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How to Get Into HEC Paris MBA Program [Podcast Episode]

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benoit banchereau hec paris apr 2022

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Discover HEC Paris’ top-ranked MBA Program [Show Summary]

HEC Paris’ top-ranked MBA Program is known for its entrepreneurial spirit, the strong representation of many cultures, and the rich alumni network that feels like family. Benoit Banchereau, MBA Admissions Director, explores what sets this program apart and how potential students can secure a spot.

Benoit Banchereau, Executive Director, Marketing and Admissions at HEC Paris MBA programs shares what the program is looking for in applicants [Show Notes]

It gives me great pleasure to have for the first time on Admissions Straight Talk, Benoit Banchereau. Benoit is the Executive Director of Marketing and Admissions at HEC Paris MBA programs. He earned two masters degrees from the Sorbonne in Paris, one in Bilingual Journalism and the other in Media and Communication. He also participated in INSEAD’s International Marketing Program. He has worked in communications and marketing for companies like A.T. Kearney, Standard & Poor’s, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer before joining HEC Paris in 2015 as Director of Marketing and Admissions. In 2019, he became the Executive Director of Marketing and Admissions for all of HEC Paris’ MBA programs.

Can you start by giving us an overview of HEC’s three MBA programs? [2:17]

We have a full-time MBA that takes place on the campus of Jouy-en-Josas. It’s a 16-month program that students complete on-site. The Executive MBA program is between 15 and 18 months. It includes people who are generally above 35, and it’s a part-time MBA. We have five flexible options. We have some modular intakes, weekend intakes, a bilingual intake in French and English, and an intake in Qatar where we have an office.

Our program is very highly ranked in the Financial Times, it has the number one place. For the moment so far so good, but you can never stay too long in first place. Our TRIUM Executive MBA is a partnership with NYU and LSE, London School of Economics. It’s a very special international offer that gives students the opportunity to belong to the three alumni communities from HEC, NYU, and LSE.

Is the TRIUM Executive MBA a full-time program or a part-time program? [4:32]

It’s a part-time program with exactly the same target. In terms of population, it’s more expensive than our Executive MBA at HEC. It really gives a special offer. It’s usually between 50 and 60 participants so it’s a very small cohort with people trying to get an international perspective. The alliance between HEC, NYU, and LSE is so valuable, especially at this time when we see that international relations are so important. It gives a very interesting approach, especially with our friends from LSE who can actually bring this to students.

Can you zoom in on the full-time MBA program’s more notable and distinctive elements? [6:05]

What you’re going to get from the full-time MBA is the quality of the courses that we provide with top professors. The way that it’s structured is we have a fundamental phase that lasts eight months. Then it’s followed by a customized phase that lasts another eight months. It could be an international exchange, it could be a specialization, it could be actually many things. It’s really a la carte, which is very appreciated by participants because they can really design their own way of doing the MBA.

The fundamental phase is compulsory for everyone. You can’t actually choose corporate finance or not, marketing or not, operations or not. What we are trying to introduce during the MBA is learning by doing. We are really careful about that because you can attend a lot of conferences and speeches about leadership and you will probably enjoy it very much. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that you will be able to do it. I mean, you have been inspired, but are you able really to demonstrate on the ground that you can apply it? What have you learned? This is really what it’s about.

There are many elements during the full-time MBA, where you have the possibility of showing that you can learn by doing. You have also some real-time problem-solving workshops and initiatives so that you can actually discover who you truly are as a leader and on which parts you have to work to improve your leadership. You discover yourself, which is something that is looked after by the participants. 

Of course, the most important thing about this full-time MBA is where are you going to get a job. People are coming to do a career transformation. I’m not saying that the courses are not important; your courses are important. But really what really matters is where you’re going to land after your MBA. What kind of job you’re going to find? Are you going to achieve this transformation that you are looking after? And this is what we make sure happens, it’s this transformation.

Usually, we gauge this by three levels: change of sector, change of function, and change of country. 80% of our students are managing to do two of those three changes, and 40% do what we call a triple jump. I’m always amazed to see this because it really means that you have left the job that you had and the country where you were living to have a better future. You’re getting this future because 93% of our cohort is finding a job three months after graduating which is reassuring. Where our students land is just amazing, especially knowing where they started. This is a very, very big transformation that they can accomplish.

In the United States, the common wisdom is that if you’re going to make a career change, an internship really facilitates that career change. In a 16-month program do you do an internship? If so, then when? [10:43]

This is very interesting because your question is coming from someone who lives in the U.S. who thinks that 16 months is short. But when actually livingin Europe, you have the main competitor, which is INSEAD, and they are doing everything in 10 months. We have chosen to do this full-time MBA in 16 months because that’s the right time to make this transformation. If you want a true transformation, it’s very hard to do it in 10 months. You need at least those 16 months because you’re going to do an internship like you said. It could be actually a summer internship or it could be right after the phases that I was mentioning before. You can actually find some room before the graduation to do an internship as well.

While you are doing the fundamental phase and while you are doing the specialization phase, of course you are following a career curriculum from day one. You are in contact with our staff in the career center and they’re trying to help you find what you’re going to do and what you want to achieve. It really means that you need to know exactly where you want to go and you also need to know yourself. Then you need to match the two, match yourself with your expectation and the market to see exactly what you can do. When you do this, then you can actually see if you need an internship to achieve this, it’s not actually compulsory.

We have about 60% of our participants doing an internship, but it means that 40% of them are not doing it and they still get great jobs. It’s not actually an obligation to do an internship to get the right job. It helps in many aspects for some jobs like consulting but for many jobs, you don’t need an internship. You can actually go straight to where you want to go.

Other than a knowledge of English, are there any language requirements at HEC Paris? [14:03]

Yes, that’s a big requirement. You need to do three languages during your MBA. If you’re American, obviously you speak English but then you will have to do two other languages. We recommend doing French because you will be living in the country for 16 months. It’s great to know how to speak and to interact with the locals in Paris – when you’re going to ask for a coffee, when you’re going to try to find your way. We don’t expect you, in the end, to be a black belt in French because it’s a difficult language but at least you will pass the test that shows that you know how to express yourself in French.

Then you can choose another language. Most of our participants have a mother tongue language, then they know how to speak English and then they learn French. This is the third language that they have to learn. It may seem like a big constraint, but it’s a great feature of our program. People are enjoying this on campus because they’re learning about new cultures. Since the diversity of our class is so great, it helps a lot. 

I insist on that language aspect. Our full-time MBA is so diverse that we have only 6% French students in the program. This is a big difference compared to the U.S. My friends, who completed MBA programs in the U.S. at prominent schools like HarvardWharton, and Stanford, all told me that it was huge to have 20% of international people in the class but most of the cohorts were actually coming from the States.

Sometimes it’s difficult because you have a leading population over only some representatives of some countries. But I’d actually say, and I think it’s the same with our main competitor INSEAD, it’s quite well balanced in terms of region. We have 24% coming from North America and Latin America, we have only 19% coming from Europe which is surprising. We have 11% coming from Africa and the Middle East. We have 46% coming from Asia and Oceania. I would say that the most prominent and largest population is coming from India. There are probably 21% of Indian participants and the rest are people coming from all different countries. China is important, but not so large in terms of number.

The good thing is that you are truly mixed. There isn’t a leading population overrepresented in the class. You need to find your way and you need to understand the specificity of other countries. You can find this in language because you discover the specificities of people and their countries within the language. When you learn a new language, it’s a way to understand why people are behaving certain ways.

The other day someone asked me, “But why is it so diverse at HEC?” and I was saying that it’s actually a chance for participants but it’s also a challenge for participants. Think about when you are doing a strategy exercise on a team with someone coming from France, from Russia, from the States, from India, from China, from South Africa, and someone from Germany. When you have to make a decision, when you have to make sure that everyone is contributing, doing a share of their part, this is a real challenge because the notion of time is very different for everyone. The notion of rigor is very different. It doesn’t mean that they are not reaching the same conclusion in the end. But there are actually different paths that lead to the conclusion and this is a real challenge. If in the end, you are working in another environment because everybody is working abroad from their own countries. If you are working in an international company, you will be facing these kinds of challenges and it’s hard. You need to be patient, you need to understand and you need to move on. That’s actually something that is really in the DNA of this full-time MBA, because of the diversity that we find here.

There’s also the diversity of doing this in a non-native setting. [21:13]

Exactly. I’m always amazed. I just try to remember myself when I was 25 or 30 years old. It’s a big thing to quit your job and to travel all over the world to Paris and then you’re going to do something completely new. You’re hoping for a better future and you’re going to be mixed with some people who you have no idea of. But the beauty of it is that they’re going to unleash some strength and some opportunities. Everyone is a door to another universe and something that you were not aware of. You were living your life and suddenly you discovered that there are so many jobs that you didn’t have in mind. You are inspired by the people who are around you in your cohort and that’s a richness, truly.

HEC requires the GMAT or the GRE. Are there any plans to accept the Executive Assessment or other tests? Are you considering introducing test waivers? [23:27]

There are two different situations for the Executive MBA. The GMAT and the GRE are not compulsory, you can do an Executive Assessment. If you don’t do it, we have our own test that we do during the interviews, but this is specific to the Executive MBA. When we’re talking about the full-time MBA, we rely on those tests to follow the requirements that are necessary to make sure that we are recognized internationally and that we are recruiting with the same tools that other business schools in the same range are using. After that, we do our own selection. This is very specific from one business school to another, but at least we’re starting from the same basis from the same elements to make our judgment and to reach a conclusion.

Here at HEC, we don’t do waivers. If you really want to join us and do your full-time MBA, you need to sit for the GMAT or you need to sit for the GRE. We don’t discriminate, neither test is better than the other. If you feel more comfortable or you have already passed a test, that is okay with us. We know how to gauge the GRE, we know how to gauge the quality of people. Because the test centers were closed during COVID, there was a period of time when we were blind and we didn’t have any test scores. We are quite confident in our recruitment so for the time we decided to say, “We can give you an answer of whether you will be admitted or not without the test and we will not go back on this, but before you arrive on campus, we expect that you take and pass the test.”

You don’t only do it for us. It’s also for you because, during your career journey, the recruiters are going to ask, What was your GMAT or what was your GRE score?” You need to have this ready anyway. So this is what happened during the COVID. But now we are back to a normal situation, I would say, for the moment. 

What are you looking for in applicants besides stats? [27:05]

Honestly, we are lucky because we have bright people who are knocking on our door. In the end they have a great GMAT or a great GRE and we are lucky with this. But we know that there is a different situation where you’re going to have some people who have a lower GMAT with a great CV. You could explain this by differences across the region, the country, the facility to take the test, etc. The thing is we still are recruiting some people with, probably a 590 or 600 GMAT just to give you an idea. Sometimes it’s something that is cultural that could explained. Sometimes it’s also people who are overwhelmed by their job while they’re trying to prepare. 

Sometimes we ask some people to retake the GMAT because we think that they could have done actually much better. But sometimes we are already blown away by the CV and the quality of the essays that we have seen. We can actually be very tolerant on that side. It’s not like you have to have a 690 GMAT to get in, it’s an average. It means that we have 780 GMAT scores but we have also sometimes the 600 GMAT scores and it’s fine with us. It’s not sacred because we also need to take into account what you were doing. For instance, you were a professional pianist or a doctor or you were working in a very specific industry. We had someone recently who was working in a circus in Canada. That was her passion. She had done great studies before turning to the circus area but she was not ready to take those tests again and have a great result.

For us, it’s not something that is determinative to reject someone just because the GMAT or the GRE was a little bit low. We take into consideration the quality of your studies, your bachelors or your masters as well as where you did it and how you performed at that time. For us this is actually, I would say the very important side in our decision to select you or not. It’s the addition of all these elements that makes the difference and not so much the results of the test, honestly.

What makes for a great CV? [31:02]

A great CV is where you see the potential because you’re betting, you’re betting on someone. The participants are investing in themselves because they want to have a better future and a better job. This is actually the true acceleration. Most of the time it’s people following a normal path which is good studies and a good job for five years. And then they suspect that there’s not enough action. It’s been five years, and it’s been already too long. We really see those candidates who say, “Okay, well, I need to do something now just to accelerate, to stand out from the crowd.” And this is the reason why they want to do something else or to have a better position after the full-time MBA. 

But I would say that for us, a great CV is when you can feel that there’s a strong ambition and strong motivation. The reason behind it is not only, “I want to make a lot of money.” This is not enough. We can understand that it’s great to make money, but the candidates need to show us that there’s a real ambition behind it and we can read it in the CV already. It’s not only in the essay that you express this, your CV talks also for yourself.https://www.youtube.com/embed/7VQg0v4RFc4?feature=oembed

HEC has five required essays and one optional, the essays cover a broad array of topics. Are you planning to keep five and one optional next cycle? What do you want to learn from the essays? [33:05]

Compared to the other business schools, maybe we are asking for too many essays, but we are French. And we are a country of great literature like the U.S. Maybe it’s a way for us to see the coherence in the different essays. This is probably why there are so many. Most of the time we meet the candidates before they actually apply. But when you don’t know a person, you really need to see if their speech is coherent.

The last essay, the optional one, that we recently introduced is mainly to cover diversity. In France, when we speak about diversity, it’s not like in the U.S. In the application form, we’re not going to ask you if you are Caucasian, if you are Latino, if you are African-American. In France, you don’t ask those questions because it’s the land of equality. It would mean that you would have to do specific work, to improve the equality that is actually on paper guaranteed to everyone. To talk about diversity, we introduced this optional essay. It’s for us to provide a space where you can tell us what your difference is. It could be anything. It could be that you belong to the LGBT community. Or you are gifted with playing an instrument by ear. It can be an extraordinary experience you want to tell us. For us, this is diversity. It’s everything.

Since it was impossible to put a box and say, “Okay, tick the box here just to show us your diversity,” anyone can come with anything. It is actually taken into account in our way of assessment because we will see if you have a specific difference. This is your space, just stand out. That is why we introduced this essay.

What happens to applications after the applicant hits submit? How was their application processed and evaluated? [36:48]

Well, first of all, it’s very important that we meet future applicants. We have a great team who travels all over the world to meet future applicants. I’m stressing this because this is very important. We take the time, and we invest a lot of money in this. The people that the future applicants are going to meet are just amazing. We have chosen those people because they are amazing. 

It works over Zoom, but we have resumed travels as well. We are very happy about that. And you can bet that the team is very happy about that also because we’re going to meet the future applicants in their countries. We’re going to organize meetings with alumni who live there. We are going to organize all sorts of things when we are traveling. This is what makes actually a difference because you get to know the program not only by the people who are advisors and who present it but also from the people who completed the program. It’s very important in your decision, so this is why we do this. If you feel comfortable and have been inspired by everyone that you have met, then you apply to HEC.

We are doing something that is exceptional on the market. We are able to tell you in about a month, whether you’ll be admitted or not. Trust me, it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for the team especially because every month the race is starting again. You finish the jury and then you are already trying to process the next month’s jury that is going to happen in four weeks or five weeks. It’s a challenge also for the people who applied because it means that for us it’s to pre-select or not the people who applied. Then when we do the pre-selection, then we are going to organize the interviews.

It’s a bit special because we rely a lot on our alumni. It is the alumni who are going to do the interviews. There will be two interviews with two alumni. Usually, it’s an alumnus that lives near where the applicant lives. We used to do this in person but since COVID we moved to a Zoom interview, even though you were living just two blocks away from the applicants. It’s a shame, but it was by Zoom. More and more we are going to resume those in-person interviews because it’s well appreciated on both sides.

Why are we trusting our alumni community? It’s because there’s one thing that we can’t really define by words, it’s the culture of the HEC Paris MBA program. I will not be able to tell you myself, in words, what it is. No one would be able to do that. If you ask the alumni community, they won’t be able to tell you, but if they meet someone during the interview, they will be able to say, “Yes, this guy belongs to our community, this is for sure.” They are willing to tell the jury that this was a cultural feeling and that this candidate could be a future participant.https://www.youtube.com/embed/nMxgFGQDN2k?feature=oembed

What’s the most common mistake you see applicants making in the application process? [41:30]

Sometimes you have someone who actually thought that they had sent this application form to the INSEAD and actually sent it to HEC. It doesn’t mean that we reject this because we can take into consideration the fact that we know how it works. Of course, it doesn’t show a good sign when you see this. This is something that we can reconsider but I’m telling you this because it’s very important to tell your audience and the future participants to an MBA that every detail counts. We can understand sometimes that there’s a mistake in your CV, like a spelling mistake. But normally, we shouldn’t see these kinds of mistakes. What we expect from the future participants is a capacity to be focused and to be rigorous. 95% of the time, it’s actually a perfect application, with no mistakes like this. And even when we spot a mistake, I’m telling you, it really depends on the day that it happened, if we are actually in a good day or in a bad day. But we can be nice.

There are no right or wrong answers in the essays. We had that very recently. One essay was asking, “Who inspires you?” Someone who had an excellent GMAT, someone who had an excellent career path said, “I think that Hitler was actually a great leader. And I’m going to explain to you why he was a great leader.” Even though you see that the person chose to make a point through provocation, it doesn’t show very good judgment. It says something about your personality as well. Try to be smart when actually it doesn’t work. But you see I would say that’s the kind of mistake, even though it’s well written that you should avoid. Even though we have a lot of humor, there are some aspects where we don’t laugh at all

What advice do you have for applicants polishing their applications and aiming for the June 1st deadline? Are seats still available? Or should people just aim for the January intake? [45:34]

Yes, we still have actually some seats but we are reaching the end of the recruitment. We could have closed, but we decided to go until the last deadline which is in June. If it’s still open, it means that you have a chance to get in. Especially if you’re coming from Europe or close countries to France where you won’t have any difficulties with your visa, this is actually still possible.

If you are coming from a very remote country and you know that it will take some time to get the visa, et cetera, it might be a challenge. Sometimes we say, “Okay, don’t take the risk.” You are willing to take the risk, but don’t take the risk. You can target January 2023 instead of September 2022. It’s only four months away from September, it’s not a big deal. But if you have a better chance to arrive safely with all the documents that are required and can get your visa, it’s probably a better option.

Is there anything you would’ve liked me to ask you? Anything you’d like to address? [47:11]

I would say that when you’re talking about HEC Paris, you think that it’s in Paris, but our campus is not in Paris. It’s outside of Paris, 15 kilometers away. It’s very easy to commute and to get to Paris. It is an amazing opportunity to have a campus like this one. I have visited many business schools and this one is a truly residential campus. You’re going to make the most by living with your cohort, all the time together, make strong ties with each other. I know that MBA participants are looking for this because they are looking for the courses but what will remain are the people who are going to be your friends until the end of your life, truly. When you were doing a bachelor’s, you were not aware that the network was so important and you probably had a couple of friends, but that was it. This time you’re coming back to school and coming back on campus. Now you know that the network is key and people are coming from all over the world and you want to have ties with these people. The only way to do that is to spend some time with each other. To live on campus together for 16 months is very unique so that is one aspect that I wanted to mention.

The second aspect is actually linked to this. We did some stats and we found that 20% of our participants are finding a job thanks to their friends in their cohort. That’s a huge number. It means that even though the career center is providing great opportunities, in the end, you might find a job because of a friend. I have so many examples of this. 

Recently a guy was coming to HEC from Google and he wanted to do consulting. He arrived thinking that he was going to do that. He met someone who was working at Amazon and became a great friend and they realized that each had the dream job of the other and they actually helped each other to switch companies. Those are the kinds of stories that we’re hearing all the time on campus. People are helping each other and the fact that it’s a small cohort of 300 people, helps that because it’s the right size to have those interactions and to make those genuine connections with each other.

Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about HEC Paris’s full-time MBA program or any of its programs? [51:37]

You can learn more on our website. Our brochure is available there as well. We make it very easy for you to find information and you can connect with the amazing team that I was talking about.

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