Kellogg is unique in many ways, not least that it’s the only top business school that seeks to interview every candidate who applies. It’s able to attempt this feat by flexing the strength of a worldwide network of passionate alumni, who opt-in both as ambassadors for the program and messengers to its admissions committee. While many candidates choose to travel to Evanston for an on-campus interview with a current student or a member of the admissions team, most interviews are carried out near the candidate’s home base by a local Kellogg alumnus. As the experience is distinct from being interviewed by a member of the MBA admissions committee, so to is the preparation.
Before joining Fortuna Admissions as an MBA admissions coach, I was an alumni interviewer for Kellogg for over 20 years and later served in a director role for Kellogg in Brazil. While representing my alma mater throughout Latin America, I met individually with hundreds of future MBA students, sharing insight into what Kellogg seeks in candidates. Here are a few essentials about the Kellogg MBA alumni interview in terms of what to expect and how to prepare.
3 KEY FACTORS TO KEEP IN MIND ABOUT THE KELLOGG ALUMNI INTERVIEW:
- Format: Interviews are conducted blindly, meaning the only thing your alumni interviewer knows about you what is on the resume you submitted to Kellogg.
- Content and tone: By design, an alumni-led interview tends to be a conversational experience, allowing both you and your interviewer to gauge fit with the school. The content and tone will match the interviewer’s personality and are not dictated by questions furnished by the school.
- Length: On average, interviews run about an hour (if you part ways after only 30 minutes, it probably did not go well). My personal record was a 3 ½ hour conversation with a fascinating candidate whom I was heartbroken to later learn ended up at HBS. The duration varies depending on the flow of conversation, but also according to the time your alumnus has available.
Now let’s talk strategy. First, I’m a big proponent of meeting as many alumni as possible while deciding which schools to target – you will be marrying into an alumni family after all. Having shared a meal in three dozen countries with Kellogg alumni, I’m a great believer in the power of mutually beneficial networks. Think of your Kellogg interview experience as a valuable initial step in cultivating your post-MBA professional network.
6 TIPS TO PREPARE FOR A SUCCESSFUL KELLOGG MBA ALUMNI INTERVIEW:
- Understand the culture of the school. Without going on a ramble, you want to convey an impressive depth of knowledge about Kellogg. Alumni interviewers opted in for this role because they love their school and want to contribute to the community – remember that they’re both the school’s champions and ambassadors. You’ll need to show the love by conveying a thoughtful and sincere understanding of its unique culture and values.
- Know who you’re talking to. While interview-style trends toward the conversational, it will depend on your interviewer’s personality and what they do professionally. Unlike with on-campus interviews in Evanston, you will know in advance who your alumni interviewer is. Set yourself up for success by knowing as much as you can about who they are, what they do and what they care about. It’s never been easier to sleuth out information about your interviewer – start with an anonymous LinkedIn search. You’ll want some well-tuned questions prepared to show you’ve done your homework and work in a mention of your affinities.
- Have your elevator pitch at-the-ready. A common opening overture from your alum interviewer will be “tell me about yourself,” or “Walk me through your resume.” Responding well to this starter question is what my Fortuna Admissions colleague Sharon Joyce calls crafting your MBA elevator pitch, a compelling and concise conversation opener that speaks to who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what’s motivating you to pursue your business school degree. Your goal is to create a positive first impression as well as open the door to an interesting conversation.
- Avoid being overly rehearsed. By all means, prepare your key selling points and anticipate some stories to share. While you want to be coherent and memorable, know that authenticity and sincerity are key. You don’t want to present yourself as overly scripted or posturing. Be yourself, not who you believe we want you to be. Your interviewer is looking to gauge your fit with the school, your ability to connect the dots within your career experience, your leadership potential, and what you hope to both gain and contribute as a student and as an alumnus.
- Make the most of your opportunity. This is a prime opportunity to ask those exacting questions to someone who has actually walked in your shoes – unlike most members of the admissions team. My Fortuna colleague Melissa Jones says it well: “Don’t miss the chance to glean valuable insights by turning the tables: What was their most powerful lesson learned? What has been most valuable to them about the alumni network? What do they perceive to be the program’s greatest strength?” It’s also a chance to cultivate a future friend and contact. Remember, these are also busy professionals who are likely connecting with you during a busy workday. Be sure to thank them for their time and acknowledge their generosity (a written follow-up note is always appreciated.)
- Do not overestimate your interviewer’s influence on your candidacy. Having conducted countless alumni interviews on behalf of Kellogg, my biggest advice to candidates is to RELAX. While your alumni interviewer offers valuable insight to the admissions committee, their influence only extends so far – they are not the final gatekeepers to who is admitted or denied. This experience is one part of a holistic review of your application, so keep some perspective. Prepare thoughtfully, but when the moment arrives, allow yourself to stay curious, enjoy the conversation, and let your genuine enthusiasm shine. Your MBA experience may only last two years, but your opportunities to both benefit from and contribute to your alumni network will continue for decades.
For more details and insights on the Kellogg MBA alumni interview, view my 8-minute strategy session with Fortuna Co-Director Caroline Diarte Edwards.
William Kotas is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and formerly served as a Director at Northwestern Kellogg. He was honored as Kellogg’s alumni volunteer of the year in 2011 following two decades as an admissions interviewer and alumni community leader in Peru, Brazil and South Florida. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation