The Business School for the World

“Globalization cannot be taken for granted”. This is probably one of the biggest takeaways from the International Political Analysis classes I had during my P3 at the INSEAD’s Asia Campus. In this course, Professor Michael Witt—born in Germany, earned his PhD in the US, settled in Singapore—taught us frameworks and led us through case discussions that would help us not only to understand the world better but also to become better leaders in international contexts. Beyond the formal training, a global well-connected network is also a key element when it comes to internationalization. And it is during this summer that I am witnessing what represents “for the World” at INSEAD.

INSEAD Asia Campus, Singapore

The ultimate determinant of globalization is politics (another key takeaway from the same class). Despite the increasing debate about visa restrictions/easing here and there, the INSEAD students from the same cohort as me are all over the globe. If you throw a dart at the world map, chances are that there will be an MBA candidate from the 15D class. And I am amazed to witness this dynamic. It is true that visa requirements are set by sovereign countries (a clear evidence of the relationship between politics and globalization) and as foreigners we agree to abide to the rules of another state and have to ensure that we meet the requirements of this or that country. However, in spite of bureaucracy, many friends were visa sponsored to run projects in many different places.

Undoubtedly, some places attract more people than others. For example, there is relatively large number of students spending the summer in the Silicon Valley (including one of my teammates from France) and another in London (including a few Brazilians). It also is possible to find friends in, let’s say, places less known as MBA’s destinations including Tokyo (where one of the best friends I made at INSEAD ended up going). For many reasons, Singapore is on the list of places that attract a large number of students seeking summer internship. First, the city has a very active startup scene. Second, the city is a hub of the region and home to many big companies’ headquarters in Southeast Asia. Third, Singapore, a country that is always very well-ranked in the Global Competitiveness Index, has a very simple and efficient process that allows students from top schools to pursue their summer internship in the country.

I found an interesting and entrepreneurial project in Singapore, so I choose to spend at least part of my summer in the city-state. Initially, I thought that working in another country for a company with two INSEAD alumni, neither of them Singaporean, was already representing a lot of “for the World”. However, as I started working, I began brainstorming how to take the service the company offers to Brazil, form local partners in the country, and so on and so forth. I became amazed once again by the fact that “for the World” could represent even more than I originally thought. Doing my research, I came across an INSEAD alumnus in Brazil who served as one of the key possible partners we identified. This made forming connections much easier. The fact that he is an INSEAD alumnus made a tremendous difference to my project.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

So far, that is a little bit of what “for the World” has become for me. But, to be honest, I believe that “for the World” can stand for different things for other students and that it can still take a different shape for me.

The last mile

I often wonder why the Internet is flooded with articles like “10 things you should know before turning 30”, or “Five reasons to quit your job ”, until I find myself frantically trying to retrieve all files and contacts related to INSEAD, preserving every single detail. The end of everything offers an opportunity for personal reflection, and I am doing no different than a 30-year-old or a job hunter. With less than three weeks before graduation, I am in the last mile of the INSEAD experience. Below are a few personal recounts of my learnings:

1. Know the ‘Why?’

Daniel Pink has a theory on why some companies are more innovative, and I believe it’s true for educators as well. An average school teaches the what, a good school teaches the how, and INSEAD teaches the why. Why is Zara pioneering in fast fashion? Why is alpha return a compensation for risk in hedge funds? Why do big companies provide public goods? Asking the why is not easy, because our jobs do not always require us to know the why. However, it’s important to build the discipline of taking a bird’s eye view, because leadership and faith are only as strong as knowing the why.

2. Choose how you measure success wisely

I grew up in an environment where success is directly correlated to grades, and I brought that mentality to INSEAD, despite the non-disclosure policy in GPA. Predictably, I experienced joy when I did well, and embarrassment when I did not. It took me five months to realise what could be confidence boosters could also be confidence destroyers, and there are other ways to measure learning besides GPA, such as ability to tackle unfamiliar subjects, degree of collaboration in group work, and flexibility in adapting to different communication styles. Sometimes, focusing on things that do not have explicit metrics may be more important than the ones that do, and I learned to be more in tune with myself.

3. And last, my list of seven odd things I became good at because of INSEAD

  • water cooler conversations, with anyone, anywhere, anytime
  • sourcing cheap flights in all languages with travel buddies from all countries
  • using “always” & “never” as infrequently as possible
  • voice-to-text note taking—it helps during exam time
  • using acronyms for everything
  • being close to people I thought would never become my friends
  • dropping everything immediately when interesting conversations take place
  • remembering the ‘news vendor’ theory and exchange rate parities by heart during job hunting

Colors of the parachute

I received my first job offer after two dozen applications and a dozen interviews. I wanted to write about it because it was drastically different from what I expected prior to INSEAD, both in process and outcome. I made several mistakes and I hope readers will better manage the recruiting process than I did.

1. Integrate what you have learned

I never thought what I learned from Process and Operations Management could come in handy, until an interviewer asked me how I propose to mitigate risks of a stock out. Don’t discount what is taught in the classroom, use the knowledge intelligently.

2. There is only one shot, plan carefully

When recruiting kicked off, I had in mind a specific program with a specific company, and I applied to only the program despite multiple other openings within the same company. It turned out to be a flawed strategy as I had no backup with the same company when my first choice failed. Ask yourself what compromise you would make if top choices disappear, and apply to the alternatives at the same time as the top choices, because the recruiting window is too short for anyone to re-strategise.

3. Managing applications as well as motivation

One of my toughest experiences was recovering from an unsuccessful application, for which I prepared extensively and went through a gruelling interview. In hindsight, I could have set more realistic expectations had I known the conversion was about a 1:50 offers to application ratio. Knowing your chances and having a support network in event of setbacks are important, as job hunting is a marathon, not a sprint, for many.

4. Focus on the long term

I once asked an interviewer how he became manager of the firm, and it turned out that he declined the offer in the first place to join its competitor, only to reactivate the offer after several years after his MBA. This insight taught me not to look at the emails, coffee chats and handshakes as means to only the next job, but a starting point to build networks that may lead to something bigger in the future. Don’t burn bridges when an application is unsuccessful.

Halfway in, halfway out.

The Usual Suspects: Team KLEGS (the K is silent)

Here we are, at the middle point. Five months ago, we knew nothing of these grounds; we hadn’t even set foot in this forest. Five months. That’s all it is, and that’s all it takes. So what has changed? I’d like to say a few grey hairs and perhaps a few extra pounds, but that would probably be half a lie. Or half the truth for that matter.

B-School for the world where we study with 90 other nationalities: This surely is bound to create a certain disorder—even a mess. Or does it? There is a natural and mathematical phenomenon known as a fractal. On a small scale, everything seems totally disorganized. However, once you start zooming out, the pattern keeps repeating itself and suddenly, everything comes into focus to reveal a unique, beautiful organization. Let’s take a walk together, down memory lane.

For the first four months of the MBA, each student is part of a five-man team, with which most projects are accomplished. Take one of my colleagues, a Japanese with a background in sales. He underwent a major in Czech studies. He then married a fantastic Czech woman and they now both have a little two-year-old son who is one of the stars on campus. The little kid will grow up speaking Japanese and Czech, and before he’s a teen, he will probably have a good understanding of English as well. Pretty amazing, no?

I was grouped with a trilingual Japanese, as well as an Indian having been brought up in the Middle-East, a Turkish having moved to England in her late teens, and a Chinese specializing in marketing and business intelligence. I, a Canadian with a background ‘à-la’ Walter White from Breaking Bad (i.e., chemistry), completed this odd quintet.

At INSEAD, there are 59 other teams on Europe Campus, and another 45 in Singapore. A beautiful pattern of diversity that you might fail to see at first. But halfway through the program, one can only look around and be amazed at this beautiful inclusive and cohesive diversity. One of the wonders of the modern world, I must say.

All of us came from different backgrounds and cultures, and this has undoubtedly created tensions within the group. As difficult as these tensions might prove to be, it’s usually through these frictions that one gains awareness of others, and even more so of oneself.

I must admit, INSEAD can be a bittersweet experience. Four weeks ago, many of us bid each other farewell as students from core groups and sections went their own ways. Some of the friendships born out of the pressure cooker that a 10-month MBA is will only be rekindled upon graduation, as the waltz of campus switching takes place. So it is with nostalgia that P2 ended.

On the other hand, I was certain group work was over. Therefore, I wouldn’t have to coordinate with other’s schedules which would ease logistics. Once again, INSEAD proved me wrong! The fun was just beginning with my initial team being dissolved, and 6 teams being created, one for each elective class. A great and fantastic way to try and apply the learnings of the first four months.

The sweetest part? Receiving a fresh contingent of new faces from Singapore! Remembering the fun of meeting great and engaging people that was the first weeks of the program! And with the great weather that came along, BBQs began, and the last four weeks have gone by in a flash. Right at the midpoint, halfway in our MBA. Most likely, halfway out.

The Pre-Interview Grill

Most people come to business school with different aspirations—to change careers, build a global network, or, for some, take a year off to reflect on life. Among the majority of people looking for a new career, what tops people’s minds is undoubtedly consulting. While I would disagree with calling INSEAD the clichéd ‘consulting school’ given the sheer diversity and range of opportunities available here, I would definitely say that it is rare that a person at INSEAD who hasn’t been in consulting before doesn’t think of consulting at least once while here.

We just finished with the summer internship recruitment season, and I thought I should share with the readers my experience after going through the grill. Here is some advice on various aspects of the process before the actual interview.

 

Presentations: It all starts off pretty early in the term with the companies getting their best speakers, MDs, and other prominent executives on campus. You see more and more of the same names on campus. I recommend that you actively attend as many presentations as possible irrespective of where you thought you want to be before starting off with the MBA. While at first thought you might find it difficult to tell the difference between firms, attending these talks and meeting people from these firms give you a good start to knowing more about what really differentiates them.

Networking: You will hear this term a lot at B-School. I, like many others, was very confused on what is the right way to network and how much should you actually network. After being through the process, I realise that it isn’t really going to make or break your chance into getting into the firm you want (at least in consulting) but it serves two important purposes. Primarily, it helps you understand more about the firm by talking to more people. The key question it helps you answer is which kind of people do you see yourself being happy working with?

Second, it helps show your genuine interest to know about the firm and it may reflect in your interviews or other conversations. So, my advice on networking is to get to know a few people (two to three per firm at least, and they could even be your peers on campus), prepare your questions to help you learn more about working at that firm (cannot stress this enough!), and finally, don’t be too pressured by the whole ‘networking’ hype that you slack on your actual interview preparation. You never know when impressions are made (both positive and negative). Use the pre-application time and these events to assess whether you want to work for any of them; it’ll make convincing any company to hire you that much easier later on.

Applications: Put in your best effort in your CV and cover letters. As a career changer, I found a ‘skills-based’ resume format good to highlight key transferable skills from your earlier experience. Don’t waste time speculating if a company would actually read your cover letter or not; rather, give it your best shot. Since you are spending time on it, use it to synthesize your thoughts on the 3 major ‘whys’—why consulting, why that firm, and why you think you can do well in that particular job/firm.

Interview preparation: If you have done all of the above, you will most likely end up with an invitation to interview for the first round. Interviews typically consist of two parts—the case interview and the personal interview. To start off, make a preparation plan at least 2 months in advance to maintain a steady pace. You should ideally have done 25-30 cases and about five to six personal interviews before the actual interview. Remember, there is no magic number and these numbers are just indicative of your average, and being over-prepared is better than being under-prepared. The magic really is when you are no longer intimidated by having to solve oftentimes an ambiguous business case in an actual interview and are confident in speaking about your fit.

Next, stick to your plan. Finding one to three buddies equally interested in recruitment helps. One thing that really amazes me here is that people are more collaborative and helpful than competitive. You learn a lot by interviewing others, too. While maintaining two to three constant prep buddies, try to get different interview styles with other people occasionally.

There are more than enough resources at INSEAD: workshops, books, and peers. Use them wisely. While most people are consumed by cases, it is absolutely crucial that you do not leave the personal experience prep to the very end. I suggest you start by jotting down your well thought out answers to commonly asked questions (which you’ll find in any standard consulting prep book). Next step is to practice out loud. While getting enough mock interviews may not always be possible, you can always record videos of yourself to keep improving.

While overall core preparation remains the same, keep in mind that different firms have different case interviews and personal interview styles. Research the nuances  online, attend company-specific prep workshops, and speak to peers. Tailor your approach to interviews to the actual firm.

Finally, give it your best shot, accept that there are a lot of things outside your control, remain cool, and remember to enjoy rest of the INSEAD experience while going through the grill.

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