June 14, 2020

Northwestern Kellogg School of Management MBA Video Essay

Northwestern Kellogg

Kellogg MBA Video Essay

Kellogg introduced the video essay several years ago to provide the chance to “meet” our applicants around the world. It also lets us assess your communication skills through a medium that has overtaken the business landscape. Our Career Management Center is even seeing companies such as LinkedIn Amazon, Apple and Uber use video interviews during recruitment. For those who may be apprehensive about this section, the application suggests some sample questions that you can use to warm up and familiarize yourself with the format and technology. You will have 20 seconds to think about the question and up to one minute to give your response.

Example Video essay 1: Please introduce yourself to the admissions committee.

There are two things we want to convey with a question of this type. First, we need the basics: your name, where you’re from (and/or living currently), what you do for a living. Second, we should get a sense (somehow) for what you’re like as a person, stuff like “ah, she’s really funny” or “ah, he’s really likeable” or “ah, you just made me love EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU.”

How to convey these two pieces? To begin with, it’s important to recognize what you can and can’t control. Some people walk into a room, and it’s impossible NOT to like them. Others just don’t have the rock star personality, stage presence, likeable smile, etc. needed to blow people’s minds in a one-minute video. There are tons of things here that are simply outside your control—but you can control whether or not you worry about them. So relax, be yourself, and don’t panic trying to manipulate the X factors here.

Instead, focus on what you CAN control. For example, if you slip in a humorous anecdote that reveals very succinctly exactly who you are, you’re at a huge advantage over the guy who just recites the bare facts. For example, let’s say we’re trying to prove that a guy named John is strong. Which is a more interesting way of conveying that fact: “John can deadlift 650 pounds” or “John once arm wrestled a grizzly…. and won”? Obviously, the second one, because it plants a vivid, memorable image in the listeners’ minds. We want to do the same with you: you are “the kind of guy/gal who would XYZ.”

With any video response, practice with another human is KEY. You won’t get an opportunity to “read the room” with your video response, so it’s important that you practice with “a room” before you do the real thing. Find a trusted friend or advisor who won’t sugarcoat things—someone comfortable enough to tell you “cut out that horseshit ending, dumbass. it makes you look like an idiot.”

Example Video essay 2: What path are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you?

This is very much in line with a typical written vision/ST goals/”why us” MBA essay question. So write it out and just read it, right?


You’re in a different medium now, comrade, and the packaging needs to adapt.  Be very careful with questions like this that resemble essays you have likely already written for one or more MBA applications. It is ABSOLUTELY possible to say all the right words that would have KILLED on paper, but for those to not quite LAND when spoken, either because you need to infuse it with cadences and tonal modulation, or because you need to speak in a more conversational tone that would not have been appropriate on paper. You’re now “speaking to a person,” so even a pretty straightforward “goals essay” like this needs to adapt.

You can start by posing a problem or question that keeps you up at night (in a good way). ”I was at a board meeting when the room unanimously shot down idea X because of reason Y, and I wondered… who said that was a RULE? Ever since then, I’ve been hell bent on blah blah blah….” This is the problem you want to solve or opportunity you want to seize. Then, for the remainder of the response, we work back from there to show the career steps you’ll take: First your long-term goal/role, then the ST steps, then the Kellogg MBA. What you can prepare here is research—you need to sound incredibly knowledgeable about your topic, like you have thought through every nook and cranny of your goals and can identify the precise ways in which Kellogg’s version of an MBA (and which specific program) is a distinctly good partner for you.

Video essay 3: This question will be based on a challenge you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from it.

The open questions in a video essay prepare you nicely for the skills you’ll need for your interviews. To wit: knowing your stories, and the “business school value” of each, so well that you can field ANY question thrown your way. You need to instantly connect the “what are they really asking about here” to “that aspect of one your greatest hits” and then… spin a yarn that mostly writes itself, because you’ve prepared correctly. Really, what we’re ultimately after is “how you’ve handled a challenging situation.”

So, you know the drill: What are the best stories you could possibly share with Kellogg that reveal your most badass self? Your best leadership stories, your best overcoming adversity stories? Collect ‘em, rank ‘em. Then focus on the tippity top of that list and isolate the aspects where you had to handle a challenging situation. Not all your stories will have a clear challenge. That’s okay—move on to the ones that do and drill down haaaaard to really grapple with the challenge. What was the real challenge? Was it a challenge that anyone would have felt? What made it particularly hard? If you understand the key story elements, you can quickly reframe them to suit pretty much ANY permutation of a “tell us about a time when” question.

Here are some more video essay tips to guide your overall preparation:

1) Practice Practice, Practice: Like anything else, the more you practice, the better you will become. It’s just like the GMAT, the TOEFL, or any other test—crushing this video essay means preparing for it, and the first step is recognizing the types of questions that are asked. Go through the questions from previous years, and prepare one-minute answers to them. Sure, you will get a different question, but the practice will be invaluable. Ideally, you will not only practice the questions with a timer, but record yourself, watch it, show to others, analyze it, and make corrections. Get comfortable with the type of questions that have been asked and your ability to craftily articulate an answer on the spot. The trick is to not seem rehearsed. Get comfortable answering the same question in five different ways, using different words, different segues, different energies, but landing in the same place. This is like any other muscle. The more you practice, the more you NOTCH GROOVES that will come in handy when you don’t have time to think. Your body will know how to help you out, by sheer memory.

2) Keep your goals in mind: Let’s not forget that no matter what the question is, this is still a business school essay, and business school revolves around one main thing – you getting better management roles in the business world. That doesn’t mean you should answer any question asked by blurting out what your goals are, but it does mean that you should always keep them in mind no matter what question you’re asked and incorporate them or speak to them whenever possible. That’s the point of the entire application, and that always remains the same whether you’re writing a response or recording yourself speaking.

3) Watch the Time: Probably the biggest challenge the first time you will approach this live video essay will be getting out a logical answer within 60 seconds. It’s not easy, but practicing with a timer will help you get there. One nice method to help with BOTH the timing and the structure is to break up the answer into parts. Regarding timing, it’s much easier to stretch out a single 20-second idea into 60 seconds than to try to take a 3-minute story and squish it down.

4) Watch the lighting, background and overall look: Schools might tell you that production doesn’t matter, but come on. Of course it does. As anyone who’s been involved with a semi-professional shoot knows, when it comes to making a video, it’s the little things that can make the biggest impact on quality. Try out a few different lamps and light sources to see which ones seem the most reasonable, without any MAJOR glares, shiny spots, or dark spots. Try to avoid contrast with super bright sections on the screen and super dark ones too. The best way to achieve this is to face the camera AWAY from bright light sources (like a window); in other words, do not put BRIGHT windows or lights into the camera frame behind you. The camera will adjust to the light, and your face will go completely dark. Instead, let the light live BEHIND the computer/camera so that YOU are well lit, but it’s not in the frame of the camera. Beyond that, try to have the LEAST amount of stuff in frame. While an all-white wall behind you is boring as hell, it may be better than a background that for whatever reason pulls attention AWAY FROM YOU and ONTO IT. The blander the better here.

5) Dress professionally: What does this mean? When in doubt, steer toward the side of formality and go with business casual attire. Shirt, maybe jacket (but that might be a little fancy), professional attire folks, come to play.

6) Test the equipment: The worst thing that can happen is that you realize your camera isn’t working or your mic isn’t picking up sound when you’re sitting down for the main event. So test your equipment thoroughly DAYS IN ADVANCE. Not “day of.” This is obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people go into freak-out mode because something goes wrong and are forced to write an apologetic email to the admissions committee.

7) Keep eye contact with the CAMERA: Yeah… this is one of the hardest things to get used to and subsequently, a very good thing to keep in mind while you’re practicing. Most people will get stuck looking at their own image on the screen while they’re recording. Eye contact works. In real life and in the virtual world. So focus on the tiny dot that is the camera.

Need personalized care and advice? Explore our MBA consultation to ace your admissions process.

Oh and … smile. The last thing they wanna see is an uptight stuffed shirt!

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