An Alumni Interviewer’s Advice for Off Campus Interviews
What makes for a strong performance in an alumni interview? Simple. Show that you’ve done your homework. About the school, but also about yourself.
With alumni interviews you need to start by recognizing your audience. Your interviewer, who is probably doing 3-4 interviews a year, will have a combination of self-righteousness as their role of “gate keeper,” along with a self-interest in keeping out any weak applicants who would otherwise sully the strength of the interviewer’s alma-matter. Alumni interviews are usually done blind (ie. they’ll only have your resume), so often interviewers will put little weight on your job experience as they know you’ll be able to BS your way through it. They often put more weight on whether you’re able to sell yourself on why an MBA, why now, and why that particular school. So, long story short – the interview is likely not going to be a cakewalk.
Having conducted dozens of interviews for Kellogg since graduation the single biggest reason that I do not make a recommendation is the sense that the applicant is not adequately prepared to explain their interest in Kellogg, or how they’ll be a good fit. If they’re lazy in preparing for an interview, the logic goes, they’ll be lazy working in groups, being involved in the school community, and in the workforce.
I have been amazed, for example, how many applicants (who live in Chicago) don’t bother to visit the campus, sit in a class, or make even the most basic effort to experience the Kellogg culture. Of these particular applicants, I have recommended only one –she was one of the strongest candidates I’ve ever seen, and she played the “I just had a new baby” card when explaining her inability to travel five miles north to Evanston.
If you live within driving distance of a school, the expectation is that you’ve visited it. Having applied to several schools that I was unable to visit myself, I can also attest that visiting a school will make it exponentially easier to write your essays and craft your story.
Another area where applicants get hung up is not being able to tell their stories, particularly how business school fits into their overall career strategies. While I’ll ask the question, I have almost zero interest in what you want to do after school, as 99% of the folks who want to go into “non-profit” will inevitably end up in consulting or finance. However, what I do put a lot weight on is asking every candidate what they’d do if they don’t get in anywhere. I love this question because it throws applicants off their ground and also speaks to the candidate’s career progression – ie. are they getting an MBA only because they’ve been blocked and don’t have any other options to continue their career?
I’ve seen an extremely high correlation between candidates who are able to speak through that question and the ones that I recommend. Even if the question takes them off guard, they have done enough self-reflection to be able to discuss how they’re thinking about their career and next steps, and how getting an MBA – right now – is one option, but not the only one.
Lastly, I judge people on the questions they ask me. If I get asked a question which is readily available on the website (ex. “is a quarter or trimester system”), I will usually ding the candidate.
This comes back to the whole issue of being prepared, but it also speaks to the idea of self-reflection. Investing in business school is a huge decision, and given the opportunity to speak to an alumni you should push them hard to help you determine whether you’re making the right choice.