How To Prepare For The INSEAD Admissions Interview

An INSEAD graduation at the Château de Fontainebleau in France, one of three INSEAD campuses. File photo

INSEAD is among the top schools that enlist alumni to conduct MBA admissions interviews. In doing so, the Fontainebleau, France-based strives to pair you with one alumnus of a similar profile to yours and, for diversity’s sake, another with a very different background. It’s a signal of how deeply the school values the perspective its grads can bring — both to the interview process itself and to you as a candidate.

By design, INSEAD’s alumni-led format fosters a conversational experience. Unlike an interview with a member of admissions, it’s an invaluable opportunity to gauge the school’s fit for you from someone who has been in your shoes. Expect to be matched up with two interviewers in your current city of residence (interviews are not held on campus). Your interviewers might suggest meeting in a coffee shop or, more often than not, invite you to interview at their office.

Given that INSEAD draws upon a pool of thousands of alumni interviewers, there’s a lot of variability in terms of format. And this is where it gets dynamic, because INSEAD gives its interviewers some latitude. The tone, style, context, and even length will often depend on your interviewer’s personality and profession. Average length, for example, is about an hour. But some interviews can be as short as 30 minutes, while others range up to two hours long. One of my recent clients at Fortuna Admissions had an interview that topped four hours! This is unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility.

Given the high degree of variability, what can you expect and how should you prepare? Below are my top eight tips for preparing for a successful INSEAD interview, informed by my experience as a Fortuna expert coach and former assistant director of the INSEAD MBA program.

8 PREP TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL INSEAD INTERVIEW

  1. Have your MBA elevator pitch at the ready. It’s common for alumni interviewers to open with, “Walk me through your resume,” or “Tell me about yourself.” Your approximately one-minute MBA elevator pitch should be a compelling and concise conversation opener that speaks to who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what’s driving you to pursue your business school degree. Your goal is to both create a positive first impression and open the door to further conversation by generating interest.
  2. Research your interviewers. Given this format’s variability, learn about your interviewers prior to the interview and hedge your bets with due diligence. At the minimum, do a Google search and check out their profile on LinkedIn. Taking the time to sleuth out what you might have in common can make for a useful ice-breaker.
  3. Connect the dots for them. Be prepared to answer 1) Why an MBA? and 2) Why INSEAD? Those are always asked. Alumni are the school’s messengers and champions; you’ll want to show the love by conveying a thoughtful and sincere understanding of its unique culture and values. Among other qualities, your interviewer is looking for your leadership potential, fit with the school and ability to connect the dots within your professional experience to why the INSEAD MBA is the ideal next step in advancing your highest aspirations.
  4. Showcase your international experience. International experience is not only an advantage, but a distinct criterion your interviewers will be assessing. You’ll need to do more than enumerate your trips or adventures abroad. INSEAD wants evidence you’ve learned from these experiences, that you’ve gained interesting insights, cultural sensitivity and curiosity for cultures beyond your own. Know that many short trips abroad count for less than extended stays, such as working or studying in another country, when you would’ve had to adapt to different environments. If you haven’t had the opportunity yet to work or study abroad for an extended period, you could also discuss the experiences you have had working with international teams, and most importantly, what insights you have gained about cross-cultural collaboration.
  5. Make your points focused and persuasive. Your interviewer may or may not be taking notes, so practice your key selling points to ensure that what you convey is memorable and compelling (i.e. easy for them to remember when they’re writing their report to the admissions team).
  6. Prepare to address any concerns. If there are any red flags in your profile, prepare to respond — such as a low GMAT score or gap in your job history. Remember that you’re here because the school sees something in you, but there might be one issue that they want to clarify. Meet any confrontation with confidence and poise (it’s okay to take a breath and collect your thoughts). Some interviewers want to see if you can think on your feet or how you react when you’re directly challenged.
  7. Discern appropriate attire by the context. Take your cue from your interviewers’ preferred location when deciding what to wear. You’ll want to dress appropriately for that business environment — a Wall Street brokerage will skew toward formal while a Silicon Valley startup will be more relaxed — although keep it smart, and err on the side of being too formal rather than too casual. Remember that first impressions matter, and how you show up will be perceived as part of your professional presence.
  8. Ask great questions. This is your valuable opportunity to ask those nitty-gritty questions best fielded by someone who has gone through the program. When it’s your turn to ask questions, use the opportunity wisely; don’t make the mistake of asking questions for which the information is easily available online. Remember that most people like to talk about themselves, so asking your interviewer about their own INSEAD experience is always a good topic for discussion.

Being informed and prepared is the best way to feel confident and get the most from your interview. When the moment arrives, remember to smile and try to enjoy yourself. What you stand to gain from the experience — and the potential relationship — may extend far beyond your admission to the incoming class.

For a deeper dive on this topic, view my short video strategy session with Fortuna co-founder and former head of INSEAD Admissions, Caroline Diarte Edwards: Everything You Need to Know About the INSEAD MBA Interview.


Fortuna-AdmissionsMelissa 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.