Managing the MBA Interview Part 3: What If I Am Stumped?

Published: Nov 22, 2010


 With the release of first-round interview invitations and the subsequent increase in pressure on MBA candidates, we are presenting a five-part series with our friends at mbaMission to help applicants decompress and thoughtfully manage the MBA interview process. In this third entry, mbaMission founder Jeremy Shinewald explains what you should do if you find yourself “stumped” by a question your interviewer asks.

In our first entry in this series, we were very clear that admissions interviewers are not seeking to stump you. Still, regardless of the interviewer’s approach, many business school applicants still worry that, during their interview, they may be asked a single challenging question — and a fair one at that! — which leaves them awkwardly silent and that such a moment will be the symbolic end to their candidacy at the target school.

While such an experience would certainly be uncomfortable—and we suggest, of course, that you definitely do your best to prepare for your interview so as to avoid this kind of predicament—sometimes even well-prepared candidates can be “stumped,” and we can assure you that an awkward pause in an interview will not cancel out all the positive elements of your application. Still, being ready for such a situation, should one occur, is important, so we offer the following tips on how to mitigate an awkward moment:

· Resist the urge to launch into a story. Your instinct may be to just start speaking, hoping that you will find the right story as you progress. This is a high-risk strategy because, if it goes wrong, it can compound the problem. Instead, you might consider a pensive pause and take a moment to search for the story internally. You might even say, “That is a good question. I am going to have to think about it for a moment,” before answering.

· Take a sip of water. Many interviewers will offer you a glass of water at the beginning. Take the water and use it throughout the interview as a buffer to buy time or allow yourself to slow down. If you get stumped, the water can offer a brief opportunity to pause naturally, alleviating any awkwardness before you begin.

· Maintain your poise. If you absolutely cannot answer a question, you should not get overly apologetic or grovel. Simply acknowledge the fact that you are having trouble with the question and politely ask if you might come back to it at the end. This is not a best-case scenario, but it is certainly far better than rambling and apologizing. A confident approach during a tricky moment may even impress!

· Forget about it. If you cannot answer a question, accept it and move on. If you spend the rest of the interview thinking about that moment, you will be distracted and struggle with any subsequent questions.


About mbaMission

Since Ambassadorial Speechwriter and MBA Jeremy Shinewald founded mbaMission in 1999, the firm has worked closely with business school candidates from around the world, successfully guiding them through the entire MBA application process ("From Start to Finish") and ensuring that their unique attributes are showcased in a creative, compelling and focused way. mbaMission senior consultants are published authors/elite communicators with top-MBA experience, who work one-on-one with applicants to help them discover, select and articulate the unique stories that will force MBA admissions committees to take notice. mbaMission collaborates with candidates on all aspects of their application, reducing stress levels and maximizing their chances of being admitted to the business school of their dreams.

mbaMission offers mock interviews using actual questions posed to previous applicants to their specific target schools.


Read Part 1: Your Interview Actually Wants to Know About You!

Read Part 2: What is the Interviewer's Approach?

Read Part 4: View Each Story Through a Different Lens

Read Part 5: Appropriate Interview Etiquette