The MBA Gatekeeper At INSEAD

Virginie Fougea of INSEAD. Courtesy photo

Virginie Fougea of INSEAD. Courtesy photo

Do you all have a culture you are trying to build within the school that is reflected in who you accept?

Yes, the interpersonal skills, leadership skills, self-awareness are elements we want to see. We want to see those skills highlighted in the letters of recommendation, in the interview process with alumni — this is very important to us. We believe that leaders of the world have these personalities. They have self-awareness and interpersonal skills.

How do you recommend applicants communicating those skills?

It’s coming between the lines. You read it between the lines. You see it when they comment on their weaknesses. When commenting on achievements, they talk about what they learned from it. Whether it’s a success or failure, you can see through their learnings what they have made of the experience. And easily through the lines, you can see the resilience and lessons learned — positive or negative. We see that in the videos, essays, and interviews.

What is your best advice for applicants to catch the attention of members in your office and get the alumni interview?

Essay number one is very important to us because this is where we can understand the personality and see on paper, ‘Who is the person?’ When you start reading and cannot stop, it’s a great essay. Just like reading a great book, you are reading the great story of a person. The recommendation is to be honest in the essay and communicate what makes them unique and different instead of writing what they think we want to hear.

Sometimes I talk to people and they have very interesting stories to share and when I ask why it wasn’t in their essays they say, ‘You are a business school, I didn’t know you would be interested in learning this.’ And that happens primarily in essay number one. It’s not as much being too personal, thinking what they have experienced through life and what makes them unique and who they are is something we don’t want to know. But we do, because in a way, the projection for the future is coming back to their experience and what makes them the unique individual they are.

I’ve heard from admissions consultants that sometimes student athletes will omit the fact they played varsity sports in college and that’s a big deal for admissions staff. Is that true for INSEAD?

Absolutely. At that level, yes. For sure. And the contrary is true, you also have people who are giving you a long list of activities that are not interesting.

What are some things that will sink an application from the beginning?

Bullet points in an essay. I mean, it’s an essay. Again, it’s their story. But if you have bullet points describing your life, it’s something that we will notice, at least in the back of our minds. Because of the diversity of people we recruit, we don’t want to make speculations. If the person has written in bullet points, we try to go to the next level and think, this is weird, and not clever for us, but we don’t want to stop somebody from shining in an interview even if the essay was not well-written.

So we are very careful with making assumptions and not being biased by anything because of the diversity and in some cultures it might be fine to write like this. This is why the pool of evaluators are coming from a diverse background as well. The team has different nationalities, passports, passions for the same reason.

What are some other things you emphasize besides GPAs and GMATs, if we haven’t already spoken about them?

Indeed, we touched a little on this. The academic part is based on fact. You have the transcript, you have the GMAT, it’s very easy to calibrate. And then we move on to the videos, essays, and letters of recommendation. And this is where we pay more attention. Because we are looking for personality and all the soft skills. It’s more on the leadership skills and ability to contribute to the program. And the capacity to work in multicultural teams. Those are the three areas where we spend the majority of the time evaluating.

What are the biggest misconceptions applicants have of INSEAD?

That they need French. This came up over the weekend. Sometimes the level of GMAT, as well. Sometimes people think if they can’t get above 700 they have no chance.

What is your best advice for preparing for the alumni interview?

To get some background information on the alumni. If they have been assigned to interview a candidate, it’s not a random pick. It is because we feel it best fits the applicant profile to express their ideas and to see how they come to life and how they communicate and how they express their feelings, learnings, and knowledge.

It’s two interviews and with Google and LinkedIn it’s very easy to know a little bit about them. Also, because the format of the interview is two-way communication — it’s not a case-based interview — the interviewers will have a conversation with the candidate exactly like if they were in their groups as classmates.

In which part of the application process do you see applicants making mistakes?

I think the biggest ones are before the interview — rarely for people we decide to interview. Some of them are, again, inappropriate essays.

Are you referring to bullet points in essays or outside of bullet points?

Outside of bullet points. It’s too much information. It’s not the length of the essay and the wrong information would be fine, we don’t want to make assumptions. It’s inappropriate information. I don’t understand, but we always get a few.

Can you give us some examples?

Yes, there was a story about being in a bath with three people. I have no idea why. We get that at least once per round. It’s like they want to check if you are reading all of the application.

Wow, that is incredibly odd. Let’s switch gears. How much do the alumni interviews influence the final decision from your office?

I wouldn’t be able to give it a precise percentage, but if both interviewers say definitely admit, and the rest of the application is good, the person is very likely to be admitted.

What if everything in the application packet is stellar — top GMAT scores and GPAs, very well-written essays, and solid videos — and both interviewers say no?

Then the person will be denied.

So the interviews carry significant weight.

Yes, they do carry some weight. The difficulty comes when they have differing opinions, in which case we can do a third interview or we can decide based on the videos and essays and go one way or the other. We do consistency ratings on the interviewers as well to see whether one has more or less experience.

We have others that shine in the interview when the application was so-so. It happens enough that when we take pre-selection decision, we feel like giving that person a chance.

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