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 in past years the interview took place on campus or near a candidate’s home base, this year’s MBA interviews are virtual. As the experience is distinct from being interviewed by a member of the MBA admissions committee, so is the preparation.
As a Director and Coach at Fortuna Admissions, and former Managing Director at Kellogg as well as Senior Associate Dean at UChicago, I’m seasoned in helping candidates hone a personal narrative that positions their MBA candidacy for success.
Here are a few essentials about the Kellogg MBA alumni interview in terms of what to expect and how to prepare, culled from my experience and that of my Fortuna Admissions colleagues.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE KELLOGG ALUMNI INTERVIEW
- Format: Interviews are conducted blind, meaning the only thing your alumni interviewer knows about you is what is on the resume you submitted to Kellogg.
- Content and tone: By design, an alumni-led MBA 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: In the past, interviews typically ran about an hour but as the lingering pandemic lends itself to mostly online interviews, expect closer to 45 minutes. The duration varies depending on the flow of conversation, and 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. Think of your Kellogg interview experience as a valuable initial step in cultivating your post-MBA professional network.
7 TIPS TO PREPARE FOR A SUCCESSFUL KELLOGG MBA 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. Since you will know in advance who your alumni interviewer is, set yourself up for success by learning as much as you can about who they are, what they do, and what they care about. It’s never been easier to sleuth 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 Fortuna’s 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 MBA admissions team. Fortuna’s Melissa Jones says it well in her related article on tips for alumni-led interviews: “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? How did the Kellogg emphasis on values impact their MBA experience?” 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 hectic workday. Be sure to thank them for their time and acknowledge their generosity (a written follow-up note is always appreciated.)
- Adapt to the virtual format. The big upside to interviewing from your own space is that you can create the conditions to feel more relaxed. There are also special considerations you want to address in advance, such as ensuring excellent audio, lighting, and a flawless Internet connection, among others. “Attention to both engagement and environment are a must when interviewing on video,” says Fortuna’s Judith Silverman Hodara in her related article on how to prep for a virtual MBA interview. “This includes awareness of your nonverbal cues like maintaining eye contact with the interviewer (not watching yourself) and making sure your background is clean and uncluttered.” (Judith recommends turning off the pesky self-view to avoid the temptation of watching yourself speak.) Find someone willing to put you through your paces in a mock interview and offer candid feedback on your performance (check out Fortuna’s MBA Interview Prep service).
- Do not overestimate your interviewer’s influence on your candidacy. My biggest advice to candidates before arriving at the interview is to relax and do their best to enjoy the conversation. 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.
Julia Brady is a Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Managing Director at Kellogg & Former Senior Associate Dean, UChicago. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.