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

After interviewing MBA hopefuls for Kellogg over the past six years, I can solve the apparent mystery of whether or not the questions you ask at the interview matter: undoubtedly,they do. Like the overall admissions process, much of the interview is subjective. There is no quantifiable formula to determine how well you did. In fact, it’s much more art than science.

As such, it’s important to remember the psychology behind making a good first impression. For most people, this is pretty intuitive for the majority of the interview – arrive on time, look presentable (the part), smile, speak with confidence and enthusiasm, and articulate your goals and rationale clearly and concisely. Yet, many people forget that the questions you ask the interviewer at the end of the interview are important too.
Why? The questions you ask can demonstrate how interested you are in the program as well as how much research you’ve done and how much thought you’ve put into this decision. In addition, the questions you ask often demonstrate how well you engaged and listened to the interviewer (a proxy for how well you’ll do working with others in a team environment). Perhaps more importantly, the questions you ask are a very important tool for engaging your interviewer and winning him or her over.
Consider this – “people like people who are interested in them”. This is just human nature. So, your opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview is also your opportunity to help your interviewer connect with and like you! And given how subjective all of this is, including the interview reports that we all write after each interview, you definitely want them to like you and want to support you!
That said, below is a list of common mistakes that I’ve seen in the Q&A portion of the interview:

1) “I already know everything.”

Oh really? Well, that’s no fun. As a Kellogg alum, I really 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. Please don’t take this opportunity away from your interviewer! If they get to spend the last 5 minutes reminiscing about how much they loved business school, the interview will end on a high note and they’ll associate you with that high note! Feeling 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 not very natural.

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 actually does count. Another approach would be to leverage what you’ve already heard and talk to your interviewer about it and/or ask 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?”

Ok, so you may think that this is a great demonstration of intellectual curiosity and critical analysis (great skill sets to demonstrate for b-school). However, let’s think psychology again: do you really want to end your interview with your interviewer talking about more negative things? You want your interview to end on a higher note. Critical questions are great for your alumni friends and info sessions. 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, this could go in a direction that puts a damper on your actual interview. Focus on the positive – how awesome the program is and how much you want to go there. This is a one-way street: they don’t have to sell you – there are whole weekends for that later on. But you do have to sell them in order to get to that stage. If they get the sense that you’re not interested, that could tank your interview and all of a sudden all of your awesome answers from the previous 30 minutes are out the window in a single sentence.

5) “Is an MBA worth it?”

If you are asking this in the interview, then 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 in particular has helped your interviewer – this is fun for them to discuss! You can also ask what the top thing they feel like they got out of the MBA was.

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).
So, what can you focus on? Ask questions that are
a) confirmatory (eg. I heard, I saw etc….what do you think?)
b) subjective (eg. what did you find most useful…..what is the most popular….)
c) lightly personal (for alum interviewers) (eg. what is the “must do”…)
d) higher level (eg. I saw that the core curriculum shifted to X, is that driven by…..)
In addition, be sure to consider who your interviewer is. An alum isn’t going to be able to tell you what feedback recruiters are giving the school, but he or she can discuss the strength of the alumni network in the city you both live in.
If you’re preparing for your interviews and looking for advice or a mock interview to trial run your strategy, please reach out!

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