2012 IMD MBA Admissions Q&A with Lisa Piguet

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2012 IMD MBA Admissions Q&A with Lisa Piguet

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 the Q&A today, and I want to congratulate you for taking the time to learn more about IMD's MBA program. It is critical to your decision making process and your admission chances that you know as much as you can about the schools you are applying to. Being here today allows you to ask experts about this top business school. I also want to give a special welcome to Lisa Piguet, Associate Director of MBA Admissions & Marketing. Thanks to everyone for joining.

Lisa, what’s new at IMD?

Lisa Piguet: We actually have a new program that we are going to launch for 2012. So the people that we are interviewing now will come into the program in January. A lot of schools now are updating their programs; it seems that everyone does it about every ten years or so. As most of you probably know, IMD is extremely practical and general. What we did is we went to our recruiters, and we are very close to our recruiters because our Career Services is so strong. We went to them about two years ago and asked them what they really needed. What they essentially told us was that they wanted our MBAs to be operational much faster. That shocked us because we really felt that our MBAs were already really up and ready to go and soon as they graduated, but apparently not. So then we came back to the drawing board and we put our heads together to figure out how we could actually do this. We went into the academic research of how one does this, and this can all be found on our website about the new program.

What we found out is that the more practical a learning situation is, the more it sticks and the faster you become in mastering it. So we are adding a lot more projects to the everyday learning. So for example, if you have finance or accounting in the morning, in the afternoon you will work on a project that has finance and accounting related to it so that the information actually sticks in your mind and you get faster and faster. The way I always describe it is like teaching a child to tie their shoe. You can’t just show them one time and expect them to learn how to do it. You have to show them once, and then you have to show them again, and then they have to keep practicing and practicing, and before long they are really fast at it. So that is essentially the program.

As we are adding more projects to the program, we are also adding a pre-program section to the MBA. So for example, we find that all MBAs in all MBA programs worldwide, struggle the most with finance and accounting. So what we are going to do is have people take a test to determine where they actually are with their finance and accounting skills, and if they are not doing so well, they’ll do some online work, and then we are actually offering a one-week boot camp prior to the program for people who feel like they need a little bit of a booster. And that’s the first time IMD has done that. So those are actually some of the things that have changed in the program.

Linda Abraham: Isil asks, “What are the financial aid opportunities for international students?”

Lisa Piguet: We have several different kinds of financial aid. We have different opportunities for different things. So for example, we offer a 65,000 Swiss francs loan that one can borrow if they qualify for the loan. It’s like buying a car; you have to submit what’s in the bank, etc., etc. So you can borrow up to 65,000 Swiss francs for the program. The other option is that we actually have a lot of scholarships available. And you can actually find all the scholarship information on the website in detail; I won’t go into all of them. But my suggestion is to apply for every scholarship that you feel you are qualified for. And the scholarship deadline happens to be in September always for the incoming class. So the scholarship deadline for 2012 will be this coming September.

Linda Abraham: Nitin asks, “What is the minimum number of years of work experience required?”

Lisa Piguet: Minimum would be three, and you have to be 25-years old. The average age is 30-31 with an average of about seven years of work experience. But we will take people that are 25 with three years of work experience into the program.

Linda Abraham: Can you give us a sense of what percentage of your class consists of people with three years of work experience, and what is the average?

Lisa Piguet: It’s not very high. If you go to the website and you look at the class profile which is in the Career Services section, you will see that maybe two or three people in the program have three years of work experience. The majority have between 4 and 8. But we will take people as long as they are mature enough to be in the program; that is the biggest issue. And it’s the same on the other end. IMD is so much about teamwork that we are very careful about putting somebody who is 25 and somebody who is 35 in the same study group. It just doesn’t work sometimes.

Linda Abraham: You mentioned that you have a new video with admissions tips and advice. What is the number one admissions tip on that video?

Lisa Piguet: That’s a tough question! What I tell people is that first of all, you have to fill out a proper application to even get interviewed at IMD because our interview process is so unique. IMD is very achievement oriented, just due to our average age; we’re a little older so we are very achievement oriented. So I tell people to bring out their achievements in the application. And the best way to structure one’s self is to use the CAR acronym. This video is on the IMD YouTube site, so people can actually go there and look at it. ‘C’ stands for challenge, ‘A’ would be the Action, and the ‘R’ would be the results. So here is an example. Your boss wants you to lower costs by 4% in two months. The action would be that you did “x” leading this team, and the results would be “y”. If people can structure their essays this way all the way through, and this can apply to any program out there, it keeps the essays concise and it gives all the information to the person reading the application. It’s just a really nice way to structure the essays. The other thing I tell people is to bring out something about you. At IMD, we are very business oriented, but we like to see the real people in people, so we want to see your hobbies and surprises, as we say. Bring out something that is really interesting.

And the thing I get asked all the time on panels is about the letters of recommendation. For IMD, who should I get to write the letters of recommendation? And the answer to that is that we prefer that you have letters from people who you’ve worked with. So it can be your former supervisor or your current supervisor or boss, it can be a client, or it can actually be a colleague. But what we don’t want to see at IMD is, for example, the CEO to write a letter for you just because he/she is the CEO. Their position doesn’t necessarily matter; we want to just make sure that they know something about you and can attest to your business acumen. We don’t like professors to write letters of recommendation just because there is such a big gap normally between when somebody was in their previous life in a different program and now. And I don’t think a professor can really attest to anybody’s business experience after seven or eight years.

Linda Abraham: One of the very distinctive aspects of IMD’s application process is the case interview. Can you give a brief description of that, and then how would you suggest that somebody prepare for a case interview if they are lucky enough to be invited?

Lisa Piguet: It is a full assessment day which is why the recruiters like to come to IMD so much. Because in their minds, we’ve already kind of put students through the ringer, and the people are ready to actually interview in a different kind of setting. So it’s a full day. Normally people arrive roughly at 8:00 in the morning. They usually have a one-on-one interview with me or some of my colleagues. Then they are handed a mini-business case, which we call an “impromptu presentation”. It is a mini business case. It’s a short topic, and they have thirty-five minutes to prepare a five-minute presentation that they actually will give to the other people that are there that day as well as the admissions committee. And then we put them back into groups and they have to do a group exercise. Then they usually go to lunch with the current students at IMD, and then afterwards they actually have a full blown case study with one of the professors that are teaching at the MBA program. This case has actually been sent to them normally two weeks in advance, and they are expected to prepare for it. So we are trying to simulate what actually happens in a classroom. It is tough to do it with 6-10 people versus 90, but it actually works pretty well.

Linda Abraham: So they actually see the case ahead of time?

Lisa Piguet: Yes, they get the case ahead of time. They are expected to read and prepare it. We also know that most of the people that come to IMD have never even seen a case, so they don’t really know how to do a case. But there is enough research now on Google, and there all different types of cases, so students should actually be able to talk about it in a logical format. But we know that people are not used to doing the case method, which is why they come to IMD -- to actually learn part of that. They do that for two hours. And if they are lucky, if they happen to be at IMD when a class is going on, they get to go to class and see how a class functions at IMD. If they can’t, we have different videos all over the website for the different classes at IMD.

The other thing we’ve just added is that we are now bringing in the Career Services Director to talk to the people who are interviewing that day. We are finding that more and more people want to talk to Career Services before they actually accept our offer, and so we are bringing one of the Career Services people, normally it’s the director, into the interview day to answer any questions the people may have.

Linda Abraham: Kumar asks, “What is the average experience level of the class?”

Lisa Piguet: The average is seven years of work experience. The average age is roughly 31. Last year it was 30, but at IMD it doesn’t really change that much. It’s between 30 and 31 every year with an average of seven years of work experience. But the minimum requirement would be that you are actually 25 and you have a minimum of 3 years of work experience.

Linda Abraham: Ahsan asks, “Is IMD a general MBA or a specialization?” I’m going to interpret and change the question a little bit and ask -- to the extent that IMD is a general management degree, to what extent is specialization allowed?

Lisa Piguet: IMD is a general management MBA program, very focused on industry, which is why a lot of people want to come to IMD. We are not really focused on finance and consulting, although all the big consulting companies like McKinsey, BCG, and Booz all come to IMD to recruit. There are other schools that pump out half the class into consulting; IMD doesn’t necessarily do that.

Linda Abraham: What percentage goes into consulting?

Lisa Piguet: Last year it was 25%.

Linda Abraham: And what percentage goes into, let’s say, general management?

Lisa Piguet: The rest of it is basically industry, and industry is such a big word. It can mean everything from pharma to automotive, etc. As one of our professors at IMD puts it -- we like things that people can actually touch and hold. That’s all of IMD by the way, not just the MBA program.

Linda Abraham: There was just an article on Poets&Quants.com about the fact that Harvard seems to have turned away from the investment banking types. As somebody put it -- they want people who are going to make something, not just manipulate markets! So it’s something like that.

Lisa Piguet: Yes, at IMD, we actually have people that are making things! The base of the class basically goes into industry. So it is a general management MBA with finance, accounting, marketing, etc. And then the big red thread that runs through the program, which really differentiates IMD from any program out there, is the leadership stream. And this is something that is so difficult to talk about. What I suggest people do if they are very interested in IMD is to get in touch with the alums in the last 5-10 years because they will tell you about the leadership that you get in this program. So it runs from the day you get into the program all the way until the day that you leave. And we do it in different ways.

One of the ways that we do it is that you get twenty sessions with a licensed psychologist. That technically is an elective. I’ve been here since 2002, and at that time only about 50% of the class took advantage of it; now it’s about 95%. So that is part of it. At IMD, because the feedback is so tough because you are doing so much work in groups, it’s a really good way to defuse the information that you are getting throughout the entire year.

You do outdoor exercises with your group; as Americans would know, it’s kind of Outward Bound type stuff. So you actually go outside in the Alps, you are fully equipped, and you get projects that you have to do from eight in the morning until five, and they film you. And then you come back. There are about sixteen teams, and they all have professional coaches associated with the team. The coach comes back with them and also gives them feedback. Each and every member of the team goes around the group and says what they thought about each member of the team, and then the coach gives their feedback on what they thought about the day and who did what, etc. So they are constantly getting this feedback throughout the entire year because the whole premise is that we really feel that if you are going to be a manager someday, you really need to understand yourself. And that is what this leadership stream is about.

We do have a theoretical part of the leadership stream, but then there is also this work to be done on you. And the people that are actually willing to do the work are the people that change the most. I admit them, so when I see them come in at the beginning of the year, I see that these people are not the same as the people that leave. The maturity and the growth are phenomenal, if they are willing to do the work.

Linda Abraham: And the work you refer to is primarily self-reflection?

Lisa Piguet: Exactly. There is a lot of writing about yourself; there is a lot of self-reflection. One of the MBAs told me last year that over the course of the year, in eleven months, they wrote about 100 hours about themselves. A lot of it is journal writing, and the feedback is really interesting. Most people have actually never looked in the mirror and said -- how do I behave when I am stressed or when I am in a group situation? Most people have never had to do that. So at IMD, they are in a situation where they are forced to do that.

We also have probably one of the most international programs in the world. This year we had 45 nationalities with 90 MBAs, which is quite high. Most people are not used to dealing with people from all over the world. So when you have that, it forces you to work differently and to think differently, which is really what I always call the “IMD charm”. It’s not easy; it is tough at times. Every now and then, I have people in my office in tears. But that is what is really nice about IMD. Since I have been here in 2002, we have yet to have a problem where people are fighting in groups, or I get called out in the middle of the night because somebody did something. And I really attribute it to the fact that we are very close at IMD. I know the MBAs; I see them every single day because their auditorium is right next to my office. And we have this psychology part of it that they always have someplace where they can go; they are not just a number.

Linda Abraham: Kumar asks, “I have more than 14 years of experience, which is significantly more than your class average. Would I fit into your MBA program or into your EMBA?”

Lisa Piguet: Kumar, I would ask you how old you are because I think you are probably Indian, and the Indians graduate really early. So a lot of it depends on the age as well.

Linda Abraham: Kumar responded that he is 40.

Lisa Piguet: Okay, then you would be better for the EMBA. There is a guy in the program this year who is 39, but we were very careful when we took him just because we do have people 25-26 in the program. And we want to make sure that the older students can deal with the younger ones. It’s not the younger ones dealing with the older ones; it’s the other way around. It seems like the forty-year olds get frustrated in a study group with somebody that only has three years of experience, whereas a 26-year old would value Kumar’s experience a lot more than he would value theirs. They actually even study for exams as a group at IMD. So it’s very important that the group has a lot of synergy and they can function really well, which is why we are really careful on the age requirements. The other reason we are very cautious about the age requirement is because the recruiters that are coming into IMD are recruiting for certain types of jobs with x amount of experience. So if somebody is too high or too low, it makes their job search that much more difficult.

Linda Abraham: You’ve touched on a few things up till this point regarding recruiters. Is post IMD “hire-ability” part of the admissions criteria? And how would you recommend an applicant show that quality?

Lisa Piguet: You mean their getting a job afterwards?

Linda Abraham: Yes. In other words, their realistic career goals combined with the IMD MBA.

Lisa Piguet: We are one of the programs out there that does link your career goal with the application process. And part of it is because we do have such a reputation of placement. Last year at graduation, which was December 3rd, almost 90% of the class had an offer. It doesn’t mean that they took the offer, but they at least had one offer. Some of them had four, some had seven, but they had at least one. And we are one of the few schools out there that does that. Our Career Services is so incredibly strong, so we do link admissions with the Career Services. For example, when we are getting ready to make offers, I will actually sit with the Career Services Director and go over the applications, and we discuss how they did during the day, and then we look at what their career goal is and we talk about it. It doesn’t mean that we won’t accept them if their career goal is very difficult. I call each and every person that has actually been accepted to the program. I pick up the phone and call them. But what I tell these students on the phone is that their career goal is going to be very difficult, and they probably won’t be able to use Career Services for that. They’ll really kind of be on their own and they’ll have to use their own network. So it doesn’t mean that we are not going to accept them; it just means that it will be a lot more difficult.

Linda Abraham: And you let them know that upfront?

Lisa Piguet: Yes, exactly. IMD is eleven months and it’s not the cheapest program out there, so we want to make sure that people are really realistic about what they are getting into. A lot of the European programs are in the same boat, but we want to just make sure that they know that we are not promising something that we can’t deliver on. We are very transparent; we’re very Swiss. We give all the information.

Linda Abraham: In terms of teaching methods, you mentioned that you are very real. And you also mentioned the case method. Are you a case method school? Do you combine a lot of experiential learning with cases? Can you give us some insight there?

Lisa Piguet: We do use cases for the teaching. It’s very integrated. So for example, if you have a marketing class in the morning, you’ll have a case for that. But then if you have finance in the afternoon, the finance professor and the marketing professor will have talked prior to that and they try to link it as much as they possibly can. So it’s very integrated, but it’s not all case methodology. We do simulations and integrative exercises. For next year, we have a lot more projects added to it. So yes, we do have cases, but there are a lot of other things that are added into the whole process.

Linda Abraham: Is there a required international component? By that I mean study outside of Switzerland. Or is the program just too intense and too short to allow for that?

Lisa Piguet: We have some very interesting things built into the program. I know a lot of schools now are doing exchanges. But in eleven months, that’s really hard to do. So what we have done in the program is we have something called the International Consulting Project, which is actually one of the MBAs favorite projects of the year. That is basically working with top multi-national companies out there. They are actually paying us for the MBAs to consult for them. And these projects are based all over the world. So last year when I was in China, I ran into a group in Shanghai. When I was in Brazil, I ran into a group there; they were underground in a mine. I ran into a group in New York; they were doing a water project. So they get to spend time outside of IMD quite often actually.

There is another project that is built into the program called the Discovery Expedition. And for the last three years, we’ve been going to South Africa because when you look at South Africa, you can actually find literally everything. And they’ve been working with small and medium sized businesses to try to change the entire process in Johannesburg. That is for two weeks. You have the International Consulting Projects plus the Discovery Expedition, and so that is what we would equate to an exchange. You are not sitting down in class and learning accounting, but it’s a very hands-on exchange.

Linda Abraham: What about the GMAT in your admissions process?

Lisa Piguet: At IMD, we are one of the schools that will look at the whole package. So our average this year is 670, but we are willing to take people with lower GMATs as long as their work experience makes sense, their undergrad experience makes sense, and their letters of recommendation make sense; we look at everything. So we will take people with lower GMAT scores. I know there are certain schools out there which require 700s to get in; we are not one of those schools because we know that a lot of these people are in general management roles, and their GMAT may not be as high as somebody in a different kind of role.

Linda Abraham: I know IMD is a general management program, and we’ve talked a lot about graduates going into either consulting or industry, mainly industry. What about entrepreneurship?

Lisa Piguet: That is one of the things I didn’t mention in the first part of the program in terms of our offering. We have a very strong entrepreneurship stream that lasts about four and a half months. Benoît F. Leleux runs that program. He is a specialist in the private equity, venture capital world with start-ups. And we know that a lot of people studying for general management programs are not necessarily going to have a start-up someday, but what we have found is that what you learn in an entrepreneur situation happens a lot in the corporate world. In a business unit for example, oftentimes you have loose variables -- you don’t have much budget, you don’t have much people -- and you still have to figure out how to get the project working and functioning. So that is what the whole stream actually teaches you.

IMD sits physically right next to a big school which is similar to MIT. And here between Lausanne and Geneva is the third largest area in the world for venture capital and private equity. The first is Silicon Valley, the second is Cambridge, and the third is here. We have a lot of biotech, we have a lot of clean energy, and we have all kinds of things happening around here. There are sixteen projects, and they are chosen from around this area because we want the entrepreneur to be with the MBAs. They physically need to meet with them and work on their projects. So if we can, the projects actually come from this area. Oftentimes, they help them validate their business plan. Oftentimes, they actually help them go and raise money for their projects. Oftentimes, they have to shut their door because the project is not viable after doing all the industry analysis, the company analysis. So it’s very interesting for the MBAs to work on that. And occasionally we have people who actually go work for that start-up. And we do have probably two or three MBAs each year when they graduate who start their own company.

Linda Abraham: Out of ninety students, that is not much different than schools which are much more outwardly entrepreneurially focused.

Lisa Piguet: Benoît F. Leleux actually taught at Babson for a long time. As you know, that is a big entrepreneur school. And then he did his PhD at INSEAD, and taught there for a while. But most of our professors are actually industry based, so they come from some sort of industry related to what they are teaching. A lot of them come from consulting. Benoît F. Leleux in this case is venture capital, private equity. He was working in Asia for years on different projects. So they are very practical and very hands on.

Linda Abraham: Kumar has a follow-up question on our earlier discussion. “How is the Executive MBA different from the regular MBA?”

Lisa Piguet: The Executive MBA is different mainly because it’s like any executive MBA where they are not physically here. So the full-time MBA is a total immersion in everything. You eat, sleep, and breathe at IMD, whereas with the Executive MBA, you are here periodically and you go on three Discovery Expeditions; one is in Shanghai, another is in India, and the other one is in Silicon Valley. And then you come back to IMD for a couple of weeks and you study here, and then you go back to your home and you study from abroad. So it’s back and forth and back and forth. Normally it lasts roughly sixteen months, whereas the full-time MBA is just a full-immersion 11-month program. Those are the two degree programs that we have at IMD; we have the MBA and the EMBA. So you still have an IMD MBA; it’s just the executive part. The Executive MBA program is for students that are a little bit older; the average age in the Executive MBA is 39.

Linda Abraham: Nitin asks, “What is the expected length of resume required for somebody with three years of work experience?”

Lisa Piguet: We don’t require a resume at IMD. We don’t require any of the English language tests either. Because of our interview process, we can figure out if somebody can read, write, etc. in English.

Linda Abraham: So the TOEFL is not required?

Lisa Piguet: We don’t require that, and we don’t require a resume either. On our application, applicants fill out their work experience, similar to what would be on a resume. But we don’t require a resume attached to the application.

Linda Abraham: If somebody is rejected at IMD and wants to reapply, do you have any suggestion for them?

Lisa Piguet: We are one of the few schools that if you have been interviewed and declined, you can actually set up an appointment with me to get feedback as to what happened. And we give them feedback because they’ve come all this way, and we really feel that they deserve that. So I will walk them through every process of the day and tell them the strong points and the weak points. I think we are one of the only schools out there does that because we only have ninety MBAs so we can normally do that. Some days we are quite crazy. I just did five of them today as a matter of fact. But oftentimes they will ask me whether they can reapply. And if you look at the website, it kind of discourages people from doing that. But a lot of times, people make simple mistakes; they are very nervous when they here. So depending on the age and profile of the person, what I tell them is that they can reapply, but if they do, I actually have them call me back before and I walk them through what happened again so that they don’t make the same mistakes twice. So we are very good about helping somebody, because oftentimes if they’ve gotten this far, they’ve made some simple mistake.

Linda Abraham: What if somebody has less than three years of experience and applies? Is their application going to be deferred? Will you just tell them to apply next time? Will you not give them any feedback? Would you just tell that person that you don’t accept people with three years of experience, and they should wait a year?

Lisa Piguet: Yes, that is what we tell them. Primarily we just say to wait. Just wait another year and then you can apply. But normally, we don’t actually see people with less than three years applying because most people actually know that at IMD you need a minimum of three years. I should back up one step. Occasionally, you will see a consultant from a McKinsey or a BCG that actually has two years that is fully sponsored in the program. That happens every now and then; it’s about once every four or five years. And the reason that we’ll do that is because if you look at their background and their work experience, the hours that they keep are basically equivalent to eight years of work experience! So that is one of the reasons that we actually do that. So it is rare, but we will do it occasionally.

Linda Abraham: I remember being on the site and seeing that there are three years minimum of work experience required. So why even spend the money and apply if you have less when it is so clear?

What makes an application really stand out for you, and I’m not talking about the numbers and the work experience and the GMAT and the GPA; I’m talking more here about the essays, the letters of recommendation.

Lisa Piguet: Again, going back to the admissions tips. We are very achievement oriented so we like to see the achievements with the results attached to it. And the other thing that we kind of force is leadership potential. We know that people that are applying to IMD are still quite young, and so they don’t necessarily have what they think in their minds is true leadership. But what we are looking for is the potential in somebody. So that makes a strong application. And oftentimes, we actually see that through letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation will talk about the potential of somebody to be a leader because oftentimes a person won’t mention it themselves.

So what makes a strong application? I would say career progression; if you’ve only had three years of work experience, we want to see what you have achieved in those three years. But if you have seven years of work experience, we want to see that you’ve progressed. I think you asked about the international component. We want to see people that actually have what we call an “international outlook”. The reason I say “outlook” is because we know that there are certain countries where people actually never leave the country to work, and the United States happens to be one of those places. China is another. Russia happens to be another one. What we want to see is that the people that are applying from these countries are actually dealing with the outside world. So they are working for a multi-national that is dealing with the entire world. That’s what we want to see. If they are travelling for a vacation, we want to see that they are going someplace else besides their respective country. That’s what we call “international outlook”. And it’s not necessarily that we require that you spent two years out of your home country before you can get in; we want you to demonstrate that you have this outlook.

Linda Abraham: Are foreign languages part of that requirement?

Lisa Piguet: The whole program is taught in English. 98% of the time, people have at least one other language.

Linda Abraham: Is that by design or is that by default?

Lisa Piguet: It’s by design and default because if you look at how international we are, English is usually their second language. And so they will have three or four languages. Last year the average was five languages. It doesn’t mean that they are fluent in all; it often means that they can read or write in another language. When you have all these nationalities, a lot of them have worked all over the world and they can speak and understand all these different languages.

Linda Abraham: It’s also one way of showing that you have that international perspective.

Lisa Piguet: So again, if you are not fluent in another language, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get into IMD because the whole program is taught in English. But they have to be fluent in English.

Linda Abraham: Since your applicants are a little bit older, what role does the undergraduate record play in the evaluation process?

Lisa Piguet: That’s a good question. The younger they are, the more we put emphasis on it because we don’t have anything else to base their application on. So if they’ve only had three years of work experience, it becomes more important because they don’t have a lot of progression. In that case, we would go back more to the undergraduate records. If they have 7-8-9 years of work experience, it’s less important because they do have a lot of achievements now. But we will look at the school and we will look at the GPA. If they had a bad GPA, it doesn’t mean that we won’t interview them. It will just be a question that will be brought up during the interview as to what happened, and we’ll ask them to explain it, etc. It doesn’t mean that we won’t interview them if they had a bad GPA.

Linda Abraham: What about community service? Do you want to see that? Do you care if it’s not there? You’re coming with such an international body, and I think community service is emphasized more in certain cultures than others.

Lisa Piguet: You are exactly right; it is. You see that often it’s different in different cultures. I’m kind of chuckling because when I was at the NY MBA Fair a couple of years ago, I had literally half the people coming up and asking me about this community service. And I was chuckling because I am American, (I’m Swiss now too,) but I don’t remember those days when people were so focused on this community service thing. But apparently a lot of schools out there require this community service. We don’t. It’s not something that we are looking at on the application.

But I really believe that because of our interview process at IMD, we not only accept really bright people that are capable, but I really believe that we accept good people, really good human beings. And therefore, oftentimes they do community service or they have been doing community service prior to coming in, but it’s not something that we require for the application.

Linda Abraham: I think one of the benefits of community service, especially for younger applicants, is that it can be a great venue to show leadership.

Lisa Piguet: Exactly. And what I mentioned earlier about the leadership potential, you can actually see it in places like that. If they are not managing teams or big projects, you will often see it in a community service type project where they are leading some sort of a group or something.

Linda Abraham: Kumar asks, “How much weight do the letters of recommendation carry in the context of the entire application?”

Lisa Piguet: A lot. At IMD, they carry a lot of weight. We require three. I know that a lot of other schools have cut back, and I don’t quite understand that, but they have. We still require three and they do carry a lot of weight. What I tell people is that your recommender is going to ask you nine times out of ten to write the letter yourself, and you need to tell that person that you cannot write it yourself. We can pick up the language, and if the language is the same as in the application, normally the person is declined. So you can coach them. Take them for a coffee. Tell them what IMD is looking for – we’re looking for leadership potential, business acumen, how you do on teams, etc. You can coach them, but do not write it for them. But we do put a lot of emphasis on the letters of recommendation because having somebody else step back and look at you is very important to how we see you and how we see you in the future. If the application is very strong, and for some reason the letters of recommendation are strange or weak, I would actually called the referees and talk to them myself.

And it’s very interesting because letters of recommendation are extremely cultural. So there are certain countries that tend to be much harder on people than other countries. And we know that. So oftentimes I’ll pick up the phone and say, you gave so and so a lot of 50 percents, but yet the file is so strong and the career progression is so good. And the person will tell me, “Oh, but the person is great!” because in their culture, 50% is normal. I don’t tell them that they almost ruined the applicant’s career to get an MBA!

Linda Abraham: Nitin is asking, “How is the placement this year?” You said that 90% of the graduates had job offers at graduation. I’m going to guess it was probably pretty close to what it was in previous years, but he is asking specifically in comparison to previous years. And is there a large section from an IT background?

Lisa Piguet: If you look on the class profile, you can see the breakdown of the people that we have in the program. We do have IT profiles in the class, and they usually go work for companies like Google or Amazon afterwards.

We graduated last year in December, and on that graduation day almost 90% had an offer. There is a group out there called the Career Services Council (CSC). Mostly the top schools are involved in this, and they have very strict rules about how you can actually post your data. And how they post it is by first measuring at graduation, but then the next big measure that they look at is three months after graduation. So we actually have done one in March, and I believe we were at 96% or 97%. The people that still hadn’t found a job, it was usually because it was their choice -- because they were travelling all around the world or something. It usually wasn’t necessarily related to IMD. And we will stick with an MBA if for some reason they are having trouble getting a job. We won’t abandon them. A lot of schools don’t have that luxury because the programs are too big, but our Career Services coaches will keep working with these people until they have a job.

Linda Abraham: Isil asks, “What do you think about having supervisors who are non-English speaking write my recommendations? Or I’m considering hiring a translator to convert the letters into English.”

Lisa Piguet: You need to have the letters translated into English. That being said, we will take French letters of recommendation because all of us speak French. By the way, that is not a requirement for IMD. But we will allow somebody to write it in French because the people who are reading the applications all can speak French. But that is the only language that we will allow just because we don’t have a Chinese admissions person, etc. So you do need to have them translated into English. But it’s fine to have a non-English mother tongue actually write it, but do have it translated.

Linda Abraham: IMD’s program is an eleven month program. Is it a program that is appropriate for career changers since it is so short and so intense, and usually career changers are assisted by an internship which you don’t have?

Lisa Piguet: IMD is actually known as one of the schools to be able to actually switch careers. And the reason that we are known for that is again because the Career Services is so strong. They actually will teach you how to use your transferable skills in another arena. So for example, last year in the 2010 class, 96% of the class changed at least one thing – function, industry or geography. And in the 2007 class, I believe we had 72% that changed all three! So we are known for being able to change, but again, a lot of it depends on you. You have to work hard to make that change. It’s not just that Career Services is going to find you a fantastic job, but they will facilitate that change. We are going to be in over forty cities in the fall for the World MBA Tour. So if anybody wants to contact us, just look on the website as to where we are going.

Linda Abraham: That fall event really would be more for the following year’s application.

Lisa Piguet: Exactly, because our last deadline is September.

Linda Abraham: And when is your next deadline?

Lisa Piguet: The next one for now would be August. So we have two left; we have August and September. So if anybody is interested in applying, I’m happy to talk to them now about getting their application ready for the next two deadlines.

Linda Abraham: You already had two deadlines pass. Would applicants for the next two deadlines be at a disadvantage compared to the last one?

Lisa Piguet: If you look on the website, it says to apply earlier if you possibly can. That actually has its pros and its cons because if you look at the February deadline and the April deadline, they are the two most competitive deadlines of the year. But it is true; we do have ninety spots open during that time. We are not a school that actually has rolling admissions; we really have rounds. So once that deadline is over, it’s over. And we don’t hold applications until the next one just to see how they are. But if a person has a really interesting profile, they can apply at any point in time and it really doesn’t matter. If they have a more typical profile, I would recommend applying early.

Linda Abraham: Nitin asks, “How do you view a career in not-for-profit, and do you have any plans to visit in India?”

Lisa Piguet: I think it was last year when one of the professors took a bunch of MBAs for an elective to India. The EMBA goes to India every year.

Linda Abraham: But you’re not planning on being on the World MBA Tour in India or anything like that?

Lisa Piguet: Not right now, no. But we are doing an info session in New Delhi, although I’m not sure when it’s going to be. Regarding the first part of your question, we really like those not-for-profit profiles. The biggest issue for people coming from not-for-profit into the top schools worldwide is that the jobs that they want to get at the end are usually not-for-profit jobs. And oftentimes, they are borrowing money to come into these programs, and the salaries unfortunately, are just not high enough to pay back their loans. That is their biggest issue. We love not-for-profit people as long as they are not depending on a huge salary at the very end to pay back their loans. They bring really interesting ideas and a whole different way of looking at life into the MBA program.

Linda Abraham: Yes, they usually have very different kinds of organizational experiences. Thank you again all for participating today. Special thanks to Lisa for joining us today. If you have additional questions for Lisa, please email them to mba.info@imd.ch.

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