Aiming for IMD? An Admitted Student Shares His Story and Advice
We’d like to introduce you to our next blogger, Marcelo, who begins his one-year MBA program at IMD in just a few months. You can read about Marcelo’s MBA journey in our interview below, as well as at his blog, Marshmallow’s IMD MBA Experience. Best of luck to you Marcelo – we look forward to following your IMD experience!
Accepted: We'd like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What have you been doing (work-wise or otherwise) since you graduated?
Marcelo: First off, thank you for inviting me to be a part of this great blog series. My name is Marcelo – I am an easy-going, soccer-loving Brazilian. Throughout my life I’ve lived in a bunch of different places. Before coming to Switzerland, I lived in the United States for 12 years, and before that I lived in London for 4. Each of these places has left an impression on me, and contributed to my desire to see more of what the world has to offer.
During my undergrad I studied Economics at the University of Chicago, and went on to work in analytics and reporting in the mortgage industry for 7 years. I worked at Fannie Mae, Countrywide and Bank of America. As you can imagine I had a pretty eventful few years getting through the financial crisis! Despite all the uncertainty, it proved to be a valuable learning experience. I was exposed to very distinct business environments – the bullish times, the downturn, and the beginning of the recovery.
Accepted: Congrats on your acceptance to IMD! Why did you choose IMD? How would you say you're a good fit for that program?
Marcelo: Thank you! I am very excited to start the program at IMD. There were a few things that were important to me about an MBA program, and I feel IMD will check all of the boxes. I was looking for a school that would best help me develop my leadership skills, and I was impressed by IMD’s approach. Throughout the year there is an ongoing focus on self-reflection and soft-skill development, including writing an “autobiographical” document, and even meeting with a psychoanalyst to discuss how to improve as a person and as a leader. I really like how the small class size leads to a very personalized experience, including continuous individualized feedback. I believe this approach will complement my somewhat technical background very well.
From a recruitment perspective, IMD’s placement track record and close affinity to industry were a big considerations for me, given my interest in breaking into the consumer products business. Also, coming into the program at 31 years old, I also appreciated that IMD favors slightly older, more experienced candidates. I didn’t necessarily mind going into a class where I would be one of the older students, but at IMD my peers will be at about the same stage in their lives and their careers as I am in mine. I believe it will help us all relate to each other more deeply. I also really like that every single one of the 90 students has had major international exposure, having lived or worked in different countries. All the different perspectives should be conducive to some great class discussions.
Accepted: Did you only apply to European b-schools? Which other programs were you considering?
Marcelo: Yes, I did only apply to European schools. I was looking for a way to give my career a more international dimension. I’ve lived a pretty international life, but I felt my career path in the US was steering me away from that. I thought European schools offered me the best opportunity to gain work experience in a different country, and put my professional life on a more international track. Also – although it wasn’t the main consideration – I also liked the potential of going into a one-year program.
I considered mostly the top European programs: IMD, INSEAD, London Business School, IESE and Oxford. With the timing of the applications, I submitted applications to IMD and Oxford first. After going through the IMD assessment day I was totally confident it was the right fit for me, so I was really hoping I would get in. It was a long several days waiting for their decision! Luckily I was accepted, and in the end I never got to submit the other three applications.
Accepted: Your course starts in just a few months -- what are you most looking forward to? Is there anything you're not looking forward to?
Marcelo: Based on everything I have heard about IMD, there are a lot of things to look forward to! I am most excited about meeting my classmates. I’ve met a few of them during my assessment day, and they were all extremely talented and accomplished. IMD puts so much time and effort into recruiting the right 90 candidates each year, I feel like every interaction will be a learning opportunity. I want to take full advantage of this experience.
I am also very excited about IMD’s practical, real-world approach to learning. As part of the coursework we will have opportunities to work with senior-level leadership and help solve real problems for both start-ups and established business. We will have opportunities to present to, and interact with, high-level executives from a variety of companies who attend executive programs at IMD. I am excited to see all the different tasks and activities IMD will have for me.
Sadly, there are things I am not looking forward to as well. The biggest one by far is that I will spend a lot less time with my family. It will be especially hard since my wife and I are expecting our first baby. I will want to be there with her at every moment, but I know I won’t be able to.
By all accounts, the IMD MBA is very intense. It sounds like knowing how to balance all the coursework, activities and personal life can be tough. One thing I do worry about is the constant fear of missing out – for example, I don’t want to regret going to a certain presentation when I could have been at home with my wife. Hopefully I will quickly learn how to juggle everything and find the right equilibrium.
Accepted: Do you plan on staying in Switzerland/Europe post-MBA?
Marcelo: Yes, I would like to stay in Europe for at least a few years after the MBA. Ideally, I would take a position in a multi-national company with a presence in the United States and/or Brazil. After a few years of getting to know the business, working through the ranks and building my network, I may then be in a position to look for opportunities for international mobility within that company.
In the short run I am pretty flexible as far as geography goes, and I am looking to identify the right company, gain the best possible experience and put myself in the best position for career advancement. Thankfully my wife is also flexible and willing to go to different places with me, so this is an exciting opportunity for us as a family to have some unique life experiences together.
Accepted: What would you say are your three top tips for b-school applicants?
Even if you can’t name a specific position in a specific company that you want to get into, you should know your “story,” i.e. how you will connect your past experience to whatever you want to do in the future. You should be able to explain how the skills you already have, and the skills you will gain in your MBA will help you succeed in a new industry, a different geography, a higher position, etc. Obviously the MBA needs to be part of that story, and every school will want you to tell them how they will help you reach your goals.
2. Do your homework.
There are so many great MBA programs out there, it can be overwhelming to know which one is the best fit. It’s easy to look at a school’s ranking number and decide that’s a good enough reason to apply there. It’s important to a) understand why a school is ranked where it is, and pay special attention to what its strengths and weaknesses are, so you can see if that program will line up well with your goals and development needs; and b) gain as much knowledge as possible about a school’s culture, personality and teaching style.
I suggest attending MBA fairs, reaching out to alumni and current students, reading blogs etc. That way you will get a better sense of what life in that school is really like and will start to see if you can see yourself there.
3. Accomplishments, accomplishments, accomplishments.
Every school wants to know what you have accomplished, which is not the same as what you have done. You should be able to showcase how you have added value in your work life (or even in your personal life). Whether that came from bringing people together, improving processes, etc – the school wants to see what outcomes came about as a result of your actions, not simply a list of the tasks you go through each day at work.
Accepted: What was the most challenging aspect of the MBA admissions process? What step(s) did you take to overcome that challenge?
Marcelo: To me, the toughest aspect was the sheer amount of time that I needed to dedicate to my applications. I wanted to make sure I submitted the best possible applications that really represented my best self. I knew that if I didn’t take the process seriously, I could end up looking back and having major regrets if I got dinged by my top choice schools. I’d wish I had studied a bit harder for the GMAT instead of going to happy hours, or wish I had spent those extra couple of hours proofreading my essays instead of watching the hockey game. By knowing I did my very best, I’d be sure that if I got a rejection letter, it just wasn’t meant to be.
To overcome this challenge it was important to keep the end goal in mind. I found it helpful to keep in mind the things I am trying to accomplish, the career I am trying to build. I tried to think of every detail in the application as a step in the right direction, and make the MBA applications a priority.
No question though, the biggest help for me was having a supportive partner who motivated me when I felt like I couldn’t be bothered anymore. She understood what a good opportunity a top MBA would be for us as a family. With her help I was able to organize my schedule, stay away from distractions, and spend the right amount of time to get the applications just right.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? Why/when did you start blogging? Who is your audience? What do you hope to gain (or what have you gained already?) from the experience?
Marcelo: I started my blog almost as soon as I received the famous acceptance phone call from IMD. At first I thought of it as a good way for friends and family to keep up with me. I also figured it would be an interesting way to record my thoughts during this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I will enjoy looking back at the blog in five years or so, and re-living it all.
At the same time, I wanted my blog to help out others who are interested in IMD – during my application process, I found that reading the blogs of IMD students from previous classes was tremendously helpful in painting a picture of what it takes to get into IMD, and what being an IMD student is like. There weren’t too many IMD blogs out there, so hopefully my blog will be a resource for future applicants who considering going down this same path.
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