The INSEAD interview is a dynamic one. Unlike other business schools, none of its interviews happen on campus. Instead, INSEAD draws upon a pool of selected alumni interviewers around the world to help evaluate applicants in the cities where they live. Interviewers are given a lot of latitude, which means there’s a lot of variability in terms of format, style and tempo. It makes it difficult to know what to expect.
It’s a sharp contrast to programs like Harvard Business School, where you’re paired with someone from the admissions office who’s read your entire file and tailored specific questions for you (for insights on the HBS interview, view this recent article by my Fortuna Admissions colleague Karla Cohen). At an INSEAD interview, you can’t assume whether your interviewer has read your file or not. By empowering alumni to support candidate assessment, the school is sending a clear signal about how much it values its extended community.
As an expert coach at Fortuna Admissions, and former Assistant Director for INSEAD’s MBA Program in France, I’ve advised countless MBA hopefuls on the idiosyncrasies of the its admissions process. Here’s what you need to know about the INSEAD interview to prepare for admissions success.
What to expect in the INSEAD interview:
Expect to be matched up with two interviewers in your city of residence. INSEAD tries to pair you with one alum who has a similar profile to yours and, for diversity’s sake, another alum with a very different background. Do your homework by learning more about your interviewers prior to showing up. At the minimum, do a Google search and skim their LinkedIn profile. Consider what you might have in common, which can make for a useful ice-breaker.
Many formal interviews are contained to a 30-minute window, while others last up to two hours. And while it’s unusual, I’ve had clients with interviews that stretched into four-hour chat sessions due to common interests and personal chemistry (it’s rare, but it happens). The point is, create a buffer in your schedule and prepare to be flexible.
Much depends on your interviewers’ personality and what they do professionally. Some interviews are more casual and ‘conversational,’ possibly convened in a coffee shop. More commonly, you’ll be invited to meet your interviewer at their office, giving the setting a bit more formality. In my experience, the more seasoned and senior the interviewer, the more formal the interview and specific the questions, while younger alumni tend to skew more casual and conversational.
As “the business school for the world,” one of INSEAD’s key criteria is international motivation. The program is geared towards ambitious individuals with exposure to and experience in a global environment, and/or deep ambition to pursue an international career. Interviewers will be looking to assess how well you’ll adapt to this diverse and globally focused environment, as well as your cross-cultural awareness and career progression. It’s key to show you’ve given considered thought to your career goals and to interweave the international perspective.
The first question is often related to your current profession and what you’ve done in the past. You might be asked, “walk me through your CV,” or, “tell me about yourself,” which gives you the chance to share the various roles you’ve had and choices you’ve made along the way. You’ll want to be well versed in discussing your responsibilities, accomplishments and, as mentioned, any international perspectives, experience and exposure. Be prepared to answer, “why an MBA” and “why INSEAD?” These two questions are frequently asked.
While INSEAD isn’t prescriptive about specific questions, all INSEAD interviewers are asked to report back to the admission team on specific criteria within a 48-hour window. Beyond your career progression, leadership potential, and international outlook and motivation, interviewers are asked to comment on your communication and interpersonal skills, and traits such as team orientation. While alumni are not the final gatekeepers at decision-time, their insights are very influential to the admissions committee as your file is considered holistically.
For more advice on how to prepare, check out my 16-minute video strategy session with Fortuna’s Caroline Diarte Edwards, “Everything You Need to Know About the INSEAD MBA Interview.”
Melissa Jones is an expert coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Assistant Director of the INSEAD MBA Program. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools.
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