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2012 INSEAD MBA Admissions Q&A with Kara Keenan

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Audio for Q&A (Click to listen now, or right click and choose “Save As” to download and listen later.)

Linda Abraham: Hello. My name is Linda Abraham. I am the founder of Accepted.com and the moderator of today’s Q&A. First, I want to welcome all applicants to today’s Q&A. It’s critical for your decision-making process and your admissions chances that you know as much as you can about the schools you are applying to. Being here today allows you to ask the INSEAD expert about INSEAD, and get answers to all your burning questions. I want to give a special welcome to Kara Keenan, the Assistant Director of Marketing for the Americas from INSEAD. Thanks to all for joining.

Kara, what’s new at INSEAD?

Kara Keenan: Well first, Linda, thanks for having me today. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and to talk with everyone who’s joined us today. As far as what’s new at INSEAD, this year we’ve had our highest career success rate, I think since the 1990s, so that’s over ten years.

Linda Abraham: Wow.

Kara Keenan: Yes. In our class of 2010, 93% had a job within three months of graduation. We didn’t finalize all those statistics until 2011, so they came out a few months ago.

For anyone who’s interested in data on where people went to work, salaries, geographies, and other information, they can definitely go to our Website and click on our Download Centre. We have a nice PDF of our Career Statistics book, which will show you all the information. Again, 93% had a job within three months of graduation. The year before, it was about 83%. So, in a downturn globally, we’re really pleased that INSEAD grads have done so well employment-wise all over the world.

Linda Abraham: Great. We have a couple of questions. Elia asks, "What kind of emphasis do you place on GPA versus GMAT, and do you take into consideration the level of difficulty of the program completed?

Kara Keenan: That’s a great question. We don’t have a minimum GPA. That’s really because we receive applications from all over the world, and students have gone to all kinds of undergraduate institutions where they have a GPA system or another kind of grading system. Essentially, we like to see a good degree from a good school. That’s very subjective, but we definitely take in the strengths of the institution. So if you did very well at a top school, that’s great. If you did okay at a top school, that’s fine also.

If you’ve gone to perhaps a less prestigious institution and maybe you haven’t done great, or regardless of where you’ve gone to school, maybe you had one or two classes as an undergraduate that you felt you could have done better in –, maybe you have a grade or two that you’re not crazy about on your transcript – then definitely a strong GMAT score can help to offset that.

Just a few words about the GMAT. It’s certainly something that we look at. It’s not the most important part of your application. We do like to see a score in the 70th percentile or above in both the verbal and quantitative sections. So, that’s about a 650 overall. Our average GMAT score right now is around 704 or 705. However, if you’re in that 70th percentile or above on both sections, I’d say you’re in pretty good shape. Again, if you haven’t done great as an undergraduate and you do very well in the GMAT, certainly that can convey to the Admissions Committee that you have the academic capacity to handle the rigor of the program, which is basically what they’re looking for in that component of your undergraduate degree and your GMAT.

We also accept the GRE. So, for those of you who have taken that and done very well, you certainly can submit your scores. We look for something in the 80th percentile or above in the verbal and quantitative sections of the GRE because it’s scored differently than the GMAT. So we do accept both. If you haven’t taken either, however, we would definitely encourage you to take the GMAT because it’s really the only business school exam created by business schools specifically for business school applicants. You can certainly take either, but we would encourage you to take the GMAT if you haven’t taken the GRE yet.

Linda Abraham: Thank you. Supriya asks, "What are the resources, options, or electives available for the Social Enterprise Development area?"

Kara Keenan: That’s great. We definitely get that question a lot. If you go onto our website, you can take a look at our electives. They’re all posted online. Our largest number of electives are actually offered in the Department of Entrepreneurship, so we have a lot of interest in that area. Especially in the last five to ten years, a real interest in entrepreneurship has grown. So you can take a look at all the electives that are listed under our Curriculum section on our Website. There are over 75 electives. Within Entrepreneurship, there are a few Social Entrepreneurship courses that you can take.

Then there’s also a great center for entrepreneurship. If you go to our Website, at the top there’s a little link for Centres of Excellence. You can take a look at that, and it’ll show you the additional programming beyond electives that you can take advantage of in regard to entrepreneurship. There’s a business plan competition. There are student clubs. There are a lot of activities. To make sure I give you the right link, it’s under Faculty & Research, and then Centres of Excellence. We have a bunch of different centers, and entrepreneurship is one of our most popular ones. So I encourage anyone who’s interested in that to take a look.

Linda Abraham: Okay, great. Next question is from Alana: "What percent of grads are hired by U.S. firms?" Maybe you can just talk a minute about U.S. citizens or residents coming back to the U.S. after attending….

Kara Keenan: Yes. That’s certainly a question we get a lot from North American applicants. Last year, about 8% of our students went to work in North America after graduation, whether they were Americans or not. It’s a smaller percentage if you compared it to our students who go to work in Europe or Asia, but I think the opportunities are definitely there. I think something that some students will do while they’re in the program to strengthen their job opportunities in North America is to take advantage of the exchange that we have with Wharton or Kellogg. As a student in the exchange at Wharton or Kellogg, you do have access to their career services, so you can certainly be geographically well-placed to do a U.S. job search.

I was at Wharton in September and met with some of our students on the exchange. Actually, a lot of them were leaving that day to go on a track to New York to meet with employers. So that’s something you can definitely do. I think we would encourage people who are interested in working in the U.S. to do that.

Our employers, when they come to Europe and to Asia, really place people globally, so you could interview for jobs with Google or McKinsey in Singapore and get placed in San Francisco. That’s certainly possible. Again, being that we don’t have a physical location in the U.S. or in the Americas, it can certainly be a challenge. However, I think by connecting with the alumni, perhaps doing the exchange, or maybe doing an internship in the U.S. – if you start in January, you do have the opportunity for an internship with the two-month break in July and August – that’s something you could do as well. You might have to put in some extra work to work in North America after graduation, but certainly it’s feasible.

Linda Abraham: Thank you very much. Now for Mia’s question: "Is the INSEAD MBA program ideal for individuals interested in shifting careers?" I’m going to add a follow-up question, and this is my question: "What makes it ideal if you do consider it ideal?"

Kara Keenan: I think INSEAD is great for a couple of different reasons; certainly the ten-month program, which enables you to go back to the workplace faster and have less of an expenditure in your cost of the one-year versus the two-year MBA program. Definitely, I think you can make a change with a ten-month MBA program. Again, if you start in January, you will have the opportunity for an internship in July and August, so that can certainly help to facilitate a job change. I think a lot of students make a change without an internship, depending on the industry.

If you’re interested in finance or investment banking, I think you should absolutely consider January. In that regard, internship is really kind of crucial, especially for investment banking. However, if you’re interested in going perhaps to consulting, and you’ve worked in the entertainment industry and you’d like to do consulting in that industry, I don’t know that you need an internship. Perhaps you’d really like to be in a part of the world that you have never been in or haven’t had experience in; for example, if you’re an American and you’d like to work in France, you don’t speak French, and you haven’t spent any time there. I would also encourage you to consider applying for January. That way, you could do an internship, you could work on the language, and you can build your network there.

However, if you are happy to go anywhere in the world and you start in September, I think you could definitely make a job change through the network, through the contacts that you’ll make, through the electives, and absolutely through our Career Services, which will guide you through the process of your job search for the ten months that you’re actually in the program. I think last year, about 86% of our students changed their geography, function, or industry. I think about two-thirds changed two out of three of those, and about 26% changed all three. So you can definitely make a change. There’s lots of change happening in the program.

However, if you want to make a really significant change – a real functional change or a real geographic change where you haven’t had any experience – I think January is a good idea for people so that they can do that internship.

Linda Abraham: Great. Thank you very much. I want to ask by show of hands how many of you would consider yourselves to be career-changers or pursuing an MBA in order to effect a career change. Please raise your hand if you consider yourself a career-changer. The percentage is now 52%. Thank you very much. That’s great.

Back to the questions. Karim asks, "Does having a graduate degree in Engineering Management hinder one’s chances of being admitted?" Again, I’ll ask a follow-up question on that: "What about a previous MBA?"

Kara Keenan: No. Having a prior graduate degree doesn’t help, generally, nor hurt your chances of admission. Certainly one in Engineering Management is fine. For some students in particular – I know we’ve had applicants from India who go into an MBA program right out of undergrad, and the school realizes that that is sort of a different kind of MBA program.

Ours is really one where you need to have had pretty significant work experience. This is really taught in different levels, so to speak, than perhaps a degree right out of undergrad where you haven’t had any real work experience to draw from. Again, having a graduate degree doesn’t really hurt or help your chances of admission. If you already have an MBA, I would encourage you to use our optional essay – Essay #6 – to clarify why, being that you already have an MBA, you’re looking for another MBA program; to clarify your reason.

Linda Abraham: Tom asks, "Is there an issue with a lopsided GMAT result; in other words, the math is much stronger than the verbal? What message does that send?"

Kara Keenan: We definitely look for strength in both quantitative and verbal sections. Because our students are coming from all over the world, and everything is taught in English, it’s really crucial that the students can communicate very well in English and have strong written and verbal language ability. So the GMAT, in addition to the TOEFL for non-native English speakers, is something that the Committee will really look to, to see evidence that someone has a strong ability in English. Again, having that 70th percentile and above in both sections is ideal. If you’re in the high 60s or something like that, and you’ve done well on the TOEFL, I wouldn’t sweat it.

Linda Abraham: What about the AWA?

Kara Keenan: I think they look at that, but perhaps not as closely as the verbal section on the actual GMAT. There’s no minimum AWA score, but they do like to see the 70th percentile or above in both. So we don’t only look for strength in the quantitative section. We want to see strength in both.

Linda Abraham: Okay, great. Adit asks, "Are applicants applying in the third round at a disadvantage in comparison to Round 2 applicants?"

Kara Keenan: We really tell applicants that a disadvantage for applying in Round 3 is that we have much less scholarship money to award. Your chances for admission are relatively equal across all three rounds. If you have a great application in Round 3, you have a fantastic GMAT, you’ve lived all over the world, you’ve done all these different things, and you’ve had a great career so far, I don’t think there’s generally an issue with Round 3. However, again, we do have less scholarship money to award. So, if you’re interested in scholarships, we would encourage you to apply for Round 1 or 2.

Linda Abraham: Okay. Vidya asks, "Given the current state of the global economy, how does the Admissions Committee view applicants with employment gaps? Any advice?"

Kara Keenan: For sure. We’ve had people come to the program who perhaps have been laid off or made a job change. Some people have taken time off to have a family. I think all of that is fine, just so long as you clarify on the application what the gaps were and why, again using that optional Essay #6 to clarify: "I was volunteering for a year because I had been laid off," or "I took a break from work for a year to have a baby." That’s totally fine and understandable. You just want to speak to it on the application.

Linda Abraham: Alright, great. Karim asks, "Do previous GMAT scores affect one’s admission; in other words, you took the first GMAT after minimal preparation, and the second GMAT score is much higher than the first?"

Kara Keenan: We only base the decision on your highest GMAT score. So you can take it as many times as you like, and we’ll only look at the highest score in rendering a decision.

Linda Abraham: Okay, great. Tom asks, "How strong are the links of the Singapore campus on the emerging sustainability economy in East Asia?" That’s a pretty specific question.

Kara Keenan: I would say Singapore is definitely a hotbed for a lot of professional and industrial growth. It’s a great place, I think, to start a business. I know some of our students have specifically stayed in Singapore because the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship and different ventures.

We have a great alumni network and a great professional network throughout Asia. Every year, about a third of our students are from Asia Pacific. We have a very large network of alum in Singapore, so I think the school is geographically and institutionally positioned very well in East Asia. However, as far as specifically with the sustainability economy, I can’t comment on that, but I’d be certainly happy to find out more and get back.

Linda Abraham: Okay, great. Dine asks, "Why should students choose an INSEAD MBA over other prestigious MBA programs in the States?"

Kara Keenan: Again, one of the advantages is the one-year/ten-month nature of the program; a great return on your investment. We cover 80% of the course hours of the two-year program in ten months, so you definitely get the vast majority of the material. It’s certainly an intensive program, so in that regard it might not be for everyone. Especially in the beginning of the program – in your core courses – there’s class Monday through Friday. You’ll spend a lot of time in class compared to a U.S. school where there’s no class on Fridays and things are taught at perhaps a slower pace.

I think another advantage for INSEAD is that our students have more experience. The average years of experience for INSEAD students is five years, whereas at some of the other U.S. schools it’s more like two years. So, if you’re more experienced and you would like to be with your peers, I think you’ll definitely get that at INSEAD and you’ll learn a lot from them, as well. Even if you’re coming with two or three years of experience, you might be in a study group with someone with seven or eight years of experience. You can really share and learn from one another; I think, perhaps at a more significant level than at a program where most people have one to two years of experience. I think that’s something nice.

Also, if you’re looking for an international career and international experience, I think there’s really no comparison to an international MBA program versus a domestic one.

Linda Abraham: Okay. Supriya asks, "I heard that the faculty at INSEAD is significantly French. Could you please shed some light on the demographic breakdown composition of the faculty?"

Kara Keenan: Sure. Our faculty are from all over the world, just like our students; definitely not mostly French. We have French professors. We have European, Asian, and American, from all over the world. We have Latin American professors. I think right now our faculty comes from 45 countries around the world – perhaps even more – so you’ll find a lot of diversity. I’m thinking offhand of some of our faculty, and every single person I think of is from a different country, so it’s sort of reflective of the school; definitely international and not specifically French by any means.

Linda Abraham: Jay asks a related question: "What are some of the challenges we would face if we’re not familiar with French, spoken or written?"

Kara Keenan: If you go to France and you study in Fontainebleau for ten months, I would venture to guess you will certainly pick up some French just by living there, interacting with the community, going shopping, and that kind of stuff. However, French is absolutely not required. I think only about 7% of our students are French, so the vast majority does not speak French as a first language. You don’t have to speak it as a second or third language. It’s totally up to you what languages you choose, so long as they’re useful in the business world for INSEAD purposes. If you study in Singapore, obviously you don’t need to know French at all, but you’re certainly welcome to study French. For our students, we do have a language requirement. I can speak a few minutes about that.

Linda Abraham: Yeah. I’m getting some questions about it: "How are language skills evaluated?"

Kara Keenan: Essentially, as far as the school is concerned, you have to have ability in two languages in order to enter the program. You have to have fluency in English. Everything is taught in English, as I mentioned.

In order to show evidence of English or fluency, you must either have earned a degree taught entirely in English – 100% in English – so in the U.S., India, Australia, Canada, or the U.K., so long as it was taught in English 100%. That will certify your ability to speak in English. If you haven’t graduated from an English-speaking school at the university level, you do have to take the TOEFL or another English-language test. They’re all listed on our Website. The minimum TOEFL score is 105, and it is a minimum score, so you absolutely have to meet the minimum.

You also have to have practical knowledge in a second language. For most of our students, that’s English. However, for those of you who are native English speakers, the way that you show practical knowledge of a second language is that you do have to show certification. For some people, that’s going to a language school, taking a test, and showing their proficiency. For some people, it’s that they went abroad to France for a year and everything they were taught was in French, and it’s on their transcripts that they were taught in French for a year. So, there are multiple ways to show evidence of your second language if your first language is English. What you can do is go to our Website and click on the Download Centre, and there is a document called the "Language Policy", which will give you all the information on paths and other information you may need on the language policy. So again, it’s fluency in English and ability in a second language.

You must also have a third language to graduate, but that’s a basic knowledge of a third language, a really fundamental level of a third language. We do have language classes on campus that students may take towards the end of their program. I think they’re the top six most popular languages or most commonly spoken languages. Then, other students sometimes will actually take advantage of the time off – maybe before the program starts, if you take time off and leave your job – to complete that third language requirement. So it’s basic knowledge in a third language for everyone upon graduation. Also, it has to be a commercially useful language; something you could do business in. However, not any of those languages have to be French. They certainly could be if you want one of them to be, but they don’t have to be French.

Linda Abraham: Thank you. What is a typical work experience? What field do most alumni go into from INSEAD, or is there a "most" on that?

Kara Keenan: We definitely have had, historically, a great relationship with the consulting firms. Our top six recruiters are the consulting companies. After that, though, you’ll find Google, Citibank, and Louis Vuitton; so a real variety after the consulting firms. I think, last year, about 44% of our students went into consulting. About 20% went into financial services; then, the rest into every other corporate sector. A lot of people who go into consulting after graduation have actually come from consulting, so they’re returning, perhaps, back to their employer or going to another consulting firm.

A lot of people are attracted to INSEAD because they know that we have great relationships with the consulting firms, but it’s certainly not a must-have. The entire room won’t be filled with consultants. When we put you in your study group that you’ll be in for the first four months of the program, we spread everyone out so that we don’t have a group of consultants or a group of finance guys. Everyone is really evenly spread out so you have a real diversity as far as profile. What you do after graduation – whatever industry you’re interested in – there are certainly people who would be into those industries outside of consulting.

Linda Abraham: Thank you. In a somewhat related question from Xue, "What is the added value for the student with a management consulting background? Do they go back to their consulting jobs or do they typically go after other opportunities?"

Kara Keenan: It depends. I think some do return to their employees. Perhaps they’re sponsored by their organization or they feel they’d like to move up the ladder back at their consulting firm. The program itself is a General Management MBA, so it’s really meant to be applicable for anyone looking to move into any industry at the management level eventually. Maybe some students are lucky enough to move into the management level after graduation. However, for some, realistically, it’s five years down the line plus. It’s really a skill set that you should be able to take with you for the rest of your career, and not just right back to the workplace after graduation.

So if you’re interested in general management, whether it’s consulting, finance, or the other corporate sectors, I think the program can certainly be applicable. You’ll get those leadership skills and finance skills that you really need at senior management through the program.

Linda Abraham: Thank you. Supriya asks, "Most international exchanges, trips, opportunities, and even electives seem to be geared towards Asia, and I’m guessing Europe and Asia. How much emphasis does the program place on Africa? Is it a popular concentration area?"

Kara Keenan: We don’t have geographic concentrations per se, but INSEAD does have an Africa initiative. There are events throughout Africa during the year. We also have our Middle Eastern campus in Abu Dhabi, which is geographically positioned well for studies in Africa as a jumping-off point.

We do have a track that goes to South Africa. I think it was Private Equity in South Africa that perhaps was a topic that was studied. So certainly, there are opportunities. With our students in the tracks, they actually are all over the world. We have them to Silicon Valley, New York, London, Abu Dhabi, South Africa, and São Paolo; so they really are totally global vision. If you’re interested in a specific country or capital, and you can build a case for why there should be a track – which is like a one-week course with a professor – you can get a group of students together and put together perhaps an idea, and approach a faculty member. If you can get someone on board with a trip, then certainly you could make an effort to have a trip to that region.

Again, South Africa has been one of the locations our students have gone to, so there are definitely opportunities. In some cases, you may have to work towards those opportunities on your own, but there should be a few that you will be able to take advantage of.

Linda Abraham: As a follow-up question, Karim asks, "Are there any plans to have a full-time MBA program in Abu Dhabi? Currently, only the Executive MBA is offered there."

Kara Keenan: That’s right. Right now there’s the Executive MBA as well as the Executive Education. I don’t think there are any plans in the short term; perhaps in the long term there could be a section that operates in Abu Dhabi. However, I think that’s more of a long-term objective rather than a short-term one for the school.

Linda Abraham: Vidya asks, "When applying to INSEAD, must applicants choose the campus at which they wish to attend?"

Kara Keenan: Yes. On the application, when you download it, you’ll indicate a preferred starting campus. I would say the vast majority of applicants get to start on the campus that they choose. In some cases, we may ask people to switch in order to preserve the diversity on both campuses – the geographic diversity, gender diversity, and that sort of thing – but that’s very rare.

Your application is read blind of your campus preference, so it won’t have an impact on your admissions decision. However, you will have a say in where you go, based on the information you provide on the application.

Linda Abraham: Okay, great. Alana has a follow-up question on her earlier question. She says, "I previously asked what percentage of grads find U.S. jobs. As a follow-up, I also wanted to know how easy it is to find a job in France for a non-E.U. citizen who already speaks French."

Kara Keenan: I don’t have the specific statistics on something like that. However, anybody who is not an E.U. passport holder will have to be sponsored by their organization for a work visa in Europe, whether it’s France, Germany, the U.K., et cetera. That can certainly be a challenge for organizations. They have to prove that they couldn’t hire someone from the E.U.; that they had to hire someone from outside the E.U.

Having said that, it certainly can be done and is done. Having French is great. I think that’s something that’ll set you apart if you’re applying for jobs in France. Certainly going to INSEAD, being that we have a great relationship with firms in France, perhaps doing an internship in France will definitely help – if you start in January – in July and August. However, certainly for anyone coming from outside of the E.U. it is a challenge, being that the firm will have to secure your work visa, which is how it happens. About 45% of our students end up in Europe after graduation. I don’t have specific statistics for an American working in France. Again, though, it’s something that you have to put in a little bit more extra work with the internship and relationships with a network. Ultimately, the firm will have to sponsor your work visa, which is how legally it has to work in Europe.

Linda Abraham: Actually, it sounds very similar to what you have in the United States.

Kara Keenan: Yes, very much so.

Linda Abraham: Dyne asks, "Could you explain more about the financial support and scholarships provided by INSEAD: eligibility, competitiveness, amounts, et cetera?" You may just want to give a high level on that one.

Kara Keenan: Sure. We definitely encourage everyone to take a look at our scholarships on our Website. They’re all listed. They’re by industry, gender, and nationality. You apply for scholarships separately from the application, so you want to work on your application for admission first and submit that. Then you can start to work on the scholarship applications afterwards. In most cases, they require two short essays as to why you’re deserving of the scholarship.

Last year, about 20% of the class received a scholarship, and the average award was around 10,000 Euros; something to supplement the cost of tuition. Unfortunately, we don’t offer full scholarships. However, you can apply for up to five. We encourage you to apply for more than one or two to maximize your chances for gaining a scholarship.

For those of you who are from the U.S., North America, or other countries where you have a very efficiently run student loan program, you can definitely use government loans – U.S. loans, Stafford loans – to fund the cost of the program.

For those of you who are coming from countries where, perhaps, there isn’t a great student loan program in place, there is the Prodigy Loan Programme, which is funded by INSEAD alumni. There’s information on our Website, as well. You can click on Financing. They will offer student loans to current INSEAD students, so you also apply for that as another means of financing.

Linda Abraham: Wonderful. There is a related question on the scholarships. Karim mentions, "In your earlier comment, you indicated there are more scholarships available in Rounds 1 and 2. Are most scholarships awarded based on academic merit, financial need, or other criteria?"

Kara Keenan: It’s really on financial need and academic merit. They’ll take a look at both in rendering a decision on your scholarship application and also really specifically on your scholarship essays. They’ll look really closely at them, as well.

Linda Abraham: Thank you. Jay asks a question, and I think there probably is a lot of confusion about this. He says, "I am assuming that if we start either in January or September we will have similar opportunities for internships."

That’s actually not correct, correct?

Kara Keenan: Correct. If you start in September, you’ll graduate ten months later in July, and there’s no internship as a formal part of the program, so to speak. However, you can certainly do an internship afterwards. I think some people have done that. Generally speaking, the on-campus recruitment and off-campus recruitment will take place during the course of the program. So, I think for practical reasons you would want to take advantage of that and just hope to get a job after graduation.

However, some have certainly done an internship. If you start in September, you would graduate in July, maybe do a summer internship, and then hope that you secure a job offer via that internship. Historically and probably more practically, though, it would be good to start in January, where there is a formal break in the middle of the program for an internship in July and August. Not everyone does an internship. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll get an internship. Our Career Services team will help you apply for the internships and will guide you through the process, but just like getting a job, the onus is on the student to obviously get an internship offer. About half of our students who start in January will do an internship. Of the other half, a lot of them just would like time off to visit their family, to travel, or to maybe work on an entrepreneurial venture. So, you don’t have to do an internship.

Of those who did an internship, I think over 40% will do an internship in financial services; again, for those reasons I mentioned earlier, being that it’s kind of a prerequisite that you have an internship like in investment banking in order to secure a job. Others will do them in consulting with other corporate sectors. It’s kind of up to you if you ultimately would like to do an internship. I think I would argue that if you’d like to do an internship and you go through the process, you certainly should have a lot of opportunities to choose from.

Linda Abraham: I think it’s particularly important if you’re a career-changer.

Kara Keenan: Definitely, yes. Also, along with the career information for our class that graduated last year, in that Careers booklet in the back there is all the information on internships: where people went for their internships, geographic placement, salary, and that kind of information specifically for internships. So, if you’re interested as to who hired interns and that kind of stuff, you’ll find it in that Career booklet as well.

Linda Abraham: Thank you very much. That’s wonderful information. Supriya asks, "Regarding references or recommenders, how important is it to have one from a current supervisor? For example, would a strong reference from a senior colleague be weighed equally?"

Kara Keenan: That’s a great question. As far as recommendations, ideally you would have one from your current boss or supervisor, and then another from a colleague; ideally, a senior colleague who has been in a management capacity versus a peer. Not everyone is comfortable saying to their boss, "I’m looking to quit and go into an MBA program." We certainly understand if that’s your situation, so a prior boss or two prior managers is fine.

We’d really like to see someone who’s worked with you closely versus someone who has a title that would be impressive. If you can get the CEO to write you a recommendation, but you’ve hardly ever spent any time with them, we would much rather see one from your current boss who can really speak to your strengths. The recommendations ask for really specific examples and that kind of stuff or general examples about your strengths, so we want someone who can really speak to that versus someone who has a name we may recognize or a title that sounds good.

Maybe you work in an organization that’s fairly flat, certainly a client or a mentor. If you’re a consultant and you’ve worked on interesting projects and you’d like to have a client write a recommendation, you can definitely do that. If you’re in a family business, clients are great in those circumstances. We just ask that they be professional recommendations. We don’t accept academic references.

Linda Abraham: Thank you. Adit asks, "What opportunities does INSEAD offer for students interested in pursuing entrepreneurial ventures?"

Kara Keenan: As I mentioned earlier, most of our electives are offered in the Department of Entrepreneurship, so you can definitely take a ton of Entrepreneurship electives. You can work really closely with the Centre for Entrepreneurship that I had mentioned. You can do the business plan competition. You can become a part of the Entrepreneurship Club. There’s the track to Silicon Valley, where they study entrepreneurship in technology, so there are really multiple things you can do as a student in the program.

Linda Abraham: Wonderful. Tom asks, "How common is it to go from something unrelated – say, sustainability consulting – into something like M&A or private equity? Is it a long shot?"

Kara Keenan: Unfortunately, I think now specifically in regard to private equity or venture capital, those jobs are limited for sure globally. No matter where you’ve gone to school or where your background is, there just aren’t as many jobs.

Linda Abraham: There are just fewer investment banks.

Kara Keenan: Yes. Or there are just fewer opportunities for specifically private equity and that kind of stuff right now. Any change is feasible, so long as you do the due diligence, take the right electives, build the right networks as a student in the program, perhaps take advantage of an internship, and really do your research. However, a move into private equity or venture capital is tough. I think it’s tough for someone coming from that background, perhaps leaving an organization and going to move into another. It definitely can be done, but I think last year a handful of our students were able to secure private equity jobs, again, because there are just fewer opportunities out there.

A more general answer to the question is maybe going from consulting to finance or finance to another industry. I think it can always be done through the help of the program, through the studies, and through the network, but you definitely have to put hard work in.

Linda Abraham: The other thing I just want to add – and Kara, please correct me if you disagree – is that I think it’s really important if you’re going to make a career change, whether it be minor or major, and it’s probably more important the larger the change, that you highlight transferrable skills. Obviously, there’s a big difference between sustainable consulting and mergers and acquisitions, private equity, or venture capital.

Perhaps what you need to do is start in mergers and acquisitions or private equity or venture capital for sustainable companies and sustainable entities. You also would want to emphasize what you learned by working inside the industry that will bear fruit and be advantageous to an employer examining and evaluating those companies and deciding whether to invest in them or not. So, again, transferrable skills and relevant experience is what you’re going to want to emphasize if you’re going to even attempt such a change.

Kara, would you agree with that?

Kara Keenan: Yes, definitely. I think our Career Services would agree, as well. When you start the program, you’ll meet with your career counselor and our Career Services advisors one-on-one, and they’ll talk with you about what transitions are the best ones and how to build the piece for them. Certainly those transferrable skills are absolutely something you want to emphasize.

Linda Abraham: I have two questions for you. First off, what are the three most common mistakes applicants make in their application?

Kara Keenan: I think one of the easy mistakes to avoid is applying to the program when you can absolutely submit the best application.

Linda Abraham: That’s one of the right things to do.

Kara Keenan: Yes. I mean avoiding applying too early or when you know that you can benefit from a few more years’ experience. Something to avoid is applying before you have two years of experience. Our minimum is two years of work experience since graduation, not internships or not part-time work as an undergraduate. Really, two years of full-time work experience after you finish undergrad is a requirement. So, you definitely want to apply when you have that under your belt. Always, the more experience you have the better. Again, our average is five years of experience. I think the 80% range is really like three to eight. So, if you’re in that range, you’re generally in good shape.

I think another mistake that you could make is not to emphasize or to speak to your international exposure. We haven’t talked much about that. That’s really a requirement for INSEAD; not necessarily that you’ve worked abroad or worked outside of your home country, but that you have evidence of a global mindset. We’re really looking for people who are internationally minded, so if you can show evidence of that through study abroad or travel – even personal travel for your own enjoyment – if you’ve managed an international team or a global team, and certainly if you’ve been lucky enough to work outside of your home country, you definitely want to include that on the application, speak to that, and show evidence of that.

I think that maybe the last thing I would emphasize is to definitely show that you not only are a bright person, a professionally accomplished person who’s got the global mindset, but the last thing that we look for and sometimes applicants miss is that you really be part of the network. I think because the program is ten months, it is really essential that people who hit the ground running, not just in an academic sense but also as far as your contribution to the personal network, you only have ten months to build those relationships. I think one regret I’ve heard people say is that sometimes they focus too much on their studies and they don’t emphasize enough, at times, to really build those networks and those relationships. The people and the program will really be your network beyond graduation, and they’ll be all over the world. You’ll really have a global network you can tap into. So, we want to see on the application that you’ll be someone who can contribute to that network.

You can show that you were active as an undergraduate in student government or sports, or now you volunteer or you have some side venture that shows that you’re someone who can network well. Anything that you can bring to the program that’s sort of outside of your professional and academic abilities, we like to see. If you have an interesting hobby or passion; if you have a family, we want to see the well-rounded piece. So, it’s not just focusing on the international or the professional or the academic, but also making sure you include that softer side of your application as well.

Linda Abraham: Great. Thank you. The converse of my last question – and maybe you’ve already addressed it on some level even in answering that last question of mine – is: What are the qualities of the essays in particular at this point that make them jump off the page? You’re looking at an application. The person is qualified. Let’s say they’ve shown the global mindset, they have the good grades, they have a competitive GMAT, and they have three to six years of work experience. Some are going to be accepted and some are going to be rejected. What makes the difference?

Kara Keenan: As far as your essays, I would say to definitely be candid and try to make it sound like you as much as possible. I was recently hosting an information session, and someone asked this very question to an alum. They said, "Have multiple people read your essays. Definitely make sure," – and a very easy tip – "that they’re all grammatically correct, they’re well-written. That’s kind of an easy one to check. That they sound like you, that they sound like an authentic story."

What will happen as far as the application process is that your file will be read by two readers, who will then decide if you make it to the interview stage. So before you even have a chance to talk to anybody – to talk to an alum as part of your alumni interview, if you get to that stage – you will have to tell your story to the readers. So, you want to make it sound as authentic a story as possible, definitely highlighting your accomplishments, your goals, and your international mindset. All those things are characteristics that we’ll look for. Having people read them, I think, will maybe catch those little errors that you may make, but it will also say to them, "This does sound like you and this is something that I can really understand and appreciate." Maybe that’s not someone that necessarily works with you that knows what you do if you do something that’s highly technical, but show it to your brother or sister who really is a teacher or a doctor and does something totally different than you so they can give you their take.

Again, a lot of business schools say that there’s not a right or wrong essay. There definitely isn’t, so long as it sounds like an authentic, original story. Ultimately that’s what we’re looking for.

Linda Abraham: Great. Alana asks, "If I’m working in a field and want to transition to a managerial role in the same field, how do I best highlight this in my application?"

Kara Keenan: I think that’s a fine goal to have, that you’d like to move up and you feel an MBA can enable you to do that; hopefully, in the short term and perhaps in the longer term, if necessary. You can talk about it in the section where we ask for your objectives. I think you can be very straightforward about it.

Some people have a really clear idea what they’d like to do. You obviously want to build a case in the application as to how an MBA can help you reach those goals. However, some people apply and say that they’re interested in consulting, but then they might like to start their own business as well. They’re of two minds. That’s fine, too, so long as you have an idea and you can show from your profile how you’ll be able to contribute to an MBA program, contribute to the discussion, make an academic contribution, et cetera; but also that you’ll be able to really gain those skills that you feel you need to get to whatever: the next level at the same firm, to starting your own business, or to doing something entirely new.

Through the program, you can definitely do that through electives, contacts, clubs, et cetera. However, on the application you want to tell a story about why INSEAD, why an MBA, and how it will help you reach your career goals. Just telling a good story about yourself, your profile, and your goals is really how you want to do it. There’s no secret. You can definitely be candid about what you’d like to do after the program.

Linda Abraham: Great. Just a quick question from Aalia: "When you talk about average years of work experience, are you including internships or just post-Bachelors?"

Kara Keenan: Just post undergrad.

Linda Abraham: Another question regarding length of work experience from Karim: "Regarding length of work experience, is over eight years considered a negative for purposes of admission?"

Kara Keenan: Not necessarily. Again, 80% are between three and eight. I think for anybody who has over ten years of experience, the Committee will want to know why a full-time MBA program versus an Executive MBA program. If you have 13 or 14 years of experience, you really, really want to make it clear: perhaps you’ve considered Executive MBA and it’s not appropriate for you for these reasons.

With eight years of experience, our average age is 29. I would say that it’s not a major concern, but you could certainly mention on your application if you felt it was necessary to clarify a full-time MBA program for these reasons; that you’ve considered Executive MBA, but it’s not right for you at this point in your career. Maybe you don’t have the management experience that an Executive MBA would require.

However, with eight years of experience, I really don’t think it’s an issue. If you had 12 or 14, I would say you’d need to speak to that.

Linda Abraham: Thank you. We’ve kind of touched on this a little bit, but I’d like to address it more directly. What role does hireability play in admissions? In other words, if you’re looking at an application, and you feel that the stated goals are not realistic, is that going to hurt the person’s chance of admission?

Kara Keenan: I think you’ll always want to tell a story that is one where the INSEAD MBA can enable you to get to that goal. So, if you’re a fashion designer and you want to go into investment banking, okay, it sounds like a stretch, but maybe you can make the case. Maybe you’ll say, "I want to do internships. I’ve already built contacts in that industry. My plan is to take all finance electives."

Linda Abraham: "I want to work in finance in luxury goods or fashion."

Kara Keenan: Yes. It may be a stretch on paper, but you want to build the case for how you can do it and how the program can enable you to do it. However, if you can’t make that case to the Committee – "I work in technology and I want to get into investment banking, but I don’t want to take any finance electives, I don’t want to do an internship, and I just expect INSEAD to get it for me" – obviously that’s not the right thing to do. You want to make a case. If you can make a compelling case, and one that really makes sense, okay sure. But if it’s something that just doesn’t make any sense….

We’ve had people in the program who were, to be honest, professional ballerinas, who were professional athletes, musicians, doctors, and lawyers, and they’ve all gotten into the program. It’s because they’ve built a case for how an MBA makes sense for them. So, if a professional tennis player can get into an MBA program and .…

Linda Abraham: Make a case.

Kara Keenan: I think anyone can build the case, but you want to tell the story how and why you’ll be able to do that.

Linda Abraham: Several years ago I got a call from somebody who said he wanted to apply to INSEAD. I don’t know if you’re going to be happy with me when I tell you this story. He was trying to make the case for why he wanted to go to INSEAD. I remember quite clearly. I said, "I don’t see it." Finally, he said, "My girlfriend’s going to be in London and I want to be close to my girlfriend."

Kara Keenan: Yeah. That’s not a great reason.

Linda Abraham: Yes. It may be what he thought, but it won’t get you into the program.

Kara Keenan: You want to choose INSEAD for the right reasons. It’s a ten-month program. It’s an intensive program. It’s very international. It’s not for everyone. We want people to certainly be attracted to the program and to feel good about it, but apply to it only if it’s really the right choice for you and for the best reasons.

Linda Abraham: Right. They have to be somewhat related to education and professional.

Kara Keenan: Yes, professional reasons; generally not personal ones.

Linda Abraham: How do you feel if the applicants’ long-term goals are more in the dream category – they’re a little bit more pie-in-the-sky – but the short-term goals are very anchored and achievable?

Kara Keenan: I think that’s fine. We definitely have people, like the example before, who say they’d like to work in consulting after INSEAD, and then five or ten years down the line they’d love to start their own business in another part of the world or even where they’re from. That’s great. A lot of people have that as a goal.

Some people say, "I want to definitely make it to the C level." That’s great. I can’t really think of anything – so long as it can be related to an MBA and the program can help your long-term objective – no matter how grandiose it might be, so long as you can build the case. I think that’s fine.

Having maybe a more practical objective after the program like you want to pay off your MBA – maybe you have to be practical in the short term – that’s fine. I think that makes perfect sense. We’d like to see people who are very aspirational, so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all.

Linda Abraham: Wonderful. I think with that our time is just about up. We’ve already gotten some thank-yous coming in on the board. I want to thank you all again for participating today. A special thanks to Kara for joining us. If you have additional questions for Kara, you can address them to MBA.Info@INSEAD.edu.

We look forward to seeing you at future Q&A and Events. Coming up next:

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Once more thank you all again for joining us today. It’s been an excellent session. Kara, you’ve been tremendously informative and helpful. I want to thank the participants for their questions and you for your answers.

Best of luck to all of you with your applications. Kara, again, we’re getting lots and lots of thank-yous coming in.

Kara Keenan: Great. Thanks, everyone. They were great questions. I look forward to hearing from you, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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