Meet INSEAD’s Incoming Class of 2016

Benjamin Lu-Insead-PoetsAndQuants-Classof2017

Zhongyang “Benjamin” Lu


Hometown: Shanghai, China

Undergraduate School and Major: Shanghai University, International Economics and Trade

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation: Standard Chartered Bank

Job Titles – Job Location

  1. International Graduate (Management Trainee) – China, Singapore, UAE
  2. Segment Development Manager, Priority and International Banking, Greater China – China
  3. Business Planning Manager, Corporate and Institution Clients, Africa Regional Office – South Africa

Recalling your own experience, what advice do you have for applicants who are preparing for either the GMAT or the GRE? I studied for the GMAT by myself and here’s the advice I would like to share:

  1. Use the Official Guide…over and over: The Official GMAT Guide is the best material for someone to understand what is the GMAT, what kind of skills are required for the test, what are the suggested strategies for the different sections, etc. To me, the most important take-away from the Official Guide (especially the official answers provided) is to understand GMAC’s thinking logic. After reading the Official Guide several times, you will develop a good sense of what the GMAT test is looking for.
  1. Develop a timeline which is suitable for you and stick to the plan: Most MBA applicants prepare for the GMAT while they are still working. So, it’s critical to develop a plan to make time for GMAT. 2-3 hours a day for 2 months was more than enough for me. But, you need to make sure you stick to your plan and not allow other things to distract you. Also, I suggest you make sure you have time for all the sections and dedicate more time for your weaknesses.
  1. Keep a good “pace” during the exam: Personally, I think a good pace can help you succeed in the GMAT. Make sure you spend enough time on questions that seem easy – this will help you avoid mistakes – and don’t waste your time on difficult ones. Keep this in mind when you start doing the exercises and do use the mock online tests to practice your pace. You need to find a balance between speed and accuracy.

Based on your own selection process, what advice do you have for applicants who are trying to draw up a list of target schools to which to apply? Here is my own selection process based on a simple economics theory, which I think is logical and could be helpful for applicants –Mapping your demand with the supply:

  1. Demand – What do you want?

Take your time to really think about “Why MBA” and “Your Career.” You need to be extremely clear (or at least 80% clear) about who you are, what you want to do in the future, and how an MBA will help. After that, you will get an idea of:

  • Geography you would like to work in
  • MBA program qualification requirement and culture fit
  • Industry you want to focus on
  1. Supply – What schools are out there?
  • Most elite schools are located in the US or Europe, but their alumni distribution is very different. Most alumni of American schools are still located in North America, whereas alumni of European schools are located in a lot of different areas. You need to think about where you want to continue your career and whether that “brand” could help you get there.
  • You can then proceed with the creation of a shortlist of well-recognized global MBA programmes. I used the Financial Times’ Global MBA rankings to build my list. To see the qualification requirements, select some schools from each tier and study each school’s official website. Comparing those requirements and their historical data of accepted students with your own GPA, GMAT score, and professional experience, will enable you to find out which tier suits you. Once you have established the correct tier for you, you should further study the programs themselves and culture of each school. Again, program details are available online. To determine the ‘culture fit,’ you can always talk to alumni (especially recent graduates) and a lot of times, you will find it interesting when they talk about different competitor schools. If you like the design of one program (lecture vs. group discussion, mandatory course vs. electives, etc.) and the people from there, then this should be a right school for you.
  • Through an MBA, you are probably looking for one of these three things: career advancement within your current industry, a career change (industry, geography, etc), or you wish to start your own business. As such, I would suggest doing further research on your target school’s job placement statistics. Employment data actually means a lot, like your possibility of entering a certain field, your alumni resources in that field, etc. Be practical and think about your future seriously.

After mapping demand and supply, you should have a short list of 3-4 target schools.

What advice do you have for applicants in actually applying to a school, writing essays, doing admission interviews, and getting recommenders to write letters on your behalf?

  1. Writing essays: Do a lot of self-reflection before writing anything and discover who you really are (what is unique about you and what are your strengths and weaknesses). Then, just use the essays to tell your story and show the best side of you. If you really like your target school’s culture, you must know what kind of people they are looking for. So, demonstrate your qualities in the essays and let the admissions officers feel this is the person they really want. Also, show your essays to someone who knows you well and ask him/her to comment on whether they think your essays paint an accurate portrait who you are. Your essays should convey the message that your qualities are a perfect fit for the school.
  1. Admission interviews: You should always get well-prepared for any interviews. Take some time to review what you wrote in your application. Make sure you have convincing answers for those classic questions (introduce yourself, why MBA, why now, why ABC school, etc.). Then, you just need to be calm and be yourself. Remember that the admissions officers/alumni never want to scare you. They just want to know who you really are and whether you are as good as what you described on paper. Finally, prepare 1-2 questions about the school (something not easily available online), that will leave the interviewer with the impression that you really thought about how the MBA will fit your life and that you are eager to know more about the school.
  1. Getting recommenders to write the letters: First, choose someone who knows you well instead of someone senior in title. Just like your essay should use storytelling to speak of your qualities, I think your recommenders need those stories too. If you choose someone senior who doesn’t work with you, their recommendation letter is likely to be very dry – and admissions officers don’t like those. So, you need find your line manager, your mentors, or seniors from other teams with whom you work directly. This means they will have more things to share about you.

Second, around two months before the deadline, you need to set up a long chat with your recommenders and let them be clear about your self-reflection – why you want to do an MBA, why now, what your career aspiration is, and who you think you really are. Exchange ideas with them and ask for their opinions (especially your weaknesses and how you can improve – it’s usually in the recommendation letters). I personally found that those conversations were very interesting and helpful. Finally, you need to give them enough time (1-2 months) and constantly remind them about basic stuff – deadlines, procedures, and the type of quality that your short-listed schools are looking for.

What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? INSEAD was the best choice for me for the following reasons (according to my demand-supply model):

  • I’m excited about developing economies and would love to continue building my career in Asia or Africa. INSEAD is simply the best business school in Europe, Africa and Asia. It also has two campuses, one in France and one in Singapore. I believe its resources and experience in these markets could help me succeed in those regions.
  • According to the Financial Times, INSEAD is always among the top 5 full-time MBA programs globally. Also, its 10-month intensive program will enable me to go back to the professional world quickly and save on opportunity costs. In addition, its international, diverse and team-based culture is appealing to me.
  • Moreover, I’m considering a career change from banking to consulting after my MBA and INSEAD has great reputation, resources and fantastic job placement figures in the consulting industry.

What would you ultimately like to achieve before you graduate?

  1. Network with amazing people: I really want to personally know everyone from my batch, hear about their life stories, and learn about their industries and their opinions on those industries. The admissions office spent a lot of time making sure we have a great mix in the classroom. I respect their job and want to fully leverage that mix in order to learn from my peers. Also, I will take the opportunity to get to know as many alumni as possible.
  1. Successfully make the career change: I was a banker and was involved in a lot of strategic projects in the bank. Through my experience, I realized that my interests lie in developing strategy and solving problems my bank has. Therefore, I want to crack into consulting and land a job in one of the top three consulting firms. With its alumni resources, its courses, clubs and its reputation in the industry, I believe INSEAD is exactly the school that will help me successfully make this change.
  1. Always be proactive and enjoy the most from my MBA life: After my MBA, I really want to be able to say ‘I don’t have any regrets.’ I hope I can be proactively involved in classroom discussions, group assignments, clubs and student activities, career development sessions, and (of course parties) and traveling. Study hard, work hard and play hard!

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