In Search of Excellence…Across the Globe

Owen in Japan


Kim Killingsworth

Every top business school recognizes the importance of having a strong global curriculum, academic outlook and, of course, student body. At Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, we take that obligation very seriously. For us, it’s important to maintain the personalized environment that we’re known for, while scouring the world for candidates that will fit seamlessly into our collaborative community. In this Q&A, Kim Killingsworth, Owen’s Director of International Recruiting and Relations, talks about her approach to the job.

You joined Owen’s Admissions team in 2012 to focus on international recruitment. Talk more about your role.

My role is not about expanding Owen’s international population, but to be more strategic about our global presence. The school wants to stay at around 20% international students, which is what we’ve done. We aim to be more strategic with international diversity — that is, which countries people are coming from — in terms of both the applicant pool and the enrolled student pool. The more diverse a class can be — culturally, as well as from a work-experience standpoint — the richer the experience is going to be for all of our students. For example, you wouldn’t want to enroll a group of 12 Indian students all coming from the IT sector. We’re a small school, so we have to strike a careful balance. That also goes for international students who are sponsored by their companies and those who aren’t.

Where do your travels take you over the course of a year?

While I travel throughout the year, the busiest part of my 2013 travel season began in mid-July and it finished by mid-November. I started in Tel Aviv and I ended in Caracas. I visited Latin America — a real focus area for us — three times during that period. I’ve been to Asia twice during this most recent recruiting season, and to Europe and the Middle East once. These are for both MBA recruiting fairs as well as to conduct individual information sessions I set up and corporate visits For example, in Bahrain, I met with ALBA, the world’s second largest aluminum company. CEO Tim Murray is one of our alums and he recently reinstituted a sponsorship program encouraging senior-level employees to pursue an MBA, whether locally or internationally. So I was invited to do a presentation about Owen, and a training showing employees how to  produce a stronger application and talked to the company’s HR officers about their expectations.

In an international context, how does Vanderbilt differentiate its MBA program compared to other top U.S. programs?

Many people already know the Vanderbilt name. But once I talk to people about the specifics of our programs, they get very interested in the Leadership Development Program (LDP). It really distinguishes us. Part of the reason why is that it’s such a structured program. Any MBA program will tell you that you’re going to acquire leadership skills, but often that’s through the curriculum. We do that as well, but having the LDP as a separate program for that is a real draw. Our international recruits also seem to like the fact that we partner with Hogan Assessments and Korn/Ferry, two names they seem to know and respect. Often, international applicants will think that the LDP involves an additional two years or they have to pay something extra. When I explain that, no, it’s part of the program, it’s included in tuition, they get really excited about it.

Another thing that differentiates Owen among international applicants is the small class size and the fact that it’s very collaborative. I often give the example of a student who was preparing for an interview with an on-campus recruiter and she felt that the position would be really good for a classmate. So she recommended it to this person even though she knew she would be competing against her for the job. I find that group-focused cultures like Asia are happy to hear stories like that and seek us out because we are collaborative. It’s also nice to be a big fish in a small pond. I point out that they can’t hide from the faculty, that the faculty will know them by name. For some, that can be a bit scary. They might not really understand the concept of an open-door policy, so I often explain that as well. And until they experience some of those things, I don’t think they realize how valuable it is. I tell them in a big program of 800 or 1,000 people they may sit in class next to somebody and get to know them a little bit, but then never see them again

What makes a good international candidate for Owen in your eyes?

We’re looking for the same qualities as in U.S. applicants — academic aptitude, strong leadership capabilities — as well as good communication skills. We want to ensure that the person will be successful obtaining a job in the U.S., and for that communication skills are critical. For students who will require a company to sponsor them for an H-1B visa, it’s vital that they make a really good connection, an ally within a company who’s willing to go to bat to see them through the sponsorship process. A lot of employers are turned off when it comes to sponsorship because it’s an extra $5,000 to $7,000 and they have to get lawyers involved. That’s why communication skills are so important. Not only will they be competing with other international applicants, but also those from the U.S.

From an academic standpoint, it’s also important to have the communication skills and the personality where they’ll speak up in the classroom because the MBA program is designed to build off students’ experience and what they contribute to the rest of the class. We don’t want someone who’s just going to sit back and not feel comfortable contributing in the classroom. And for many international students that’s a complete shift from what they’re used to in the classroom. They’re not used to being called upon. They’re not used to being asked their opinion. They may just be used to having to take verbatim what the professor says.

What is one of the questions you get most from international applicants?

Many want to know more about Nashville. I tell them that Vanderbilt and Nashville are really welcoming communities. Nashville in particular is a very good place for families. It’s a very safe place with lots of green spaces. I remind people that Nashville is consistently ranked in the top-3 in terms of places to live in the U.S. It’s got a relatively low cost of living and a high quality of life. It’s got very little traffic compared to a larger city. It’s easy to get to know people, they’re incredibly welcoming and friendly here. It’s also centrally located in the U.S., so it’s easy to fly to the East Coast or the West Coast in a relatively short amount of time.

Just have to ask: How many miles did you log this year?

Ha! I think I just passed 150,000 miles recently.

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