Kellogg Essay 1 Guidance

Kellogg Leaders are primed to tackle today’s pressing concerns everywhere, from the boardroom to their neighborhoods. Tell us about a time in your life where you’ve needed a combination of skills to solve a problem or overcome a challenge. Which skills did you use? What did you accomplish? (approximately 450 words)


Before getting wrapped up in this combination of skills thing, I would recommend that you first list out all the problems that you have solved at work or outside of work within the past 3 years. If you are coming up blank, think about how your activities have generated value in any setting. Then rank each in terms of the result achieved or importance of the problem solved.

The actions matter, but the challenge/problem you describe tells them what matters to you, where you invest your energy. I was fortunate that all my full-time, part-time and EMBA Kellogg candidates were admitted this past year despite all of them being overrepresented. Kellogg puts a special focus on inclusiveness, so my strategy was to set them apart by digging out examples showing inclusive leadership.

That said, each of recommender needs to speak to the same, so strategize content accordingly. I always strive to park work examples in the recommendations and use the essays to help the reader feel closer to you as a person. Everything else is work stuff – this is your one chance to share something different!

One candidate shared how her husband was the target of racism – and what she did to increase appreciation of diverse cultures within that community to decrease discrimination and prejudice. Another was a micro influencer who spoke about a blog she posted on a controversial topic, causing her and her followers to be plagued by trolls and even threats. The skills she demonstrated showed how she restored peace in the comments section

Now we get to the skills part. You might want to Google “list of managerial skills” to draw inspiration and further brainstorm. Conflict resolution, strategic thinking, adaptability etc.

At the heart of it Kellogg is looking for leaders who use collaboration and empathy to innovate. That is central to the Kellogg brand and what I perceive to be, in large part, the question behind the question. You want to refer to your ability to influence, or lead without authority, in a compassionate, non-manipulative way.

What you don’t want to do is refer to some regression you did that solved a problem and it’s lacking the human factor. You want intellect + heart.

Regarding execution, STAR or CAR for sure. STAR is situation/task/action/result, but I reframe this as problem/goal/action/result. CAR is a bit easier to master – challenge/action/result – especially when it comes to résumé bullets and interview prep.

Problem: you want to pick something that is not massively technical; it can be conveyed in few enough words to leave room for parts that help them get to know you. Do not cover a whole project – the essay will sound like a white paper. Rather, pick a specific obstacle within that project or a certain aspect of it.

Task: the goal – which is basically the opposite of the problem. This is not a work project type task. Sometimes the task can be something like becoming a more active listener.

Action: this shows them how your mind works. Given the task (goal) what path did you pursue? Of course, we want to show both intellect + heart in this part. Don’t go bananas and list a bunch of skills; it’s not that kind of contest. The point is that you want to SHOW DON’T TELL and each skill needs some storytelling. Deep not wide wins every time.

Result: it’s nice when you can quantify the result – by a lot – but anecdotal results are passable in a pinch. Don’t chuck out a story that shows passion and purpose because there is no dashboard of metrics attached. One example might be illustrating how you turned around a gossipy work environment and through this, everyone had better morale and therefore X good thing became possible or happened.

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