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June 02, 2013

Q&A with a Member of the INSEAD Class of July 2013

My former client, Singy 2013, is a management consultant with 8 years experience, joining straight after graduating from a national university in Tokyo.  He had no experience working/living outside Japan before INSEAD. Singy 2013 provides some really great advice below. 

Adam: What parts of the INSEAD program have you liked the most? The least?

Singy 2013: 
Good: Truly international. 600+ students from 60+ countries. This is what you cannot expect in the US business schools. Another good thing is its tight schedule. You can just finish a whole MBA curriculum within 10 months, so the opportunity cost of being away from the professional environment is much shorter than in the US schools and you can keep your business knowledge fresh. And of course multi campuses (Singapore, France and Abu Dhabi) would be definitely beneficial if you want to pursue regional career path.

Bad: Too busy. No matter how you are smart, you need to compromise; you'll be overwhelmed by tons of readings, assignments, school events, and parties. Too often you will encounter a difficult conflict between multiple great opportunities, such as a great class for strategy and great career event for strategy consultants. Also, you cannot expect a long vacation – some breaks would be occupied by school trips in China, Israel, New York, Silicon Valley, or other places.

Adam: What has most surprised you about the program?

Singy 2013: The topics in the courses are quite international. For instance, cases used in the class are about German manufacturer, African NGO, Chinese beer company, Japanese e-commerce, Brazilian aircraft maker, and so on… Very few cases about US companies. And of course students from diverse countries give very unique opinions which you'd never heard elsewhere. After several months, your world view must be completely upgraded.

Adam: I know you spent time studying at both the Fontainebleau and Singapore campuses. What did you think of your experience at each of them?

Singy 2013: I chose to be in Singapore for a whole year. Some students choose to stay in a campus to pursue regional experiences. My choice was quite meaningful. I visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, China, Indonesia for business and personal reasons, and I also went back to Japan quite often to have job interviews. This really helped me to have a holistic understanding of Asian business and to get a dream job eventually.

Adam: I know you are on the way to making Dean's List. How hard has that been?  What advice do you have for succeeding academically at INSEAD?

Singy 2013: First, INSEADers don't want to be on the Dean's list for many reasons. Statistically speaking, it has no positive impact on the future career. (You will be told so in the statistics course!) Second, many subjects require group activities and the grades heavily rely on the quality of the teamwork – it's quite often uncontrollable. And given students are really diversified in terms of nationalities and professional background, just working as a team is already a big challenge. (That's where you learn a lot!) So, it's very hard to get on the Dean's list.

However so, you can always do something. You can lead your group members by finishing necessary preparation in advance, facilitating discussion, and asking for their help sincerely. I know many Dean's listers are OB (Organizational Behavior) guys, meaning good people mangers and motivational leaders.

So, my advice is following. Don't think about being wise or efficient. Help others as much as you can. And contribute to the team. Then your group would help you to achieve good grades.

By the way, I always try to work with new people. Actually, it has a negative impact on my grades, but it gives me many lessons, and most importantly, I have many friends. Since I'm not good at drinking beer, this is my own way of networking… (And I'm lucky enough to get on the Dean's list for now)

Adam: INSEAD is well known as being an excellent MBA program for consultants.  As a consultant yourself, would you comment on this?

Singy 2013: Hmm, I have a mixed feeling about this statement. Yes, it's right. INSEAD is one of the best schools for would-be consultants. Top firms give us many many opportunities of knowing consulting work, meeting with executives from top firms. Also, many professors have experience in working in the top management consulting firms, and some have their own firms. Tool sets learned in the classroom are really helpful for consulting jobs. Especially, experience of surviving in the turbulent INSEAD schedule is quite helpful for you to get accustomed to consultant's miserable life-work balance. (Not joking!)

But, I would say, too many students are brainwashed. Most of INSEADers take McKinsey, BCG and Bain interviews while discarding many other good opportunities in non-consulting industries. Many talented people with great entrepreneurial potential get an offer from these firms and discard their valuable new business ideas (this happens too often and professors lament this).

So, I would like to say that if you have a strong determination to be a consultant, come to INSEAD and get on the bandwagon. If you don't have any ideas about your future career and want to know what is the dream job for you… be really careful. Consulting looks sexy for many MBAs. But many professionals outside MBA community – even those in the consulting firms – don't see consulting as a dream job. Talk to yourself, your friends outside the business school, and consultants who are not coming to MBA events. Then, make your own decision.

Adam: Do you have any specific advice for those considering application to your school?

Singy 2013: If you are reading this post on Adam's blog, you're on the right path. Believe it or not, MBA application has strict game rules. If you find these rules early, your play would be highly rewarded.

Rule # 1, TOEFL, GMAT are not a differentiator but a ticket to queue in a line of admission. Never fail to meet the target score, but never put too much effort on the test score. It does not help you much.

Rule #2, essays are your pitch to the business school. Take time, prepare well, make sure no silly mistakes. You are going to compete against world-class business people. Follow advice from professional admission consultants.

Rule # 3, admission offices is looking for a high ROI deal. It means if you don't have super great professional experience, it's fine. If you can show fair potential to be a great business person after graduation. Your ROI (for you, and for the school) is quite high and admission offices want to take the deal. So, illustrate your potential.

Rule #4, self control is key. Buy a ticket (test score), queue in a line of admission with a crystal clear sales pitch of yourself (essays), and give your best presentation (interview). This requires long lasting efforts with an unbelievably long payoff period. Motivate yourself, and keep working.

Adam: Are there any specific websites or blogs that you would recommend that applicants look at to learn more about your school?

Singy 2013: 
INSEAD official blog – a blog where students share their experience, thoughts, and memory.
INSEAD Knowledge – an official podcast where professors talk about business topics
Unofficial blogs by INSEAD students – many of them. Just google it.
Admissions including interviewers want to see your FIT to the school. But it's just one of the criteria. So, being INSEAD freak while not understanding about yourself is not a good sign.

Adam: Anything else you would like to tell us?

Singy 2013: Admission process is a long long journey and perhaps people around you are not so supportive. Your girlfriend (or boyfriend) would ask you "why do you leave me behind?" Your boss would say "No longer MBA has value." And even your mind would whisper to yourself "Am I really qualified?"

This is normal. 100% of MBA students had exactly the same experiences and they overcame these ambivalences. In other words, those who overcame (or just managed) were admitted to the business schools. So, just hang in there. Do what you think you should do. 


I want to thank Singy 2013 for taking the time to answer my questions.  I knew that guy was smart when I worked with him. :)

-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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