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January 20, 2013

Kellogg MBA Admissions Interviews

This post has been greatly expanded from prior versions and has been updated for admission to the Kellogg MBA Class of 2015.

Just as with essays, interviews for the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management MBA applicant interviews are all about fit.I could not really tell you how many Kellogg mock sessions I have conducted since 2001, when I started working as an admissions consultant, because the number is simply too huge. Given the fact that Kellogg has an open interview policy, more applicants will interview there in any year that anywhere else. As I work with clients from all over the world, I have discovered that Kellogg interviews are pretty consistent worldwide, both for the  good and bad.  

Know your Resume!
You need to know your resume completely as you will most likely be asked about content in it. Review it carefully and consider what your interviewer might ask you to explain more thoroughly. If it is on your resume, it is fair game. Kellogg interviews are conducted blind, so your interview will not have read your application. The only thing they will have is your resume. Most interview reports indicate extensive questions about the contents of the resume. As such it serves form main functions:

A First Impression: Most interviewers will have your resume even before they meet you. For resume-only interviews, it really is their first impression of you.  Make sure your resume is really designed for ease of use by the interviewer.  One of my objectives when helping a client with a resume is always to focus on how effective the resume is for this purpose.

Agenda Setting Device: To a greater or lesser extent, a resume has an agenda setting function in many interviews.  While schools will provide interviewers with varying levels of guidance about what questions to ask, the resume may very well form the basis for some of the questions that you receive. 

Booby Trap:  The resume can blow-up in your face if you are not careful.  Failure to review your own resume closely prior to interviewing can put you in an awkward position if you are not fully prepared to discuss everything on it. Make sure you know your numbers and dates. Make sure you can discuss anything on your resume.

Past Experience Answers: Since you have presumably highlighted many of the key things you would actually want to discuss on your resume, it is in essence, a primary source for your answers to past experience questions. Especially when I working with a client with limited English ability, I will tell them to practice explaining "Who What Why How When" questions related to their resume.

In addition, since you might get asked to "Tell me something about yourself that is not covered on your resume," you can use the resume to figure out what that would be.

You need to be prepared to answer routine MBA interview questions
Most reported Kellogg interviews simply consist of them. See my previous post on MBA Application Interview Strategy as well the list of questions below. You should expect to have to answer questions regarding teamwork (Examples where you demonstrated it, how you handled problems on teams, and how you would handle a low-performing team member in group work at Kellogg are common examples).  Be absolutely comfortable explaining core questions regarding fit (Why Kellogg? Why the Kellogg community is right for you?  Contributions?) as these always come up.   Be ready to ask questions and obviously make those questions fit to the person you are talking (admissions officer, student, or alumni). My colleague, Steve Green, has collected the following common questions:

RESUME: Career
  • Tell me about yourself. / Walk me through your resume. PROBE ANSWERS
    • Tell me about [particular accomplishment]
    • Tell me about [particular promotion or change]
    • What is missing from your resume that you'd like to tell me about?
  • What led you to your first job?
  • What made you change careers? (+ Follow-up)
  • Why did you decide to switch into the field that you chose?
  • How have you grown over the years?
  • Tell me about what’s challenging in your current role. (+ Follow-up)
  • Why did you choose ________________ for your career?
  • What are your current responsibilities?
  • What do you clients say about you?
  • What do you outside of work?
RESUME: Education
  • Why did you choose your undergraduate school?
  • Why did you choose your major?
  • Tell me something about your undergraduate experience?
  • What was your legacy at your undergrad school?
  • Why did you choose ________________ for your career?
  • What are your current responsibilities?
  • What do you clients say about you?
  • What do you outside of work?
  • Tell me about your teamwork experience.
  • Describe a difficult team situation you have had to deal with in the past?
  • Tell me about another teamwork experience.
  • What would you do when a team member wasn't pulling his own weight?
  • What would your teammates say about you?
  • Discuss a team failure you were part of.
  • Who do you admire as a leader?
  • Have you held leadership positions at work?
  • Tell me something about your leadership experience?
  • Have you faced any challenges as a leader? How did you deal with them?
  • How has your leadership style evolved since college?
  • What kind of leader are you?
  • Why do you want an MBA?
  • Why now?
  • Why Kellogg?
  • Are you good with numbers?
  • What are your goals?
  • How will Kellogg help you achieve those goals?
  • How do you envision yourself being involved in the Kellogg community?
  • What clubs will you participate in?
  • How will you enhance the diversity of the Kellogg class?
  • What unique contribution do you bring to Kellogg?
  • What other schools did you apply to?
  • If you got into all of them, which would you attend?
  • If you could hit the reset button, what would you do differently?
  • Anything that may be considered a weakness in your application you would like to explain or expand on?
  • How have you grown over the years?
  • What are your two main strengths?
  • What are your two main weaknesses?
  • If time and money were not an issue, what would you do?
  • What three words would you use to describe yourself?
  • Who is a good negotiator?
  • Have you ever been in a negotiation where it wasn’t win – win, rather, win-lose or lose-lose.
  • What do people misperceive about you in first meeting?
  • If I asked your colleagues about you, what would they say? What feedback have you used to do better?
  • What questions do you have for me? / Do you have any questions for me?

In MBA Application Interview Strategy I discuss some specific ways to prepare for many of the types of questions discussed above. Additionally, since some Kellogg interviews involve behavioral interview questions, I would suggest reviewing my post,  MIT Sloan MBA Interviews.  MIT Sloan MBA Interviews
will also introduce you to the STAR method for telling stories, so if you need help in telling stories (especially ones about teamwork and leadershIp), I recommend reviewing that post.

Reread your essays!
Given that your Kellogg essays should contain key content to answer many of the above interview questions and because no interviewer will have read your file, feel free to make complete use of your essays for your interview.  It surprises sometimes when I am doing mock interviews with a client and they have not reviewed their own essays very much. This a core repository of content. It will need to be altered for purposes of the interview, but you should use it!

Reported interview length could be from 30 to 60 minutes, with most reported interviews taking 30-45 minutes.

Lack of Consistency in Kellogg interviews
As you should know Kellogg’s new motto is THINK BRAVELY, but as far as  interviews go, I would say their motto must be INTERVIEW INCONSISTENTLYWhile most Kellogg interviews are moderately difficult in terms of the kind of questions that are asked and the attitude of the interviewers (admissions officers, alumni, and students) is professional and friendly, other types of interviews are possible and not uncommon.   Given the huge number of alumni interviewers involved in this process, this is especially a problem with alumni interviews whether held on a Kellogg Interview Day (many applicants and interviewers all meeting at the same place for one-to-one interviews) or just through an arranged one-to-one off-campus interview. Even on-campus interviews with students lack some consistency as I will discuss below.  Only interviews with admissions officers fit into some predictable norm of moderately difficult and professional. Some types of dysfunctional Kellogg interviews:

The Cake walk: The lovely expression “as easy as cake” can be applied to some international interviews that I have heard about. This can be nice for the applicant, of course, but surely is unfair for other applicants. A cake walk interview consists of some of the standard Kellogg interview questions, but everything is very surface level and most of the interview is just nice conversation. The interviewer then prepares a sterling evaluation of the applicant even in terms of areas that were not necessarily addressed in the interview because the men involved (not always, but typically from what I can see this involves men and is just another form of immediate locker room type bonding). If you find you are having an apparently very easy interview, just make sure you work as many key points about yourself into the conversation while maintaining a positive and friendly feeling about the whole thing.

“You really don’t fit because I don’t like you”: The worst reports I have heard about have involved Kellogg alumni interviewers who expressed their dislike for the applicant. The interviewer uses highly judgmental language that often barely hides bias. This bias might be gender-based, class-based, or industry-function based. We are not talking here about merely an agressive interviewer, but rather an interviewer who actively looks down on the applicant.  Frankly I have never read or been about such an interview being conducted in the US, but I do know about such unpleasant interviews conducted through Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The only thing I can suggest during such an interview is that you hold your own, don’t cave against bully you are dealing with, but respond aggressively in defending yourself and why you belong at Kellogg. The abuse of power is an ugly thing. If you feel you have been treated particularly ba dly, you should consider reporting the details of this to Kellogg admissions.

English not spoken: One of the best reasons to eliminate alumni interviews completely especially when an admissions office is trying to get a report on the English ability of the applicant is because alumni interviewers don’t always conduct some or even most of the interview in English. I have client reports of this from around the world. This can be to the advantage or disadvantage of the applicant.  If an applicant is trying to really highlight their English communication ability, having an interview that is not conducted in English might not be particularly helpful. In addition, speaking in another language is often a gateway to the two previous types dysfunctional interviews I mentioned above.  I have no specific suggestions for what you can do when an interview is not conducted in English if you think the interview is going well. If you think the interview is not going well, you can consider this grounds for informing Kellogg admissions. Si nce Kellogg admissions waives some interviews and subsequently conducts telephone interviews, I would not be surprised if your interview was initially waived. Most applicants will not want to complain about an interviewer, but if you feel you were treated badly, it is worth considering. Advice for international applicants who really want to highlight their English communication skills: Go interview on-campus because campus interviews will be conducted in English. 

Bored, hungover, busy, and/or tired: Most reported student interviews are not like like this, but it is no surprise that some of these interviews involve student interviewers who wish they were some where else doing something else (studying, sleeping, recruiting activities, etc.).  Not fun if you have traveled to Evanston and find your interviewer is just not that engaged in the process. If your interviewer seems less than engaged, just make the possible case for yourself and don’t let their indifference get to you. The worst thing you can do is react to someone else’s lack of energy.  You must maintain your enthusiasm even in the fact of complete indifference. Just imagine you are talking to a mirror and ignore the interviewer’s lack of engagement. I don’t think you can really complain to admissions about this issue. Just be aware that might happen.

While I think it is nice that Kellogg basically interviews all applicants (some applicants are waived initially from interviewing but ultimately do a telephone interview), it does come at the cost of consistency.  I do think that putting all applicants on level playing field means giving them an interview that is conducted with a fairly high degree of consistency.  Of course, the moment alumni are involved at any school, consistency tends to get lost unless the school really works hard to maintain standards and weed out bad interviewers.  I know many alumni do a great job and should be praised for their involvement with the process, but unfortunately this is not always the case.   I have pointed these issues out so you are prepared for the worst case scenarios. Hopefully you will not experience them.

Best of luck with admission to Kellogg’s Class of 2015!

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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