
  2. Why MBA? and Why now?
  3. Who did you speak with to learn about Johnson?
  4. Give me an example of a time you resolved a conflict in a professional setting.
  5. Give me an example of a time you came up with an innovative solution in a team.
  6. Give me an example of a time you were under a time crunch and performed successfully.
  7. Why are you a good fit for Johnson?

Even though the interview felt like rapid fire, the interviewer was pleasant and conversational. The interviewer gave useful insights about the program, which was something I was apprehensive about – how do you ask an adcom person details about specific programs (marketing, finance, etc.) given that’s not their expertise. Finally, the interviewer was proud about her school’s career placement, and seemed to appreciate my effort to learn about the school.

Interview Transcript - 2

Just got back from my interview at Ithaca yesterday. Admissions officer interviews for everyone there.

Very nice guy, and he told me he had read my resume and had some notes from the admissions committee. Pretty standard interview questions, and it was more casual than intense but definitely professional. Walk me through your resume, what are you short-term/long-term plans, what’s your plan B, etc. He also asked me to explain my poor undergraduate GPA, but I doubt most people applying are going to run into that.

There was one question that caught me off guard:

“Is there one thing in particular you would like the admissions committee to know?”

I had about ten… oops.

I also attended an information session and tour led by two first-year students, who were very candid about student life at Johnson and went out of their way to help prospective students seek out resources and current students aligned with their interests.

The school itself seemed wonderful and – even though it’s a cliche to say this with small MBA programs – very community focused and close-knit. Ithaca is seriously beautiful, and the vineyards and waterfalls on the west side of Lake Cayuga are worth checking out if you have a rental car.


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Interview Transcript - 3

The interview was one-on-one with an admissions officer, a friendly older woman, in a small, windowless breakout room.The interview started out fairly easy, as I fielded the typical “Tell me about yourself”and “What are your career goals?”  This was followed by several behavioral interview questions.

It was at about this time that the woman started firing a few curveballs at me, including this question: “What is a weakness in your application?”  I referenced the obvious, my age and lack of full-time work experience, but made sure I showed how these factors also work in my favor, too.

For the rest of the interview, it seemed as if the woman kind of clung to that weakness response and factored it into other questions, which made answering them rather difficult for me.  For example, after she asked, “How can you contribute to Johnson?”and I answered, she followed up with, “…and how will you do that given your lack of experience?”  Despite the fact that I had already explained why I feel that I am prepared for and can benefit from business school at my age, she still kept coming back to that.  At one point, she told me that it might be better for me to rethink business school so early, even if I was admitted.  Obviously, this is a rather disheartening thing to hear mid-interview, as if it wasn’t stressful enough.

She also asked, “What have you done to explore possible career paths?”  After I told her about the research I’d done into jobs and companies and the internships I’d held, she asked if I had any dream company to work for.  I did and informed her of the company and my desired role, to which she responded with, “Have you reached out to anyone in that company to ask them if an MBA is necessary for that role?”  Admittedly, I had not, but I also already knew that an MBA was, in fact, necessary for the role.  I informed her of this but she did not seem pleased with the answer.

She then asked, “What other schools are you interviewing with?”  I told her I had already had interviews with Stanford and Yale and that seemed to make the rest of our exchange feel a bit awkward.

In retrospect, I understand why the interviewer was so focused on my age and seeing if I was truly ready for business school at Johnson, because the program does not have a special sub-program for students entering directly from undergrad. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it was definitely the hardest interview of the three schools I interviewed with.  I felt slightly on the defensive, always having to parry the blows of my interviewer’s questions and respond with an appropriate countermove.

Interview Transcript - 4

Hi All,

Just finished my interview (for 1 year program at Ithaca). Overall it was a pleasant conversation. Lasted for about 22 minutes.

Some Q’s

tell me something about yourself

tell me some of the challenges you have seen in your career

why do you want MBA

how do you see MBA is going to help you

What are your career goals – short term and long term

How do you see MBA helping you achieve those career goals

What is your strategy in achieving plan A

What if you cannot be successful in achieving plan A

Have you talked to Alumni

What did you like about Ithaca

What clubs, courses are you interested in?

Are you planning to do anything before your MBA starts?

What do you do outside of your professional life that interests you.

Something you would like to tell me that we have not covered.

What questions do you have for me.

Best of luck to all who have interview scheduled.


Frequently asked Situational and Behavioural interview questions

Practise Now

Interview Transcript - 5

Hi, I interviewed with a recent alum who had worked in the admissions department as a student and is now living in my area (SF Bay Area). It was a fairly friendly and casual interview in a conference room in his office (it was on a Saturday so it wasn’t very crowded). The questions were very similar to the ones available online (googling “johnson MBA interview questions” will get it) with a few (paraphrased) extras: “How would your friends describe you in 3 words”, “Have you ever worked on something with a team and given up”, and “why round 4”.

They definitely asked whether I’d reached out to a current student and how Cornell fit with the rest of the schools I’m applying to. Good luck on your interview!

Interview Transcript - 6

I have done with my interview this week with an admission team member. It was very comfortable and straightforward: 1- tell me about your self? 2- Why MBA? why now? your immediate career goals and long term ones?

3- major challenges faced and what was your reaction? 4- Do you know Cornell one year MBA well? what immersion are you interested in? which club?

4- and if I have any questions?


I don’t know, but my feeling is good. The school, people, and surroundings are just amazing. Students are helpful, down to earth, and welling to help and support even before the interview! The place is so warm and intimate. May be because it is not in winter, but the campus is breathtaking and extremely beautiful.

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