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.