It was a special reunion for me last Thursday to speak with Virginie Fougea, the Global Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at INSEAD. Virginie and I worked together for many years when I was head of INSEAD Admissions, and I was thrilled when she took over when I left. During this hour-long interview, Virginie offered her candid insights on what INSEAD is looking for, common mistakes to avoid, how to work with your recommenders, and much more. I’ve synthesized seven top take-aways from our discussion below. You can also view the full video interview session.
7 TOP TAKE-AWAYS FOR MBA CANDIDATES FROM INSEAD’S VIRGINIE FOUGEA.
Clarify your key motivations for pursuing the INSEAD MBA.
‘It’s essential to have a clear understanding of why you’re pursuing an international MBA, why INSEAD, and why now at this moment in your career. Candidates frequently tell us they want to expand their perspectives, experience new cultures and pursue new interests within INSEAD’s unique ecosystem of more than 80 different nationalities. Another reason they choose INSEAD is a desire to learn from others who have different perspectives, different ways of seeing the world. That’s possible thanks to the very hands-on learning with core courses, elective modules, diversity of student clubs and events happening on campus. We frequently hear people say they want to build global connections outside their home country or where they live, to forge friendships and expand their network with a worldwide employment base. Some are career changers looking to work with our Career Development Center to craft a roadmap, not just immediately post-MBA but for the next five or 10 years down the road.’
Convey your international motivation and ability to contribute.
It’s not just about having lived abroad or having a long list of trips. What we are really interested in is why an international vision is important to you as a professional. We want to understand your ability to acknowledge differences, your capacity to communicate across cultures. We’re looking for examples of the ability to interact effectively despite the cultural differences, having different ways of expressing your ideas. The ability to contribute to the program is a very important element for us beyond your international motivation.
Understand INSEAD’s holistic review of your application.
Beyond what’s articulated on our website in terms of what we’re looking for, know that INSEAD takes a holistic approach to application review. We look at everything together: the academic capacity, which includes the transcript, grades, the university studies but also the GMAT or the GRE results; the ability to contribute and international motivation; your letters of recommendation, video questions and alumni interviews. My very important message to candidates is that we really look at everything. All the elements of the application are read from A to Z and we take all of these elements into consideration. We can, for example, mitigate a lower quant of the GMAT by looking at the transcript and checking the GPA in a calculus course. We use this sort of balance and mitigation in a variety of contexts. Same thing with people who have shorter work experience than the average five years – we can look at other evidence of leadership potential through extracurricular activities, for example.
Don’t expect to one-shot the GMAT.
Too many candidates I speak with regret to not have dedicated enough time to prep for the GMAT or the GRE. Even if it’s just one of many elements we’re assessing, we still need it for reassurance of your academic capacity. One of the common pitfalls, especially for candidates with a background in finance, is thinking the quant section will be easy and thinking that taking it will be a formality. You want to set yourself up for the best possible score, and I usually encourage people to have a strategy to tackle this.
Choose recommenders who know you well and can speak with specificity.
It really it is important you go to people who know you, regardless of the job title. It’s really a missed opportunity when I read a letter of recommendation and the recommender says, ‘I cannot comment on this competency or on this skill.’ A good choice of recommender is someone who knows you well, someone who has been in contact with you recently, bearing witness to your progress and seeing you evolve in a professional context. We do call recommenders from time to time to get additional information – it’s not because we think that someone is cheating, it’s to get additional information.
LORs from non-native English recommenders are considered in context.
It’s frequent to receive a letter of recommendation (LOR) from someone who is not an English language native. It doesn’t count against you if your recommender makes grammatical mistakes or spelling errors. Again, if we are missing elements, we can call and discuss it with your recommender, sometimes in their native language.
Set yourself up for success with the video questions, but don’t obsess.
Prepare for this by checking the background, checking the mic, and use the practice questions to orient yourself – these won’t be recorded. Keep in mind, the video is just one element in the overall application, and this comes back to our holistic approach. We are very objective, we are very factual. For example, if the person is systematically cut off in in video questions, and the essays are long-winded essays, and the interviewers are telling us in the face-to-face interview this person needs to focus, this tells us something. But in your video session if the phone rings or the dog barks – don’t despair. Maybe it tells us you can manage distraction and give a focused answer despite the doorbell ringing.
For all of Virginie’s terrific insights, including her answers to participant questions on advice for older candidates, navigating the wait-list, importance of the GRE or GMAT and strategies for pursuing its 80+ scholarship opportunities, you can view the full video interview session.
Caroline Diarte Edwards is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former INSEAD director of admissions, marketing and financial aid. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.