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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

October 23, 2013

Preparing for Wharton Interviews for the Class of 2016

In this post, I discuss how to prepare for Wharton Interviews for fall 2014 entry. My post on Wharton's essays for the Class of 2016, can be found here

There are two parts to the Wharton interview, the team-based interview and one-to-one interview.  Each part can be prepared for. I am assuming anyone who is reading this post has actually been invited for a Wharton interview and has reviewed the official information regarding it.

I will not disclose the contents of the specific team-based question that Wharton has Round 1 interviewees to prepare for because it is not available on the web as of the time of this posting. I do know the question, but it is my policy not provide such information unless I have obtained it from a public source. Should it become available in a public forum, I will then discuss it.
Since I don’t have a school and don’t teach classes with multiple applicants at one time, I cannot provide a mock team discussion. However, based on working with clients who did group interviews for Wharton last year and IMD (IMD is the school best known for group interviews),  I do have some suggestions as well as methods to prepare clients.

Here are some basic group interview strategies to keep in mind:
1. Be someone who makes clear and effective points in the conversation, but does not dominate the conversation.
2. Don’t be rude to others. Rude jerks are the easiest people to get rid of when evaluating participants in a team based discussion. Stanford Professor Bob Sutton’s No Asshole Rule surely applies here:  CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT IF YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE.
3. Listen closely enough to others in order to say something that builds on or reacts against what other people are saying. Refer to what others are saying in order to build consensus.
4. Try to provide constructive communication that moves the discussion forward to a positive conclusion. Make an effort to include others in the conversation.
5. Don’t be afraid to make a less than perfect point. If you do that too much, you will never get enough speaking time and perceived as shy and ineffective in team situations. That will get you dinged.
6. Synthesize and summarize the team’s conversation in order to move the conversation forward.
7.  Use hedging language and other forms of consensus building language. Try to avoid being dismissive of the views of others.
8. If you are having difficulty understanding someone because of their accent or because of your poor English listening skills, still engage in non-verbal demonstrations that you understand what they are saying.  Non-verbal communication will surely be observed, so if you look confused or frustrated that could be used against you.
9. Smile and show eye contact with other people.
10.  Make sure that you don’t slouch in your seat, but are sitting tall and look like a positive and engaged person.
11. Be willing to serve as the group in a functional role: timekeeper, notetaker, or facilitator.  Making a contribution is of bottom line importance.

How I prepare my clients for the team discussion: The main thing I can do is go over the question and make sure my client’s prepared opening comments are effective.  The nice part of the Wharton team discussion is that you do have the question ahead of time.   I would review my client’s opening answers.  I assess each opening answer on the following basis:
1. Does the suggested answer address the topic directly?
2. Is the suggested answer one that other group members and the interviewer can easily understand?
3.  Can the answer be communicated very briefly? Given time limits you will need to communicate it very briefly.
4.  Is the answer interesting/original/creative?
5. Are there any negative aspects to the proposed answer?
I can’t effectively prepare someone for the actual dynamics of a group conversation, but by at least making sure my client’s opening is solid, I know they will at least be well positioned to start strong.

Based on what my clients reported to me and the public reports on Clear Admit for the interviews for 2013 entry, the 15-minute one-to-one interview is likely to consist of 4-6 questions, which I have divided  into the following two categories. I will obviously modify this section if the content changes once 2014 entry reports become public.

It appears that all applicants were asked both of the questions below.  Be prepared to provide your feedback on the team-based interview.  Assume that this is a test of your self-awareness of group dynamics, an opportunity to explain the role you took in the group, and a chance, hopefully to correct any misperceptions of yourself on the part of the interviewer.
1) How do you think the team-based interview went?
2) Was your behaviour typical of how you work in a team? / Was your behavior in the Team-Based Discussion representative of the way you typically act in group settings?

How I prepare my clients for this part of the interview: I can’t really do that because it is based on what actually happened in the interview.  The only thing I can do is make sure that my client realizes that they will be asked such questions and that they should be mindful of the role that they performed in the group. For example,  if the interviewer perceives you, as say, overly reserved or overly aggressive, you need to be ready to discuss that issue.

TYPICAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS (Assume 2-4 such questions)

For a more extensive list of Wharton 1-to-1 interview questions, see this more recent post

This is the standard part of the interview. If you are doing more standard interviews, it will be easy to prepare for this part.  For advice on more standard interviews, please see my MBA Application Interview Strategy. I highly recommend reviewing your resume and Wharton essays as part of your preparation.  You should surely be able to explain why Wharton in particular is the ideal place for you to study.  You  should have 1-2 questions available. If you are interviewing off-campus, you should have questions ready for an admissions officer. If you are interviewing on-campus, you had better be prepared to have questions ready for both an admissions offer and a 2nd year student.
Do you want to highlight anything in your application?
Introduce yourself
Discuss your career progress
Tell me about a time when you worked in a group in which everyone did not agree and how did your team resolve the situation?
What is your post-MBA goal?
Why MBA?
Why Wharton?
Do you have any questions for me?
Anything you want to add?

How I prepare my clients for the individual interview: I would typically ask my clients these questions in a mock interview.  It would not be completely realistic because I would go over all the above questions just to make sure that my client was covered for all the above topics. If we were preparing for more standard interviews (Booth, Columbia, Kellogg, Haas, etc.), it might not really be necessary to go over this part of the interview for Wharton.

For more about my interview services, please see http://www.adammarkus.com/services/.

-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.

October 07, 2013

IMD MBA Admissions Essays for January 2015 Admission

IMD's questions have changed.  Please see this post instead.

IMD (The Institute for Management Development), consistently ranked among the best MBA programs in the world, is a small intensive one-year program that starts in January.  IMD, along with Columbia January Term and INSEAD (INSEAD has both September and January start dates) are three of the best options for those who want to start in January 2015 at a top MBA program.

PLEASE SEE  IMD New Essay Questions for 2015 Admission! Just released on Feb 2, 2014.  My initial analysis of the new IMD questions can be found here.

To learn about IMD, visit the website. You should download three PDFs from the website: “MBA Program Brochure,” “MBA Class Profiles,” and “Class and Placement Overview.” I will refer to these below. In addition, if possible, I suggest either attending an information session or visiting. Getting an alumni perspective would also be particularly helpful. Review the website completely and by all means read the MBA Diary to get IMD students’ perspectives.  To learn about IMD faculty perspectives, please visit Tomorrow’s Challenges.

I high recommend  reading my 2012 interview with Lisa Piguet and also my Q&A with a former client who is a member of the Class of 2009. I think this interview will provide you with some key insights into IMD. My report on my visit to IMD can be found here.

IMD’s small size sets it apart from other top programs, as its brochure states: “90 Exceptional People Who Will Shape The Future of Business.” If you get into IMD, chances are quite high that you will go there.
When you think about IMD, two keywords to focus on are “international” and “leadership.” Based on my experience working with clients admitted there for Class of 2014,  Class of 2013, the Class of 2011, Class of 2010,  and Class of 2009, I can say that IMD is looking for those individuals who both already have and aspire to increased capacity in both being international and being leaders. Visiting the program in 2012 and through conversations with Lisa Piguet and my former clients who attended IMD has only further convinced me that international and leadership are key to  IMD.
In any given year, I work with only a few people applying to IMD because this is most certainly a very unique program.  Almost all of my clients who applied to IMD have been interviewed.  Even for the Class of 2012, when I had no admits, The two clients I worked with on IMD were offered interviews, but one was admitted to his/her first choice school and did not interview and the other, was unfortunately dinged after interview.  Getting dinged after an IMD interview, especially for candidates without solid English ability, effective presentation skills, and/or the perceived potential to work well in a small group is common enough.  In some cases, the candidate is indeed solid, but in the process of building the right class of 90 students simply does not fit. For the Class of 2013, I had two clients who who were offered interview, one was admitted. So far, for Class of 2014, I had two clients apply and both were admitted (one is listed as 2013 result because he/she was a dmitted to another school in 2013).

There is no MBA interview that compares to the day of trial that IMD puts potential applicants through.  Reading a report of an IMD interview makes me feel exhausted.  The particular style of group and individual interviewing and observation admissions does, is truly impressive and totally necessary given their class size and reputation.  The IMD interview eliminates those who will not be able to survive in a very intense program. IMD interviews a rather high percentage of those who apply, but again, the program is rather self-selecting so this percentage makes sense. Consider that IMD is trying to fill a class of 90.  They are working with limited numbers and based on my 2010 conversation with the admissions director, I know that they are being highly selective when it comes to making final decisions.  As I mentioned in my school visit post,  I visited on an interview day and saw the candidates “relaxing” at lunch, when in fact they were being observed by the students they were having lunch with.  That is how much IMD cares about fit!  Finding the right 90 who will come together is what this process is about. The application serves as the basis to determine whether you should be considered for their interview, but based on what I understand the application can’t mitigate a bad interview day.

Like its bigger rival INSEAD, IMD is truly an international program with a very diverse student body and faculty. You can actually view all of the Class of 2009 as well as read a statistical summary of their backgrounds on PDFs found on the IMD site. Doing so will certainly help you understand that IMD students are incredibly diverse and multilingual.  I think it also important to keep in mind that being international is about being open-minded to diversity and to having mental flexibility.  Both through the essays and interview you will be assessed for capacity to be an open-minded person.

The IMD program is focused on making leaders, not just managers or experts in a particular business field. It is therefore not designed for those who primarily want to develop expertise in a business subfield. IMD makes the program’s focus very clear on page 2 of the PDF version of their brochure:
Top executives of leading multinational companies tell us clearly: they need leaders, not managers. Leaders with the insight and ability to address issues and problems that are more complex and changing more quickly than ever before. Leaders who are confident, creating their own solutions to these emerging issues with integrity and high ethics. Leaders who understand themselves and how they interact with others. Leaders who understand the needs of their organizations and their business environments. Leaders who can drive change through innovation. Leaders who can move their businesses forward. The single aim of the IMD MBA program is to develop these leaders.
If you are not looking for an education focused on leadership, do not apply to IMD, but if you are, IMD offers a very intensive one-year leadership education:
The program starts with a foundation in the core business courses, e.g. accounting, finance, marketing and operations. This helps you to understand all of the functional areas of the organization and how they work together. It continues with real-world projects and additional courses that allow you to apply what you have learned in the classroom to real leadership situations
A review of the program structure makes it perfectly clear that it is not a degree for those wanting expertise in a particular business subfield (e.g. finance or marketing) because there is actually only one three-week period of study available for electives.

The questions were greatly revised for 2014 admission and are unchanged for 2015 admission.  The overall spirit of the questions has been the same for many years.
You have 1500 characters including spaces for each answer, which would be approximately 300-375 words.  With 7 questions, that totals somewhere between approximately 2100 and 2500 words, making IMD longer than most US school applications, but of approximately the same length as INSEAD.

Essay 1: Important achievement
What do you consider to be your single most important achievement and why?
Some key things to keep in mind when answering this question:
-Achievements reveal your potential to succeed at IMD and afterwords.
-Achievements reveal your potential for contributing to your classmates.
-Everyone has had achievements, so make your single most important achievement really stand out.
-What you consider to be an achievement is a real test of your self-awareness and judgment.
Think about which achievement to use
The first thing you need to do is brainstorm possible achievements to use here. Your achievement may relate to your professional experience, academics, volunteer activities, hobbies, community engagement, personal matters.  The possibilities are quite endless. Whatever it is, you should explain why it is so important.
Next, think about the following issues in determining which achievement to use and how to present it. 
Think about what skill(s), value(s), or unique experience is/are being showcased
Your achievement needs to reveal valuable thing(s) about you. Some will call these selling points, but more specifically they consist of skills, values, or unique experiences. One might use a specific achievement to emphasize one’s leadership skills,  one’s ethical values, and to explain a significant barrier that was overcome. If you breakdown the meaning of an achievement it might easily reveal multiple important things about you.
Think about what potential for success in the MBA program or afterwords is being demonstrated by your achievement
You may or may not be directly stating this in the essay, but you should think about what how your achievement  reveals in terms of your potential. IMD will most certainly be considering how your achievement demonstrates your potential to succeed in their program and afterwords, so you should as well.
Think about how your achievement could become a contribution to others in the MBA program
Just as with potential, think about whether your achievement demonstrates your ability to add value to other students at IMD.  IMD is very focused on understanding your ability to function as part of a group of 90 people. This is very much at the center of the education they offer and how how they differentiate their program.
Think about why does IMD needs to know about this achievement
If your achievement has made it this far, chances are it is substantial. That said, I have three simple tests for determining whether achievement really belongs in this essay:
1. Does IMD really need to know about this achievement? After all, you might consider getting the love of your life to marry you to be one of your greatest achievement, but will Lisa and her colleagues care? If an achievement does not reveal (whether stated or implied) potential and/or contribution, chances are likely that it is not significant enough.
2. Is the story totally obvious from reviewing other parts of your application?
If the story is simply a very cause-effect based one such as “I studied hard to get a 4.0 in university ” that could ber very dull and rather obvious.  On the other hand if you overcome great challenges to get such an academic result, you could have a great story.  Obvious stories are dull.  Reveal something important about yourself that goes beyond the surface level and could not be easily assumed from reviewing other aspects of your application.
3. Is the achievement really your most important one?
It is critical that you explain clearly why it is important. Is the importance because of its significance to you or to an impact you had or to both?   Really make sure the importance is stated clearly.
Finally, as I mentioned above what you include here is a real test of your judgment, so don’t just write about an obvious achievement. Think deeply and come up with a unique achievement that will compel IMD to want to interview you.

Essay 2: Self Development
Please comment on a situation where your leadership skills proved to be inadequate and what you learned.

Beyond being about failure (it  may only be partial failure), this essay is about the development of your leadership skills.  You may not have completely failed because the question simply requires that your leadership skills were not sufficient.  You may have partially succeeded. It is even possible that others perceived you as succeeding, but you did not see it that way.
It is critical that you learned something meaningful about yourself as a leader. And your insights should be important, otherwise why tell admissions about it? Therefore the key constraint of this question is that whatever the leadership failure is, you have learned something important from it. While not stated, you may very well find that one way of showing what you learned is to discuss how you applied your lesson to a new situation.
I would, in fact, argue that the heart of any sort of “failure question,” whether it is an essay question or an interview is what you learned. Also depending on what your role was, how you reacted is also very important.

The basic components of an answer:
1. Clearly state what the situation was.
2. Clearly state your role. Especially in a leadership related question, a clear statement about your role in terms of leadership is important.
3. Clearly state how your leadership skills were insufficient.
4. Explain what you learned.

The word count is limited, but, if you can, show how you applied what you learned to a new situation because the application of abstract learning to a new situation is a key indicator of real learning.

Keep in mind that a core part of the IMD experience is becoming very aware about your strengths and weaknesses as a leader in order to enhance your skills.  Over lunch with one of my former clients,  I heard about just how intense and personal leadership development at IMD can be.  To that extent, this question really tests your openness and self-awareness for an exploration into your personality at IMD.

Essay 3: Global leadership
IMD develops global leaders…what does global leadership mean to you?

Given what I have previously mentioned about both leadership and international in regards to IMD, this question is no surprise. IMD wants your insight into global leadership.  I suggest you provide an answer that both clearly has a global leadership concept and also focuses on how you have demonstrated global leadership or at least the potential for it.  While it is possible to write this essay without reference to your experiences, I think most applicants will find it far more effective to write about some form of global leadership that they have experience. There are a number of ways to write this essay:

You might concentrate on a single concept and one example supporting that concept, which given the word count is the easiest thing to do:
Global Leadership Means to me:
An example of that leadership:
 What does your answer reveal about  you?
One Concept
A single example

You might concentrate on  one concept and multiple examples supporting that concept, but this only makes sense if each of the examples is revealing something important about you:
Global Leadership Means to me:
Examples of that leadership:
What does your answer reveal about  you?
One Concept
Example 1
Example 2

You might concentrate on a multiple concepts each backed-up by an example, but getting this into the word count available could prove very challenging.  I think the only way this works is if the examples are actually specific aspects of one leadership story. In other words,  you do two different things in the same situation that relate to  two different global leadership concepts:
Global Leadership Means to me:
Examples of that leadership:
What does your answer reveal about  you?
Concept 1
Concept 2
Example 1
Example 2
Example 1
Example 2

I think each of the above structures can make for a good essay.
Keep in mind that simply providing a description of your actions, is not enough.  Just writing abstractly is not good either. Make sure your reader understands what your concept is by stating it clearly and connecting it to an example(s). If you use multiple concepts

Essay 4: Key Differentiators
Give us four bullet points that clearly differentiate you, that identify your unique contributions to the program.

In a Class of 90, there is no room for letting in someone who can’t function well and does not have something distinct to contribute. I like this question because it forces applicants to really think about their core selling points.  Clearly, there will be significant overlap with other essays. Think of this as more than an executive summary because really it is a your “elevator pitch” to IMD.  What are the key statements that IMD really needs to know about you that will make them want to invite you for their interview?

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want IMD to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission?
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. If you were going to tell admissions 4 things about you that would not be obvious from rest of the application, what would they be? Why should IMD care?
4.  What could you discuss about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you?
As you can see, these questions would lead to very different kinds of responses. There is no one way to answer this question, but I believe there are right ways for every applicant to do so.

Essay 5: Reflection
Give an example of the most unexpected thing that you’ve ever learned.

Instead of asking a culture shock question, IMD is making you consider something really valuable that you learned.
THE RELEVANCE TEST: A great answer here will be on something relevant to why IMD should admit you:
- A concept or value that has influenced a major decision(s) you have made in your life
-An important aspect of the way you view an issue critical to your goals
-Your commitment to something greater than your own personal interest
-Your inner intellectual life
-Your ethical values
-Some other aspect of who you are that will compel admissions to want to interview you
The structure for answering this question is likely to be something like the following:
1. Discussion of the unexpected thing (person, place, event, book, situation) that you learned.
2. Explanation of the significance of what you learned
3.  Perhaps a specific example of how your thinking was changed from learning this.

Ultimately, I think this is way for IMD to understand what makes your thinking distinct, get a sense of  your self-reflectivity (Obvious from the question’s title), and your mental flexibility.

Essay 6: Position sought after graduation
Please answer either (A) or (B), depending on your career situation.
A. For people who are planning to consider new jobs and/or organizations after the MBA: Please give us your short term career goal post-MBA. Which function, industry and geography do you see yourself working in? Are these changes for you, and, if so, why? How will you approach your job search?
B. For people who are company-sponsored, confirmed going back to their previous company, entrepreneurs planning to go back to their own firm, and/or members of a family who are planning to work for the family business after graduation: Please let us know your short-term career goals and plans after your MBA.

Whether you are answering A or B,  THIS QUESTION DOES NOT FOCUS ON YOUR LONG TERM GOALS! It is about a post-MBA plan.
In a program with 90 students, making sure that they all actually have clear post-MBA plans is highly rational (and very Swiss!).  The two different variations of the question reflect the different kinds of people who apply to and attend IMD. The B version of this question is new and is especially helpful for applicants who fit within the categories indicated.

Do not freak out about whether you should answer A or B.  It really is a fact-based issue and there is no hidden agenda here.

A. IMD has very intensive career services for its students who need it and career services gives input into applicants who will be seeking employment after their MBA. A. is for such applicants, who are the majority of applicants to IMD.  Don’t forget to answer “how you will approach your job search?” because this is an important part of your plan. IMD is looking for applicants who can take charge of their own careers and drive them, not people who expect a career services office to simply take care of them. Explain what resources you can leverage to launch your post-IMD career.

B. On the other hand, if you don’t need career services because you will be returning to a business or starting your own, just do B.

If you are having trouble formulating your post-MBA plan, you might want to go through a formal analysis of why you need an MBA.
You can use my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALS for this purpose (see below). I think GapSWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it.
(To best view the following table, click on it.)
How to use this table:
Step 1. Begin by analyzing your ”Present Situation.” What job(s) have you held? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?
Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. REMEMBER:WHEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS DON’T ONLY THINK ABOUT WORK, THINK ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness:What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?
Next, analyze the environment you work in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?
Step 2. Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your ”Post-Degree” future after you have earned your MBA. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.
Step 3. If you could complete step 2, than you should see the ”Gap” between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?
Step 4. After completing Step 3, you need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient ”ROI” for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4 than you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.
The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals? Thinking about these issues now will help you to develop a fully worked-out strategy for how you will best present yourself both in the application and in an interview.
After going through this formal process, review what you know about IMD again. In your answer to the question, please focus on showing how IMD will help make your post-MBA future objectives a reality.  BOTTOM LINE: Conceptualize this as a business plan with IMD as a partner who will help enable that plan.

Essay 7: Additional Information
Is there any additional information that is critical for the Admissions Committee to know which has not been covered elsewhere in this application? (Optional essay).
While I suppose it is possible to answer this question with “No,” in most cases I would not recommend doing so.  I always tell my clients to write at least one positive thing in this essay even if they must deal with a negative subject as well.
For some applicants who have to discuss something negative such as a low GPA, the topic for this essay will be clear enough. Just make sure your answer is a clear and believable explanation and not an excuse.
In terns of writing something positive, think about one or two topics that you believe would help admissions to understand you and support your admission. Be careful that you do not pick a trivial topic or one that really has been handled in another essay.

Finally, best of luck with your IMD application.

-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.

October 05, 2013

Kellogg MBA Essays for the Class of 2016

In the post, I analyze Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business 2014 Application Essay Questions for the MBA and MMM programs. I have taken the questions from Kellogg’s website.

By the way, I had five clients admitted to Kellogg’s MBA Class of 2015.  You find can my Kellogg results and client testimonials here.

Kellogg’s 2014 Essay Questions for the Class of 2016 are specifically designed to help admissions determine whether you demonstrate the appropriate “scholastic ability, personal character, motivation, leadership ability, interpersonal skills, career performance and management potential.” In addition to this post, I suggest reviewing my post on Chicago Booth versus Kellogg.

Kellogg Culture Matters
If you go to Kellogg, chances are extremely high that you will live in Evanston. Social life in Evanston is not limited to campus. The place simply is filled with people who are great communicators, friendly, outgoing, and able to thrive in a socially intense environment. If you are not that kind of person, don’t apply there. If you are, it will be heaven. At Kellogg, they call it the “Kellogg Culture”: Student culture at Kellogg is rich and multi-faceted, but a single principle ties it all together: teamwork. Our students collaborate in the classroom (and outside it) to meet professors' exacting standards. They organize conferences, chair student groups and invite distinguished leaders to speak on campus. They travel to nations around the world to complete coursework of their own design.At Kellogg, you'll form lasting social, intellectual and professional bonds with your classmates. It should come as no surprise that Kellogg’s essay questions reflect its focus on community.

Peer Application Review at Kellogg
One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will be good classmates. The director and the rest of the committee have done their job properly if they have selected students who can work well together, learn from each other, and if these students become alum who value the relationships they initially formed at business school. Students members of the committee bring a peer’s perspective to the process. They are also are likely to be the first to read your file: “Files are typically reviewed first by a student member of the admissions committee, then forwarded for additional review by staff members, including the Director of Admissions.”

1. What's the greatest obstacle you've overcome (personally or professionally)? 
How has overcoming this obstacle prepared you to achieve success now and in the future? (350 word limit)

An obstacle can certainly be a weakness, failure or setback, it is surely possible that an obstacle could simply be a real test of your leadership and a great way to convey an accomplishment.

Given the extreme word limitation, I would suggest a structure like the following:
1. Clearly state what your obstacle was.
2. Explain what actions you took. Think about what your actions reflect about your own skills and/or personality.
4. Explain what you learned and/or gained (a skill or a new opportunity, for example) from the experience.  It is critical that you learned or gained something, otherwise it will be difficult (probably impossible) to explain how this experience has helped you achieve success now and in the future.

5.  You need to explain how overcoming this obstacle relates to your present success.
6. You need to explain how overcoming this obstacle relates to your future success.
It is quite possible to combine steps 5 & 6 above if overcoming the obstacle relates to both your present and future success in the same way.

Here are some types of obstacles to get you brainstorming:
-Obstacles that relate to lack of ability or skill. For instance having difficulty completing a task or being successful because of your limited capability.  Overcoming such an obstacle involves a story about gaining or otherwise obtaining access to the necessary skill. 
-Obstacles that relate to relationships with other people or groups, such as conflicts within a team. Overcoming such obstacles typically involves effective utilization of interpersonal skills.
-Obstacles that relate to one's psychological condition, cultural understanding, or other deeper mental assumptions.  Overcoming such obstacles typically involves a change in mindset.
-Obstacles that relate to a challenging task. It is possible that you write about a challenging situation which you use to highlight your abilities rather than a situation where you were initially deficient in some way.

Just remember whatever the obstacle, it was one that really has been of great benefit to your present success and will be of benefit to your future success.

Finally, remember that the obstacle also has to be something that the reader will perceive as the biggest obstacle you have overcome in your life, not just any obstacle overcome.

2. What have been your most significant leadership experiences? What challenges did you face, and what impact did you have? This is your opportunity to explain how you Think Bravely.  (500 word limit)
Think Bravely: The movie!

Now that you have enjoyed that lovely bit of total fluff. Let's see what Dean Sally Blount has to say:

“Thinking Bravely = Willingness to Think Outside the Box”
This is the only question that has not changed from last year’s application, except that don’t specifically mention whether it applies to the professional or the personal. That change is not significant because this question in no way indicates whether the leadership happened in a professional, academic, or other setting.  The key point is to show how you demonstrated your leadership.

I suggest focusing on two to three key experiences where you go beyond a simply defined leadership role and add specific value.  You might question a plan, build something new, intervene in a situation where you didn't have to, take charge, or otherwise do what others didn't do. Show you have courage, an innovative spirit, a capacity for leading others beyond the previous limits of the organization, or otherwise going beyond the status quo.

“most significant” : Since the leadership experience you write about should be he the one that you consider most significant, you should clearly explain that.  Applicants frequently assume the significance of a story without interpreting it sufficiently.  Make sure you have clearly explained why the particular leadership experiences you write about are significant  to you.

For my general suggestions on writing leadership focused essays, please see my analysis of  Stanford Essay 3. Depending on what you write about, you may have room to discuss 2-4 leadership experiences here. You may connect them together or you may not.  The important thing is that you provide Kellogg with a set of stories that convey your potential to be a leader both at Kellogg and in your future career.

Part 1: What career/role are you looking to pursue and why?  (250 word limit)
Part 2: Why are Kellogg and the MBA essential to achieving these career goals?  (250 word limit)
(Please answer Part 2 in terms of your program choice: One-Year, Two-Year, MMM, JD-MBA).

Unlike some other “Why MBA” questions, Kellogg is not asking about the past. You will write about that in the other essays. Instead focus on your post-MBA career or role and the skills that you will obtain at Kellogg that will help you accomplish those career goals.

Part 1: What career/role are you looking to pursue and why?  (250 word limit)
Like many of  other top MBA program’s goals statements for 2014 entry, this question does not specifically require you to mention both short and long-term goals. I would certainly recommend that you explain what you want to do post-MBA in sufficient detail that the reader can imagine what your first post-MBA role might be.  You may want to discuss your longer term career goals in much greater or lesser specificity, but you should surely help your reader understand what kind of career you want to pursue.  Since Kellogg interviewers (as well as other schools like Booth) ask about short and long term goals, you should surely have a clear way of responding to such questions for an interview and your answer in this essay should be consistent with what you would communicate to the interviewer. Given that Kellogg interviews typically happen with and are evaluated at the same time as other components of the application, you want a high degree of consistency between what you say and what you write.

If you are having difficulties formulating your career goals, please refer to my post on Stanford Essay 2.

If you have written the goals/Why MBA essays for schools like Stanford, Columbia, or Wharton already, you will find that for the most part you are simply dividing the essays you already wrote up into two parts and simply making Part 2 Kellogg-specific.  For those applying to Booth, it will also be particularly easy to take your two short answer goals essays and combine them to make Part 1 (or at least the foundations for Part 1) for Kellogg.

Part 2: Why are Kellogg and the MBA essential to achieving these career goals?  
The admissions committee needs to see “Big Kellogg Love” here, so make them understand your particular form of it. They need to know why Kellogg is ESSENTIAL (ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY) to achieving the career goals you discussed in Part 1. Reflect enough on what they have to offer you so that your essay content related to Kellogg does not sound like a bad version of their website or brochure content. The better informed you are about the school and the more you think about how it will help you grow professionally and personally, the more likely you are to make Kellogg love you back. In addition to the MBA website, see Kellogg Insight. Japanese applicants to Kellogg, should most certainly make full use of http://www.kelloggalumni.jp/kellogg_life/.

In order to determine what aspects of Kellogg really relate to your career goals, you need not mention the names of numerous courses as long as it would be clear to your reader that your learning needs align well with Kellogg’s offerings. For example, it is really a waste of word count to mention the names many marketing courses if the main point you are simply trying to make is that you want to enhance your marketing skills. Every admissions member at Kellogg is well aware of the program's major offerings.  If you have a particular interest in a more specialized course or studying with a particular professor, it is worth mentioning it as long as it is an explanation of why you want to study the subject and not based on circular reasoning.

An example of circular (tautological) reasoning:  ”I took Advanced Corporate Finance to develop advanced corporate finance skills.”  This kind of bad circular reasoning is so common in early drafts I see from my clients and in the failed essays of reapplicants that I am asked to review. Usually it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. These sentences actually convey nothing about the applicant. The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program. If you don’t explain what you need and why, you are not actually answering the question, you are just writing something dull, surface level, and without positive impact. 

An example of an actual explanation:  “While I had been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank, at Kellogg I obtained the comprehensive understanding of corporate finance that I will need to succeed as a future leader of cross-border M&A.” By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one’s goals and/or past experience, admissions will be learning about you and really be able to understand what you need from Kellogg.Mentioning a course name is not important if the learning need is already something obviously obtainable at Kellogg. A more complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Kellogg.  

Finally, given the intensive community focused nature of this program, mentioning clubs or interactions with classmates as being essential would be a really good idea.

"Welcome to the Video Essay portion of your application to the Kellogg School of Management. We have a vibrant community here at Kellogg and value the unique voices and perspectives that our students bring.
This video essay is an opportunity for the Admissions Team to meet you - wherever you are in the world. Please approach this as a conversation with us. The spirit of the questions is for us to get to know you. There are no right or wrong answers.
You will use the video frame on this page to record spontaneous answers to a randomly selected question. Below you will find complete instructions on how to record your answers.
The video essay is one component of our assessment, and we look forward to learning more about you from your entire application. Best of luck!"
WELCOME INDEED!  So much fun for them to give you 90 seconds to prepare your answer and 90 seconds to give your answer to an existential question (I think they got them out of this book or something like it).  Actually a number of these questions are the kind of good old hypotheticals that can come up in some interviews and in  previous Berkeley Haas and Wharton essay questions.   I registered as an applicant twice to generate a list of six of these gems. I assume they have many more, but sorry I am not registering a third time.  Each applicant is given three chances to answer a question, so if you don't like your first video, you have two more shots at it, but once you abandon one question, you will get a new question and can't go back to your prior video(s).  Therefore be very careful about doing this and be really certain about abandoning an answer for a new attempt. 
Here are the six I obtained:



The thing all these questions have in common are that they are about your values.  Therefore you need to be clear about what really matters to you, what really motivates you, and who and what yo care about before doing this essay.  I know that sounds easy, but if you make a few notes (or if you have written essays for Stanford), it is not all that hard. 

Four of the questions I generated are gift questions: 


Gift questions always give you something, sometime measured in time, in other cases in terms of an opportunity. They are like a wish from a genie.  The best way to use such gifts is well, so don't give a trivial answer.  Think about how you might answer the four questions above as that will likely help you answer other gift questions as well. 

WHAT POSSESSION OR MEMENTO DO YOU TREASURE MOST AND WHY? is an interesting question because whatever your answer the key issue is what the possession or memento signifies to you because this reveals something about your values.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU? is as direct a values/motivation question as possible. You should be able to answer this question easily because it is something that should come out naturally in a regular admissions interview. 

Given that you are being judged on video, I do recommend wearing business casual or business formal, smiling, and presenting yourself in a generally professional way.  I would highly recommend recording the video somewhere quiet using the best computer-based video you have access to.  Make sure your hardware is in good working order. 

And have fun with this because you are total guinea pigs.  UCLA tried something like this before and eliminated it. So curious to see what Kellogg does with it in the future. 

Re-Applicants Only: Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (400 word limit)
Reapplicants should read my previous post on reapplication. Use this space to specifically explain what has improved about you since you last applied. You can certainly mention improved test scores, but I would not use very much of your word count for that. Typical topics include: development of a new skill, promotions that demonstrate your potential for future success, involvement in an extracurricular activity, learning significantly more about Kellogg, and why your goals discussed in Essay 1 now are better than the ones you presented last time.

Additional Information (Optional)
If needed, use this section to briefly describe any extenuating circumstances (e.g. unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, etc.) (No word limit)
As with other school’s optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don’t bother writing about it. For example if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don’t bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don’t waste the committee’s time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it.
In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other possible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and  major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.You can certainly write on something positive here if you think its omission will be negative for you, but before you do, ask yourself these questions:
1. If they did not ask it, do they really need to know it?
2. Will the topic I want to discuss significantly improve my overall essay set?
3. Is the topic one that would not be covered from looking at other parts of my application?
4. Is the essay likely to be read as being a specific answer for Kellogg and not an obvious essay for another school?
If you can answer “Yes!” to all four questions, it might be a good topic to write about.

For my post on Kellogg interviews, see here.

-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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