I had an interview at a reputable business school for upcoming MBA intake. The interview was informal and was conducted in the coffee shop on premises.

The first issue happened when the interviewer (Chinese male, early 50s) offered to buy me a beverage. I replied with 'thanks could I please have a bottle of water'. He then said 'no, have something else'. I feel like he was doing it to be hospitable but I was really quite irritated by his response there and then tbf. I ordered a cappuccino and felt it was a real hindrance because there is clearly a difference between sipping water in an interview to clear your throat and having a hot coffee.

There were also issues to do with use of language for example, he asked me to describe my experience when doing my undergraduate. I said it was great, blah blah blah however my only criticism would be that the program needed more structure blah blah blah. He then honed in on the word criticism and said that it was a negative word and that I should not use that. Again I feel quite patronised. I have literally written exam papers where the question has been 'criticise and analyse the following paragraph'. This was after all an interview for a business school not for a social work service.

There is an option to take a particular class on the program in titled "mindfulness and meditation for managers'. The interviewer, perhaps given his ethnic background, was very passionate about it almost to the extent of cult-like. He wanted me to confirm that I would be taking that module as it would make a difference whether I would be given a place. I replied that I had read the program and I was aware of that particular module and what it entailed; and whilst I found it fascinating as a subject it was not my first choice of study and I wouldn't be able to make a commitment now as to whether I would take that particular module. He seemed really very peed off by that and I don't know if I could've responded in any better way than what I had? I also felt a little bit patronised at the end of the interview when he said 'I'm leaving now but stay here and finish your coffee'.

I'm new to the interviewing process and I realise that I have to butter people up and say what the interviewer wants to hear if I want to successfully gain a place. But I found this to be particularly patronising or is it just a case of different communication/culture? How should I respond should situations come up again in a different interview? I think my reticence is is that I am wary of rubbing the interview up the wrong way and so I tend to acquiesce.


2 Answers 2


To me, the interviewer seems very insecure, or alternatively very condescending. But there is no response, in either case, that will satisfy them. Take it as a point of experience that not all people act professionally.

It is possible that they have enough influence to deny you a slot. In that case you would probably be better off in a different program where people behave better.

The proper professional response is to be honest about what you want to do in the program, but don't try to counter inappropriate statements. Nod your head a lot and say "thanks" at the end. If they are a minor figure at the institution then it won't be an issue. Otherwise, move on. If it comes up again with another interviewer, definitely move on. You don't want to be at such a place.

Note that being patronized is also a form of baiting: pushing you toward an inappropriate response that confirms the bias of the person. Keep Cool and Carry On.

FWIW, your responses all seem fine and professional.


How to deal?Just tell them the truth: you are feeling patronized and you do not appreciate it.

  • 2
    That seems sub-optimal if they have power to affect your career. Satisfying, perhaps, in the short term, but not the long.
    – Buffy
    Apr 30, 2022 at 16:32
  • It is optimal and in fact the only strategy. Here is how it works. A position is announced and about 100+ applications are received. Then 95% of them are not suitable for some reasons. The committee makes a short list. It already requires substantial effort. The short list people are invited for interviews. Do you think they prefer people who are coy with them? Or do you think they do not know that they are patronizing?
    – markvs
    Apr 30, 2022 at 19:50
  • 1
    More explanation. One of the goals of interviewers is to find out if you can work in a group of people and how you can handle non-standard situations. They often provoke you and wait for your reaction, You should be absolutely honest.
    – markvs
    Apr 30, 2022 at 20:00
  • @markvs, probably, I'd concur with Buffy because if the interviewer behaves unprofessionally, it is not the reason to behave unprofessionally in response. Get around irrelevant stuff and focus on the essense; it's not your job to educate the interviewer. May 1, 2022 at 1:41
  • @rg_software: What I suggest is to behave professionally, which includes non-standard situations and working in groups of people. I know for sure that such tactics is used by interviewers at Universities, big companies and startups, Dismissing this as "irrelevant" is unwise to say the least Interviewers are often very smart and skilled.
    – markvs
    May 1, 2022 at 2:20

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