Company Presentations: Events that go well beyond job search

Many MBA students had to quit their jobs to embark upon their MBA journey. During this journey, many will have to find a new job. Attending company presentations on-campus is a good way not only to identify opportunities but also to verify whether the culture of a company fits you. These events can be much more enriching than one can imagine. Attending these events, I learnt a variety of subjects ranging from the sharing economy to agricultural advancements in Brazil.

In the last two months in every single week, some companies came to campus to present themselves in events organized by the career centre— not to mention the presentations organized by the clubs. As usual, the major consultancy firms visited the campus. Most of the times the most senior person (CEO, MD, or any other title) of those firms gave a remarkable speech. Banks and companies operating in many segments—from consumer goods to energy—also made their way to Fontainebleau. In addition, an entrepreneurship forum took place in the campus where more than 20 startups participated.

The sharing economy is gaining momentum. One of the INSEAD alumni founded a European-leader company that provides a platform to ride-share. He came to campus and presented to us how he developed the idea, how hard he’s been work to make the dream to come true, and so on. To be honest, not only did I learn a lot about the sharing economy but I also felt that it was an invaluable opportunity to listen to someone who is changing the landscape of an industry.

One global-leader consulting company presented a world outlook for the next decades. This was a brilliant class about global trends. Two points in particular captured my attention: One of them is related to the huge potential that is very likely to be unlocked in Africa, moving millions of people to a better life. And the other is the intensification of the industrialization of farms. The presenter mentioned a Brazilian farm as example of high technology being used to produce more and with greater efficiency.

The entrepreneurship career forum was also a unique event. Usually, we have at least one start-up presentation per week at the Entrepreneurship Club. These events are quite often presented by an INSEAD MBA graduate who runs a startup and is able to share his experience with the current students. This event was different. Having more than 20 startups operating in many different markets on campus was an extraordinary opportunity. There you had the opportunity to learn from people who are being pioneers at Internet business in Africa, or from people that choose London to launch their business.

Inveniam viam aut faciam

I’m sure that every INSEAD interview candidate is asked why they want to go to INSEAD and then what they want to do after the program. These are very standard questions that every candidate will have prepared responses to. It is curious to then observe the divergence between what students thought they wanted to do after INSEAD and what they actually end up doing. I was very set on pursuing the tried and tested path of management consulting but two periods down (and a decent number of internship rejections later) I am re-evaluating my options.

The faculty of INSEAD constantly warns the students not to get caught up in the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) culture that permeates the campus, as do other business schools the world over. However, there is a possibility that you may be exposed to an industry, role, or business concept that may not have piqued your initial interest otherwise.
Having attempted to set up a small business myself prior to INSEAD, I established the mindset that if I came across an idea for a start-up (in addition to or subsequently after management consulting) in which I believed I could add value, I would pursue the opportunity. Although I feel I may not have substantiated this mindset enough given that such an opportunity has recently presented itself, and I’ve found myself being apprehensive and risk averse, as opposed to enthusiastic to take on the risk then possibly reap the potential reward of it.

Recruitment for internship positions at INSEAD has been a tougher ordeal than I expected. Perhaps I was too naïve and felt that going to INSEAD would be the fillip to my career, that opportunities would be plentiful and the likelihood of succeeding would be better than say, at an undergraduate level. But I am experiencing the same sentiments as an MBA student as I did when I was an undergrad. This is something that I believe reflects poorly upon myself as I should be better able to handle these challenges given my experiences back then. Although the MBA and undergraduate student environments are similar; I am surrounded by smart and extremely accomplished people who are looking for positions at prestigious global companies that visit the campus to recruit the best talent.

I did everything I could in my power to get interviews for banking in P1: I attended the London trek before the course started; I tried to teach myself valuation; I researched deals and prominently involved bankers; I attended the company presentations and networking events; I followed up with the bankers at these events and even had some informational interviews. There were probably candidates at the other end of the spectrum who applied without doing much groundwork and went further in the process, due to their previous experience and achievement. This is perfectly fine. It is the companies that are hiring, not the business school and they want the best candidates according to their criteria. To this point, it’s possible that INSEAD could better manage the expectations of students with a more realistic perspective, rather than be overly optimistic about the process, particularly for those interested in career switches.

I understand that there is a clear distinction between effort and attainment but when all advice from the Career Development Centre is being followed to no avail, it’s quite easy to become introspective and question one’s worth. There is an aura of optimism (that sometimes becomes expectation) that business schools can help their students achieve anything in terms of career switches or boosts, but my experience so far, has been far from that.

In P2, I tried to dust off my banking malaise and I participated in the management consulting recruitment campaign. I take all the responsibility for my candidacy shortcomings as I interviewed with a handful of firms and did not perform as well as my peers.

Taking the point of view of the recruiter, it is of course easier to take the low-risk option, a candidate who has the experience or explicit transferrable skills rather than just a capable and enthusiastic one. Perhaps all parties should be better at managing expectations of the opportunities, rather than promoting an environment of equal chance.
This is also hard because I’m sure the companies are not so forthcoming with their hiring intentions which are likely driven by shifting business needs. There are a few consulting firms with which I networked intensely. I became connected with many consultants through my own social circle, whose firms did not invite me for interviews and a couple of others which I only attended the events that were offered through INSEAD (i.e., evening presentations and coffee chats) who did invite me. It’s very hard to see any patterns of consistency and draw lessons from them as to which approach works best.

Rejection is always hard to take, even though we should be optimistic in applying but pragmatic about the entire process. One candidate will be picked from at least twenty and 5% is not a safe bet. It can be particularly hard because all candidates are incredibly accomplished so have probably not experienced much rejection throughout their careers.

Alternatively, I reflect upon the title of this blog entry. The entire phrase is latin for “I shall find a way or make one.” It is attributed to Hannibal of Carthage, when his generals told him that it was impossible to cross the Alps by elephant in order to surprise the Roman army with an attack from the north. There are many students at INSEAD making their own way and starting their own businesses. The entrepreneurial culture is much stronger than I expected. And why not? The desire to build a company and make an impact can be an incredibly powerful motivator. I’m not sure what infrastructure other business schools have but the Mews seems to be a robust unit. It is high risk, but then it could come with high reward.

The entrepreneurs in the student body have ambition that I can only admire. This ‘woe is me’ attitude is extremely unbecoming and I need to remind myself that I am in a great position to achieve. INSEAD is the agent and not the principal of my career; it can help get me part of the way but not all of the way.

I don’t profess to have any ground breaking advice to this dynamic among business school, student, and career. It is a tough slog; if it were easy, we would all already be successful. Getting into INSEAD was one challenge and getting out to where I want to be will be another. Much of my frustration is borne from my impatience to achieve. Success will not come to me the moment I graduate; I will have to aim to find a way, or make my own.

Funky Facts about Life at INSEAD

Who would have thought I would come to INSEAD to learn how to dance Hip-hop, discover the European après-ski, or get to hear the faculty gossip in the sauna every Friday afternoon?

It’s the small things in life that make INSEAD unique. They help shape an experience that make the school, settled in a quiet town in the middle of a boar- and deer- infested forest less than 45 minutes away outside of Gâre de Lyon-Paris, come to life.

Business School for the World. Focused around food.

INSEAD is truly as international as it was meant to be when founded nearly 60 years ago. No country has a dominant impact on the school. However, on the Europe Campus, it would be difficult to escape the food culture that is prevalent all over France and Europe. Everyone rallies at the cafeteria between 12 and 2pm. You usually enter with friends from your section or group. You grab lunch from one of the many stations offering different dishes, grab one (or 2) of the many deserts offered. After getting lost at the different food stalls or cash registers, you come out the other side to end up sitting down with a totally different group of friends you might know, or will get to know over lunch. But that’s all fine! So many people from so many different backgrounds to get to know!

What’s for lunch?

I’m sexy and I know it. I work out!

Sauna culture is not prevalent back home, in Canada. I was delighted to learn there is one in the school gym, adjacent to the steam bath. Having gone there a few times after working out or going for a jog in the forest behind the school, I realized this is where the faculty gossip is usually going on. Want to know the latest scuttlebutt from faculty? Head down to the sauna around 5 or 6pm on Wednesdays and Fridays. But you didn’t hear it from me….


Where to live? Decisions, decisions.

The Europe campus is located in the middle of a forest which itself is in the middle of the fields. You have a direct train to downtown Paris, which makes for very nice evenings and weekends in Paris! You will have to decide where you wish to live: either in Fontainebleau, at walking distance from school, or on the outer edge of the forest.

A few legendary INSEAD houses exist in Fontainebleau namely Salamander, Villa Foch, and Club 16. You can also choose to live in quieter houses or flats in town. On the other hand, if you choose to live outside of town, a 10- to 15-minute car ride from campus, you’ll most likely be renting a car from MBAcars, a company managed by a friendly INSEAD alum. A few houses located on castle grounds even have swimming pools! You will also most likely be living with a few colleagues.

The great aspect about living with 6 or 7 fellow students is that your social life takes care of itself. You’ll get lots of occasions to mingle with colleagues, all while living in a big house with lots of space. If ever you do choose to live on the other side of the forest, watch out for boars at night! You’ll often see a ‘family night out’ with Papa boar, Mama Boar, and the 10 little Pumbaa piglets frolicking by the side of the road. They would be fantastic for one of the many BBQs happening around town! But I never ventured out of my car to catch one, as I fear Simba might be lurking in the shadows.

Old 17th century inn and stable converted to a house

Can’t Touch This!

I once mentioned that the people with whom I was studying were nothing shy of impressive. One of the first memories I have of INSEAD is the kick-off party when a few people took over the dance floor. I then started being a little self-conscious about my arm, leg and body (un)coordination that might have made a toddler’s parents very proud!

A few weeks later, I learned we had dancing stars in class who were leading hip-hop classes. I don’t hope to be able to shred the dance floor like the King of Pop any time soon, but a vague imitation of Vanilla Ice’s running man now seems within reach!

Journey to the Centre of the Network

Network—and networking—are probably one of the most spoken words in any business school across the world. It also has an ambiguous definition. If I consider it the action to acquaint oneself with like-minded professionals then all of my interactions with my INSEAD classmates could be considered networking. Before this weekend, I felt that the networking I was doing through social activities around campus during the weekdays would be sufficient to make memorable impressions and foster relationships that would last well beyond graduation.

A Bloomberg article about travelling networking was published a few months ago and I initially dismissed its argument that travelling is a value-added way to networking and to the MBA experience. However, I am now fully subscribed to the belief that travelling with business schoolmates is incredibly enriching to the bubble in which we find ourselves.

This past weekend I travelled with a troop of Fontainbleau-ers to Barcelona, Spain for the IESE Spring Games. It was the first trip that I’ve taken with my MBA classmates because I came to INSEAD with probably less desire than the average student to travel. I attributed this to a few reasons: I had already visited various proposed destinations (and I prefer new experiences) and among various networking opportunities presented in business school, I was not prioritising networking among my classmates high enough.

I no longer think along these lines. On this trip I realised that traveling with my classmates creates an abundance of social capital far better than in academic surroundings. Just as professional relationships can be cemented over time through one-on-one activities outside the workplace, business school friendships are often forged outside the campus environment.

Did I speak to more people than usual on this trip? Probably not. However, I can refer to this shared experience with those whom I am not so well acquainted to kick-start a friendship and boost those whose development has plateaued. I appreciated that the trip gave purpose to the students besides studying all the live-long day.

The trip was a much appreciated break from the normal grind of Fontainebleau. Some of us may go overboard, but trips can be treated as a pressure release. I could then argue that you should travel for the sake of your health! I feel that I may be triggering FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) in some of the students who didn’t attend, but I would suggest some social travel with classmates is beneficial to the MBA experience. I am aware that there are temporal and financial constraints to respect, but if they can be overcome for a desirable trip then I would encourage as many students as possible to take up an adventure!

Exploring different landscapes

Exploring different landscapes

As an avid traveller, studying at INSEAD brings me another advantage: the possibility to reach in a few hours completely different landscapes, which range from the Sahara desert, the largest subtropical hot desert, to the Mont-Blanc, the highest peak in Europe.

It seems that this month I tried my best to cross the two most extreme types of environments available to me. Yes, I went to the Sahara and the Mont-Blanc within a 14-day interval. To be honest, I had never thought, planned, or whished to visit extreme surroundings in such a short time.

In the middle of P1 (INSEAD MBA is organized in 5 periods, each lasts roughly 2 months), different options of P1/P2 break trip started showing up. The first one I saw was a ski trip, which sounded interesting because I had never skied. However, as a Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro, I needed sun! I remember that Sunday afternoon. I was tired of organizing my stuff at home and I went online when suddenly I saw this trip to Morocco. I couldn’t wait to confirm my presence on the trip and book my ticket. I was second to do so after my friend Sophia, who in fact was the trip organizer.  Later on, I even ended up joining the organizing committee for that trip.

On the way to the Sun

The schedule of the trip was: arrive in Marrakesh; travel to the desert the following day, where we would ride camels to our tents; sleep there; and then go back to Marrakesh, where we would spend two days before returning to reality. Many readers of this itinerary might think that riding a camel would be the most exciting moment of the trip. But as someone once said, the important thing is nor the destination, but the journey. There were so many bonding moments in our tour that is a challenge to pick the best ones to describe here. When we arrived at Marrakesh, we went to a riad where a delicious dinner was waiting for us. Then on the way and back from the desert we had many, almost nonstop hours of conversation with our classmates. It was an invaluable opportunity to get to know each other in a deeper way, chatting about as diverse topics as the nationalities that form our classes. In fact, it was in one of those conversations that I started thinking about my initiation into snowboarding. The next day, at the airport, I was already arranging my trip to Chamonix, where I be discovering why almost everyone at the school had spent at least one weekend skiing or snowboarding.


Going for the snow at Chamonix-Mont Blanc

My only expectation was to have fun while trying to explore this new cold and snowy world. Because I had done skateboarding for a few years, learning snowboarding was easier than average and I was enjoying that kind of—I mean very cold—environment more than I had imagined.

Chamonix is connected to Fontainebleau via an excellent motorway. The quality of the motorway enhances the driver experience and despite the long hours, the journey was quite enjoyable.

So there we were, coming back from our trip when suddenly we discovered that the motorway was closed. This wouldn’t have been a problem had there been alternative routes—and there were none, according to our GPS.

We contacted some INSEAD’s students from France and with their help we were able to find our way. The alternative route took longer but on the way we kept laughing and having a good chat. In that adventurous experience we almost took the Spanish poet Antonio Machado’s famous verse: “traveller, there is no path, you make the path as you travel” to the limit.

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