2012 HEC Paris MBA Admissions Q&A with Marie Laurence Lemaire

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2012 HEC Paris MBA Admissions Q&A with Marie Laurence Lemaire

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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 HEC Paris’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 the expert about this top business school.

I also want to give a special welcome to Marie-Laurence Lemaire, HEC MBA Program Senior Business Development Manager. Thank you Marie for joining. I am going to take advantage of my position as moderator and ask the first question. Marie, what’s new at HEC?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: A lot of things will be new from September 2012, and I will be talking about that. But first, I would like to welcome everyone to this Q&A session. Thank you very much for being here and wanting to hear more about HEC’s program.

What will be new at HEC from September 2012 is a new curriculum, a new building, and we’ve had a new dean for about a year and a half now. We’ve also been working on the reshuffle of the curriculum for over a year now, so everything will be in place for the September intake. It will be a very interesting and challenging program. We have introduced new classes in the fundamental phase as well as the portfolio of electives. The major change in the fundamental phase is the introduction to Ethics as a 24-hour fundamental face to face class, which will be mandatory. We are the only business school in Europe to offer these kinds of classes in the fundamental section of the program, because we believe that ethics is a very important topic nowadays, and that students really need to learn more about this subject. We don’t have just one professor talking about ethics, although we can talk about this topic for 24 hours, but we will have the finance professor, the marketing professor, and the HR professor coming in front of the students to give their vision in this specific management area because it’s very interesting to understand ethics in a context of management. So this is a major change that we have introduced in the program.

The second change obviously is in the portfolio of electives. We have introduced new topics in the portfolio of electives. Entrepreneurship was there before, but it will be really reinforced very strongly from September 2012. We also have internships and different kinds of projects that students can take on. There probably will be questions during the Q&A, and I will be able to elaborate a little bit more on this topic.

I would like to say a few words about the building itself. We are in the process of finishing this new building. It will be completely dedicated to MBA students, so the working environment will be totally different from what it is today. The quality of the building will be absolutely amazing. The campus itself is set in a very beautiful environment, not in the city center of Paris. So the advantage that we have is that we have seats. And we do think carefully in order to really have the best suitable facilities for our students. The new building will be really highly hi-tech with wide blackboards. There will be electronic devices everywhere. It will be quite a fantastic change from what we have today. So we are really looking forward to moving into this new building in June, and opening it to the students from September.

Linda Abraham: Let’s turn to the applicants’ questions. Ning asks, "What is the number of students in the January 2013 intake?"

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: In total, between the September and the January intakes, we have roughly about 200 students. In the September intake we have around 150 students, and for the January intake, roughly about 50 students. So you can see that the January intake is smaller than the September one. Mainly it’s because most of the MBA applicants apply for a September intake and are not very used to applying for a January intake, so we have less applicants coming for the January intake. That doesn’t mean that it’s easier to get in, in January than September; that is just the number of applicants coming for the intake.

Linda Abraham: So the acceptance percentages are roughly the same?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Exactly the same, yes. We are very tough on applicants and we just as strongly emphasize the admission in September as in January.

Linda Abraham: Approximately how far from Paris is HEC?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: I won’t really talk in terms of mileage, but in terms of how long it takes to go from one to the other, because Paris, and Europe in general, are very different than North America. It’s not so much a question in terms of distance, but in terms of time; how long it takes to go from A to B. The train system is very good and it takes about an hour by train to go from the city center of Paris to campus. It’s quite a distance. In mileage, it’s probably about 50-60 kilometers, but it takes about an hour to get from one to the other.

Linda Abraham: Giulia asks, "I would be interested to know more about the exchange program."

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: The exchange program will take place at the very end of the curriculum, at the last four months of the program. We have quite a large number of partners throughout the world, and a lot of our students are really taking advantage of the exchange program. So you will be sent, if you request it, to an exchange program during the last four months of the program. And that allows you to get familiar with a different part of the world. If you want to maybe work in a different area of the world instead of working in Europe after your MBA, it might be an idea to go for an exchange program, maybe in Asia, for example. If you are coming from North America and you have a strong education in Europe—in France—then you might want to brush up your experience with an exchange program in Asia, so that you have a very global perspective on management. Some people come from Asia and want to settle down in the US. In that case, you will probably choose a partner in the US or in Canada in order to get familiar with the workforce and the culture there. So depending on what you want to do post-MBA, you would apply to one university versus another one.

The selection process for this exchange program will be done once you are in the program, and you are often requested to apply to the exchange program from the end of January until mid-February. So if you enter in September, you have a few months before you need to decide if you want to go for this university versus another one. If you start in January, it’s pretty much as soon as you get in. But you need to inquire about the different opportunities that you will have because the selection process will be done pretty much as soon as you get into the program.

Linda Abraham: Ning has a question about how you juggle the job search if you go away on an exchange program. Can they finish the program in a different country? What about the job offer and the job search?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: That is the whole question. Because if you really want to work in France or in Europe, I don’t think it would be a good idea to go for an exchange program during that time, when obviously your job search will be very important. So if you want to work in Europe, it might not be your best choice because obviously, everything would be taking place at the same time. But if you want to settle down somewhere else, you will be able to use the Career Services from the partner in order to brush up your job search. So in that case, you will have openings in that area of the world. So it really depends on what you want to do post-MBA.

Linda Abraham: Could you tell us a little bit more about the entrepreneurship elements in the new curriculum?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: There is a very strong development on entrepreneurship in the program. I need to give you a few words about the context; where we are located and what the French government is trying to do in that area. We are part of a group of schools locally, and they are mainly engineering and research schools, in nuclear, in energy, in all sorts of different aspects of industry. And a lot of the students coming from good schools, which are the top engineering schools in France, obviously have the technical backgrounds, but don’t have the managerial skills in order to set up their own business. So the French government is trying to really get those schools all together, and the government is really putting in a lot of money in order to create some synergies between the different schools. And HEC is coming up with a lot of new ideas and promotions of entrepreneurship built-in within the MBA and within the school itself, in order to help engineers and researchers to launch their business. So the MBA students will have the possibility to maybe join an engineer or a researcher in setting up the business behind the ideas.

Linda Abraham: I guess they are trying to set up incubators or encourage entrepreneurship, specifically high-tech entrepreneurship.

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Yes, exactly. We already have an Incubator here on campus. It is mainly for e-commerce, so there is no brick and mortar incubator, but it’s mainly for setting up a business on the internet. We already have this, but obviously it will be on a much larger scale later on.

Linda Abraham: On this point, Aaron asks, "Regarding entrepreneurship, does the school have a seed capital fund, angel investor arrangement, or students’ alumni entrepreneurs?" Do you know of anything like that?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Yes. Through the Incubator, the entrepreneurship professors, and also the alumni from the different HEC programs, the whole synergy is really there for students who are interested in setting up their own business; to put them in contact with VCs and to try to leverage funds.

Linda Abraham: You were going to say something about entrepreneurship.

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: What I wanted to say is that to go back to the MBA program and the link with entrepreneurship, built-in within the program, there is the entrepreneurship track. This specialized entrepreneurship track will last for four months. And during that period, you will need to go through all sorts of different classes and electives to be able to start your own business. So you will have classes in business plan writing, in marketing plans, and things like that.

Linda Abraham: Thomas asks, "Can you let us know about how many students do the NYU Stern program? Secondly, do more choose their first year at NYU or at HEC?"

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: For the double degree with NYU, we have no more than 4 students per year coming from NYU or going from HEC to NYU. But I would say that is already quite a lot. The choice of starting in one or the other one really depends on what you want to do. Again, that is a question of job search because if you are at NYU and starting there, obviously you will come to HEC during the second phase of the program. And in that case, it would be very difficult for you to do your job search in NY. Then you would do your job search here in Paris. And it’s the same for the other way around. If you start at HEC and then you move to NYU, you won’t be able to search for jobs in Paris; you will search for jobs in NY. So depending on where you want to be at the end of your MBA, you would need to start at the school opposite to where you want to live after your MBA. So there are not pros and cons; it really depends on what you want to do.

Linda Abraham: Ning asks, "Can you talk about your alumni networking program?"

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Yes. The alumni network is quite big. We have more than 40,000 alumni throughout the world. Those alumni come from all the different programs at HEC. At HEC, we have the undergrad students. We have about 3,000 current students on campus for the undergrad studies. We have the master’s program. We have executive education. We have, obviously, the MBA program. All those people graduate from a specific program at HEC, but they are all part of one alumni network. And when you are an MBA student, if you want to have information on a specific sector of activity or a job or a region of the world, and so on, and you want to get in touch with an alum, regardless of the program that the person would have done, that person would be very willing to give you all the information that you need. So it’s not so much a program, but it’s a part of HEC that is very important. It is a very large alumni network, and very influential as well, especially in Europe. Most of our alumni in Europe are based in really top jobs and top companies.

Linda Abraham: Giulia asks, "I heard about HEC’s Luxury Strategy Certificate. Is it available to MBA students? And if it is, how would it work?" What would she have to do to get it?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: We have several certificates and Luxury Marketing is one of them. We have one in Finance and Energy, we have one in Sustainable Development, that one in Luxury, and several others. The way the certificate will work is that it will not count towards your MBA, but as an MBA student, you are allowed to join the certificate. The credits that you will earn towards the certificate will not count towards your MBA, but you can do that once you finish the program. So you need to add two months at the end of your program in order to validate the certificate. In the Luxury Marketing, we have a very big star professor in charge of this certificate. And it’s really a top certificate; there is really good teaching in the certificate, so it is really valuable. You will apply to the certificate, and it’s up to the professor to decide if you will be able to join or not.

Linda Abraham: The certificate is basically additional study after the MBA, focused exclusively in this case, on strategy for the luxury goods market, or in the case of the other certificates, it would be petroleum and energy or sustainable development or whatever it would be. Right?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Exactly. So it’s really the discovery of a sector of activity more than just academic content. You will really discover a specific sector like luxury or energy or sustainability, etc.

Linda Abraham: Given that we have a fair representation of North Americans in the audience, how easy is it for somebody not from an EU country to get a job in Europe after an MBA at HEC? And conversely, if somebody wants to come back to the United States, how easy is it to get a job in North America coming from HEC?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Obviously, it is very difficult to say that it’s okay, you won’t have any problem, and we promise you that you will have a job when you get out of the MBA program. But first of all, technically, if you graduate from HEC’s MBA program, you will be able to apply for a "talent resident visa" so that allows you to be able to work in France. That is one thing. I know that lately there have been some issues with applying for jobs for foreign students in France, but this has been solved because most of the top universities and business schools have been strongly lobbying the French government and they have stepped back to what they originally decided to do. And obviously, with an election coming up very soon, they don’t want any kind of problems so they backed up, and the situation is back to what it used to be before. So coming out of HEC’s program, you will be able to get a visa. That is not a problem.

Now finding a job is different. We give you a lot of possibilities in order to be in contact with companies, to brush up you CV, to do mock-up interviews. You need to do your homework and present yourself to the different companies that are offering internships and jobs. You are the key in finding the job post-MBA. We will give you all the tools that we have in our power. We will give you the contacts. We invite companies on campus. We will do company treks in different areas of the world, in different sectors of activity, and so on. But at the very end, it’s really up to you to follow the advice that we give you and really brush up and get that job. That is really what it boils down to in the end.

So I would say there are job opportunities in Europe at the moment. Obviously, it is harder than what it used to be a couple of years ago. But we don’t find it really much more difficult than what it used to be. HEC has a very strong reputation in Europe, so coming with that kind of degree in your pocket really does open doors. That is one thing about getting a job in Europe. If you get a job in Europe and you work here for a couple of years, but then there is the question of – how do I get back to my home country once I spent some time here? I guess you have to leverage the alumni network because it’s quite amazing the number of people that are based in the US and in Canada in top jobs and in top companies. So get in touch with those people. They will open doors. And use your network.

The second thing is, when you go back home, with your experience, with your MBA degree from outside of your home country, you will stand out from the crowd. You will be different; you will be a global manager. And the job opportunities that you will have will be totally different when you go back home. And I really don’t think that you will settle down in a kind of non-international company if you go back to the US at some point.

Linda Abraham: Aaron asks, "In the eyes of recruiters, how do HEC MBA students compare to the Grand Ecole graduates?"

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: When the recruiters are on campus, if they want to recruit Grand Ecole students or graduates, they will want to have somebody with no work experience. If they recruit MBA students, they know very well that it’s a different kind of profile, so they will not be offering the same kind of job to the Grand Ecole students as to the MBA students. And really there is absolutely no problem whatsoever because companies that actually come on campus for recruitment know very well who our MBA students are and who our undergraduate students are, and there is no mix-up of the two. They are looking for somebody totally different if they want to recruit an MBA student.

Linda Abraham: Giulia asks, "Have you seen an increase in applications following this financial crisis?" And I assume she means more the European debt crisis than the 2008 crisis that hit.

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: We are really seeing a drop in applications because the people that have a job right now tend to be a little bit more cautious before giving in their resignation. Especially, as I mentioned to you, we are in a year where there is a presidential election so people are waiting right now. Companies don’t want to invest too much. People who have a job want to wait and see what kind of new president we will have and what that person will put into place. I guess in the US, it’s pretty much the same as well because you are also coming up to a presidential election. So the situation is that it’s pretty much at a standstill right now.

Linda Abraham: In the United States, I think there is a sense that we are coming out of the recession right now. There is a greater sense of optimism, but it’s slow. It’s real slow—definitely not a boom time. I think that might be a slight difference between Europe and the United States right now. Applicants, I don’t know if you want to agree or disagree with me on that one, but that is the sense that I’m getting from the newspapers here. Whereas the sovereign debt crisis in Europe is still very much a player and a factor, here the news is that we might be coming out of the recession.

Ning is asking. "On that note, can you talk about career planning services programs available to the students?"

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Obviously, the economy is changing all the time. We have different students in the intake wanting different things. So the Career Management Center at HEC really adapts all the time. We don’t have straight rules like we do this or we do that, or that we ask those specific companies to come on campus, and so on. It really depends every year. Last year, the top recruiter at HEC was Amazon.com. This is something that we hadn’t seen in the past.

Linda Abraham: Is that Amazon.com com for Europe or Amazon.com for Seattle?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: For Europe. It was really amazing to see this shift in the industry. What I am saying here is that we always adapt to what the students want, where they want to go after the MBA, and what the company wants. Career Services is really the coordinator and liaison between those two factors. So we will use those contacts versus those other ones, in order to reach the goal that we are setting up. So we really listen to our students. We start working with our students in the Career Management Center from day one of the program. We have two coaches on the payroll as part of the Career Services Center, and you will have one-to-one sessions with those people. You will have all sorts of different things like a personality test to try to see for yourself which kind of manager you are, which company will be most suitable for you, and so on. So we really try to understand exactly what will be the needs of our students. Then later on, we will be able to find the right companies for you.

Linda Abraham: Are there any pre-recruiting programs? Some schools start with profiling and self-assessments. Is that part of the career services provided by HEC, and does it start even before the accepted student gets to campus?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: It will be done during the time you are on campus; it is not done prior to your arrival on campus.

Linda Abraham: But self-assessment is a part of it?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Yes.

Linda Abraham: What role does "hire-ability" and clear career goals play in the evaluation process?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: We ask this question in the application file because we want the people actually applying to the MBA program to think about their future. We don’t want people who just apply for a program because of the ranking or this and that. You do obviously apply to a specific program because it highly ranked, etc., but we want more than just that. We want people to think about their future and have a clear idea of what they want to do. Most of our students are career switchers, so they want to change something in their environment. They want to change geography, they want to change sector of activity, or they want to change job. They can’t change all three at the same time; that is just impossible. Sometimes they can change two things. But most of the time, if they manage to change one thing, it’s really great. And then later on, you can change something else. But to change too many things at the same time won’t work.

Linda Abraham: If you want to change two or more of those parameters, you are best off doing it in a multi-step process and as a long-term plan.

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Absolutely. Because by changing too many things at the same time, you might really be confronting too many difficulties, especially in the environment today. You need to really do one step at a time. So you might have to accept a job just after the MBA which might not be your dream job. But that job will lead you to something else, to getting more experience in something that will lead to something that you are really dreaming of later on. So you have to do it step by step. I think it is very important.

To go back to your original question about the admission, we want our students to think about what they want to do, but we know very well that over the course of the program, a lot of people will change their minds. And that is fine. We are used to that. I think it’s pretty okay to grow up during the course of an MBA and say, I know that in the admissions file I wanted to do this and work in that sector of activity, but really, I spoke to some alum, I’ve seen some companies, and this is not me. I’d rather work in sustainability, for example. So yes, we want to hear about projects. Sometimes people have a clear view of what they want to do, but sometimes people change and that is fine.

Linda Abraham: Being directionless is not the same as changing your mind.

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: That’s right.

Linda Abraham: Is there any advantage to applying in different rounds or different intakes or at different points in the application cycle?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: There is no real value to applying earlier in a year versus later on. We have so many spaces available and we are not really too strict on that. If we feel that there are ten people in the last round that are really top students, we will accept them anyway. We will not refuse them because we’ve got a number of spaces. We don’t work like that. We are a small enough program to be able to have this flexibility. And an added value to HEC’s program is that we are like a family-run business, like a boutique type of MBA. We are not a large number with a "numerus clausus" on the number of applicants or something like that. We want to accept the people who are the best.

Linda Abraham: Ning asks, "For admission, there are six rounds of application deadlines. Do applicants have significant advantages in rounds 1-4? Would you advise students not to bother to apply to rounds 5 or 6 because the space will be very limited?"

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: I just mentioned before, it’s still open. Don’t feel frustrated because you’re right there—your file is ready, you’ve got your GMAT, you’ve got everything together—but you are a little bit late in the process. Put your file through. This is not a problem because if your file is good and everything is okay in your application, we will accept you if you are applying for a specific intake. I think you should apply whenever you feel ready. Don’t try to rush your application because you want to apply to the first rounds because you think you need to meet that deadline, or else you won’t get in. No. Apply when you are ready. When you are ready in your head, that is when you are going to be really at your best in the interviews, in writing the essays, and so on. And that is when you are going to get into the program.

If you want to apply for a scholarship, that is not a problem either. We have an envelope of scholarships per year, and we divide that envelope per rounds that we have. So having six rounds means that we have six envelopes for scholarships, so we will still have as much money in the last round for scholarships as we will have in the first round.

Linda Abraham: Do you discourage or encourage or have any particular disposition toward re-applicants?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: There is no problem and you can reapply to the program, but you need to have changed something from you first application, obviously. Let’s say you weren’t accepted to the program because you didn’t have enough work experience, you can obviously apply one or two years later after you’ve worked in whichever companies and acquire whichever skills, and so on. Then you will have a good case to get into the program. But if you have changed absolutely nothing in your skills or in your GMAT score or whatever, and you are reapplying to the program, then the answer might still be the same.

Linda Abraham: That is really critical for re-applicants to most schools. But you are not taking away points or giving points for the re-applicants?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: No, not at all.

Linda Abraham: You consider the application vis-à-vis the applicants that particular intake, and you would be looking for some growth or change or improvement in a re-applicant.

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: That is correct. You will not be marked with a red flag because you are a re-applicant!

Linda Abraham: Giulia asks, "Is the interview done by alumni or HEC representatives?"

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: We try as much as possible to have it done by the alumni, and we run the interviews globally, so wherever you are based in the world, it will be done by the alum. Sometimes the administration will do it because we run out of time or alum or people are not always available when we need the interviews to be done. So we need flexibility. They are done face-to-face as much as possible. Sometimes we use Skype, sometimes the phone. But we really prefer to have face-to-face, locally, with an alum. So when you go for an interview, obviously, you can ask questions to the interviewer because that person most probably will have done the program and that person will be willing to share his/her experience. So come along with questions.

Linda Abraham: Giulia asks, "How long does it generally take to know if we got accepted or not?"

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: The final decision will take about a month and a half from the point in time when you submit your application. When you submit your application, we will prescreen your application during a pre-selection jury. We will evaluate your essays, your transcripts, your recommendation letters, and so on. And if everything is okay and we feel you are competitive, you will get invited to be interviewed. We will get the feedback from interviewers and your file will go through a final jury. So the whole process will take about a month and a half.

Linda Abraham: Do you wait-list applicants?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Sometimes we do, but we try as much as possible to give a definite answer to the wait-listed candidates as soon as possible. Sometimes it can take up to two months in order to get a final answer if you are wait-listed, but we try to really give you a final decision. Because I know that being waitlisted is not very comfortable.

Linda Abraham: Neha asks, "Can you talk about the application reviewing process? How many people are reviewing the application package? Are these people current students, professors, admissions officers?"

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: There are two stages. One is the pre-selection jury. We have an outside consultant who would have read the file and will give us feedback. And we grade the file according to different scales. So we take into consideration the school you graduated from, your GMAT score, your international exposure, your recommendation letters, your transcripts, etc. All of that will be taken into consideration with an outside consultant. There will be the admissions director. There will be people like myself, development managers who know the applicant, and the admissions officers. And that is about it. That is the pre-selection jury.

Linda Abraham: That is to determine who will get an interview?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Correct. That is when we decide whether or not we will need to interview you. Obviously, we have a graded system for the interviews, so the interviewer will give us a feedback. Is the candidate favorable, unfavorable, or extra favorable, etc? Then your file will be presented to the final jury. In the final jury will be a professor, the dean of the MBA program, the career director, the academic director, the admissions director, again people like myself, and an alumni from the program, so that we can really talk about each student and exchange.

Linda Abraham: A pretty thorough and broad-based committee there.

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Yes, definitely.

Linda Abraham: I know that HEC is consistently well-ranked, certainly by the Financial Times, for its marketing program. Could you briefly describe some of the elements of that program?

Marie-Laurence Lemaire: Yes. As I mentioned to you previously for entrepreneurship, we have a specific entrepreneurship track. We have the same for marketing. We have a marketing track as well. The marketing professors are the big stars at HEC, so we have quite some stars in finance and the big stars are in marketing as well. Also we have a lot of companies that are actually recruiting from HEC in the marketing field because they know the professors and they know what kind of students we can provide them with, so this really helps. I’m not too familiar with the content of the marketing track, but if you are interested, you can contact me via email and I will be able to give you more in-depth info regarding the content of the different classes that are available for the marketing track.

Linda Abraham: Thank you again all for participating today. Special thanks to Marie for joining us today. If you have additional questions for the HEC MBA team, please send Marie an email.

We look forward to seeing you at future Q&A and Events. Visit our event schedule page for our full list of upcoming events and details, or to register. You can also subscribe to our events list by clicking reminders on our event schedule page.

Once more, thank you all for joining us today. Best of luck to all with your applications!

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