Sunday, February 24, 2013

Interview with Mary Granger, Regional Director for Asia at ESADE Business School

I am pleased to present an interview with Mary Granger, the Regional Director for Asia of ESADE Business School, a top-ranked MBA program based in Spain. The interview is organized into three parts - the school and curriculum, admissions, and life after the MBA. Read on for more insights into ESADE.

The School and Curriculum

1. An MBA is perhaps the most significant investment a young professional can make in themselves and their future. Can you briefly describe the value proposition ESADE offers to students?

Our value proposition can be summed up in three words: Diversity, Collaboration, and Flexibility. 
  • Diversity is not only in terms of having 95% international students from 50 countries – it also refers to the diversity of educational and professional backgrounds; we have about 1/3 of the class every year coming from non-traditional MBA backgrounds such as law, sciences, and the humanities.
  • Collaboration is not the same as just being put into teams to work together; our methodology foments the collaboration by not forcing a bell curve, where by definition some students are destined to fail. Grading puts an emphasis on the teamwork, and the team is expected to present conclusions as a team, not as individual team members. We feel this leads to a lot of long-term networking and collaboration.
  • The flexibility of our program enables our students to make the decision as to length once they have all the relevant information, and to adapt to quickly changing macro- and microeconomic changes. This is a characteristic we look for also when interviewing applicants, and we also try to foment it in the program itself, by creating teams which are as diverse as possible to permit students to learn multiple ways of looking at the same challenge. 
Not only do we feel these three qualities are part of ESADE’s value proposition, we also receive feedback from our partner companies that this is what they value in our graduates. 

2. Can you highlight one or two areas of strengths in terms of the curriculum of the ESADE MBA?

ESADE is considered to have a generalist MBA, but with a strength in Strategy and Marketing.

3. When do applicants choose between the 12-month, 15-month and 18-month options? Can they change their mind at a later time?

Applicants don’t have to choose! Participants will have 9 months from the start of the program to decide on the length of their program (i.e. students starting in August/September 2013 would choose the length in May/June 2013). They will hence have input from Career Services, companies, peers, professors and even their own experience to help them decide. Given this late decision date, they will quickly start electives, internships and/or exchanges so we do not expect them to change their minds once they choose the length.

4. ESADE is an extremely diverse program with about 50 nationalities represented despite having a class of under 200 students.  Can you give an example of an extra-curricular activity that allows students to experience and learn about other cultures?

We have a great event called “Gastrofest”. Students prepare their local cuisine to share with classmates and there is a competition to see which is voted the best food. There are other categories such as the variety of food available, decoration of the booth, etc. Generally this is one of the most popular events on campus.

5. Can you tell us a bit about your new campus and the benefits it offers to your students?

We share a building with over 60 companies. Many are start-ups but there are also the innovation centers for such companies as HP and Xerox. The key is that this is a center for Open and Cross Innovation. This leads to interesting cooperations between companies and students, bringing industry experience to the students and business expertise to the companies.

The campus is very close (5-minute walk) to downtown Sant Cugat (a suburb of Barcelona, within the metropolitan area). Services, restaurants, etc. are all within walking distance of the campus. The new campus provides much more space than the downtown campus, and in addition the design is innovative, with plenty of light and large open balconies to enjoy the view.


6. Is there a minimum TOEFL score you hope to see? How about on the listening and speaking subsections?

We have a “soft minimum” of 100 and make the final decision through direct interview with the applicants. If an applicant has a score of 90+ then I would encourage them to apply and we will evaluate their potential to fully benefit from the MBA class discussions via the interview.

7. Obviously you consider an applicant's "fit" with you program when evaluating them, and so "why ESADE" is, I imagine, an important question. How about "why Spain?" Do you consider your program a Spanish business school, or an international business school in Spain?

We are a global business school in Spain! 95% of our participants this year are international and we have an ever-increasing number of international faculty and staff. Our alumni value the opportunity to learn such an important language and often choose ESADE because they know Spain is a bridge which can open opportunities in Latin America, but as a global business school, we have alumni working in over 100 countries worldwide! 

8. How strict is admissions on the minimum of 2 years of full-time employment?  Have you made exceptions, and if so why?

This is a strict requirement! We have even suggested some applicants wait even an additional year, if they are still consolidating a position and haven’t worked there very long. Our students learn as much from each other as they do from the professors, so we are looking for all participants to be able to contribute significantly from their work experience.

Life After the MBA

9. ESADE has been enjoying an excellent placement rate. What is the secret of your success?

ESADE is not only looking for flexible candidates and building flexibility into our curriculum – we also incorporate this into our way of doing business. Perhaps we can do this because we are so small...since we are constantly in touch with top companies around the world, we can identify recruitment trends, such as growing industries, regional shifts... and adapt our corporate outreach accordingly.

10. Do you have an active alumni group in Japan? How can a prospective applicant reach out to them? (note: a majority of the readership of this blog is based in Japan)

Our alumni in Japan are GREAT! They are always participative, reaching out to applicants who want more information, participating in recruiting events, and suggesting ways for ESADE to grow in Japan. They have designed a Japanese website (not a translation of the official one, but rather a student-generated website that they maintain and pass down to the following classes). They have an ESADE Japan Group on Facebook which we can use to schedule meetings or generate more suggestions. If anyone is interested in reaching out to alumni, they can just email me at with an overview of their profile, so I can try to match them with a current student or alumnus with a similar profile.

Thanks Mary for your time!

John Couke

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Master List of MBA Interview Questions

Not long ago I was asked for a comprehensive set of MBA interview questions. I am answering that here, although to be honest I think a comprehensive list has only marginal value.  Use this list below to figure out if you have any gaps in your interview preparation, i.e. topics you haven't yet considered and therefore might not be prepared to answer.  

At the same time though, be thorough in your preparation for a specific school's interview and use lists of interview questions used by that school to ensure you are ready ('s Schools Section is a great resource for this). While what follows here is a good starting point, it is not a substitute for the specific types of question and situations you will encounter at interviews with schools like MIT, Harvard, Wharton or London Business School. 

With that in mind, here are your interview starting points. Managing your appearance, projecting confidence and the questions you'll ask of your interviewer aren't included.

Small Talk
Did you have any trouble finding (building name)?
What do you think of (campus/current location)?
How have you enjoyed your visit so far?

Please introduce yourself.
Walk me through your resume.
Why did you choose x as your university major?
Why did you choose to work for company x?
Tell me a bit more about (any bullet point in your resume).
What would you like to highlight in your resume?
Walk me through a typical work day.
How have you shaped your career progress?

What are your career goals?
What are you short-term goals?
What are your long-term goals?
What do you see yourself doing immediately after graduating?
What do you see yourself doing in (3, 5, 10) years?
What is your ultimate goal?

Why MBA/Why Now?
Why get an MBA?
Why is now the right time?
Did you decide to apply for sponsorship or were you chosen?
Why did you decide to apply for sponsorship?

Why (School)?
Why are you interested in (school name)?
What (classes/clubs) particularly attract you?
What other schools are you applying to?
What is your criteria for choosing schools?
What would you do if you are accepted to all of them?
What will you do if you're not accepted to this program?
How do you feel a sense of fit with our program?

Leadership Questions
What is your leadership style?
Who is a leader you admire?
Tell me about a leadership experience.

Teamwork Questions
What is your usual role on a team?
How would you define your teamwork style?
Tell me about a teamwork experience.
Tell me about a teamwork experience on a high performing team. What did you contribute?
Tell me about a teamwork experience on a low performing team. How did you resolve any issues?

Other Stories
Tell me about your most significant accomplishment.
Tell me about a failure experience.
Tell me about a time when you had a creative solution to a problem or challenge.
Tell me about a time when you improved upon a process in your company or organization.
Tell me about a time when you received negative feedback. How did you react?
Tell me about a time when you had to convince others to accept your idea.
Tell me about your experience with an ethical dilemma.
Tell me about an international experience.
Tell me about a time when you had to motivate someone.
Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult co-worker.

Hypothetical Questions
Name one thing you would change about your company.
If you could be the CEO of your company for a day, what would you do?
If you could be the President of your country for a day, what changes would you make?

Strengths and Weaknesses
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
What are your personal strengths/personal weaknesses?
What would your (supervisor, co-worker, subordinate, family member) says are your strengths/weaknesses?
What is your biggest concern about starting the MBA?

How will you contribute to our program?
What kind of clubs do you plan to get involved in?
What sets you apart from other applicants?
Why should we accept you to the program?

Outside Work
What do you do for fun/to relax?
What are your interests outside of your work?
Walk me through a typical weekend.
Why are you involved in (anything from the additional section of the resume)?
What book are you reading now?

Topics not Covered in the Interview
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Is there anything you wish I'd asked you?

John Couke

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cambridge Judge MBA Essay Analysis 2012-13

One of the clearest trends in MBA admissions over the past year has been the decreasing amount of space applicants are given to tell their story in the form of essays.  Many programs have either cut the number of required essays, or decreased the word limitation for them, or both.  One thing to keep in mind when considering the amount of writing a school allows you to provide about yourself is that some applications have essays within the application, beyond the main application essays, and that overall, there's a lot of space to tell your most important stories. One great example of this is application for the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge.

A quick look at the Judge MBA admissions pages reveals the main application essays required as a part of their application, and this is a good place to begin.

Main Application Essays:

1. What did you learn from your most spectacular failure? (200 words)

Two things need to be considered here - you need to write about a real, actual failure that is your own, and in addition to that, you need to show a significant learning from this experience, as well as how you applied and benefitted from that learning. Some may consider a non-work related episode if only because the entire set of Cambridge application essays tends toward encouraging stories about working experiences.

2. What are your short and long term career objectives? What skills/characteristics do you already have that will help you to achieve them? What do you hope to gain from the degree and how do you feel it will help you achieve the career objectives you have? (please do not exceed 500 words)

This is a standard goals essay where you need to state what you wish to do in the future. skills you already have that are relevant to these goals, areas in which you need to focus on in an MBA program and how Cambridge is the best choice for you. You may be writing similar essays for other schools, but be sure to be specific as to what it is about Cambridge that is relevant to the gap between your current skill set and the one needed to attain the goals you've set out for yourself.

3. If you could change one thing about your current organisation, what would you make different? How would you overcome obstacles to this change, and what impact would this change have in the short-term and long-term? (300 words)

If you plan to return to your organization upon completing the MBA, you may consider writing about a topic that is close to your goals, or even the detail behind your actual short-term.  Be clear about what you would do and how your company would be impacted as a result. What to do then if this is an organization to which you don't plan to return? Don't use this essay as an opportunity to complain. Instead, use it as an opportunity to show your analysis ability and potential to make change in the future. Maybe for instance your current organization has struggled with the idea to expand globally, despite declining domestic business opportunities. Be clear as to how you could overcome this challenges, as well as how you'd leverage your strengths (and those of your company) to grow overseas business.

One last note on essay 3 - for most "your current organization" is the company for which you work. But freelancers or others who may divide their time between a job and a significant volunteer activity (for instance) there may be some leeway in interpreting this question.

Additional Essays:

These three essays give the applicant 1,000 words about a failure, one thing you'd change about your organization, and a personal statement.  This is, relatively speaking, a significant amount of writing space given the shrinking applications of other MBA programs.  A close look at their application however reveals that there are a lot of other opportunities to tell your story. In fact, the entire application contains about 1,900 words of space you can use to reveal all that is great about you.  I use "about" here because some of the additional essays offer a character limit in addition to the word count limit.  Let's take a look at the additional application essays. They can be found in two places: the work experience and the additional information sections of the Cambridge MBA application.

Work Experience section:

Previous Roles/Promotions and Dates within your current company (1000 character limit)

Find space to show the nature of former positions, as well as reasons for any promotions, particularly for ones based on your accomplishments. Offer a brief translation for job titles that may be confusing or vague in order to ensure that you are demonstrating to the fullest the work you were responsible for.

Describe your primary job responsibilities; 1) type and size of internal and external teams with which you work or supervise 2) type and number of clients or projects you manage; 3) size of budget or revenue for which you are responsible; 4) international experience or exposure (150 word limit)  (1000 character limit)

This is an opportunity to describe your current role within your organization and, importantly, the scope of what you do and how it affects others in your organization. I'd include project-based supervision in #1, rather than only "official" subordinates for whom you are responsible. In addition, for the international experience section, aim to be as inclusive as you can, rather than leaving this part blank or assuming that your examples are not significant. If you aren't sure, list anything that comes to mind and then get someone to check and give you feedback on your experiences.

What is your most significant challenge within your current company?  (1000 character limit)

This should not be a re-write of main application essay 2, although thematically it may be similar. To rephrase the question, consider this: what is the biggest difficulty or roadblock towards the successful completion of your current goals? A good essay will include examples of how you are currently attempting to address this roadblock or difficulty. 

What is your most significant accomplishment within your current company?  (1000 character limit)

This is a "top of the resume" line item that demonstrates the biggest impact you have had in your organization. Make sure the impact is clear and substantial, and make sure too that this is truly your accomplishment - not someone else's. If you are torn between more than one option and are wondering which one might be best, one thing to consider is the transferable skills (i.e. strengths that are relevant to your goals) that you noted in the second of the main application essays. If leadership is something you've got that you'll be relying on in the future, then the story that best shows that might work well here.

Additional Information section:

Please provide information on any aspect of your candidacy that requires further explanation, or information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know (300 word limit). (and 2,000 character limit in the box)

I divide optional essays into two types: ones for which you should only address glaring weaknesses in your application, and others that allow you to address another strength to your application you couldn't mention in other essays. This essay definitely falls into the latter category, offering you a valuable chance to delve into a new area. As most of the application is heavily work-related (note that 4 of the 8 essays are included in the working experience section) this will be for many a good opportunity to write about a significant extra-curricular activity. If you choose this route, choose something to which you have shown a strong level of devotion to, otherwise it may be difficult for the reader to learn much about you. In addition, be clear as to why you enjoy this activity, and how you have benefitted from your experience with it.

The Entire Essay Set:

One thing that I always do, and I encourage anyone out there to do as well, is clear the desk, turn off the phone, and read through your completed essay set and application from start to finish.  Do this and then ask yourself what you've learned about this applicant to b-school. Is their future direction clearly laid out? Do they have what it takes to be successful in the future? Do you know what they do at work, and outside of it? Are they interesting?  These are the questions I ask myself when I read a finished application.  I encourage you to do the same, or at the very least seek out someone who'll do this for you.

John Couke