When preparing for the MBA admissions interview, business school applicants often focus on preparing responses to a list of questions they expect from the interviewer, including the unexpected curve balls.
However, in many cases, the questions that the MBA candidate asks—typically toward the end of the interview—are equally important and can often be the difference makers that lead to an acceptance letter, according to Christine Sneva, director of admissions and financial aid at Cornell University's Johnson School of Management.
"It's a chance for candidates to show they've made the effort to dig a little deeper, that they care and have genuine interest in our program and faculty research," Sneva says.
Sneva explains that the Johnson School encourages students to develop a natural relationship with faculty. Therefore, she finds it impressive when an interviewee identifies interest in a particular professor's research or philosophies because it indicates that the candidate is likely to make an effort to develop a relationship with that professor. However, even the simple questions can leave a good impression, she says.
"I like it when a candidate asks about the facilities such as the library, student center, and academic buildings," Sneva says. It seems simple, but it shows that the candidate is picturing his or herself here. And that's important to us."
While an admissions dean, I looked for interviewer feedback about the types of questions the applicant asked. It provided insight into what the candidate was thinking and what is important to him or her about an MBA education. The key to the questions is quality, not quantity; here are five questions that every candidate should ask:
1. Ask a question based on something you read in a brochure or on the school website: If there's something of particular interest or information from the school's site or a brochure that doesn't quite make sense, ask about it. This demonstrates due diligence and indicates time well spent researching that MBA program.
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2. Ask the interviewer why he or she decided to become part of the respective school: Whether it's a student, alumnus, or admissions staff representative, this is a great way to engage your interviewer and seek firsthand knowledge of what makes the school special. It's likely you'll pick up on something you hadn't considered. A related question for a current student or alumnus could be if the school would be his or her first choice if doing it again.
3. Ask the interviewer about the school or program's greatest asset: While the MBA admissions interview is the perfect opportunity for candidates to show off what makes them special, it is perfectly reasonable for the school to do the same. Make a point to ask the interviewer what he or she believes is the program's greatest asset.
Follow up with a question about what he or she thinks is the greatest drawback, and let the interviewer know that you are interested in a candid response. This shows you realize that no MBA program is perfect, and indicates that you are a discerning and savvy consumer. If there is an unwillingness to answer that question, it should raise concern that perhaps there's something to hide.
4. Ask how the interviewer would describe the school: If time permits, ask the interviewer what three adjectives he or she would use to describe the school. This is a kind of question that gives the interviewer a chance to do some free associating, and it gives you an inside view of what the interviewer really feels and can provide clues as to whether those feeling are authentic. The timing of a question like this is important, though, so hold this question until a comfortable rapport is established.
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5. Ask the interviewer what advice he or she would offer: This may be the most important question to ask. It's also a good closing one. Don't hesitate to ask the interviewer for the one piece of advice he or she would give you as a student at that school. You are soliciting advice from someone who knows this MBA program well. You are also demonstrating that you welcome feedback from others, possess a degree of humility, and value team input.