We had interviewed many MBA Admissions officers and Marketing Managers. It is rare that you encounter a school's representative that bleeds passion and belief in their program's potential to reach #1 in Global MBA Rankings.
In recent rankings, IESE has been challenging the dominance of INSEAD and London Business School to take over Europe's #1 spot. In such an exciting time for the Spanish Giant, we are pleased to publish the first part of the interview with Pascal Michels - the Director of MBA Admissions at IESE Business School
What is the biggest misconception about IESE Full-time MBA program?
I would say that with a predominance of one year programs in the European market there is an assumption that two-year programs are more relaxed. This is certainly far from true regarding IESE. Academically, our full-time MBA is extremely rigorous, especially during the first year. This is done on purpose because we believe that people get the best out of the learning experience only if they are stretched to their limits. I have no doubt that the first year of our program is at least as intense as the most intense one year programs out there.
Another feature of our full-time MBA which people may not be fully aware of is that we have an extremely strong recruiter portfolio.
IESE is a target school for top banks, consultancies, and industry heavy-hitters. At the same time, the school is very entrepreneurial. There are a lot of things we do in that space, such as our Summer Entrepreneurship Experience, our IESE-students/alumni focused VC fund (FINAVES) and the entrepreneurship classes themselves.
One aspect I would particularly highlight is that IESE is, with Stanford, one of the leading schools in Entrepreneurship through Acquisition (Search Funds), an area in which I expect to attract a lot of interest in the coming years.
Why the 19-month duration of the full-time program instead of 12-month or 24-month?
Our MBA was created with the help of Harvard Business School and emulated HBS’ five-term, case-study based approach. There is an HBS-IESE Committee that has been meeting since 1963 to guide IESE’s growth. Another reason for our duration is the intensity of the first year.
The second year offers a balanced experience, with its choice from more than 100 electives, the possibility of going on exchange with top business schools around the world, the overseas modules available in New York, Sao Paolo, Shanghai and Nairobi, an extremely vibrant student club ecosystem and many other elements of customization.
The first year is about acquiring the essential know-how of how a business or any organization is run.
The summer – whether that is in the shape of an internship or through entrepreneurship – and terms 4 and 5 are all about exploring and experimenting.
The IESE campus in Barcelona is a beautiful and exciting place, vibrant with diverse people and ideas. It is really in the second year that students have the time to choose for themselves and explore the wide range of amazing possibilities.
How is the first year curriculum designed?
The first year is divided into three terms of 3 months each. During these 9 months, our students will go through the core MBA curriculum. This is academically very rigorous and demanding experience, irrespective of students’ prior backgrounds or academics.
Students start their day with meeting their teams of 8 or 9 students. These teams are designed by us before the beginning of the class.
Nobody can choose their team, nor is it possible to change or drop out. Team meetings are taken very seriously and build the backbone of the student experience. Your team becomes your anchor, your support system.
The team discusses the three cases for the day, each member making their contribution based on their understanding of the case. You would be surprised at how diverse viewpoints can emerge from the same case material.
Then students go to class in their sections. All members of a team pertain to the same section, and there are 5 sections of roughly 70 students.
The classroom experience at IESE is very curated. Every student gets assigned a specific spot during each of the three terms. Professors have seating map with them for each class and very quickly not only know who sits where but also what their background is. This leads to cold-calling, often when students least expect it.
The case discussion is generally very intense: 75 minutes just fly by. And there are 3 of these every day. After classes, students divide their time between Spanish classes, career-related work and, obviously, preparing the 3 cases that will be discussed the following day.
From a content standpoint, the classes are organized so as to build on each other over the three terms, thus enabling perfect newcomers to work their way through to the most technical aspects of a field.
If we take the field of Finance, the first term will focus on Financial Accounting and Capital Markets, the second will cover Managerial Accounting and Operational Finance, while the third term will bring it all together with Corporate Finance.
For those students who want to dig deeper, there is a wide range of electives (100+) to choose in the second year.
What are the various summer experiences that students can choose?
IESE’s two-year curriculum contains a mandatory summer internship between the first and second years. Our career services team is strong and maintain excellent recurrent relationships with top recruiters in all sectors.
What deserves highlighting at this point is that IESE has a robust footprint in strategy consulting, tech and finance, and puts impressive resources at the disposal of candidates to prepare interviews and secure jobs in these sectors. At the same time, we are not known to be either a “consulting,” “finance” or “tech school,” which is reflected in candidates’ aspirations. There are a lot of exciting things happening in the consumer, retail, pharma and heavy industry spaces as well.
A few years ago, responding to student demand, we introduced the Summer Entrepreneurship Experience (SEE), which roughly 10% of students choose to participate in every year. Access to the SEE is managed through an application process. Students form groups of 2 or 3 around a business idea which at the point of the application should already be well fleshed out. If admitted to the SEE they will then receive mentorship by professors, investors, and entrepreneurs from the IESE ecosystem over the summer.
How effective are summer corporate internships in getting full-time job offers?
This varies hugely by sectors. In investment banking, the sector I have been looking after during my time in Career Services, securing a summer internship is the only way to get a full-time job: banks will make these offers at the end of the summer and will not return on campus to interview second-year students.
Consulting operates with a similar model but does come back in October to interview second-year students for full-time roles. In other industries there is a mix of everything: some companies proceed like consulting firms while others focus either on summer internships only (e.g., small structures that do not have the capacity to hire MBAs full-time) or only on full-time hiring. In any case, the summer internship is ALWAYS a great first step in the direction a student wants to take full-time.
Even if the company of your dreams does not offer a summer internship at the MBA level, doing a summer internship in that sector, of completing your CV through an internship exploring a new function is a great way of preparing your full-time application.
2nd Year at IESE has an emphasis on real-time learning. Can MBA candidates choose specializations?
In line with our ambition to develop General Managers who will have a positive impact on the society, we do not offer specializations as such. However, there is a wide range (100+) of electives students can choose from, which effectively allows students to customize their experience in a very specialized way if they so choose.
The only distinctive degree we deliver is that of “bilingual MBA” to those students who complete all 12 levels of our Business Spanish Program. Actually, a number of applicants choose us because of how robust this program is and how valuable Spanish as a language is in the business world today. We have success stories every year of students hailing from remote cultures and graduating with professional fluency.
IESE Search Funds for Entrepreneurship
IESE Bilingual Experience
About Pascal Michels
Pascal Michels heads the MBA Admissions at IESE Business School. Before taking on the role as the Gatekeeper for the 350+ Full-time MBA class, Pascal was with the career services team managing the relationships with key stakeholders in the Financial Services sector and coached Full-time MBA students pursuing a career in the industry.
Writing the perfect MBA application essay involves brevity, a degree of literary panache, and total honesty. It also helps if you mention you were South Korea’s first astronaut.
It is not a dean’s duty to sift through the thousands of student applications that the world’s most prestigious schools receive each year — they have admissions teams to do that. But they are often asked to pass judgment on the written essays — and increasingly videos and other multimedia applications — from notable candidates, so their opinions on style and content count
Rich Lyons, dean of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, spotted Yi So-yeon, the first Korean to fly in space, in 2010 from the 15 candidates he was handed. Every year, he receives a sample in each selection round, picked for the exceptional qualities displayed from a pool of about 4,000 applicants.
“I don’t even remember what score she got in the GMAT [admission test], I just knew she would add value,” he says. “You have got to have something special to get through that stage.”
The Shanghai-based China Europe International Business School last year made offers to one in every four of its applicants to fill 180 places on its full-time MBA programme.
Each essay is read and scored by the admissions team — but this is just one element of the selection process, alongside GMAT scores and proven work experience, Yuan Ding, the dean, notes.
“[The essay] is where we learn about applicants’ career aspiration, understanding of China, and writing skills.” He adds that they also look for exaggeration or an economy with the truth.
Applicants to UCLA Anderson School of Management are given a 500-word limit for their essays. They must explain their short and long-term career goals and what their time at the business school would add to their professional development.
The essays are then assessed by at least two admissions team members, each of whom are looking for elements that make them want to accept an applicant, such as unusual work experience, rather than deny them a place, according to Rob Weiler, associate dean for the MBA programme.It pays to be concise, he adds. “If an applicant attempts to add too much supplemental information, chances are they are trying too hard.”
New York University’s Stern School of Business, this year “Instagrammed” its essay format by asking candidates to pick six visual items — photographs, charts and even emojis — and give each a caption, rather than writing a piece of prose. The school’s admissions team, which has assessed about 50,000 essays over the past 15 years, likes innovation, according to Peter Henry, NYU Stern dean. They were looking for creativity and an ability to be succinct and accurate. What makes any application “leap out from the pack” during the admissions process is that the writers can explain their career goals and how NYU Stern would help them achieve these, Prof Henry says.
Barcelona’s IESE business school does not set a format for applications. One applicant recently produced a video as his cover letter — a method of application increasingly common in US schools. But content trumps format, according to Franz Heukamp, the dean.
A place on the course: how MBA admissions work
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a pan-school online exam to assess verbal, analytical and writing skills. The test is required for most business school MBA applications but does not examine business knowledge or general intelligence.
Many business schools also set mandatory essays, which tend to ask applicants to explain their work experiences, why they would excel at the school and how the MBA would help with future career goals. Most set an upper limit of 500 words.
Not all schools set an essay. Some ask for a CV and cover letter.
Shortlisted candidates are usually invited for a formal interview either on campus or online with the admissions team.
“The ones that grab our attention do so not because they say something we have never heard before, are wild or outrageous,” he says. “What makes a cover letter special is when it is very clear that the candidate knows what he or she wants to achieve professionally.”
The most important element of an essay is a “clear and concise” message, according to Winfried Ruigrok, the dean at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland.
“An MBA application stands out if the applicant knows our specific programme strengths, structure and culture,” he says.
SDA Bocconi School of Management was the first European school to add mandatory video interviews to its application process, says its dean, Giuseppe Soda, with candidates required to answer a series of random questions on camera.
Those applying to its 12-month MBA course must also submit two reference letters and attend a face-to-face interview at the school’s Milan campus, as well as performing well in the GMAT exam — its average test score is 665 out of a possible 800, compared with a sector average of about 550.
The video format complements the wider objective of Bocconi’s admissions team, to get to know each candidate by name, according to Prof Soda.
This level of detail is possible at Bocconi — which last year received 375 applications for 132 places — but not feasible for larger institutions. “We want to focus on each candidate’s personal development,” Prof Soda says. “We want to know the students by name.”
Before becoming dean, Prof Soda’s job included reading every essay from the PhD applicants. “The problem was that they were always the same sort of essay,” he says. “Written pieces can be faked so a video seems a better way.”
He anticipates a day when the video test replaces the written elements of the MBA application.
“When you write you have more time to prepare,” he says. “With our video test there is the element of the unexpected. It is not just what they say but how they say it, and there is the pressure of being in front of a camera.”