2012 HKUST MBA Admissions Q&A with Sherring Ng

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2012 HKUST MBA Admissions Q&A with Sherring Ng

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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 the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Business School’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 want to give a special welcome to Sherring Ng, Head of Marketing & Admissions at HKUST Business School. Also joining us is Pimluck Suvitsakdanon, a year-two student at HKUST MBA. She used to work as a Portfolio Risk Manager in Thailand. During the MBA, she was the Vice President of the MBA Association and went on an exchange program at Columbia Business School last fall. Pimluck has been recruited as a Global Engagement Management Associate at Citi in New York. Thanks to everyone for joining.

I would like to start by asking Sherring what is new at HKUST.

Sherring Ng: There are so many new things at HKUST, but I will highlight a few things. We noticed that more and more recruiters at HKUST expect graduates to speak some Mandarin. We do see a lot more demand for this. In the past, we have only had three weeks of Mandarin training courses for students, just as an exposure. But starting from this year, we actually have a one-year Mandarin training program at HKUST with different levels. So a student would need to pass one level in order to take another level of Mandarin training. But eventually they can take the Business Mandarin, which is credit bearing, to learn Mandarin in business settings; like how to do interviews, how to do presentations, make reports, etc. This is one of the new things.

Another thing is that we have started a pilot this past winter. We call it Professional Week. It is a very intensive training that lasts 4-5 days for students, from morning till evening. They need to do a lot of presentations, case analyses, business analyses, etc. The purpose of that is for students to really drill their skills in analyzing the different scenarios in a very short time; to do presentations, to work in teams, etc. And we are very happy about this pilot because the feedback has been very positive. And then after that training, we have sent many students overseas for different kinds of case competitions or business plan competitions.

One of the competitions is the USC Marshall Global Consulting Challenge. It was held in Los Angeles, and our students won the first place. Another one is the HULT Global Case Challenge, which was held in Shanghai. Our students also won that regional competition. So it seems quite effective.

Starting from our year-one students, we give an iPad to all students. And this coming summer, we plan to have something like a portal or platform for students when they are attending classes. They no longer need to bring all the notes, the package, or books; they can access all the reading materials, PowerPoint, etc. on their iPads. So it really facilitates a learning experience and also is very environmentally friendly.

Linda Abraham: Pimluck, what do you see as new or exciting for the students at HKUST?

Pimluck Suvitsakdanon: I think HKUST is really a great school. I chose HKUST because of its location, first of all. And second of all, because it’s a great school for finance. From my perspective, it’s a great school and balance with many things it offers for academics life and social life and networking opportunities in Hong Kong. In my year, we did not have the iPad yet, but it’s been a really great improvement from what I’ve heard so far from the new students.

Linda Abraham: So you are enjoying the iPad amongst other things at HKUST. We have a question from Allan. Allan asks, "How do you see other MBA schools in Hong Kong, especially HKUST, as a rising star recently?"

Sherring Ng: I don’t think we are in a position to answer that question. Maybe Pimluck can try to address why she chose HKUST over other options.

Linda Abraham: It is difficult to hear Pimluck because of the poor connection, so I will summarize what Pimluck has said. She said it was a combination of HKUST’s Asian focus, its strength in finance, and the fact that it had these global partners that appealed to her.

There are people here who are not currently living in Asia. And then question becomes — if I want to work outside Asia after my MBA, does it make sense to attend an Asian business school?

Sherring Ng: I would put it this way. It depends on your post-MBA career goals, either short-term or long-term. If your interest is in local markets and, for example, to stay in the United States or to stay in your home country, I’m not sure why you would consider HKUST, to be honest. But if your vision is much broader than that, and for example, you are looking for a more global kind of business role or you’re looking to work for multinational companies, in that case I would say to go to school in Asia because of its growing economy. Actually, there are a lot of businesses internationally that are dealing with Asia.

So in that case, I would say that it makes a lot of sense that you go to a school in Asia and learn a lot more about Asian business. Because even if you are not working in Asia — for example, we have quite large number of students that go back to the United States, Europe, etc. — but they are taking up roles for which they actually need to travel a lot to Asia, or they are helping their companies invest in Asia or they are dealing with trading opportunities with Asia. So in that case, I would say that our school is in a very good position to prepare you to understand what is happening in Asia; how to do business with Asian people, etc.

Linda Abraham: Asia is a very big place. Obviously, you have China, you have India, you have Korea, you have Japan, etc. Is HKUST focused on Hong Kong and China specifically, or is it broader?

Sherring Ng: I would say it is broader. Most Asian schools focus only on China. If China is your only interest, then probably schools in China fit you more. But if you want something broader, then HKUST would be a good place. I can give you some examples. For example, the cases that we use are not just with China. We have used cases like Singapore Airlines, obviously from Singapore. We have used cases from India, from the Philippines, or like Toyota from Japan or Samsung from Korea. And our students actually are on top of cases; they go to different countries for business field trips. Last year they went to Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, etc. to understand how businesses are run in different Asian places. So I would say we are broader than just Hong Kong and Mainland China.

Linda Abraham: You’ve alluded to this in your first comment. How important is it to know Mandarin in Asia and for a job search in Asia?

Sherring Ng: I would put it this way: it depends on what kind of job you are looking for. For example, if you are very interested in a client-facing kind of role, then obviously Mandarin is very important. You have to learn it to open more doors for your post-MBA career. But if you are taking on a more senior kind of role in Hong Kong and you have subordinates that help you deal with local clients, then it’s fine that you don’t speak either Cantonese or Mandarin. For example, some students are interested in research kinds of roles; they do a lot of back-end analysis. In that case, Mandarin is not a must as well. Or they are taking on a role that is not just Hong Kong or China focused, but more globally focused like Japan, Korea, etc. So they need to deal with different counterparts. In those cases then, Mandarin is not a must. So it depends on what kind of job you are looking for. But I would still highly recommend to students that if you are planning to develop your future career in Asia, particularly to tap into the big potential happening in Mainland China, learning Mandarin would give you an advantage.

Linda Abraham: The trend in US schools, and I think it’s been the case in European schools all along, is to go more and more global, more and more international. Is there an advantage to being on the ground in Asia? Or given the increasing globalization of US and European programs, is it really necessary to go to Asia?

Sherring Ng: I do see that recruiters, particularly if their business is about Asian business, they have a preference to hire students that show commitment to this region. So definitely if you are doing an MBA in Asia, they know that you spent sixteen-months learning to understand this country, understand business, and build your network here. That would be more favorable compared to a student maybe studying in the US, doing an exchange just for 3-4 months here. So from the recruiters’ perspective, it is very different.

The second thing is that I also heard from some of our students, who went on exchange in the US or at European top schools, that sometimes the faculty there is still teaching them things about Asia which happened ten years ago. So I think it’s very important that if you really want to develop your future career in a certain region, you go to that place and really understand what is happening in that region. This is a better way to equip yourself to develop a career in those places.

Linda Abraham: I’ll summarize again for those who may be having trouble hearing Pimluck. Pimluck is emphasizing the value of developing a network in Asia because personal relationships are so important in that part of the world. She also talked about the fact that in the US, the cases in the examples may be several years old, whereas in HKUST, they are much more current. And she feels that with the booming economy in Asia, the growing importance of Asia, and the importance of Hong Kong specifically as a financial center, it makes HKUST a great choice for a young business person.

Linda Abraham: Bronwen asks, "How important is Cantonese to working for a multi-national consulting company in a consulting role in Hong Kong?"

Sherring Ng: Cantonese is obviously the language that we speak. But if you are thinking of a consultancy kind of role, Mandarin is more important because we see a lot more new opportunities from the Chinese clients. A lot of the big consultancy firms, when they look for MBA graduates to work in this region, they actually want you to speak fluent Mandarin and fluent Cantonese. (You may actually ignore Cantonese!)

Linda Abraham: I know they are different languages. But if you know Cantonese, how hard is it to learn Mandarin? Or is there any transferability there? Are they completely separate languages, or are there some similarities?

Sherring Ng: I would say that if you know one, it’s much easier to learn the other one. They are very similar kinds of languages but the pronunciation is different. And also of course, the writing is slightly different. But if you know one language, it’s much easier to pick up the other.

Linda Abraham: An applicant asks, "If I want to learn something about public policy or management, which program should I choose or which would you recommend?"

Sherring Ng: I don’t think a business degree offered by HKUST is strong in teaching about public policy. Of course we do have some courses, something about social economic policy, like in Mainland China, etc. But I don’t think the MBA is for someone who is very interested in public policy and management and wants to take on a policy kind of role.

Linda Abraham: There is something called an MPA, a Masters in Public Affairs, or a MPP –Masters in Public Policy. There are other programs that might be better suited for that kind of study. Yannes asks, "What are the employment statistics of the most recent batch that has graduated from HKUST?"

Sherring Ng: This year is quite encouraging. Particularly since 08-09, that was the financial crisis, we do see the statistics picking up. It’s quite good. 92% of our students accept a job offer within three months after graduation. And about 88% of our students stayed in Asia afterwards. But before that, I think only less than half are from Asia. So you can see that a lot of students from the West come to Asia and then stay in this region. I would say about 40% still take up roles in finance. Quite a majority of our students actually want to come to Hong Kong or HKUST because they want to stay in this financial hub and they are looking to switch their career into finance. But we still have around 10% who go into consulting, around 10% go to marketing, 10% go to manufacturing, etc. I would say that for the rest of the 60%, it’s quite diverse, but 40% go into finance.

Linda Abraham: That is a very attractive field for most MBAs, and Asia is a very happening place.

Sherring Ng: I would add another thing. Thanks to the improved reputation, particularly in the recent years, we do see a lot more big companies hiring from HKUST. For example, we have internship opportunities. A lot more companies are offering structured internship programs and they have an intention to hire students that perform well in internships. So for example, we have internships offered by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan, etc. We do see a lot of interest from those big firms. And for those who are interested in consulting, last year we also had students that went to McKinsey.

Linda Abraham: I assume that most of the students went to HKUST to develop a network in Asia, to experience Asia. Do most of them experience Asia long-term, or do they move on to other parts of the world or return to their home countries?

Sherring Ng: Right after the MBA, for 3-5 years, the majority stay in Asia because they want to at least develop something solid, and let that become part of their expertise. But in the longer term, some may go back to their home country or they may go to other places. I would say that a lot of students’ motivation to come to Hong Kong is because they want to develop their future career in this region. So even in the long term, the majority want to stay in Asia.

Linda Abraham: How many of your graduates are interested in entrepreneurship? A young woman was doing some work for us, and her husband had a fellowship where he was going around the world. And they lived in various different cities. One of them was Beijing for several weeks. When she came back, she told me that when you met a young person — a person in their twenties or early thirties — the question was almost not "What are you doing?" but "What business are you starting?" Pimluck or Sherring, do you want to comment on that?

Pimluck Suvitsakdanon: I see a lot of my classmates are interested in starting their own business. There is a lot of interest in entrepreneurship, about 30% of my class. We also have the Entrepreneurial Club. In my year, we started a startup lab, for people who had their own ideas and [people would present their ideas and there was a Q&A to help them with their ideas]. (Audio unclear)

Sherring Ng: I would say the entrepreneurship spirit at HKUST is quite strong, particularly in the recent 2-3 years. So for example, at the university level, they have been running an entrepreneurship competition for the second year. But that is a very good competition because the competition is not just for the sake of competition. The winner gets 1 million Hong Kong dollars in cash and in kind to support them to really launch their business and make it into some real business and further develop it. And also we run an Entrepreneurship Conference. We invite different people who have experience in starting their own business, who even go as far as having enlisted their company to come to us. These people come to our school to share their experience; how they run a business, how they manage. Because usually when you start a business, you will experience a lot of difficulties and challenges. So they discuss how they overcame that and got to the stage that they have achieved right now.

There are a lot of activities happening at school that encourage students to have this kind of spirit, either running their own business or just entrepreneurial spirit. And one more thing is that we sponsor students to take part in business plan competitions; eight to nine teams of students join these kinds of competitions every year. Students find it very useful, and I heard from year to year that after the business client competition, students actually try to turn it into a real business.

Linda Abraham: Bronwen asks, "Would a degree from HKUST be highly regarded by companies in Singapore? Do many students stay on to work in other Asian countries like Singapore? How could you best take advantage of your time at HKUST to become acquainted with recruiters in other Asian countries?"

Sherring Ng: There are several questions here. The first thing I would say is that for Singapore particularly, I think in the recent 2-3 years, we have become more well-known. Because there are a lot of opportunities in Hong Kong, recruiters are expecting students to speak Mandarin. Some of our international students who find it hard to learn a new language really want to explore different kinds of opportunities. So three years ago, we started the Singapore field trip. Our students went to Singapore to visit 20-30 companies and introduced themselves, and then tried to understand different businesses, etc. It was very successful, and this is the third year that we are doing this. For example, the upcoming Singapore field trip is happening this weekend and students are visiting companies in Singapore such as Bain, Nomura, Morgan Stanley, Johnson & Johnson, Bloomberg, Google, BMW, and Singapore Airlines. There are a lot of companies that welcome HKUST to visit them, and they also want to try to understand more about our students.

Last year there was a student who was very interested in a pharmaceutical industry. She had no experience in that area. But after her visit to GE Healthcare, she was offered an internship in Singapore GE Healthcare. So I would say HKUST has become much more popular than before among the Singapore recruiters.

Linda Abraham: Allan asks, "How about the accommodations provided by HKUST? How far is it from the campus to the central business district in Hong Kong?"

Sherring Ng: We offer on-campus housing for students, which is very low cost. I think it is 3,500 Hong Kong dollars per month. It is a small room. Some students choose to stay on campus because they want to have a closer relationship with their classmates. Some choose to live off campus. If you want to go to the closest MTR Station, it’s a ten-minute bus ride. But if you want to go to the central area, I would say it takes you about 45-minutes by subway. Some students take taxis. Then it would take 20-30 minutes.

Linda Abraham: Does HKUST have any preference in terms of experience levels for its applicants? Do you require full-time work experience? Do you have a minimum? Do you have a maximum?

Sherring Ng: We do have a minimum requirement of two years of work experience. But on average, our students have 5-6 years of work experience. The oldest one we have ever had was 41 years old. So I would say the range is quite big, but of course they are the minority. The majority has 5-6 years of work experience. I would say for those with only two years of work experience, it depends on what kind of role they have taken before the MBA. Of course, we still prefer they have some more work experience, like 3-4 years, in order that they can participate in the discussions meaningfully and share their insights, etc. But we do accept 2-3 students every year that only have 2 years of work experience, with high potential.

Linda Abraham: What role does GMAT play in your admissions decisions?

Sherring Ng: I would say the GMAT score is important to the extent that you can demonstrate that you have the ability to complete the MBA program satisfactorily. However, HKUST is different than some other schools. We do not emphasize just the score itself. I understand that for some schools, you need to have a 700 to get into the school. We have been adopting a very different philosophy. Of course you have to achieve a certain score to show that you have this ability. But other than that, we actually focus a lot more on your work experience, your personality, your attitude, etc. So those kinds of attributes are even more important to us.

Linda Abraham: So what is that minimum score that you like to see?

Sherring Ng: We do not set any minimum score. But for your reference, for our current year students, the majority ranged from 600-720.

Linda Abraham: If you are reviewing a set of applications, and the applicants’ numbers are great —their work experience, their GMAT score is in range, they are competitive, they are admissible —what makes an application come to life for you and makes you say that this is somebody you want to have at HKUST, as opposed to somebody with very similar stats and a very similar profile but somehow doesn’t resonate?

Sherring Ng: There are three major factors that we look for in the whole admissions process. So if you stand out in all the three areas, then I would say you have a very high chance. The first is potential, the second is contribution, and the final is matching. I will elaborate on them.

Potential. We want to see whether you have the right mentality, personality, and character that would actually give you higher chances to be successful in the future. I know some schools actually ask referees to write a letter to recommend a certain candidate, but we adopt a very different approach. We actually have ten different dimensions on which we want referees to rate their candidates, like teamwork, motivation, leadership, etc. We have some specific things that we look at, and these ten areas are based on our experience from our previous students. If they are strong in those ten areas, they have a higher chance to be successful in the future.

The second thing is contribution. We understand that most of the time when you start the MBA journey, you learn not just from the professors. Actually, you learn even more from your interaction with your peers. So we want to understand, if we put you in the classroom, will you add value to the community? What can your peers learn from you? How are you going to contribute to this whole MBA experience? So that is the second part we really look at.

The final thing is matching because an MBA is a big investment; not just the tuition, but the opportunity cost, the time and effort and energy, etc. What you expect is what we can offer. By admitting you to the program, we are confident that we can facilitate you to achieve your career goals. That is also important. So I would say these are the three factors that stand out.

Linda Abraham: Allan is asking about the class size at HKUST. How many students are in a class?

Sherring Ng: There are 106 this year. In Pimluck’s year it is 113. Even though the class size is very small, we try to have a very international class. Actually, even the small size class size this year already represents 28 different nationalities.

Linda Abraham: Wow! Do you wait-list people or is that not part of the admissions process at HKUST?

Sherring Ng: Last year we did have a waitlist. But this year we haven’t yet started the waitlist. During the admissions process, for some candidates who are borderline cases, we may extend the notification deadline for 4-8 weeks. But by that time, we still want to give a result to candidates. From the feedback from candidates we’ve learned that they still want to know the result earlier, even if it is a rejection, so that they can try to apply to other schools.

Linda Abraham: Pimluck, What do you like best at HKUST?

Pimluck Suvitsakdanon: I think what really enriched my experience at HKUST are my classmates. When the admissions office admits students, they try to admit really qualified people who have high potential for the future and can contribute to class. I feel that the classmates really enriched my year because the classmates are from different countries and cultures, and I’ve learned different ways of thinking from them.

Linda Abraham: If an applicant is rejected at HKUST and wants to reapply, how is that applicant viewed?

Sherring Ng: For the same year, you cannot reapply. You can reapply next year. We usually would also take into consideration how you performed last year. For example, if there was something missing in the past or some areas that needed improvement, then we will try to see when you apply again this year if you have improved in those areas.

Linda Abraham: So you are looking for growth in your re-applicants.

Sherring Ng: Yes.

Linda Abraham: Bronwen asks, "On your application, is it more preferred to include more work experiences even if your work experiences were unrelated to your career, or to have fewer work experiences but the more pertinent ones? I’m a young professional so I’m curious as to what I should focus on here."

Sherring Ng: I would say the quality of the years of work experience or work exposure is more important than the number of years itself. Because you can be doing the same job for ten years and repeating what you’ve done in the first year. In that case, we would treat that as one year of work experience. We actually look into the exposure that you got through all your work experience. That means, for example, if you have only worked for two or three years, but you have quality exposure — you have been given different opportunities, etc. — then it would be even more favorably treated than the individual repeating the same thing for ten years.

Linda Abraham: I once heard a story about a certain business where there was an opening and there were two people competing for the position. One had been with the company for two years, and one had been with the company for twenty years. The more recently hired employee got the promotion. And the employee that had worked there for twenty years went to his boss and said, "What are you doing? I’ve been here for twenty years! Don’t you value my twenty years of experience?" And the boss said, "You’ve done the same thing that you did the first year, twenty times. The other guy has two years of experience, but you just did the same thing twenty times over." So he didn’t get the experience. That story, while obviously kind of sad, is something that always comes to mind when I hear something from an admissions director, much like what you just said. It’s different to do the same thing twenty times over or to innovate and grow.

Do you have an interview part of your admissions process? Are applicants interviewed?

Sherring Ng: Yes. We have a committee of alumni, faculty, and also senior staff at the MBA office that will do the interviews. We take turns interviewing the candidates.

Linda Abraham: Are they Skype interviews or are they in-person interviews?

Sherring Ng: For overseas candidates, we will do Skype. But we also offer a chance for them to do face-to-face. But in that case, they need to fly into Hong Kong to do the face-to-face.

Linda Abraham: And what is the role of the interview in the evaluation process? Are you looking for interpersonal skills in the interview? Are you looking for knowledge of HKUST? Are you looking for clear goals?

Sherring Ng: I would say it’s the three factors that I just mentioned. They apply throughout the whole process, whether it’s when we read your references, your application, or when we do the interview with you. Those three areas are the areas that we will look at.

Linda Abraham: How strong is HKUST’s alumni network?

Pimluck Suvitsakdanon: At HKUST the classes are small, but the connection and the network itself is really strong. Since we are really small, everyone is part of the family. I’ll give some examples. When I was in NY for my exchange, I met very often with one of the alumni who was also working in New York in a field that I was looking to go into, and he was very helpful to me and gave me very valuable guidance. And there is an alumni database which you can get on and reach out to alumni. And alumni will respond to us and come to meet us. So I think that even though we have a really small class size, the alumni network is really strong at HKUST. (Summarization of unclear audio)

Sherring Ng: I really want to add on that because I do agree with Pimluck. It’s because of the school’s philosophy to maintain this small class size that classmates themselves have really strong bonding. And the emotional attachment to the school is quite strong, compared to some other big schools. Another example that I remember is that three years ago, there was another female student. She was very interested in marketing consulting. But back then, the Career Office wasn’t able to find her such kinds of opportunities. So she actually went through the alumni directory and searched through the alumni database, and then she noticed that there was an alumnus working in Shanghai at DuPont. So she wrote her an email and asked if she could work at Shanghai’s DuPont for an internship. And that alumnus arranged an interview with her and eventually gave her this opportunity to work as an intern during the summer. After the internship, she actually was given a job offer. But because of her family commitment, she decided not to take up that offer. But she then referred this offer to her classmate. It was a male classmate. Now the male classmate has been working in Shanghai at DuPont as a consultant for three years already. So this is the kind of network and relationship that HKUST alumni have.

Linda Abraham: Have your students been tested at all by the global financial crisis? Has there been any impact in their job placements?

Sherring Ng: I see that the 2011 graduates are not affected much by the financial crisis recently. But I do see that this year in 2012, recruiters are mostly more conservative; it’s true even in Asia. They are willing to give out more internship opportunities. But they want to make sure that you perform well, and then when the financial crisis doesn’t hit much, then they are confident to make the final offer to hire you. But I do see there is some impact. So far, the job postings that we received are the same compared to last year. But in terms of the attitude of recruiters recently, I do see that they are more conservative. I am not so worried about it because I think we experienced it 2-3 years ago in 2009.

Linda Abraham: Then it was a lot worse. That was one rough batch!

Sherring Ng: That’s true. To be honest, I think that in 2009, those graduates suffered the most. At the time they graduated, they weren’t really able to get into the job they wanted. Or for those that were promised a full time job, the company actually froze the headcount. So that was a very tough year. Even though our students have been through those tough times and it may take a longer time to find a good job, but because they have prepared themselves very well, when the economy picks up, they do find that job. I know that for some students on the internship, the company froze the headcount. But when the economy picked up, the company contacted them again and then offered full-time jobs. So I would say that it is a temporary setback. As long as you have prepared yourself well, when the economy picks up, you will have the opportunity.

Linda Abraham: Thank you again all for participating today. Special thanks to Sherring and Pimluck for joining us today. If you have additional questions for the HKUST Business School team, please email them to mba@ust.hk or register for a free consultation with HKUST.

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