L’Oreal’s Oops Moment: Harvard MBA Student Tilts at Cosmetics Giant

Harvard Business School MBA student Jessica Assaf with beauty products

Harvard Business School MBA student Jessica Assaf with beauty products

Pssst! Hey, MBA student – want an internship at a major international corporation? It’s an “amazing” opportunity, and a chance to violate all you hold dear.

Cosmetics giant L’Oreal probably wouldn’t have known they were inviting the fox into the henhouse when they sent an internship posting to Harvard Business School candidate Jessica Assaf on Nov. 3. But the truth was soon revealed to company talent director Shadan Deleveaux, after he emailed Assaf what was probably one of hundreds of notices to MBA candidates at elite schools, in which he cited his own “amazing experience” during a L’Oreal internship.

“I guess you didn’t get a chance to review my resume before sending this email,” Assaf wrote back. “If you had you would have realized that I am definitely not the right candidate for an internship at L’Oreal.”

Assaf has crusaded against hazardous chemicals since she was 15, “committed specifically to spreading awareness about the unregulated cosmetic industry and the unnecessary chemicals in our beauty products,” she wrote to Deleveaux.


Since June, she and Alexis Krauss – singer for pop-rock duo Sleigh Bells – have run a blog dedicated to exposing dangerous ingredients in cosmetic products. Assaf, after receiving the L’Oreal internship letter, took to their BeautyLiesTruth blog and wrote a post titled, “L’Oreal Tried to Recruit the Wrong Girl“. The post, containing the letter, her response, and now a counter-response from Deleveaux, has gone semi-viral, and prompted coverage on the feminist website Jezebel and on the front page of The Harbus, the HBS student newspaper.

Of course, if Assaf had applied for the internship, the company would have had reason to look into her background and realized she would not be a good fit.

However, Assaf’s tilt against L’Oreal illustrates the value many elite B-schools place on admitting to their henhouses the occasional fox. In fact, soon-to-be-published research by Poets&Quants reveals that top schools are increasingly targeting prospective students from non-traditional backgrounds, mostly because such candidates broaden debate in classrooms and throw curve balls into traditional business ideologies and perspectives.


And that, in a nutshell, is Assaf’s goal at HBS.

“I came here to cause a stir,” says the 24-year-old from Marin County, California, where she was a founding member, at 15, of sustainability-focused youth group Teens Turning Green. “You can be like this crazy activist that doesn’t fit into any boxes and still have something to contribute.

“I came to HBS with the sole mission to . . . improve public health and spread awareness.”

Assaf describes her GMAT score as “definitely on the lower end,” but notes that she had a 3.93 GPA at New York University, where she received a BA in public health, documentary film, and social activism.

Three months into her first year as an MBA candidate, Assaf has found strong confirmation that her work to inform consumers about the health risks of industrial chemicals is the correct way forward. “It’s not like I’m anti-business. I want to be part of a business that provides a solution to the L’Oreals of the world,” Assaf says. “I came here to get that corporate mindset, to kind of tweak it, twist it. What I’ve learned from every (HBS class) case is that consumers control the market.”

On the day earlier this month on which Assaf received the invitation from L’Oreal, she had just finished a class with professor Joshua Margolis – who specializes in leadership and ethics – and noted down a quote from him: “Change requires creativity and courage.”

  • montana83

    The European Union?
    Soon to be a division of the Muslim Brotherhood. Europe murdered their Jews and let in 40 million Muslims. Darwin Award Winners of the last 100 years.

  • claymedia

    Good idea.self bussiness is very good.

  • Peter p

    I wouldn’t date her..she probably smells…..

  • Shelby S

    I got the same email from L’Oreal recruiting for MBA interns. They probably sent out thousands of the emails. She actually thinks they actually would have taken the time to view her on LinkedIn or something to recruit her. I guess she wasn’t exaggerating on the low GMAT thing…I know that and I don’t even go to an ELITE b-school.

  • Bunch of idiots

    “Assaf, who then posted L’Oreal’s online statements about the safety of their products, following them with a link to a list of 1,373 chemicals prohibited in cosmetics by the European Union, and a statement that, “As of today, 1,362 of them are still legal and widely used in U.S. products.”

    To those objecting, you are missing the the real point (read paragraph above) … she is advocating as a public ‘health’ advocate the bigger issue here that Americans are quite oblivious to the fact they are smearing on their faces chemicals banned in Europe… someone has to make the facts better known. The response above was after L’Oreal’s initial salvo that they would never knowingly include harmful chemicals in their products.

  • Ryan S.

    Haha you Americans… thanks for the comedy.

  • chicky1214

    Wait, whats the first amendment again? OH RIGHT, freedom of speech. Girl can say what she wants when she wants. If it’s about something she believes in, you bet she’s going to go off. Very proud of her.

  • chicky1214

    No, “Ace of Spades”, HBS is the PERFECT fit for her. Do you even know what Harvard is looking for? If you read Harvard’s mission, it reads in the very last sentence that they want students to “serve society.” I think Jessica is doing a phenomenal job of doing just this. She is informing society what she wants to change and how she’s going to do this. Jessica sounds like the epitome of an ideal Harvard student.

  • chicky1214

    I’m just curious, what have you ever contributed to for improving the world & its future? What, commenting snarky remarks about a successful young woman? “Devils0508” (what a suitable name!) I think sometimes we all forget to look at OURSELVES before judging others and realize what is really going on. This woman is sharing an important email exchange that is going VIRAL. That means something, does it? She IS causing attention for something she believes in. And what are you doing? COMMENTING rudes remarks. Who’s really doing better things now?

  • Fuсkoff

    Who cares about this bitch?

  • FinalAnswer


  • Whoopdeedoo

    Oh wow! Harvard business SCHOOL!?!?!?

  • gosmar

    jesus christ, holy cow, how are you jessecow.

  • Ethan Baron

    Thanks for the comment, Standing With Jessica. In case anyone wonders about your reference, we deleted the comment in question, and a couple others from the same person that were over the line…

  • Ethan Baron

    Thanks for the comment, Standing With Jessica. In case anyone wonders about your reference, we deleted the comment in question, and a couple others from the same person that were over the line…

  • Ethan Baron

    Thanks for your comment, Stanford GSB student – in case anyone’s wondering about the reference, we’ve deleted that misogynistic comment.

  • Standing With Jessica

    WAIT. HOLD THE PRESSES. A woman shows assertiveness, and a semi-anonymous male online commenter not-so-subtly insinuates that she is a “bitch.”

    Haha, wow. Keep taking it to them, Jessica.

    – A Stanford GSB student

  • Avinash Tyagi

    Isn’t that the mark of a leader?

  • Ryan S.

    There are a lot of things I’ve been called. A woman hater isn’t one of them, I actually consider myself to be somewhat pro-feminist. If you can’t digest the independently verifiable fact that women can get into b-school with lower GMAT/GRE scores, then you’re just in denial.

  • Sandwiches69

    there’s a word for people like you – idiotic woman hater. Now it all makes sense. Have fun having a shitty life full of posting hateful comments on the internet. Where would we be without people like you?!

  • Sandwiches69

    People definitely want to work with her! She’s at fucking Harvard Business SCHOOL! So if anything, that’s where you’re wrong.

  • Ryan S.

    Oh WOW I’m so blessed to have an advocate like her. Wow, I’m so fortunate! No thanks.

  • Sandwiches69

    God with that attitude, how do you think anything would ever change? People like her, that DO SAY SOMETHING, are the ones that will change the world. Not the ones that are passive and nonchalant… At least she has a voice and a platform that’s trying to reform safety standards for humans like you!

  • Sandwiches69

    Her response isn’t rude… It’s real~!

  • Ryan S.

    There’s a word for that, it’s called being a zealot.

  • Sandwiches69

    YAY JESS!!!

  • Ryan S.

    A vagina? As the head consultant to stratus prep told me, if you’re a woman and you get above a 670 you can pretty much get in anywhere.

  • Ryan S.

    It’s like a bachelors in feminism, you get it if you want to a a professional annoyance.

  • Ryan S.

    Not at all, actually.

  • Ryan S.

    No it was indignant, she had to make a statement. People like this annoy me. Many people would just be happy for the opportunity. Yes, unfortunately L’Oreal made a mistake (whether through incompetence, or ignorance) by reading out to her.

    But instead of simply turning it down, she had to try and make a point.

  • Hey everyone it’s me, Jessica! The girl you are talking about 🙂 I’m here to improve cosmetic safety, even if it takes a sassy attitude. It beats cancer or infertility!

  • SJL

    She is really going to accomplish a lot with that attitude. Another ideaologue with an inability to see from a different perspective. Instead of making suggestions to improve L’Oreal and engage in dialogue about improving their products she just bashes them on social media. That will be an effective way to change things.

  • Avinash Tyagi

    How is she rude?

    Her reply to them was rather measured

  • Avinash Tyagi

    Angry that someone has a cause?

  • Sandwiches69

    She is probably the antithesis of a rude person. And she’s not self-righteous. She’s been advocating consumer safety since she was 15… What’s wrong with that? Y’all are haters and complete idiots.

  • Herr

    may be she has a very special things.

  • guest11

    she’s a 24-y/o activist from Marin County who majored in social activism – what else would you expect?

  • CcCcCc

    she is one of them.

  • Ace of Spades

    “I came to HBS with the sole mission to . . . improve public health and spread awareness.”

    Huh? Cool girl, but HBS just doesn’t seem like the right place for spreading awareness about public health. And what the heck is a Bachelors in Social Activism?

  • LowGMATbutIKnowaRockStar

    And extremely rude.

  • Devils0508

    Letting in low GMAT film students is going to be the downfall of Harvard….

  • Ryan S.

    She sounds pretty self-righteous.