By The Glass At INSEAD: Call Me If You Get Lost

Hanging out with the Trinity College rugby teams


Let’s be real: prestige matters to most people. If it didn’t, then the editors at Poets&Quants and US News wouldn’t bother publishing rankings. However, if you use prestige as your North Star in the MBA application process, you’ll be blind to certain professions that might be the best fit for you. Let’s circle back to consulting. So many of my classmates have pursued an “MBB-or-bust” mentality. They treat supposed “tier-two” firms as if they had COVID-like symptoms. I suppose there’s some validity to this logic; those big firms tend to open doors, lead to lucrative exit options, and shine bright on a CV. But when I consider the clout-chasing that goes on during recruitment season, I’m reminded of a wine tasting I attended back in March.

This tasting was sponsored by a consortium of winemakers within Bordeaux. A quick primer: Bordeaux is arguably the most prestigious and commercial wine region of France. Due to its location along the Gironde River, which feeds out into the Atlantic, the region grew to international renown in the 1600s. Even Thomas Jefferson was a fan! In 1855, Napoleon III ordered an official classification of wineries of the region. 58 Chateaux were classified into one of five categories: first-growth to fifth-growth. Many assume that first-growth must’ve been the highest quality; in reality, historical selling price averages were used to determine each winery’s ranking. Because the classification has only been updated twice in the past two centuries, many wineries have gone through changes in ownership and quality. The Bordeaux ranking, like so many of these academic and professional lists, feels like a vestige of a bygone era rather than a living, breathing document.

Chris with Bordeaux

Fast forward a couple of centuries to this Bordeaux wine tasting in Paris. It’s a spiffy affair, well-attended but attenuated by formality. Nearly everyone had donned a suit jacket, and most people were wearing ties. Over sixty wineries were pouring their newest cuvées at white tableclothed kiosks. In hushed tones, each person pouring my half-ounce portions would discuss each wine’s meticulous vinification. Inevitably, guests congregated around certain tables, everyone vying for a smidgen of top growth. Attendees walked right past certain wineries in favor of a kiosk featuring a producer deemed to be more prestigious. Seeing these popular fourth or five growths languish at the tasting reminded me of the disdain with which some of my peers refer to second or third-tier consulting firms. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that drinking a bottle of Troisième Cru is equivalent to working for a non-MBB company. However, I can’t help but think that assigning excessive value to other people’s opinions is unsustainable – both in wine and in life.

As I go through my job search, I always make sure to ask about culture. The people – your potential boss, coworkers, and clients – will likely determine how happy and successful you’ll be. Who cares if a company is highly ranked if you don’t genuinely enjoy the work you do or the people with whom you work.


Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How do you decide what to prioritize after graduating from an MBA program? For some people, location is the driving factor. They need to end up in a specific city or country and will take a lower-paid or less prestigious job to make that happen (I’m looking at you, London!) For other people, it’s the job function – doesn’t matter where they land, as long as they get to be a product manager.

If you’re not sure what the priority is, then the best way to figure it out is to talk – talk to your fellow students, your professors, and to alumni.  Let’s start with your MBA peers; at INSEAD, there are so many self-motivated people who have committed themselves to professional and personal transformation. Hearing their perspective and thought processes has helped me better understand my own. So whenever I’m feeling a little lost, I grab a bottle of wine and a wedge of comté, then have a deep conversation with a classmate.

Chris (Left) with classmates celebrating Cinco de Mayo

One of these friends is Gregory; he worked in Zurich as a Swiss consultant and just became a father. Now, he’s trying to figure out how to balance his own desires with his newfound obligations as a parent. Should he do what’s safe and consistent or go for the unexpected? Hearing him hash out his hesitancy has given me a framework of sorts for my own uncertainties. Mónica is another student with whom I’ve been able to empathize. When she speaks to me about taking over her family business back home in Mexico, I’m able to understand the ways in which someone else reconciles one’s personal goals with societal expectations. Everyone’s situation is different, but by sharing our experiences with one another, we’re better prepared to handle our own challenges.

Beyond your classmates, you have potential mentors in the form of INSEAD professors and career coaches. Let’s be clear: career coaches are never going to hand you a job on a silver platter. In the same way a therapist isn’t going to tell you exactly what to do, a career coach isn’t going to give you a direct answer. Rather, their job is to make sure you are asking yourself thoughtful questions and pushing toward self-discovery. I try to meet with my career coach, Gene Checkley, as frequently as possible. He has helped introduce me to companies I had never heard of and connected me to alums who can help answer specific questions. Most helpful, he has helped me identify my functional skillset and strategized on ways to pitch it to future recruiters.

A final group worth contacting is business school alumni who work for your target companies. Now, there are two ways to utilize these individuals during your job search. Many students book these “coffee-chats” in hopes of getting their application to the top of the applicant stack. The benefits might seem obvious, but transactional communication is uncommon and a little uncouth. To me, the most fruitful conversations I have had with alumni happened when we’ve veered off company-specific Q&A and leaned more heavily into discussions on life.

A Traditional St Patrick’s Day at Guinness

A good example is a lunch I got in late March with an INSEAD alum who, ten years out of school, has what I’d consider to be my dream job in the food and beverage space. However, when he and I spoke, some of the regrets he shared about pursuing a passion really resonated with me. He explained the ways in which an MBA can accelerate one’s career trajectory as well as the methodical process of triangulating industry, function, and geography. In that conversation, I wasn’t looking for a letter of recommendation or even a referral request. All I wanted was a sense of perspective on the ebbs and flows of life after graduation. Talking to very recent alums is another great resource because they haven’t forgotten how challenging the recruitment grind is. These grads, who are just a year or two out of the MBA program, also tend to be very eager to help. At the end of the day, you’ll want all the support you can get. If you approach these alumni conversations with mutual respect, rather than seeing them as a way to get to the front of the job line, then you’ll have far more success.

Now that I’m down to my last two months at INSEAD, I’m hyper-focused on what might come next in my life. After all, there’s a huge emphasis placed on your first job out of business school. For most of us, that job isn’t the end-all-be-all. It’s merely one step of many. One’s career isn’t a linear path; it’s a sinusoidal, circuitous journey. Use your time at INSEAD – or whatever MBA program you attend – to figure out what matters most to you. Ask yourself: What will serve as your lighthouse? As a New Englander, I’ve always loved these nautical structures. Historically, they were built to warn sailors of particularly dangerous coastlines or to help guide seafarers to shore. Figure out what lighthouses exist in your own life: what will draw you closer and what should push you further away. And when you’re lost, how will you find home? I’ve always found that when I’m particularly adrift, that’s when I benefit most from connecting with others.

Chris Poldoian got his undergraduate degree at Tufts University in Economics & Spanish Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. Passionate about food and wine, Chris worked as a restaurant manager and sommelier in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, and Houston before pivoting into freelance beverage consulting during the pandemic. In his spare time, he enjoys running marathons around the world and hosting a wine podcast called By The Glass.

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