There ARE Dumb Questions: Pitfalls to Avoid in Your MBA Interview

Updated 9.17.20

After interviewing countless MBA hopefuls for Kellogg, I can solve the apparent mystery of whether the questions you ask the interviewer matter – they do!

Why? The questions you ask demonstrate three key things. First, they show how interested you are in the program based on the research you’ve done. Second, they often demonstrate how well you listened to the interviewer (and attentive listening is key to succeeding in a team environment like business school). Third and perhaps most importantly, the questions you ask are an important tool for engaging your interviewer and winning him or her over.

Like it or not, much of the application assessment process is subjective, including the reports interviewers write after each interview. As such, you want your interviewer to like you and be excited to support you!

That said, below is a list of common mistakes I’ve seen in the Q&A portion of the interview (and what to ask / say instead):

1) “I already know everything.”

Oh really? Well, that’s no fun. As a Kellogg alum, I look forward to answering questions about the school. It matters enough to me that I volunteer as an interviewer, so clearly you can infer that I love talking about how awesome Kellogg is. If your interviewer gets to spend the last five minutes reminiscing about business school, the conversation will end on a high note and they’ll associate you with that high note!

Feelings aside, “no questions” essentially equals “no intellectual curiosity” to most interviewers. We just spoke for 20-30 minutes; if you don’t have any questions, that’s a red flag for me.

2) “I know so many alums that they’ve already answered my questions”.

So, you don’t care what I think? This is not the sentiment you want to leave with the one alum whose opinion counts.

Another approach would be to leverage what you’ve already heard and ask your interviewer his or her opinion. You can say that you’ve heard the school plans to go in X direction – can your interviewer talk about that trend? Or that the alumni network in the Bay Area is really strong – can your interviewer talk about his or her experiences with it? It’s great to show how much research you’ve done and how many people from the school you’ve engaged with – leverage that with your interviewer as much as possible!

3) “What did you dislike about the program?”

You may think that this is a great demonstration of intellectual curiosity and critical analysis. However, recall the recency bias – you want your interview to end on a high note. You want your interviewer to wrap up the interview inspired and excited for your matriculation to the school!

Instead, focus on finding out interesting or subjective information about the program. For example, my favorite question (for adcom interviewers only) is what recruiter feedback has been. Big recruiting firms tend to back-channel info to admissions about the perceived quality of candidates and that’s super interesting for applicants. Inherent in a neutral question like this will often be some pros and some areas of development for the school. But allowing them to talk about both is key!

4) “Where else did you apply?”

Though personal enough to engage your interviewer in conversation (good), this question can send the wrong signal. To many people, a question like this may be subtly asking “are there better options out there” or “was this school your first choice”. These are great questions for your alumni friends and family, but again, could put a damper on your interview.

Focus on the positive – how awesome the program is and how much you want to go there. If they get the sense that you’re not interested, all of your awesome answers from the previous 30 minutes are out the window.

5) “Is an MBA worth it?”

If you are asking this in the interview, you are demonstrating a complete lack of having prepared for this process. This question should have been vetted WELL in advance of being invited to interview.

Now, you can ask questions about how the MBA has helped your interviewer – this is fun for them to discuss! You can also ask for the top thing they feel like they got out of the MBA.

6) “What percent male/female was last year’s class?”

Any question like this is completely off limits because the data is available in less than three clicks on Google. Never ask a question that is directly answered in the school’s publications – website or otherwise. You can pull down the recruiting report as well as the class profiles and course offerings yourself (and if you haven’t done this, they will wonder if you really put thought into your research). Avoid asking hard facts because they are probably already out there somewhere (and if they aren’t, they won’t tell you anyway).

If you’re preparing for your interviews and looking for advice or a mock interview to trial run your strategy, please reach out!