Interview debriefs of GMATClub members
On 23rd January, I received the contact details of my first interviewer, who is an alumnus of the school. I contacted him immediately and we finalized the date and time of our rendezvous...............................................................................................................................................................
1. Why HEC? Why not any other school?
(You will have to differentiate how HEC suits you better. Be prepared to answer why not INSEAD or LBS.)
Although the interview was supposed to start with the presentation, we decided to keep it for later. So in the end, I gave my presentation which was about an upcoming technology in power generation. The main questions asked in the presentation were........................................................Read complete post here
Thought I would chime in here with my interview experience as well, since the interviews are really key to acceptance at HEC. It's a bit late in the game, but hopefully this will still be useful to future applicants................................................................................................
................................................. most importantly, ASK QUESTIONS. This is your opportunity to "pick the brain" of someone who has attended the program and will also be honest with you of what they liked and didn't like. It's a great way for you to manage your expectations...................................................................................Read complete post here
Had my interviews this week so for the benefit of the future applicants, here goes my debrief
1st Interview --
The alum was from 2008 batch and was a very thorough interviewer. It was one of the most intensely personal interviews that you could hope for. The idea was to know me as a person. But he did try his best to make me feel comfortable. We met at coffee shop and the interview lasted for an hour or so.......................Read complete post here
HEC Paris: Where The Grande École Has Gone Global
by John A. Byrne on June 10, 2014
Courtesy: Poets & Quants
For a recent business school presentation on the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Connie Chen came dressed to the nines. After all, the MBA exchange student at HEC Paris was leading a group of four classmates in the semester’s last session of a class on Luxury Strategy. The highly popular course is taught by a charismatic professor, Vincent Bastien, who was once the chief executive officer of both Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent Parfums.
A Chinese-American student from New York University’s Stern School of Business, Chen was smartly attired in a haute outfit, with a black-and-white sweater vest over a flowing pleated linen dress. But what most drew Professor Bastien’s attention were her Christian Louboutin four-inch stiletto heels.
The professor playfully urged Chen to come out from behind a podium to show off her black suede, gladiator-style shoes, announcing to the class in his strong baritone voice, “beautiful shoes” as the petite student obliged.
When a classmate reminded the professor that such comments would be politically incorrect in an American business school, Bastien laughed aloud. “That’s why I don’t want to teach in the U.S.,” he quipped.
Welcome to HEC Paris, a business school that has become truly global without completely losing its French roots. One of Europe’s finest business schools, HEC Paris is located on a 340-acre wooded campus in Jouy-en-Josas, just 12 miles southwest from Paris. It is a school that has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past five years, from a distinctly French institution, part of the elite “Grandes Ecoles” where entry is granted only to the very best students in France, to a truly international business school where every course is taught in English.
‘FREEDOM OF LANGUAGE IS FREEDOM FROM CULTURE’
As Professor Bastien says, “The students are very diverse. I want my class to be a reflection of the world and it is. Out of a class of 30 students, I had one from France, four Americans, five Chinese, with some from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing, Koreans, Japanese, Mexican, Russians, Italians and a Chilean. They see the world differently. And the big advantage is that no one speaks French. You have more freedom of language here and freedom of language is freedom from culture.”
In contrast to either London Business School or INSEAD, which respectively take in 400 and 1,024 students every year, HEC’s full-time MBA program is small and intimate. The latest entering class—admitted in two intakes in September and January—is composed of 178 students. Some 85% of them are from outside France, reflecting 50 different nationalities, ranging from Brazil to the U.S. The school’s acceptance rate of 28%–which falls to 18% if you take into account candidates who completed an online profile but were not encouraged to apply–makes HEC more selective than INSEAD.
The students, moreover, are taught by a cosmopolitan faculty of 110 permanent professors, 64% of them from other countries. Many of the professors are relatively new to the school, replacing a slew of inbred teachers that had been born in France and were proud products of the “grandes écoles.” Six out of ten are currently on the tenure track of six to seven years. HEC faculty who teach the MBAs are surprisingly down to earth, defying the stereotype of the stiffly formal and somewhat intimidating French scholars of years past.
THE SCHOOL SAYS THAT GRADUATES TYPICALLY DOUBLE THEIR PRE-MBA SALARIES
When HEC’s students graduate, they tend to find jobs outside of France. The career stats show that 72% of the MBAs find jobs outside the country, largely in Europe but increasingly in China, Korea, Singapore and India, often with French firms such as L’Oreal, LVMH and Schneider Electric, that have been gaining a foothold in Asia. On average, the school says, MBA graduates from HEC double their pre-MBA salaries and last year 89% of the class had jobs three months after commencement. The average salary with bonus was 95,160 Euros, or just under $130,000.
In 2009 and 2010, five out of the 15 top recruiting companies were french. This past year only one—the fashion conglomerate LVMH—was among the top 15 recruiters which includes such mainstream MBA players as McKinsey, A.T. Kearney, GE, Credit Suisse, Unilever, and Johnson & Johnson. This year’s two largest recruiters are familiar names: Amazon and Google, which have respectively made nine and five offers to the Class of 2014 which officially graduates on June 13th.
“U.S. business schools are of a type,” insists Tony Somers, director of the MBA career management center. “They are all two-year programs and the jobs market is homogenous, both in terms of how the students find jobs and their ultimate location. At HEC, our students are from all over the world and they are placed all over the world.”
‘WHEN PEOPLE CALL US THE HARVARD OF EUROPE WE LIKE IT’
That diversity of people and thought has helped the school’s rankings. Ten years ago, HEC’s full-time MBA program was ranked 53rd in the world by The Financial Times. Just five years ago, it had climbed to 29th—and this year to 21st globally and seventh best in Europe. Overall, in its combined rankings of the MBA, executive MBA, master’s in management and executive education, the FT has also named HEC Paris the best business school in Europe in four of the past five years, tying with Spain’s IE Business School for the honor last year.
The architect of HEC’s transformation is Bernard Garrette, a gregarious and accessible one-time McKinsey consultant who has been associate dean in charge of the MBA program since January of 2011. Garrette knows the old and the new HEC well: he earned his master’s degree from the HEC “Grande Ecole” in 1985 and his Ph.D. from HEC Paris in 1991. When Garrette stepped into the dean’s role more than four years ago, his goal was “to transform a national champion into a global champion in the business education world.” HEC graduates are a vital part of the country’s power elite. The school boasts 11 alumni among the CEOs of the 40 companies on the Paris Stock Exchange with the highest market capitalization. It ranks fifth worldwide for having the most CEOs of the Fortune global 500.
“When people call us the Harvard of Europe, we like it,” says Garrette. “When they say we are the Harvard of France, it’s not enough. We want the brand to be recognized around the world.”
LIKE MANY AT HEC, THIS AMERICAN MBA BOASTS MULTI-CULTURAL ROOTS AND A DEEP INTEREST IN THE WORLD
Students who find their way to HEC are a remarkably global bunch. Katrina Senn, 25, who will graduate in 2015, came to the school as an American from California. But her father is Swiss and British, while her mother is Chinese and Indonesian. Senn had gone to the Lycée Francais Laperouse in San Francisco for a French secondary school diploma in economics and social sciences before doing her bachelor’s in Asian studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Senn spent a year in Osaka, Japan, teaching English and writing classes in high schools and then returned to San Francisco to work for the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). after graduating from Occidental College with a degree in Asian studies, she left for Osaka, Japan, to be an assistant language teacher for a year.
Both her parents have MBAs—her father from Chicago and her mother from UCLA—and encouraged her to go for the degree. “I was looking only in Europe,” she says, “I was drawn to go some place new.” She focused her search on schools in Spain, France, and Italy, but found herself liking HEC Paris the best. “The culture here is unique,” says Senn. “It’s a very international program and we learn a lot about France.”
Many of the students here say they have chosen HEC over INSEAD because they prefer the fact that the MBA here can be taken in 16 months, rather than 10 at INSEAD, and because of the much smaller size, an annual intake less than 20% of what INSEAD admits every year. “INSEAD is a completely different world,” says Senn. “We have a small class. We get to know each other very well, and the focus is on individual growth.” Adds Marcus Vilcinski, 29, “HEC is one of the rare schools where you can find a wide range of students from all over. And 16 months is the right timing. I didn’t want to squeeze everything in 10 months at INSEAD.”
DRAWN TO THE SCHOOL BY A BOOK CO-AUTHORED BY ONE OF HEC’S SUPER STAR PROFESSORS
Vilcinski is Brazilian, though his father is half Japanese and half Portuguese, and he has lived and worked in Australia for three years. “The school is in the countryside of Paris so when you first arrive, you think it’s a negative thing,” he adds. “But if we were in Paris we could easily disappear into the city and the connections with each other wouldn’t be the same.”
Vicki Yang, 30, was drawn to the school for its specialty in luxury marketing just as Stern exchange student Connie Chen. The Chinese American had earned her undergraduate degree at New York University and then worked four years at the BankofAmerica. She put a year in at a strategy consulting boutique and then founded her own custom lingerie company in San Francisco. Keen to learn more about the upscale market, she found herself engrossed in the book, “The Luxury Strategy.” “I was so fascinated by the book that I flipped to the back and saw that the co-author (Professor Bastien) was teaching at HEC Paris. I had never heard of the school, but the more I read about it, the more excited I got.”
A big appeal was the school’s “luxury certificate,” a deep dive in a specific topic that requires the completion of three of four courses, a three-day business game that challenges students to address the problems of growth and profitability in the luxury market, and a group project that involves hands-on experience. The two compulsory core courses are Topical Insights in Luxury and Managing Luxury Brands, while the two electives are called Sense & Sensibility and Retail and Merchandising Management.
AN UNUSUAL CERTIFICATE PROGRAM ATTRACTS MANY STUDENTS WHO WANT A DEEP DIVE IN A SUBJECT
MBA students who take one of the six certificates—digital innovation for business, energy and finance, innovation management in aviation and aerospace, leadership, luxury, and social business—also rub shoulders with students in the last year of the school’s Master of Management Grande Ecole program as well as students enrolled in other one-year master’s programs.
In addition to having the opportunity to take a class with the co-author of a book that resonated with her, the certificate program sealed the deal. “HEC was an obvious and easy choice because I wanted to stick to luxury,” she says. “Being in the heart of the luxury market was important to me.”
The bet has paid off. Her field project is with L’Oreal and as the outgoing president of the school’s luxury club, Yang organized numerous dinners with prominent alumni at such companies as Louis Vuitton, L’Oreal, Hermes, Yves Saint Laurent, and Givenchy (which she wears).
‘I WAS TOTALLY SHOCKED HOW DIFFERENT HEC IS FROM MY EXPECTATIONS’
Whether one pursues a certificate or not, the MBA experience here is different on several levels. “I was totally shocked how different it is,” says Promiti Prosun, 26, a Canadian whose parents are from Bangladesh. Prosun did her bachelor’s degree in marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto and didn’t want to repeat her undergraduate experience.. “Coming from a cosmopolitan culture in Toronto I thought it would be a breeze to transition here,” she says. “But in North America, you have the expectation that people adapt and blend in. Here, there really is no one culture because it is so diverse. You have to be flexible. It goes to the way you speak and to how you act.
Like most MBA programs, the work at HEC Paris is challenging. “If you cruise here, you get left behind,” says Jameel Zakkout, who did his undergrad at Université du Québec à Montréal and who graduates this year with his MBA. “It’s a humbling and challenging experience. I never have had to work so hard for an A.”
Some students express surprise at how the global diversity of the program tends to overwhelm the school’s french roots. “You are not really in France in this building,” says Zakkout, who speaks French, English and Arabic fluently. Adds Yang: “It’s been a little bit of a struggle to immerse myself in the French language. Within the MBA building, it’s all English.” Yang is fluent in French and expects to land a job in luxury retailing in France when she graduates. She says she would have liked to take some electives in French but the entire MBA program is in English. Otherwise, the complaints are few and far between. Students say the bus schedule to Paris is horrible, the food on Sundays is not up to French standards, and they wish it was easier to get in tune with the French culture outside the school. “It’s hard to integrate in a foreign country,” says Senn. “France is very difficult.”
A TRANSFORMATION THAT HAS TOUCHED EVERY ASPECT OF THE PLACE
Little has been left untouched by the transformation, from the way candidates are admitted, to where they study and work, to how they land jobs. Admissions has been revamped so that applicants get a decision within five weeks of submitting their applications. In fact, candidates are told within three working days if their applications will move forward or if they will be cut. It’s a novel admissions process because the decisions are made by an eight-person jury that consists of Associate Dean Garrette, the academic director, a representative of the alumni and the faculty, and the directors of career management and admissions.
There’s also the director of the Direction des Admissions et Concours, an independent body in charge of organizing and ensuring the quality and the integrity of the selection process for French business schools The president of the jury is a professor or dean from a different university who functions as a representative of the French ministry of higher education. To get the decision time down to just five weeks, Admissions Director Philippe Oster had to increase the size of the jury and ask it to meet monthly.
When the jury meets, the deputy director in charge of development and the manager of the admissions Office are also present with their teams: they present the applications and answer questions but do not participate in the decision process. The president of the jury has the final word.
THE GMAT IS ONE OF 17 CRITERIA ADMISSIONS USES TO ASSESS CANDIDATES
The school receives about 1,200 applications annually, and applications are up 11% so far this year. Oster says he is especially looking for candidates with international exposure, leadership potential, career progression, and generally three plus years of professional experience. “The GMAT is only one of 17 criteria,” says Oster, who notes that the average for the latest entering class is 685. About half of the applicants go through two admission interviews done by a group of 400 alumni, and the yield—the percentage of admits who enroll—is between 60% and 70%. Do the math and it comes to an acceptance rate of about 25%.
The MBA students study in a new and massive building with ten classrooms and six lecture theaters and 25 breakout rooms opened in June of 2012. Modern and sparse, Building S features gray concrete walls, wire grid ceilings that expose the building’s wiring and air conditioning ducts, and rooms that are often lit by metal shop lights. The design is not without its critics, given the industrial feel of the interior, but it is a first class facility.
There is a formal career management center curriculum which brings students through a process of self-assessment, industry boot camps, and one-on-one coaching to assist in job searches. Somers divides the students up into two categories: Explorers and Hunters. About 80% of the students are not sure what they want to do,” he says. “They have a plan A and a plan B. A hunter is someone who knows he wants to be an investment banker or a consultant and is coming here to do that.”
CAREER BOOTCAMPS FOR STUDENTS
If a student is interested in finance, the MBA candidate is taken through a mini-course on finance essentials, a careers-in-finance info session, a weekend-long bootcamp, where students learn how to craft a perfect CV for the industry, how to interview and what to expect in the culture of a financial service company. There is also financial modeling sessions and specific one-on-one interview training. In other words, what MBA students typically get at any world class business school is offered at HEC Paris.
Increasingly, there is a greater emphasis on internships to help line up students with jobs. “We are dealing with a culture in which internships are undergraduate mechanisms and longer term, four to six months,” says Somers. “But I’m trying to make sure that participants have the same internship experience they would in a two-year program even though we are 16 months.” Somers says that more than 140 students in the Class of 2015 have landed internships and that 25% of those internships have been converted into full-time job offers.
Besides the core curriculum and a full menu of more than 70 electives that can lead to one of five specializations—finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, leadership and strategy—or one of the certificate programs, there’s also three key events at HEC that help to define the MBA experience. The first is a two-day leadership seminar at Saint-Cyr Military Academy in Brittany, the French equivalent of West Point. where students don fatigues, navigate an obstruction course, and engage in leadership exercises with debriefs by French military officers. Thomas Maudet, who came to HEC from the French Defense Department, had to manage a crisis center that set up a refugee camp.
‘ONE OF THE MAIN CHALLENGES IS TO MAKE HEC PARIS MORE VISIBLE GLOBALLY’
Then there is the MBA Tournament, a student-run undertaking that has MBAs from all of Europe’s elite business schools competing in 23 different sporting events, from chess and foosball to soccer. The event attracts more than 1,300 MBA students. This past year, as co-president, Senn helped lead what everyone calls MBAT (pronounced M-BAT) and says she slept seven hours during the three days of the event. “It was only at HEC that I could have had this opportunity,” says Senn. “I am the youngest person in the program with the least amount of work experience. So the opportunity to run the tournament was a real growth experience for me.”
Finally, every MBA student is required to do what HEC Paris calls a fieldwork project that addresses a strategic challenge for a company. MBA candidates–either individually or in teams of up to four students–do the project over one term, working in a company or sector closely linked to the student’s professional goals. Many business schools, of course, have similar projects but HEC even leave open the possibility that a project can be completed with a full-time job, an unusual twist.
Where does HEC Paris go from here? It’s the question, admits Garrette, that keeps him awake at night. “One of the main challenges is to make HEC Paris more visible globally,” he says. “We need to let people from outside Europe, and sometimes outside France, know better about what we are and what we are doing here.”
While HEC Paris hopes to build its reputation and the size of its full-time MBA program, it wants to do so carefully. “We do not want to grow too much and to become too ‘commercial’ because that would be incompatible with our ‘exclusive’ DNA,” says Garrette, who intends to better leverage the school’s powerful alumni network which has 75 chapters around the world. “We must enhance the visibility of HEC Paris by the business community in key international ‘hotspots.’” He especially calls out London, New York, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Doha, Hong-Kong, and Shanghai.
Africa, he believes, is the school’s next admissions and placement target. “An obvious reason is the economic take-off of some, if not all, African countries. The second reason is that HEC Paris’ French origin creates a competitive advantage in a large cluster of African countries. The HEC brand is already known and valued, we have some prominent alumni there and the potential is huge,” believes Garrette. “But in order to attract the best students that fit our philosophy, we must find ways to become more inclusive, facilitate funding and scholarships, without compromising selectivity. In other words, we must be socially inclusive while remaining intellectually exclusive.”