The interview questions Northwestern's Kellogg is asking this year

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University is one of the couple business schools in that it requests all applicants to schedule an interview. On-campus interviews will be conducted by an admissions officer or a current student, while off-campus interviews are usually conducted by alumni. For all interviews, the interviewer will have only read the resume submitted upon registration. Expect the interview to last 30-45 minutes.

 The Chicago Skyline minutes away from Kellogg’s Campus

The Chicago Skyline minutes away from Kellogg’s Campus

Both on- and off-campus interviewers at Kellogg are not given a predetermined script, so applicants should be ready for a variety of questions to be asked. The level of rigor and engagement can also vary widely depending on who ends up conducting the interview. However, applicants should expect the interview to have a conversational feel, with the goal of getting to know the applicant more intimately.

Analysis of the questions this year:

Our analysis of the questions our clients have been asked by Kellogg indicate that in addition to the typical career transitions, Kellogg is very interested in understanding the specific leadership style of each candidate and what experiences have informed the formation of that style. Additionally, Kellogg is placing a greater emphasis on diversity and experience in leadership of diverse teams and wants to see a certain baseline of that experience in its applicants.

The specific questions Kellogg has already asked this year:

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  • Walk me through your resume.

  • Why did you choose your undergrad? Your major?

  • Tell me about which experience in your career you had the most impact.

  • Tell me about a time where you dealt with a team with a lot of diversity. What did you gain/learn? What challenges did you face.

  • How did you manage your junior team members? What did you learn as a manager?

  • What does leadership mean to you?

  • What are the specific traits that define a leader?

  • What are your strengths?

  • What are your long and short term goals?

  • Why MBA? Why Kellogg? Why now?

  • Tell me about your biggest concern or challenge you expect to face at Kellogg.

  • Kellogg is a diverse school. When have you interacted with people differently than you?

  • What is your leadership style? Why is it the way it is?

  • What role do you play within a team?

  • What specially do you hope to gain with your time at Kellogg?

  • Any questions for me?

The interview questions HBS is asking so far

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Perhaps the most feared and intimidating interview in MBA admissions is the one at Harvard Business School. That’s true for several reasons.

First, unlike student or alumni-led interviews, where the interviewer reviews your resume as you hand it to them, the HBS Admissions Committee comes dangerously prepared. The night before they carefully review each resume, looking for inconsistent themes, odd career transitions, vaguery to clear up, and anything they happen to find interesting. They then write up a list of pointed questions and prepare to deliver them rapid fire over the course of their 30 minutes with you.

Second, the entire time the interviewer and their scribe will be evaluating your communication skills to see if you’d crack under the pressure of the case classroom. They will want to see that you are able to clearly articulate your thoughts with logical structure and that your answers are persuasive. They will also probe to test the depth of your professional knowledge to see if you will be able to serve as an appropriate representative for your industry to the rest of your section.

Third, HBS’s admissions department is a well-oiled machine, and many find the incredible professionalism of its staff to be intimidating. There is a dedicated check-in center where Admissions Director Chad Losee can often be seek taking applicant’s coats. At the appointed time, an admissions staffer walks all the interviewees up to their “green room” to wait for their individual interviewers to be ready. Precisely at the appointed hour, the interview room doors open, and the names of each applicant are read out. Exactly 30 minutes later, the interviews end and the applicants are led back downstairs and on their way. For some, this is too much and we often receive reports that when clients visit the bathroom before and after the interviews, they can hear other applicants vomiting.

The questions HBS has already asked this year:

In general we are finding that HBS is much more interested in measuring each candidate’s industry knowledge and ability to represent their industry in section. We recommend that candidates prepare by researching the latest trends in their industry and be able to speak to the recent performance of their own company.

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    • Explain to me why you studied [foreign language on resume].

    • Explain how the [foreign language listed on resume] alphabet works.

    • Why did you study [undergraduate major]?

    • What is your criteria for turning down investments?

    • Compare and contrast [your sector] with [another adjacent sector].

    • Why did you choose to work abroad? Why that city?

    • Tell me about your most interesting consulting project.

    • What about your background led management to choose you for this project?

    • What are the challenges that the company you are working with right now is facing?

    • How have you tried to [solve problem mentioned in your application] through your professional work?

    • Tell me more about [the start-up you interned at]. What is the next big thing for it?

    • Which competitors should [start-up company] worry about? Do you think [company] will ever be profitable?

    • How would you evaluate [your undergraduate college’s] recent endowment investments in your industry?

    • What do you read, what news?

    • What do you do for fun?

    • Was your military service mandatory? If not, why did you do it?

    • Why do you want to move to [country]?

    • Evaluate the value of [your industry].

    • Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?

    Secret Advice: What Harvard Kennedy School’s Ron Heifetz teaches in his re-entry talk for graduating students

     Ronald Heifetz, King Hussein Bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School

    Ronald Heifetz, King Hussein Bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School

    Ron Heifetz is a leadership guru’s guru. Trained as a psychiatrist with a degree from Harvard Medical School, he served as the founding director of Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. His classes at Harvard Kennedy School, including Exercising Leadership: The Politics of Change, are so popular that they often go for the maximum number of points in the school’s bidding system.

     So what does he have to teach?

     Thankfully, he offers a “re-entry talk” for graduating students, chock full of hard truths and secrets to success. Student pack into every square inch of HKS’s Forum to hear his wisdom, but you won’t find videos of it online. Instead we have distilled the essence here:

    1. You are in more danger than you realize.

    Students reentering the workforce will find out, quite painfully, that it was much safer for them to be angry or outraged in graduate school than in the real world. Institutions inherently resist change, and as an agent of change, institutions will constantly be looking for ways of neutralizing you. In polite society, this can be accomplished by isolating you if you lack allies, stymieing you if you lack organizational knowledge, or denigrating you if you leave yourself open to personal attacks.

    2. Reenter quietly.

    People will be incredibly interested what you learned in graduate school. But if they ask you to give them advice based on what they learned – don’t! Prof Heifetz believes “if you do you might as well put a bulls-eye on your chest and say ‘shoot me here’!” Some people may be competitive and resent the credential you have and look for reasons and ways to tear you down. Instead if asked for advice, say “One thing I’ve learned is how to listen.” Ask them to tell you what’s happened in their organization or community since you’ve been gone. They will be flattered that you are showing interest in them.

    3. Negotiate your job offer to provide time to learn.

    It is far less effective to dive straight into your work than to plan 3-6 months to first get a lay of the land. You’ll want to understand which issues are relevant, evaluate the proper way to sequence issues, identify possible allies, and find best voices to champion those issues besides you. Heifetz says that in leadership, “People die with their mouths open. No one was neutralized for listening too much.”

    4. Grasp the limits of your knowledge.

    You think you know “your people,” but anyone can only know a sliver of a location, group, people. None of us really know our people and especially not since we’ve been gone. As much as you have had to “represent” your tribe at HKS, now go back and understand more of it.

    5. Understand the differences between allies and confidants.

    Allies amplify your voice. It is much harder to isolate groups of people clamoring for change than the lone gadfly, so having allies ensures that your message is not easily neutralized. Confidants, on the other hand, are there for venting. To be a confidant, they need to have no conflicting interests with you. They may not even care about the issue!

    For example, as you try to gain resources for your team at work, your co-worker may be your ally and your spouse may be your confidant. You can freely vent to your spouse about downsizing the marketing departments to get manpower for your team. After all, he or she doesn’t know these people and has no interest in the conflict. But if you were to do the same with your co-worker, you may put them into compromising position. What of your co-worker has allies of her own in marketing? How could you expect her to your secret from them?

    These roles are not static. Take other example: if your mother-in-law comes to visit, your co-worker may become the confidant you vent to while your spouse becomes your ally in dealing with her needs.

    The problem with confusing allies for confidants in a given situation is that you will confuse reasonable negative reactions as betrayal: a feeling so bad, as Heifetz notes, that Dante put it in the 9th circle of hell. However, the original sin is yours: putting allies in the bad position.

    6. Develop practices to reflect.

    Heifetz says that the best basketball players are the ones who can escape the perspective they have in the thick of the game to see the whole court, as if from above. Put another way, good leaders can be both on the dance-floor, interacting with their allies and associates, and on the balcony, seeing all the players including themselves in one view. Develop structures that will help you build this skill, such as journaling.

    7. The brain does not distinguish between cognition and emotion.

    In addition to logos, use pathos and ethos in all your arguments. (if you’ve been reading this blog, you already know that)

    8. Separate yourself from your role.

    Much of what you encounter in your job is not personal, but it is easy to take things personally – especially if what happens to your job is that you lose it. Heifetz talks about discussions he had with the King of Jordan. Heifetz asked whether having people constantly praise him ever boosts his ego. The King said no, because when people praise him, they are not praising him, the man, they are praising “the King.” No one cares about him, they care about his throne. Similarly, when there was an assassination plot that nearly took his life, he had to recognize that those people were not trying to kill him, the man, they were trying to kill “the King”. Remember that you are more than any one role, and that no role, however big, is big enough for you to fill it with your full self.

    How to become a Baker Scholar

     George Fisher Baker (1840-1931), the first major benefactor of Harvard Business School and namesake of the Baker Scholars

    George Fisher Baker (1840-1931), the first major benefactor of Harvard Business School and namesake of the Baker Scholars

    Case method classes in business school are unlike any other academic environment one will encounter. They require diligent preparation, excellent communication skills, and the ability to quickly analyze an evolving business problem in front of your peers. Class participation at many case method schools account for half of one’s grade. That’s the situation at Harvard Business School, where even though there is an official policy of grade non-disclosure, there is stiff competition for top marks.

    At the conclusion of each course, students are assigned one of four grades designated as Category I, II, III, and IV.

    Category I - given to the top 15-25% of students

    Category II - given to the next 65-75% in a section. The actual number of Category II grades is subject to the number of Category I grades assigned.

    Category III - given to the lowest-performing 10% of students in an elective curriculum course section.

    Category IV - seldom assigned; designates failure of achievement and/or commitment and, therefore, failure to meet minimum standards of the course. If Category IV is used in a course, the combined number of students who receive Categories III and IV must equal the lowest 10% of the elective course section.

    Those whose accumulation of “Net Category I” grades (i.e. the sum of their “I”s minus the sum of their “III”s and "IV"s) puts them in the top 5% of their class (over both years) earn the distinction of “Baker Scholar,” an honor named in memory of George F. Baker the "Dean of American Banking" who literally built HBS. Those who receive 5 or more “IIIs” face suspension from the program pending a review by the academic board (something called “hitting the screen”).

    What steps can you take to make Baker Scholar and avoid hitting the screen?

    1. Invest in your team.

    Case method schools often assign students to discussion groups to analyze the case before the class. See our article on how to get the most of your Discussion Group here. These people are not there to merely suck up an hour of time you might otherwise spend sleeping – they are there to make you look good by challenging your understanding, assumptions, and analysis private before your classmates will attack them in public. This really only works if you foster trust, cooperation, and reciprocity among your discussion group, so before you get to work, get to know them first and foster the comradery you would want in a high-performing team.

    2. Work smarter with “Case Captains”.

    Read our article on that system here. Until you get really good at preparing cases they take 2-3 hours each to read, analyze, and write-up. That means that you’ll need to prepare 6-9 hours in advance of a three-case, easily sucking up any time that you might otherwise spend on other productive activities such as networking and recruiting. By using Case Captains, you can free up time on nights when you’re not on duty to attend social events to keep you sane, and recruiting events to keep you employed. Plus, if something happens and you’re not able to read the case, the Case Captain system throws you a lifeline to see participate in class.

    3. Enlist a feedback buddy.

    It’s really hard to be on the dance floor and to visualize yourself from the balcony at the same time. Likewise, it’s very difficult to accurately assess how you come across with your comments in class and what you need to improve. That’s why you should enlist a feedback buddy to keep special notes on the things you say. Things to have them look for include (1) the logical flow of your comment (was it easy to follow?), (2) your volume (could you be heard?), (3) its relevancy (did it fit in with the flow of the conversation or did it take the class on a tangent?), (4) the reaction of the professor and the class (positive or negative?), (5) any public speaking ticks to correct (you’re practicing a skill when you speak in public, practice it correctly!)

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    4. Keep a comment log.

    Related to the above. Note on a I-III scale how well you think you did with your comment. This will give you a sense of how well you think you should be doing going into mid-term feedback and will help you understand where you need to invest your time to improve your grades. Noting when you speak in class will also tell you when you are due for a comment. When you’re overdue (i.e. it’s been more than three classes since your last one) you might want to start expecting a cold call. Having air-tight analysis pre-prepared in such a situation will make you look like a rockstar, but you’ll probably only be able to do that when you know the cold call is coming!

    5. No case-facts or chip-shots

    Every comment you make in class is graded. Each one is assigned a potential maximum value based on its level of difficulty (think of the way gymnastics and diving are scored by “degree of difficulty” in the Olympics). Questions where the answer is a case fact are by their nature incredibly easy. The best you can score by answering such a "chip-shot" flawlessly is a low “II.” If you mess it up, you’re in for a low “III”. Professors specifically ask these questions for students who are extremely nervous or under-prepared so that they can get their participation grade and get back out of the conversation. If you’re hoping to do anything more than not fail out of the school, you should avoid these questions at all costs.

    6. Don’t speak in the first 30 minutes of class.

    Related to the above. This is where all the case-fact questions are asked. The questions with a level of difficulty in the “I” range come usually at the two-thirds or three-quarters mark.

    7. Quantity has a quality.

    Every professor will say that the quality of your comments matter more than the quantity. However, after a certain point, quantity achieves a quality all its own. This happens for a couple reasons. First, faculty work to balance the airtime between students, so if you’re always speaking, the professor won’t want to waste a (dreaded) cold call, when they can use that to instead draw quieter students into the conversation. Second, and related, if you know that you won’t be cold called, you won’t have to play defense by answering chip-shots and case-fact questions. This gives you the freedom to only raise your hand to speak when you have a truly great comment. Last, while faculty say that quality is much more important than quantity, quantity is much easier to measure and consequently has greater weight for grading purposes.

    8. Dig past the obvious answer

    Most cases are meant to teach an incremental topic or framework. You know that the finance class on using comparable companies to calculate the WACC will involve calculations of comparable companies’ Beta. Don’t be content just calculating the other Betas; chances are all of the other smart kids calculated it too. Instead, ask one question deeper. Something like, are these even the right comparables? What do their Betas tell me about the strength of their firms? What does this WACC tell me I should invest in?  

    9. Make one point and make it well.

    Comments with one thesis are easier to execute and easier for the class to follow. Complex comments referencing five points made over the past 30 minutes disrupt the flow and won’t be appreciated.

    10. Erect signposts.

    "Signposting" is the act of providing meta-structure to your comment in order to aid in its understanding. Example, “I disagree that the CEO should fire her CFO for three reasons. The first reason is that…”. This will help the class understand the journey that your comment is going to take them on, as well as then they can expect it to be over.

    11. Let overripe comments go

    Every comment has a moment in the case conversation. When the moment for your comment comes and goes, let it pass. Saying it anyway will disrupt the flow of the conversation and make it look like you were not listening to your classmates (i.e. being disrespectful). There is nothing more self-denying and zen than sitting on a comment you were sure would score a home run after your team has taken the field again.

    12. Visit office hours.

    Professors are people too and they appreciate getting to know you outside of class. Making one or two appearances shows your interest in their subject, and can provide great opportunities to ask questions that you never got to in class. Plus, professors can be valuable assets after graduation and visiting with them can really boost your professional network.

    See related articles:

    How to improve classroom comments with a Feedback Buddy

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    Case-based MBA programs are all about the comments you make in class. Those comments make up a huge part of your grade and set the first impressions that your classmates will have of you. That’s why it is so important to (1) understand how you come across when you make your comments and (2) use that information to improve. I suppose you could accomplish that by filming yourself on your smartphone, though that would likely break any rules your school has about using electronic devices in class. A much easier solution is to enlist what is called a “Feedback Buddy” to to help evaluate your comments.

    What Feedback Buddies Do

    It’s really hard to be on the dance floor and to visualize yourself from the balcony at the same time. Likewise, it’s very difficult to accurately assess how you come across with your comments in class and what you need to improve. That’s why you should enlist a feedback busy to keep special notes on the things you say. The specific things that you might want them to note when you speak are:

    (1)  The logical flow of your comment (was it easy to follow?)

    (2)  Your volume (could you be heard?)

    (3)  Your comment’s relevancy (did it fit in with the flow of the conversation or did it take the class on a tangent)

    (4)  the reaction of the professor and the class (positive or negative?)

    (5)  Any public speaking ticks to correct (you’re practicing a skill when you speak in public, practice it correctly!)

    Who should you choose?

    An ideal feedback buddy would sit on the other side of the classroom from you so that they can see you clearly when you make your comment and ensure that your voice carries across the room. Choosing a feedback buddy is also a great way to get to know someone better so think about picking someone you might not otherwise socialize with, or someone who had a pre-MBA career you’d like to learn more about.

    If there is exceptional demand for Feedback Buddies in your section, don’t be afraid to form networks that you can use to get insights from many different people.

    How should you give and receive feedback?

    After your choose your buddy, keep a comment log for them on a separate piece of paper, noting the details mentioned above. You’ll want it to be something easy to take from class to class that you could just hand them if need be. Make sure to set initial expectations that you want real, honest feedback, not nice words to make you feel good. Then meet every 2-3 days (perhaps between classes), or whenever you have ~5 comments to debrief with the other person.

    You’ll likely want to meet more frequently earlier in the first year when you are still learning how to play the comment “game” and want to iterate more rapidly.

    Case Captains: the key to working smarter in discussion group

    Captain.JPG

    Until you get really good at preparing cases, each one takes 2-3 hours to read, analyze, and write-up. That means that you’ll need to prepare 6-9 hours in advance of a typical three-case-day.

    A few people each year come to business school purely for the academic experience and gleefully invest this time in their classes. However most people don’t, and the thought of academic demands taking away all the time that someone might otherwise spend on productive activities such as networking and recruiting might make them reconsider going to business school.

    So how do you fix this problem? Two words: Case Captains. Here’s how it works.

    1. Divide work, assign responsibility.

    On Friday, have your discussion group assign each case coming up in the next week to a different member. That person will serve as the “case captain” for that class on that day. Your discussion group can choose to rotate the assignment for each class, assign cases to members who have prior work experience that is relevant to the topic of that case, or even allow members who want to grow in certain areas (e.g. accounting and finance) to take the lead on those. Just make sure that every case has one person assigned to be in charge of it.

    2. Write-up and read-ahead

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    While the expectation is that everyone will still read the case and come to discussion group prepared to discuss it, the case captain will conduct special analysis on it. The case captain will send out a “read-ahead” quickly summarizing the case and their key findings ahead of the conversation. If there is an excel model, they will send that out too, taking special precaution to do a thorough job on it and to format it in a way that will be easily legible to others.

    3. Captain the ship

    On the day of the case, the Case Captain will lead that conversation in discussion group and answer as many questions as they can. Of course, other members of discussion group will come with their own analyses, which may challenge that of the Case Captain, but at least one person will take responsibility to become an expert in that subject.

    The Benefits

    Case Captains give you peace-of-mind to take advantage of all the important extracurricular offerings of business school without having to sacrifice sleep or exercise to do your school work. On nights when you’re not the case captain, you can go out safe in the knowledge that you will have a lifeline if the case turns out to be especially hard to crack. The Case Captain system is also flexible; if you know you’re going to spend a night out later in the week at a recruiting event, you can move around your Case Captaining responsibilities so that you’re not on-duty the morning after. Lastly, the Cast Captain system is fairer. In some discussion groups, one or two people might otherwise take the lead for analyzing every case. With this system, the duty is spread out and the problem of free riders is fixed.

    How to discuss your extracurriculars in your application

    I often come across discussion threads where people ask others to evaluate their odds of admission. Many of them will include discussions of community involvements or extra curricular involvements such as these.

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    Often these sections exceed the length of their education and professional work experience.

    The problem is that these applicants have given their extracurricular activities as much real-estate on their profile as their work experience, but the former is not nearly as important as the latter. The dirty truth is that business schools generally do not really care about your extracurriculars at all. This is for two reasons.

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    First, strategically, whereas college admissions has retrospective criteria (what have you done to earn this spot?), business school admissions has prospective criteria (e.g. what will you do with this opportunity?). This is because an MBA is an entirely elective degree. Whereas you need a JD to practice law, no one needs an MBA to practice business. Therefore, any good application needs to explain what the candidate will do with the degree on their professional journey, and even insinuate what negative consequences will befall them and the world if they don’t obtain it. The answer to this question lies in work experience and narrative, not in your free-time hobbies.

    Second, tactically, extracurriculars are just not as valuable to business schools. Colleges (especially elite colleges) really value the community experience and look for students to take leadership in this important area. That’s why they give steep scholarships to athletes and little admissions boosts students who will round out difficult-to-fill spots in the orchestra (like oboe players). Talking about your extra curricular activities on your college essay made sense because you had something of value to offer to the school. In contrast, the whole point of business school is to secure an internship and later a full-time job offer. Almost all extracurricular activities exist to advance that singular goal. For example, the finance club meetings will either be to network with prospective banks or to tutor students on building models in excel. Playing the oboe at business school gives you a lot of money in a worthless currency.

    The right way to talk about extracurriculars

    There are two ways that extracurriculars can be useful in your application. The first is when they accentuate your Narrative. Say that you are a consultant who wants to come to business school in order to improve economic opportunities in Latin America. While this may be a sincere and profound interest, it is a hard story to tell if your work experience has been entirely in the United States, even if it gave you relevant skills. That’s because you need to show the admissions committee that you are already working on this mission; if your mission instead seems disconnected to your past professional experience, your mission comes across as insincere and your application uncompelling. Say that one of your community involvements is with a Habitat for Humanity chapter in Latin America, or volunteering for a community organization helping to integrate Latin American immigrants. Even a quick mention of those activities could really bolster your narrative.

    Second, they humanize you and make you seem more interesting. Reading MBA applications gets boring really quickly. Anything you can do to pique the interest of the adcom plays to your favor. On your resume, in your personal section, include a few interesting or surprising activities, hobbies, or accomplishments. “Running” is not interesting and “traveling” is not surprising, so don’t include those.

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