By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Last week I talked about paying close attention to the way that you start your sentences when you talk to prospective students. The words that you choose to use will either elicit a response, or you’ll get a whole lot of nothing.
The same thing goes every time you ask questions. Depending on the words you use, you’re either going to get the “right” answer (Aka the answer the student thinks they should give you), no answer at all, or an insightful answer with context and usable information.
Standard, vanilla questions produce standard, vanilla answers. You simply don’t come away with anything useful. A perfect example of that happened last week with San Antonio Spurs basketball coach Gregg Popovich. After a loss to the LA Lakers in which LeBron James scored 42 points, a reporter asked Coach Popovich why it was so difficult for his players to guard LeBron. “Have you watched LeBron play before?” Popovich said with a straight face, pausing for an eye roll and dramatic head shake. “He’s LeBron James. That’s what makes him difficult to guard.”
I want you to always ask yourself, “What do I hope to learn by asking this question?” If you do that consistently, you’ll be able to formulate a better, more effective question.
Three other important things I want you to keep in mind:
- In your first conversation, don’t bombard them with all kinds of yes/no questions and a push to visit campus or complete their application. Do that, and it’s likely you’ll overwhelm them. Concentrate more on putting the student’s mind at ease and eliminating any fears they might have. Your goal should be to get them comfortable enough to talk back-and-forth with you. For some students that might actually take multiple conversations, and that’s okay.
- While many of the best questions are open ended and probing, closed questions (questions that can be answered with a yes or a no) are helpful in some situations, such as negotiations. There comes a point where it’s imperative to not allow the other person to avoid answering the question.
- Avoid using complicated admissions and enrollment management jargon.
Now, here are a few examples of questions that have been turned into better questions:
Question: What are you looking for in a college?
Better Question: What are two things that your future college has to have?
Question: What can I help you with right now?
Better Question: What’s the most confusing part of the college search process for you right now?
Question: Are you going to finish your application soon?
Better Question: Can you help me understand why you started your application but haven’t finished it yet?
Question: What did you think of the visit?
Better Question: What did you like the most about our campus?
After you ask any question, be prepared to ask a follow-up question based on the answer you get back. Follow up questions show that you’re listening, you care, and you want to know more. Three great ones that can be used in a number of different situations are:
- Why is that important to you?
- What does that mean?
- Can you help me understand that better?
If you need help turning a question into a better question, shoot me a quick email…happy to help.
P.S. It’s also worthwhile to create a list of effective questions (Google Doc or something similar) that can constantly be updated by the admissions counselors, tour guides, student callers, etc. That way everybody has something to reference when it comes to common situations.