Killer Interviews #5 - Asking Good Questions/The Myth of "Killer" Questions

Most interviewers will give you time at the end of an interview to ask questions. You should. After all, you are the consumer, an MBA is an expensive and life-changing experience, and you have many choices. Not asking questions might make a negative impression. As a guideline, I think 3-5 questions is sufficient.

I also like to think of questions as falling into 3 categories:

1) Questions about program content to see how well the MBA fits your needs

Example: “Regarding your international study trips, could you explain specifically how they help prepare students for doing business abroad?”

These kinds of questions are basic and necessary.

2) Questions designed to reveal your potential contributions

Example: “I understand you have a soccer club. I love soccer. Is it possible for me to arrange a tournament with another MBA program?”

I personally don’t like these kinds of questions. The answer will obviously be “yes” (MBA programs love this initiative), and the question itself is a transparent effort to reveal a potential contribution. If you feel you can make a contribution, just say so.

3) Questions designed to start a conversation

Example: “Why did you choose School X?” or “What was your best/worst experience at school X?” (if the interviewer is an alumnus)

Example: “Would you describe your program’s culture as more collaborative or more competitive?” or “Are you making any changes to the curriculum, especially in finance, in response to the current global recession? If so, what are they?” (if the interviewer is an adcom rep)

These are my favorite types of questions because they can break through the “question-answer-question-answer” mold that so many interviews take. They can also contribute to not just a good interview, but to a relationship between you and the interviewer that may be helpful later on; for example, if you are placed on a waiting list and need advice from an alum. One of my clients was able to get very helpful feedback from his interviewer after being denied admission because they established good rapport during the interview.

Additional interview tips:

1) Don’t ask questions you should know the answer to or that you can research by yourself. These are also known as “stupid questions.”

Example: “Do you offer consulting projects?”

2) Don’t over-explain your questions. Just ask them. The best questions are short and to-the-point.

3) Ask open-ended questions to get the most thoughtful responses. (An open-ended question cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.”)

Example (closed-ended): “Are students allowed to assist in the admissions process?”

Example (open-ended): “In what ways can students assist in the admissions process?”

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A few thoughts about “Killer” questions:

In a recent interview training, a client told me she had been advised to ask “killer" questions during her upcoming interview. She didn’t know what constituted a killer question and, to be honest, neither did I, though I've heard this mantra many times before. If I had to guess, I would say that a killer question is one designed to show how clever or provocative an applicant is, or even to put the interviewer on the defensive. The hope is to stand out in a crowded information session or interview.

With that definition, then, a “killer" question to an adcom rep might look like the following:

“Your ranking fell last year. What did you do wrong?”

or

“With your renowned financial curriculum and many alumni in the financial industry, do you feel responsible for the current global financial meltdown?”

These are certainly tough questions, and there are good points somewhere behind them. I would imagine that anyone asking them would stand out, but not necessarily in a positive way since the questions are calculated to provoke, not elicit helpful information. Ultimately, asking such a question might backfire.

Does this mean you have to lob baby questions in order to ingratiate yourself? Definitely not. An MBA is a life-changing experience that requires a huge investment of time and money, so you should be asking hard questions. My advice, however, is to begin by asking sincere questions about things you are truly interested in. Those are the real killer questions.

If you are interested in learning more or working with me on interview training, please see this page or e-mail me directly.
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