HEC Essays & Interview Presentation: Strategy & Tips

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HEC Paris is one of the leading MBA programs in Europe, offering a 16-month program of study with two intakes: January and September.

Last year, Forbes crowned HEC Paris #2 in its biannual Ranking of International MBA programs for 2019. HEC occupies a unique space between the one-year programs like INSEAD and traditional two-year programs, and its international scope, deep academic rigor, program structure and access to a worldwide network makes it an excellent choice for anyone looking to pursue an international MBA.

HEC Paris maintains an impressive five required essays and one optional question, ranging from the practical ‘why HEC Paris’/why now’ to the provocative, ‘Imagine a life entirely different from the one you now lead, what would it be?’ Thankfully, most are short answer questions (250-word max), and taken together, they offer valuable storytelling opportunities. Here’s what HEC is looking in each of its essays, along with tips for tackling them.

Register today to join our live strategy session discussing essay advice for HEC Paris, London Business School & INSEAD on August 19 at noon ET. Previous sessions from our MBA Admissions Essay Masterclass series are available on Fortuna’s YouTube channel.

6 HEC PARIS ESSAYS: DECODED

HEC asks unique questions in its essays, and it’s important to make sure you answer all parts of the question. Think about what each question is really trying to learn about you, and how your answer might distinguish you from your high achieving peers. Avoid redundancy between your responses, and look to create a unifying narrative that’s creative, authentic and coherent in terms of connecting where you’ve been to where you’re going.

Essay One: Why are you applying to the HEC MBA Program now? What is the professional objective that will guide your career choice after your MBA, and how will the HEC MBA contribute to the achievement of this objective? (500 words max)

HEC wants to see ambitious career aspirations and backgrounds. You’ll want to focus on how HEC’s international scope, deep academic rigor, program structure, and access to a worldwide network connects with your goals and aspirations. You are selling your future vision as much as your current skills, GMAT scores, and accomplishments, so it’s essential to know how your career goals intersect with the school’s values and link them across your narrative about your reasons for pursuing the MBA.

To start, reflect on why this is the exact time that you need to earn an MBA in your career trajectory and explain the rationale and how you came to that decision. What will an MBA at this point enable you to do, and why is HEC the program that makes the most sense for you? Make sure you articulate how the HEC program is different, and how that difference fits specifically with your own career plans and goals.

Think about how your life and career will look if everything goes the way you plan, and how that will also be of value to the school. Do you plan on starting your own company one day? Do you want to lead change in the way we source energy? Do you have a passion for using technology to solve a previously intractable problem? All of these are great stories about your future, and they become even better when you tie them to the specific characteristics of the school and how the program will help you get to that goal. You will also want to think about how you will achieve your career in steps: the MBA, the few years after the MBA, 10 years out, and more. Be realistic about the kind of role and company/organization you intend to join just after the MBA, and do your research about what those employers want in a candidate. The more you can show you have aligned your career vision with practical, realistic steps to get there, including the HEC MBA, the better your essays will read.

Tips for writing:

  • Start out with a story or example to hook the attention of your reader
  • Start with what you are passionate about (that links to career goals)
  • Describe your career goal post MBA and why now is the right time to get an MBA
  • Conclude with research on why HEC – courses, connections/partnerships, professors, treks, clubs etc. related to your goals
  • It’s okay to also touch on long term aspirations in terms of how the MBA and short term goals will be your stepping stones to your long term goal

Essay Two: What do you consider your most significant life achievement? (250 words)

Like the question above, this one also requires a high degree of self-awareness and reflection. Step back to consider the biggest and most important things that have happened in all of your life – not just your career. It may be an example of something in which you doggedly persevered and finally succeeded in achieving. It may be reaching a personal best, a first-time experience, or a change in how you did something. What makes the best essay is not how big or important the achievement is compared to others, but how well you describe the why and how it is important to you, and your ability to convey that sense of importance to the admissions committee.

Essay Three: Leadership and ethics are inevitably intertwined in the business world. Describe a situation in which you have dealt with these issues and how they have influenced you. (250 words max)

This is an important essay for HEC, and it challenges many applicants. The key to getting this essay right is not to show how you made a more ethical choice or exposed a specific wrong, but rather to show a sophisticated understanding of how ethical choices and leadership continually come up in one’s career and how you handle them. Choosing a specific, cogent example, briefly explaining the situation, and then talking about how it made you think, consider, act, or even change your own philosophy and work approach, can be very good.

Other powerful essays for this question include examples of making tough choices between two or more options that all had significant upsides and potential negative consequences. The best essays show thoughtful reflection and a balance between needing to make a decision or take an action with the ethical repercussions of doing so ­– and how that choice influenced or changed you.

Essay Four: Imagine a life entirely different from the one you now lead, what would it be? (250 words)

This is an opportunity to show both creative and analytical thinking. Imagine someone who is currently a banker in Hong Kong, for instance, and how completely different his or her life would be as a farmer in the American Midwest. This would be a very different life, but the banker’s character and skills/natural abilities would be similar — so what would a numbers-oriented, fast thinking individual contribute to farming, crop yields, markets and the like? That makes for a very interesting essay and shows how you think about yourself and the world.

It’s a hypothetical question of course, but it could also be an opportunity to showcase something you used to do a lot or participate in, yet never followed that path. Something you used to be/or still are very passionate about. Dare to have a little fun here! What you choose and how you bring this alter identity to life – in the briefest possible words of course – conveys volumes about your character, personality, and values. It also shows an awareness of our global world and how culture, language, national origin, and more form our experiences. Thinking through a real different life for yourself should involve some reflection about what you have experienced and how that would change in very different circumstances.

Essay Five: Please choose from one of the following essays (250 words):

a) What monument or site would you advise a first-time visitor to your country or city to discover, and why?

This is an opportunity to show you have a global mindset and are open to different cultures, values, languages, etc. How would you handle this reflects how would you show up in a diverse classroom. You could tie this in to a personal experience where you experienced culture shock of some sort and how you felt.

b) Certain books, movies or plays have had an international success that you believe to be undeserved. Choose an example and analyse it.

This essay is a way to show some of your interests in culture, science, current events, politics, etc., and to also show how you evaluate material. The question is asking you to not only show why you believe the work has an undeserved success, but to use specific examples of why it is undeserved, and to defend those opinions. This is a good essay to choose if you are particularly familiar with a particular book, movie, or play and have strong ideas or feelings about it.

c) What figure do you most admire and why? You may choose from any field (arts, literature, politics, business, etc).

This question is really asking two things: what qualities you value and admire most, and who embodies these qualities, either in our current day or in the past. The best essays show a resonance between your own personal goals and aspirations, and the individual you pick to be the focus of the essay. You do not have to pick someone hugely famous; in fact, the most interesting essays often spotlight someone who may be lesser known, while explaining the key characteristics and factors that make them so admirable. Remember to tie in the “why” you most admire this person with your own life, and particularly how they inspire or motivate you in pursuing your own goals.

Essay 6: Is there any additional information you would like to share with us? (900 words max)

This essay is not required, but is a good opportunity to address two specific points in your candidacy. You can either use this space to address a perceived weakness in your application (such as a lower GMAT score despite working with complex number sets in your day to day job, or a lackluster undergraduate GPA due to extenuating circumstances), or you can use it to talk about an important aspect of your life and career that did not come up in the previous essay questions. Caution: This is NOT a space to repeat ideas or further explain answers in previous essays.

Some particularly effective ways to use this additional essay are to talk about your experience visiting the campus in person, the talks you had, and how that experience solidified your decision to apply and attend the HEC MBA. Another good use for this essay would be if you had substantive contact with either current HEC students or alumni, and some of the advice they gave you on applying and prospering in the program, and why that inspired you. It is also useful if you have initiated talks with potential internships or employers for after your MBA, and that you show a proactive and organized approach to a successful recruitment post-MBA.

If you have significant gaps on your CV, such as a year of traveling or a longer gap between positions, this is also a great place to talk about what you accomplished during that time, how you grew or learned something new, and how you took that into your next position or life phase. It is also good to give context if something unforeseen happened that held back your progress or success and would be good for the admissions committee to know in reading your overall application.

Preparing for the HEC Interview Presentation

HEC asks candidates who are invited to interview to make a short 10-minute presentation on a subject of their choice. This is an opportunity to showcase your composure and clarity of thought, ability to deliver a coherent argument or explanation, and to express both creativity and passion in your presentation. It does not have to relate to your job or career – in fact some of the best presentations don’t – but it should be a subject that is relevant to you, and that you can communicate well to the interviewer. It’s also important that you keep your presentation short – five or six slides should be plenty, including the introductory slide. What you want to do in 10 short minutes is impress a concept or new way of thinking to your interviewer and show how you have come to a specific conclusion or observation. Keep it engaging and interesting, too – the more memorable, the better.

Across your application narrative, you’ll also want to consider what differentiates you from your peers. Articulate your uniqueness strongly in your application, along with how a global vision for your future will both contribute to and benefit from the HEC community.


Want more free advice and the chance to get your questions answered? Register today to join our live strategy session discussing essay advice for HEC Paris, London Business School & INSEAD on August 19 at noon ET. Previous sessions from our MBA Admissions Essay Masterclass series are available on Fortuna’s YouTube channel.


Fortuna’s Brendan Kramp is an HEC alumnus and former INSEAD Director of Development and advisor to Oxford University. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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