While living in Chicago, I interviewed candidates for my MBA program as an alumni interviewer for several years. After many interviews, it became clear that there was one surprising thing that could make or break an interview: the questions a candidate asked.
More than once, I’d be sitting across from a candidate who had beautifully articulated his or her experience and goals, then we’d come to the question part and everything would fall apart in a single sentence.
I interviewed people who lived in Chicago and were applying to The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, a top 10 MBA program. On more than one occasion I’d get questions like “Which building are most of the Kellogg classes taught in?” or “Since I’m only going to be taking finance classes will I get to join other clubs?”
These two questions (and any like them) made it crystal clear to me that the applicant not only knew very little about the program other than its ranking but also didn’t care enough to drive 45 minutes north to visit the campus and learn more. And that’s a definite no-go.
So, be careful with what you ask in an interview and ensure that your questions are thoughtful and demonstrate that you’ve done your homework.
For any job or graduate program you’ve applied for, you need to be able to discuss any recent news the company has published, the relevant industry happenings, and of course the level of research that you’ve done to ensure that the role is right for you.
Ideally, and this is increasingly important the more senior you become, you also need to have spoken with someone at that company before the interview. You need to be able to talk the talk and have some knowledge of the company’s culture – pros and cons.
And importantly, your questions not only need to reflect your research and understanding of the company, but ideally they add value too.
Questions like “have you all considered getting into [insert product type]?” or “I’ve seen [insert other idea] play out before – is your marketing team considering this?” demonstrate that you’ve a) learned more about the company and b) pictured yourself there and are trying to really understand the company and its strategy.
Meredith Shields is the co-founder of Vantage Point MBA Admissions Consulting, a boutique, full-service MBA admissions consulting firm that advises applicants to the top MBA programs in the world. With Vantage Point, Meredith and her co-founder, Melody, have developed a unique 360° approach to the application process, delivering the perspectives that matter from not only experienced consultants and former admissions directors from top 10 MBA programs but also current MBA students and post-MBA professionals at some of the top companies in the world. By providing its clients firsthand insights from people who understand the process from the inside out, Vantage Point helps each candidate develop the most competitive and differentiated applications possible, maximizing his or her chances of admission to the most selective MBA programs.