Kellogg’s New MBA Gatekeeper: Gatorade’s Kate Smith

Our students read and evaluate every application. So who better than a current student who is living it and who understands what they had to do to get here to help evaluate our future classes? It was part of the magic of what we do. You learn as much potentially from your classmates as you do in the class.

It’s known that the admissions officers of the top ten business schools meet together on a fairly regular basis. What was your first meeting with your colleagues like?

It was in Boston. Dee (Leopold) at Harvard and Rod (Garcia) at MIT were our hosts. When you’re at Pepsi, you don’t talk to Coke. When you are at General Mills, you don’t talk to Kellogg’s. So there is a frame of reference here that was unusual for me. That peer alliance is a really special thing because it allows you to have a forum to learn from others who have a lot of experience. It’s reinforcing of higher education. We shared best practices and learning. I actually met Derrick (Bolton of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business) during my decision process. He came out of Stanford the same year I came out of Kellogg. I cold called him and he called me within minutes. We met and I said, ‘Tell me about what you do because I’m really thinking about doing this?’

Derrick didn’t scare you off?

No. I’m loving it. It comes back to my motivations. I bleed purple and I love Kellogg. The other piece of the story is that I didn’t look at any other job opportunities after my conversation with Roxanne. I pursued this and if I didn’t get this then I was going to think about what next. So I spent all my time and energy getting smart on what would that transition into Kellogg be, what might the opportunities that exist for me be, and going through the process of interviewing and then being selected. From what I understand from Betsy, I was the only non-admissions person for the job considered. I am thrilled they saw the value I can bring to the team. But the motivation is that I have the opportunity to change all these kids lives just as mine was. I am here to put the best and brightest into each Kellogg class, shaping the experience the students are going to have by virtue of who they are sitting next to, and helping them achieve their dreams and goals. It sounds cliché but actually it does happen.

At Kellogg, it seems as if there is a reexamination of every core process critical to the business school experience. Has that reexamination touched the admissions process yet?

Yes, from the day I walked in the door. It’s my job to understand what is exceptional and is working great and then where the opportunities are. I have the same DNA as Betsy. I believe your work is never done and you can always do better. It’s my job to figure out where we can do better, but the foundation is solid. The admissions team here is exceptionally good.

So what happens to an application when it comes to Kellogg?

We have the unique element of trying to interview every applicant. So for us, we’ve actually created a two-part process which I think is unique to most applications out there. Part one requires that an applicant submit basic information about him or herself with a resume. That part one submission comes to us and immediately sets up a match with an interviewer. Then, they are allowed to submit part two while we are working to get them an interview.

We don’t review until the application is complete. It’s just a trigger point to say Amit is in India and who can we find in India from our alumni network to interview him or will he be able to come to campus for an interview. Once we get part two, which includes the letters of recommendation and the essays, the review process begins.

First up, it goes to a student. We have about 20 trained student readers, both first and second year MBAs, who are part of our admissions process. And we have 20 students who do interviews on campus. Then, when they graduate, they go out and populate our alumni interview team. It’s like building a virtual network of our admissions staff year after year.

In any given year, how many Kellogg alumni participate in this interview exercise?

We have a base that is in the thousands. We have annual training so we reengage with them every year. We have a manual and send it to each and every interviewer. Don’t go find it. It’s more about how do you conduct a good interview and what are we looking for in the evaluative process. We are definitely looking for certain attributes and qualities in the interview process.

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