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September 04, 2012

Q&A with IMD's Associate Director of MBA Admissions & Marketing

It is with great pleasure that I am introducing this blog post. I personally enjoy talking with Lisa Piguet, Associate Director, MBA Admissions & Marketing at IMD, so I am sure you will find her answers to my questions below very illuminating. Lisa was kind enough to give me a tour of IMD in May of this year and follow it up now with these extensive answers to my questions.

Adam Markus: Could you tell us a little bit about your background?  How did an American become Associate Director of MBA Admissions & Marketing at IMD?

Lisa Piguet: That is a good question. My previous positions were all in industry, mainly in the Silicon Valley.  When I moved to Switzerland I was contemplating what to do next when a friend of mine told me that IMD was looking for someone in Admissions. I wasn’t sure about going into academia but IMD is very famous so I decided to explore the idea. I had the perfect background for them since I had come from industry and had interviewed and managed several groups of people in the past.  The rest is history. I have now interviewed several hundred MBA candidates at this point. I’m a very lucky person in that I’ve always had great jobs and worked with great people, however working at IMD is by far the best thing I could ask for.

Adam Markus: In addition to reviewing the IMD webpage and making use of the program information available there, attending an information session, and visiting, are there any ways you would suggest a potential applicant might learn about IMD?

Lisa Piguet:  My advice is to try and come see us in Lausanne. As you know Adam, Switzerland is absolutely beautiful but it’s more than that. Once someone sees the campus, visits with the current participants, attends a campus visit and of course eats the “famous” lunch, they have a completely different view of the place. The other thing I would tell them to do if they cannot visit us in person is to do a virtual campus visit which are held every month (usually the last week of each month) as well as talk to as many alumni as possible. This goes for any school. The only way to know if you “fit” in is by talking to likeminded people. If any of you have ever heard me speak you will know I push the “fit” issue a lot. IMD is a great place to do your MBA but it might not be for everyone.

Adam Markus: I know IMD gives applicants the opportunity to have an initial assessment.  This is very unique to your program. Why do you do it?  Do most applicants take advantage of it?

Lisa Piguet:  The Assess Your Chances has become very popular. Given our application process and the fact we have a small class we learned that people were afraid of applying to IMD.  Thus we created Assess Your Chances. We wanted to take that initial “fear” out of the application process. My advice to anyone out there is to watch my video on Youtube (Admissions tips and techniques) and if you do what I tell you there should be no reason you cannot at least get an interview with IMD. Yes, a lot of applicants take advantage of it. One thing to note is this is not a computer generating the responses. This is someone on my admissions team who reads each and every mini application. Again, time intensive but it is well worth it for both us and the prospective applicant.

Adam Markus:  I know the average student age at IMD is 31, that over 80% are between 27 and 34, and that 25 is the minimum age, but what is the maximum age of admits in the last few years?

Lisa Piguet: Normally the oldest person in the class is turning 36 whilst in the program.

Adam Markus:  Are you seeing in any changes in the background (mix of nationalities, professions, industries, education) of applicants and admits to IMD?  

Lisa Piguet:  Since I’ve been at IMD the class composition has stayed roughly the same year after year. What we have seen in the last few years is a lot more Asians applying. We are getting a very strong reputation in Asia and the fact that we are one of the few schools that focuses on Industry makes us very attractive.

Adam Markus: What, if any, impact is the ongoing economic crisis in Europe having on IMD?

Lisa Piguet: I get this question often when travelling on the road. It seems that people think of Europe as one giant entity that is completely linked together. There are parts of Europe that are really struggling for sure but there are other parts that are still doing really well, like Switzerland. Last year 70% of the graduates stayed in Europe. This mainly consisted of Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands.

Adam Markus: Your MBA application essay questions have not changed for quite a long time now and I was curious why that was. Don’t you want to join the US trend of smaller total word count per applicant?

Lisa Piguet:  IMD has always been a bit “different” in everything we do, which includes essay questions. Due to our entire process we feel that changing the questions drastically would not be in line with how we operate. We also do not want to become a “copy cat” program or a mass production so we’ve chosen to keep our standards a bit different. However, with that being said, you might see a slight change for next year (2013) so keep checking the website.

Adam Markus: Do you have any advice you would like to share on the IMD’s essays?

Lisa Piguet: One piece of advice I would give is to be yourself.  After all my years of experience I can easily spot someone who is trying to be someone they’re not. Adcom teams can usually see right through it. The second piece of advice I would give is to answer the questions!! I know that sounds funny but you’d be surprised at some of the answers we get. A good tip: after filling out a question-have someone read your answer and then guess what the question was. That way you’ll know if you’re on the right track. The last piece of advice I would give is to choose an ethical admissions consultant. We know most people are using consultants now days. However, there are a lot of them out there who do not know what they’re doing and they’re giving really bad advice. Choose one with a good reputation and following.

Adam Markus: Relatively speaking how important is undergraduate academic performance in your application process? Can a high GMAT compensate for a weak undergraduate performance (Examples of what I mean:  US GPA under 3.0,  a 2.ii or 3rd in the UK system,  An Indian CGPA of under 60%).

Lisa Piguet: At IMD we look at the entire application not just one piece of it. So if someone had a bad GPA and has a good GMAT score then that will usually offset the earlier problems, provided the rest of the application checks out.  We are also slightly older than most full time MBA programs so we know the undergrad years were a while ago.  So in other words, if someone has done really well in their career despite a low GPA and has a good GMAT then they should be fine.

Adam Markus:  What has been the lowest acceptable GMAT at IMD in recent years?

Lisa Piguet: This is tough to answer because we take it on a case by case basis. If I have to give a number I would say lower 600s but the rest of the file was exceptionally strong. We are not a school who only focuses only on GMAT. Once again, we look at the entire picture.

Adam Markus: While the vast majority of your admits have significant international experience, what do you look for to compensate in applicants that have minimal or no international experience?

Lisa Piguet: This is an excellent question. I say that because we know that there are certain nationalities out there that have never“lived” outside of their home country. Therefore we want you to show that you are dealing with the outside world via your business life. (i.e. making deals with other countries, working for a big multinational, travelling a bit for business trips etc…) I address this topic in my video.

Adam Markus: What kind of applicants are best served by your program?  What kind of applicants would be better off looking at two-year MBA programs?

Lisa Piguet: I think anyone with at least three years of full time experience can do the IMD MBA. When you get to be 25 and over I believe that there is no need any more for a two-year program. A lot of people want two-year programs for the internships so they can change or explore careers. However, if you look at how our program is structured with all of the “hands on” projects you do there is no need for an internship. The projects completely take the place of this and give you much more (ask the current class). In our program you actually get to work on very high level, real strategic issues not just working on a spreadsheet.  Last year 90% of the class changed industry, geography or function (no internship).  On a side note-IMD puts the full amount of teaching hours in a two-year MBA into eleven months. You are getting the “same” MBA except you’re out of work one year vs. two. Not a bad deal.
I will say that anyone under 25 should look at two-year programs. Mainly because they don’t have much to offer in terms of contributions and two-year programs are more forgiving when it comes to this.

Adam Markus: I know entrepreneurship is a core component of the curriculum, but do you have many entrepreneurs or those with post-MBA entrepreneurial goals in your program?

Lisa Piguet: This has again become a hot topic. When I first started at IMD I was also a career coach. At the time entrepreneurship was big. Then it went away and now it’s back!! We usually have 2-3 entrepreneurs in the program itself and then about the same who start their own ventures afterwards. My feeling is that we’ll continue to see more people who are interested in this as time goes on.

Adam Markus: When I visited IMD, you introduced me to a great group of students.  One of them explained to me that she planned to change her function, industry, and geography in her future career. How common is such a total change in career paths for IMD students?

Lisa Piguet: At IMD this is a big theme. We are known as one of the few schools in the world that can teach you how to do this. I attribute this to our top rated career services team. They are very good at teaching the MBAs how to use their transferable skills. We also give them each a career coach who can help them achieve their goals. Last year 90% changed at least one thing, some changed two and some changed all three. It depends on how much you are willing to work and what compromises you are willing to make.

Adam Markus: Your interview process is simply the world’s most rigorous for an MBA program.  Reading my clients’ reports of their interviews is exhausting!  Why do you do it so differently from everyone else?

Lisa Piguet: Another very good question Adam…. IMD is a bit different than most MBA programs out there. It is not a “giant” production of people and due to the focus on leadership and personal development (you get 20 sessions with a licensed psychoanalyst if you choose) we truly feel that global leaders cannot be mass produced. Therefore it is necessary to select the best group of 90 vs. the best 90 (there is a very big difference). In order to do this you have to have a tough interview process to maintain the standards and to make sure you’re getting the right people for the program.

Adam Markus:  What advice can you give to those who will be interviewing with IMD?

Lisa Piguet: My advice is to try and relax and be yourself. I know this is hard to do but it will only help you. We are not trying to scare you or be intimidating. We want to see the “real” you and how you work with others.  We cannot do this if you are really nervous. My other piece of advice is to talk to alumni who’ve gone through it or the current class. They’ll give you good tips.

Adam Markus:  If someone can’t get into IMD, what other programs would you recommend that they consider? The obvious answer seems to be INSEAD, but it seems to me that aside from approximate length, geographical proximity (In the case of INSEAD’s campus in France) and internationality, the programs don’t have much in common. INSEAD is a huge program with huge flexibility in its structure and has a reputation as a party school.  Your program is small with a relatively very fixed structure, provides a level of educational intensity that few programs come close to, and focuses on leadership at a level of depth that even HBS would be hard pressed to match.  You only take 90 a year, so any advice you can provide for those who have to consider alternatives would be great.

Lisa Piguet: Wow….a really hard question. You are very right in what you say about INSEAD. We are always compared to them but we are very different. I think Harvard would be the only one that comes close with one exception - you’ll have 900 people in your graduating class.

Adam Markus: What advice do you have for those who want reapply to IMD? How often do you take reapplicants?

Lisa Piguet:  If someone is rejected they can reapply in most cases. My advice is to set up a meeting with me and I will walk you through your application and tell you where you did well and where you can improve. We know you went through a lot to apply to IMD and therefore we feel that is the least we can do for you. Part of IMD’s personalized approach.

Adam Markus: IMD has five application rounds (February 1, April 1, June 1, August 1, September 1), but how viable are the later two rounds?  Also are there any particular demographic groups that you would highly recommend apply in earlier rounds?

Lisa Piguet: We literally space out the amount of people per deadline. We don’t have any quotas at IMD so if the quality is high the first two rounds then we’ll take a lot of people. If the quality isn’t so high then we’ll wait. We save room in each deadline for every demographic group. Because we won’t ever take more than 10% of one nationality we don’t feel the need to tell people to always apply early.

Adam Markus: Is waitlisting at IMD common?  Can applicants do anything to enhance their candidacy if they are waitlisted after an interview?

Lisa Piguet: Being waitlisted at IMD is quite common. Like I said previously-we are searching for the best “group” of 90 not the “best” 90 so waitlisting is sometimes necessary to achieve that outcome. The MBAs also appreciate this very much once they’re in the program. They then see how important it is to have such a hand crafted class and process.

Adam Markus: Anything else you would like to tell us?

Lisa Piguet:  Two things-It is not that hard like most people think to get into IMD provided you follow the suggestions I make about the process. The second thing would be to come and meet us. It doesn’t matter if it’s an event in your city, coming to the IMD campus, or an online chat that I do but try and meet one of us somehow. Once you do, I guarantee you will see and feel the difference between us and other schools.

I want to thank Lisa Piguet for taking the time to answer my extensive questions.

-Adam Markus

I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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