Success stories

Antoine, INSEAD: Aiming Higher Than You Think You Can

Antoine achieved what was for him the unthinkable: he has been admitted to one of the top MBA programs in Europe and the world. When Antoine considered pursuing an MBA degree, he believed that his unusual profile would be a disadvantage rather than an asset. Luckily, some good advice proved him wrong, and his hard work, diligence, and willingness to aim high in his choice of programs paid off. Antoine discusses this and more in the following interview:Success stories
Could you give our readers a sense of your professional and academic background?
I studied advertising at a French Business School, Institut Supérieur de Gestion, and as soon as I have obtained my MBA degree, I immediately began my career with Havas at Euro RECG in Human Resource Communications.
What made you decide to invest in an MBA?
In brief, my job was changing, and I knew it was essential that I acquire new skills while broadening my perspective in order to continue in the field. Several of the work with the previously mentioned companies provides a good example: in order to meet their needs, both a global vision and deep understanding of the company were necessary. In general, a large part of human resource communications involves change management. All these tasks extend beyond the realm of advertising and into global management issues. At that point of my life, I realized that I would need to attain a greater understanding of these issues before fulfilling my aspirations of changing from advertising to consulting. The sector is evolving very quickly and will need strong leaders to determine strategies for the future. My hope is to become one of these leaders, and an MBA from INSEAD seems to be an appropriate step to take towards accomplishing that particular goal.
Did you find the application process difficult? If so, please describe the aspect that you found most challenging?
I think that the most difficult aspect of the application process was finding the relevant personal assets – a process that takes time and serious introspection. Coming from a relatively small and unknown field, my own tendency would have been to assimilate my experience as much as possible into another, better-recognized field on the application. It was my coach who insisted that I try to capitalize on my uniqueness. My distinctive profile, he explained, could bring much needed diversity to an MBA program. In stressing this as one of my assets, along with some other elements of my experience that I never would have thought to include, I would make myself stand out from other candidates in a very positive way. Yes, that has to have been the most difficult task: defining oneself, being objective about one’s experiences, and identifying which characteristic or quality makes you different. I am not naturally inclined towards performing these tasks.
Could you explain a little about Human Resource Communications, and what your responsibilities were within the company?
Effectively, it is very similar to internal communications or communications for employees: we develop communication strategies to explain new developments within the company, details concerning projects, as well as information campaigns for job candidates and recruitment. The task of our team, as that of a service provider, usually comprises listening to their stories, synthesizing information gathered, then converting these ideas into the words and images that composes the campaign. My progress in the company itself was rather linear: I began as an account executive, was later promoted to the status of a consultant, and then ended as an account director managing a team of three account executives. For the last two years, I have specifically dealt with communications for companies such as France Telecom, CSC, and Alstom, developing communication strategies for the human resource departments. For example, for Alstom, we created an international communication campaign targeting university graduates from all around the world.
How did you determine which programs you would apply to?
Well, I knew I would like to be in a European program, specifically one in France, since I have a family that would make an international move difficult. However, I was uncertain of choosing which programs I would like to apply to. This was where my contact with you helped a lot. From my profile, a coach determined a list of MBA programs that would be appropriate for my given background, experiences, and aspirations. Together, we developed a list of dream schools and “safety schools.” In fact, it was the coach who encouraged me to apply to the top programs that I would have never considered. At first, the program I preferred was HEC Paris; however, het explained that I would need to achieve a very high GMAT score to ensure consideration. After I did quite well on the GMAT, he reevaluated my profile and suggested that I also apply to INSEAD. Before coming to your center, I would never have considered applying to INSEAD. Even when looking at the applications for HEC and INSEAD, I felt like the response to each question brought me farther away from admission. In the end, I was accepted at INSEAD before even completing the application process with HEC.
Is there any advice you’d like to share with other MBA candidates?
Above all, make sure you are using your preparation time wisely! A place like Sight test prep can save you time, since you can find a concentration of resources and information that would otherwise require a great investment of time and effort to obtain. It is definitely worthwhile to find someone knowledgeable to chat with before beginning the process. We all have to acknowledge that being steered in the right direction can save you a great deal of time and energy.
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Christophe: Academic Rigor, Human Touch and New Curriculum at Stanford

When Christophe, an organizational consultant, started thinking about doing an MBA, he was not sure about a lot of things. He had never taken the GMAT before, much less any college entrance exam. He had also never written any in-depth essays required by business schools. In short, the MBA application process was a completely new experience for him, but given his extensive background and the coaching he received at our Paris center, it was easy for him to prepare for the admissions process. In the end, he applied to the following top business schools, and was admitted to INSEAD, UCLA, Tuck and Stanford where he has decided to attend.
Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Throughout the years, my taste for effort has pushed me to climb mountains in all areas, pacing myself over the distance to achieve personal and professional challenges, such as designing jets for the NASA, running the 400-meter race in 51 seconds or writing short story collections. During my long-year employment at NASA, I was a systems engineer and a manager of cost modeling, analyzing the financial feasibility of new technologies on missions to collect rock samples on Mars, Venus, Mercury and the Moon. I was also a project director and a designer for the technology mass sensitivity project, developing models to estimate the effects of technology improvements on spacecraft total mass. With each of these accomplishments, I learned that hard work was in fact the key to being creative. Indeed, I found that the mastery of basic concepts, techniques and forms were the best way to free myself in any discipline and to reach new levels of inspiration and true originality. In everything that I do, I look for this miraculous moment where the conscious effort to learn disappears, and the mind is liberated to build something new. This quest for creative mastery is what matters the most to me. I would like to live many lives, and be an endless discoverer or explorer.
What advice do you have for other MBA applicants?
Find a good GMAT coach! I gave a lot of credit to my coach, who developed a great technique to improve my reading comprehension. I saw a big difference between my first two GMAT scores on the verbal part. I earned a GMAT score of 720 on the second sitting and a 680 on the first. Thanks to a good coach, I improved my scores significantly.
Why did you choose to do an MBA at this point in your career?
My goals are realistic and I have a number of assets which can help me reach my objective. First and foremost, I am truly passionate about what I do and I have been constantly getting better at it – this determination is at the heart of who I am, and it was the fuel for my decision to undertake an MBA education. Furthermore, I would like to develop my existing skills in organizational behavior, finance and high-level negotiations. Finally, I would like to develop more advanced leadership skills and have a better awareness of cross-cultural environments, and key assets that all MBA graduates must strive for.
Why did you choose Stanford?
Joining the Stanford Graduate School of Business is undoubtedly the best way for me to meet my goals. Only Stanford, especially as it adopts its new curriculum model, will let me meet these learning objectives. In addition to its academic cutting-edge, the school keeps a human size and encourages small-group interactions between students and faculty members. The new curriculum model promises to pay even more attention to this human-touch dimension. It is completely tailored to train global leaders. All the Stanford alumni that I have talked to have recalled having lunch with their former professors, and in some cases, even getting invited for dinner parties at their homes. The combination of intellectual rigor and interpersonal availability is exactly what I need. Stanford has an environment that will positively respond to my proactive involvement in the learning process.
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Clement, Harvard: Emphasis on General Management Curriculum

For this high-flying MBA candidate, the road to riches is NOT what he had in mind when he decided to apply for Harvard’s two-year MBA program. Parisian Clément, whose last job was assisting the Chief of Staff in defining the outgoing French Prime Minister’s communication strategy, would like to acquire the necessary business skills to become an entrepreneur.
Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
I guess my background might seem a bit unusual for an MBA candidate applying to a top business school. From 1998 to 2004, I attended Ecole Normale Supérieure – the school of Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. It is a research-oriented school in which most students pursue a PhD and eventually become university professors. I majored in philosophy, passed the aggregation, and engaged in an academic career. I specialized in philosophy of science – I even obtained a Master degree in cognitive sciences – and I started teaching philosophy to undergrad students as a lecturer at La Sorbonne.
Why did you choose to do an MBA at this point in your career?
I would like to design a career that combines my interest in science and research with my taste for entrepreneurship. My long-term goal is to start up a biotech company. To achieve this goal, I would need to acquire the business tools that I currently lack. I believe that Harvard is the best place for me to do an MBA program. Harvard’s general management focus will give me a broader perspective on all aspects of running a business. It will teach me how to handle the countless issues managers must face in a world of fierce commercial competition. I also feel that the case-study method is the best way for me to acquire these skills. I can study the theory in textbooks by myself, but I cannot discover alone the many realities of the business world.
What advice would you give to other MBA applicants?
I would urge them to focus on the essays and not to worry about topping up the GMAT scores. Of course you need to have a good score, but 10 or 20 points will not make that much of a difference. It is the essays that count; this is where you can really give a sense of who you are as a person and why you want to pursue an MBA. The time you spend with your MBA coach discussing what your values are and what you want to do with your life is time well spent. Also, if you are married as I am, be sure to involve your partner in the process. My wife (she recently gave birth to a wonderful baby boy) was very enthusiastic and is now in touch with other MBA partners at Harvard.
Tell us about your experience working for the Prime Minister’s office…
I have always been extremely interested in politics and political philosophy, but I have never really considered taking a job in that field. My main interest was research and academia. So, when I was asked to join Dominique de Villepin’s staff, it was quite a surprise for me. I did not hesitate very long before accepting the position. I worked for former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin from 2005 to the most recent election. It was a great opportunity to act in the forefront and to make a difference. Furthermore, it was also a chance to work for a man of great convictions and tireless energy. I first discovered Dominique de Villepin when he delivered his famous 2003 speech at the United Nations Security Council, and I have deeply admired him since then. Despite my enthusiasm and good will, my first weeks at the Prime Minister’s Office were really tough. I had not studied political science and had never worked in a government department, and my knowledge of the legislative process was somewhat limited. However, I spent extra time studying constitutional and administrative law and learned from my new colleagues. Soon enough, my efforts paid off and a few months after starting, the chief of staff gave me my first important speech to write.
What was the hardest part of the application process?
Writing the essays was difficult. In one question, for example, I was asked to discuss an experience that highlighted my strengths and weaknesses as a leader. I decided to talk about a particularly gifted student of mine whose behavior in class was preventing me from seeing a larger picture. All the other students were feeling left behind. At that moment, I realized that the role of a leader is about developing everyone’s potential to the fullest and setting the right dynamics for the group as a whole. Another difficult element in the application process was the interview, but for that part of the application, I relied on the help of MBA application professionals.
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Cosimo: A Certified Public Accountant and Military Officer Sees the MBA as a Major Transformation Opportunity (admitted to Tuck)

By doing an MBA at a top business school, Cosimo hopes to transform the strengths from his distinguished military career into a professional profile where his international experience comes to the forefront. It is a long shot, but he is not one to wilt under fire.
Could you start by telling us a little about your academic experience? You’re Italian, aren’t you?
That’s right. I hold a business degree from Università degli Studi di Torino (1997) and a political science degree from Università degli Studi di Trieste (2004). I also earned my CPA certification in 2002.
And so you chose to take a pause in your military career and take on a new challenge?
Yes. My decision to apply for an MBA was a critical next step in the planning of my short and long-term career goals. As an officer, I gained experience in government and public policy, enriched by national and international assignments, foreign missions and constant leadership opportunities. It is, nevertheless, a career that follows a well-defined path in terms of progress and responsibilities. Now I would like to have a new professional challenge, one which I can only find in the world of business and finance. My academic experience would not support this radical change of career even combined with years of work experience. An MBA can give me the right tools and competencies to face this change.
Which program did you finally attend?
My first choice was Tuck. As a European, I wanted to join an American program in order to enjoy a well-rounded international educational and life experience. Tuck Business School is also where the MBA was invented. Every day when I go to school, I realize how much importance Tuck attaches to its MBA heritage. As an Army Officer, I tend to be emotionally involved with the institution that I am working with, and I am very attached to the school’s values and traditions.
How would you describe the learning environment there?
Tuck’s approach is practical. The coursework is enriched with real-life activities that provide me with the adequate tools to perform in business. The international aspect of the program is also enriching, making my experience enjoyable and interesting.
I understand that you have acquired some of your first international experiences as an officer in the Italian Army which helped you decide on an MBA.
It is a fact that the MBA degree attracts many former officers with similar experiences worldwide. As for myself, I served in the Italian Army as a Commissariat Corps Officer for nine years. I was actually the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the Regione Carabinieri based in Bolzano, where I was assigned to help in the rebuilding of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999.
How did you get through the application process?
It went well, though I must admit that I struggled with the GMAT. Another difficult point was to find the right school and program, given that I could not travel and visit all the different schools that I had in mind. Finally, as the application process involves so many different steps, such as sending letters of recommendation and writing essays, I found it very helpful to be assisted in these steps by your Milan center. Their staff was very professional, and they truly helped me tackle the process in the right way and time.
What advice would you give to future MBA applicants?
Well, let’s say: Do your best on the GMAT and the essays, and do not be afraid to seek help from the folks that specialize in MBA test preparation and coaching. You will save yourself a lot of time. A high score in tests and good coaching can be winning determinants in your admittance to a top school. It can make the difference between being admitted to your first targeted program or to your fifth or sixth. Now is the right moment to improve your chances. In short, work a bit smarter now and you will earn a big asset for the rest of your life.
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ERIC: From Congo to Chicago: Achieving International Leadership with Harvard and Chicago GSB

Eric already has a Master in Public Administration from Harvard, but his academic aspirations are far from over: Eric now plans to complete his MBA at Chicago GSB. The eldest of seven children, Eric shuttled from Africa to France and attended a few foreign boarding schools along the way. Fluent in six languages, he has easily adapted to various cultures and has studied in an international context. Even as a teenager in his hometown in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he discovered that “from a small spot in Africa, you could almost see the world.” Taking a moment to unwind, Eric tells us how his strong sense of family and love of both his native country and France shaped his career choices and determination to pursue both MPA and MBA degrees in the United States. Afterwards, he plans to contribute to improving the investment climate in Africa.
How did your early education and upbringing prepare you for pursuing an advanced degree in an international environment?
I moved to France with my whole family in 1986 – I have four brothers and two sisters. I went to the French “collège” (equivalent of American high school) and studied in a general program. In 1988, the whole family went back to DR Congo because of my father’s increased responsibilities in the Congolese mining industry and frequent travels. Going back to Africa for a while was a great opportunity for me to know my home country even more, and proved to be instrumental in helping me better relate to it. Traveling and living there was a key to improving my command of three of the four national languages that I already spoke by that time: Lingala, Kikongo and Swahili (there is nothing exceptional to this, as almost everyone is relatively fluent in at least two national languages and sometimes French). I had started learning German and even Latin in Congo as well. In Africa, I was lucky enough to be exposed to diverse educational experience: I attended Congolese and French schools alternatively. Actually, my father made the conscious decision to have us change schools so that we could have a chance to build a genuine experience. During that time frame, I had the chance to make friends with a diverse body of Congolese students. Often, my classmates and friends were representatives of diverse national, cultural social and even political backgrounds, some of which were the children of diplomats, and most of us were truly privileged to have traveled extensively and at an early age. I remember that some of them had left countries such as Lebanon, Greece or even eastern Africa to seek a better life in DR Congo, making it their second country. For me, this was a wonderful and inspiring experience through which I grew acquainted with the exceptional individuals who made up quite an accurate picture of the Congolese society. At the end of the day, with that kind of experience you just simply get used to having different perspectives on things. You make diversity a part of your daily life and view globalization from complementary angles. Eventually, you become a different individual, an African with a synchronized tempo with the world, a person lucky enough not to be outpaced by global trends; you belong to the world, you walk, run, rise and fly with it. Today, many of my friends are from diverse places around the world, ranging from Micronesia to Latin America. Similarly, while in the DR Congo, I would look at local firms with a global reach and realize that from a small spot in Africa, you could almost see the world!
How was your experience studying for a Master’s in Public Administration at Harvard?
Tremendously rewarding in many ways! I understood and experienced that the University is committed to bringing together extremely interesting persons. I was also Mason Fellow at Harvard. The programs attract leaders that have significantly impacted their community. As such, it provided me with a unique opportunity meet with leaders that have had a first hand experience trying to solve most of the issues that are challenging our societies globally. Finally, from an intellectual point of view, I have learned more than I would have had anywhere else. I have been exposed to a series of tools and concepts that I did not anticipate to be exposed to. At the Kennedy School, I have literally watched some of the brightest minds in the world come up with new ideas to challenge previously accepted standards and that will have an impact on our understanding of our own society.
What potential do you hope to develop in the future, both in yourself and in Africa?
I intend to be a skilled player from an economic standpoint. Honing my professional skills in the best institutions possible is a means of preparing for such a role in the near future. As it is the case for many other young Congolese both in DR Congo and abroad, I intend to contribute to making DR Congo a better and more attractive place every day and for everyone. The river Congo is the third largest in the world; with the appropriate investment level in its facilities, the river should provide enough electricity to service the needs of the whole continent. DR Congo is devising a 50 billion dollar program to develop the appropriate infrastructure through a syndicate including many other countries and diverse international organizations. Commodities and related industries would flourish in the appropriate economic environment that is still to be strengthened in Congo. Local entrepreneurs continuously discover new opportunities that can bring up significant returns on investment. Providing support to those organizations both from the governmental perspective as well as from the private sector/investor point of view would be extremely exciting.
Which of your past experiences would you say prepared you most for Chicago GSB?
A few experiences can be part of my individual preparation. A brief professional experience with a mining firm from the DR Congo, long converSATions with government officials, advocacy for some governmental projects fostered by their agencies, my role as a consultant in a vibrant industry are certainly to be included in that list…
How long did it take you to write your MBA application?
I started a year before actually applying. Applying to any MBA program is not just about filling in the application material. During that year, I talked to as many alumni and current students as possible, and attended MBA classes whenever I could to complement the information that I gathered through events and by browsing the websites. I used that time to understand the distinctive characteristics of each program and could find out which were the most relevant to my plans. Writing the essays and addressing the questions accurately is a significant part of the process. That step probably took most of my time. Interestingly enough, the whole process was intriguing as anyone taking it seriously would learn a lot about their real motivation and about how an MBA makes sense in a well thought career plan. Devoting up to a year is fair, especially if the applicant is already in a demanding career. Finally, I can add that both of the programs’ applications took fairly the same amount of time.
What have you accomplished in your working life so far?
After a brief experience in corporate finance in the mining industry with a Congolese major, I came back to France in 1997 and worked as a Finance Officer for the General Manager of the holding company and investment arm of an African press group, Jeune Afrique. I joined a UK-based IT company as a consultant in its Global Finance Division the following year. For more than ten years, the firm had achieved its growth by executing a series of merger and acquisition deals (targeting and buying out 14 firms that operated in 24 countries). During the summer 2003, I joined a competitor based in Oslo, Norway. As a senior consultant, I was in charge of setting up a new business unit. I performed my role while acquiring a deeper expertise in Information systems management at ESCP-EAP. I am now looking at slightly different options for the future and consider career paths that would combine my passion for finance and emerging markets.
How do your educational plans strengthen your resolve to return to Africa?
When making decisions concerning my education, I wanted to be able to access professional opportunities anywhere in the world I wished. The education plan that I designed was aimed at providing me with different emphases, developing both a unique breadth and a competitive profile to tackle complex economic issues both at the corporate and social levels. My belief is that these skills will be instrumental in problem solving not only in the DR Congo, but also throughout the continent. The strength of the programs I have attended is that they provide internationally accepted credentials and help secure a solid network of alumni. Besides, Africa is an extremely diverse place, a continent that is going through enormous changes and where continuous transformations are taking place at different paces throughout. Being part of such a crucial time is extremely exciting. While a person averse to risk should definitely stay away from the continent, anyone ready to take a properly assessed risk has the potential of achieving great rewards. In such a setting, those who can manage to rationally “leverage the binding constraints that paralyze those economies” may take advantage of the inefficiencies of those nascent economies, presumably strengthening development opportunities in the long turn. Remember that a discrepancy is an opportunity for arbitrage… and value creation. Business leadership has tremendously grown in DR Congo. This business leadership could efficiently be brought to maturity by continuously identifying new talents, training and updating senior managers with a strategic vision… Newly minted MBAs are a great opportunity to feed in the progressively growing economies. Therefore, I intend to bring more expertise to help shape the economic policy of DR Congo by establishing a better business environment… There, the GDP per capita is $ 300 U.S. with a population of 62 million, and the country itself spans 2.5 million square kilometers (like traveling from London to Warsaw). Africans play an increasingly stronger role in defending their own interests and setting up new businesses.
What made you decide to pursue your MBA at this point in time?
The MBA itself. The degree is, for me, one of the best ways to develop my potential. And it’s a great opportunity to have as much exposure as possible to people from different cultures. I needed to broaden my perspective and get a chance to learn from that to keep developing my own approach from a professional standpoint.
Did you find the application process difficult as compared to that of the master’s program?
It was not a matter of difficulty. Both application processes were challenging and somehow demanding in their own ways. Each, in its own way, requested that I came up with a clear cut response to defining questions about my personal story as well as my vision. The programs I have considered and attended in each of those schools provided an answer to a specific aspect of my vision. Obviously, besides the test results, the essays and the culture of each school lays the emphasis on different elements. Harvard has a long tradition of leadership and excellence. Through each of its schools, Harvard nurtures and develops leaders that will impact their communities. On the other hand, the University of Chicago is home to top-tier researchers in economics and finance. Many of the innovative concepts and products that define Wall Street today had their source here… As I said, each application was unique and presented distinctive expectations from each program.
What are your professional plans for after the MBA?
In the short term, I cannot be very detailed about it, but I am thinking of a career in Finance with a real interest for commodities, industrial investment and emerging markets. In a few months, I promise to be more specific!
What advice would you give to someone who wants an MBA?
I can only speak based on my individual experience and this should not be considered as the only truth. Many people have been effective in their own ways and should be heard as well… Deciding to apply and actually doing an MBA is an investment of time, energy and money, as we all know. After the decision has been made to pursue such a plan, it is worth planning and thinking over it well enough in order to be successful in the long run. I believe that receiving some form of guidance or support can be extremely helpful, be it in a formal way or not; it can be extremely helpful to stay on track and understand what makes sense and what does not in that process. Taking a few days to come up with initial drafts of your essays will be an excellent basis. I was helped in this process as I wrote my essays from the ground up using a couple of “pillars” that defined both my background and interests. To me, the themes of Africa and Technology were among the important pillars that provided the groundwork.
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Fabien: HEC Paris MBA: Collaborative Knowledge-Sharing Is the Key

Fabien needed a way to break with his past: nine years of professional experience in the commodities market promised to keep him firmly in place unless he could find a way to make a successful change. Not always an easy task, but with an MBA from HEC Paris, it will not only be feasible but highly probable that Fabien will have no difficulty finding a new position in his preferred industry (strategic consulting) after graduation. Fabien describes this and more in the following interview :
Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Well, to begin with, I studied economics at the Paris XII University, graduating with a specialization in finance. After finishing these studies, I worked in the commodities market for nine years. During that time, I had the opportunity to successively fill the positions of Market Analyst, Broker, and finally International Buyer in the cereals market.
Which aspect of the application process did you find the most challenging?
GMAT was a difficult part of the application process since it required a lot of work. But for me, the GMAT did not represent the greatest challenge. The most challenging part of the application process was the writing of the essays. Writing a set of essays for one application is challenging in and of itself – the hours or reflection, drafting, refining ideas, editing, and then refining the ideas again – but when you have to complete essays for several schools, the process becomes even more complicated. After the main ideas of the essays are completed, then you have to take yet another perspective on these same essays: reworking each essay, tailoring the content to fit the essay questions and requirements for each school. It sounds like you applied to a couple of programs. Which programs did you apply to? I applied to HEC Paris, ENPC, and INSEAD.
What has been the most interesting aspect of your experience so far?
Learning from others. I have to say that I was indeed surprised by what I have learned from other students in the program through team work and sharing experiences. Having the opportunity to meet and work with people from all over the world has been truly enriching and has broadened my perspectives in ways I could have never previously imagined. It was thanks to this program that I discovered people that I would never have met otherwise. HEC is special in the fact that the program itself helps to build true relationships in this diverse body of students, cementing lifelong friendships through fostering a true sense of solidarity.
So, why did you choose to do an MBA at this point in your life?
As you can imagine, after nine years of working in the same industry, it was difficult to envisage a way in which I could easily change fields. For years, it had been my dream to focus my career in the direction of strategic consulting. I realized that in order to make this transition successful, it would be necessary to not only gain the necessary knowledge and experience to change fields, but also to improve my international exposure and thus posture myself for a higher level position. What better way to accomplish these goals than through an MBA!
Why did you choose HEC Paris over the others?
I was impressed first by HEC’s collaborative environment. Many MBA programs seem plagued by cutthroat competition – not my preferred learning settings. This collaborative environment is reinforced by the strength and cohesive support of the student community for its members. This was evident as early as the interview. I was interviewed by alumni who received their degree several years ago but were still actively involved in the workings of the HEC MBA community. A couple of my other incentives for this program over the others were the strong international networking community, the great number of electives offered by the program, as well as the potential of finishing with a double degree from HEC and NYU Stern. The learning environment can best be characterized as collaborative knowledge-sharing. In many cases, the real discoveries come from group work where one student with particular knowledge or experience in the subject in question will teach or clarify it to the others. Students frequently review in groups for exams, and willingly help each other if needed for assignments. Thanks to the smaller class sizes – there are 126 students in the September 2006 intake – it is easy to get to know professors as well as students, and many professors know us by name.
Do you have any advice for other MBA applicants?
Some people refer to MBAs as having a specific “brand,” or “image.” I prefer to think of MBAs as having its own “personality.” As with people, knowing that you will have to spend a long time with the MBA program makes it extremely important to find the one that fits your needs. Often, it is necessary to do extensive research to determine the “personality” that fits best with your own. I think that the most important factor in determining a program’s personality is to talk with alumni, since they usually reflect the community built around the MBA quite clearly.
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Laurent: Perfect Fit for HR Professional in Need of Top Business Skills

With a PhD in Law, Laurent took a long time deliberating on the best way to develop his career as a Human Resources professional. He realized that he needed essential business skills. Thanks to his extensive academic background—Laurent also has two Master’s degrees in Business Law and Human Resources— thanks to the coaching that he received at our Paris center, Laurent was accepted into the Executive MBA program of his dreams.
Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Currently, I am a project manager in the Human Resources department for the Apave Parisienne, one of the 5 companies that make up Apave Group in Paris, a leader in technical control and professional training, with 20 offices in France. I manage a small team of six employees, down from nine when I first started.
Tell us more about your short-term goals.
In my previous job with a French tobacco company, called, Seita, I played a role in the merger between Seita and its Spanish rival Tabacalera, which gave rise to the fourth largest cigarette maker in the world and a leading cigar maker. The next logical step in my career path with Apave would be to repeat that experience, but playing a much bigger role in one of Apave’s upcoming mergers. I also think I would have an advantage in Apave given the reason that the company has a limited amount of managers that are capable of taking on such responsibilities. By doing an Executive MBA, I will be able to hone my international skills and round out my professional experiences.
What advice do you have for MBA candidates?
My advice is to choose your executive MBA based on these three key assets: (a) faculty and staff, (b) location, and (c) alumni network. In my opinion, ESSEC has all of these assets: wonderful teachers and staff, classes that are taught in four different locations – La Défense (Paris Business District), Brussels, Mannheim, and Singapore, and an incredible network of alumni. Go ESSEC!
Why did you choose to do an MBA at this point in your career?
I feel that I am ready for a big change in my career. As an HR professional, I know the importance of having well defined short- and long-term career goals. And the ESSEC-Mannheim Executive MBA offers all that I need to reach them. My short-term goal is to play an active role in the upcoming mergers of the five companies that make up the Apave Group. My long-term goal is to join a large multinational organization and to become its Director of Human Resources. I would of course expect to start out as the Director of Human Resources for one of the organization’s subsidiaries before evolving towards the top position for the whole group.
What was the most difficult part of the MBA application process?
I think the most difficult part of the process was preparing for the essay questions. By background, I am trained like a lawyer, not a businessman. Fortunately, my coach from Sight test prep Paris has developed a revolutionary method to help candidates write their essays. In fact, I am currently using his method at work. My coach, who has a PhD from Harvard, starts off with two important dimensions: structuring your thoughts and developing your logic. He also improved my interview skills. My interview at ESSEC was more difficult than I expected, but thanks to you, I did well. The two-part interview lasted 30 minutes, where English was spoken in the first part and French in the second. Trouble is I do not use English in my current job, and so answering questions from the Director of the ESSEC Executive MBA and two of his staff members was very stressful. However, having studied SIGHT Test Prep’s interview techniques, I sailed through all the questions that they have tossed at me.
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Maximilian: Exciting Experiences with ENPC

Maximilian had many objectives when applying for ENPC’s MBA program. These objectives were the usual MBA applicant aspirations: increased responsibility, increased salary, increased opportunities. However, he was also looking for something different – different from his routine, his work, his usual everyday life. The desire for adventure and personal development significantly influenced his decision to attend ENPC’s program. In the end, ENPC surpassed his hopes for all of these factors. He further explores his experience at ENPC in the following article :
Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
My name is Maximilian, and I am 39 years old. I am German, having moved to France in 1999, following a job offer from a well-known Dutch company in the consumer electronics industry. I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and IT, spent a year in Los Angeles as an intern after my studies, and started my career as an IT consultant back in Germany, 1995. Since then, I have accumulated 11 years of professional experiences in IT (mainly ERP systems) as a consultant, SAP business analyst, and manager.
So, why did you choose to do an MBA at this point in your life?
I decided to do an MBA in order to have a break from my job – to speak frankly, I got quite bored, needed change, and looking for a different intellectual challenge. I could not really live with the idea that I needed to continue working for the next twenty-five years until my retirement without gaining any new experiences outside of work and some holidays. More importantly, I have always dreamed to meet new quality people and to increase my international network. Also, going back to class often creates a new opportunity for self-discovery, and I would like to know whether or not I would be able to do it.
What was the most interesting aspect of your experience at ENPC?
I think the most interesting aspect of the ENPC MBA is its emphasis on international and multicultural education. Not only did we have 22 different nationalities in our class, we also had the possibility of participating in three study trips: to Tunisia, China, and the U.S. I went to both Tunisia and the States, and both trips were absolutely unique experiences. The school has access to a great network of companies and public institutions which allowed us, for example, to interview the minister of telecommunications and information of Tunisia. Furthermore, we also had the opportunity to visit the NYSE, or attend a presentation at JP Morgan in the heart of NYC. Apart from the business and managerial knowledge that you acquire, the program gives you a broader view of the world, and how to handle cultural diversity and the challenges that arise from it.
What were your reasons for choosing ENPC?
At the beginning, it was a question of intuition. During my preliminary visit at the school, I felt good about what I saw and heard, and the atmosphere was rather relaxed. The location of the school is excellent – in the heart of Paris, and you feel somehow privileged attending the program located between famous universities like ENA or Sciences Po. The size of the class (never more than 50 students) assured me that this would be a very individual and a more intensive experience than other business schools (where sometimes you share classes with up to 200 other students). The school has a very good reputation and it is very well known in France, hence, it facilitates the search for a new job after the MBA. Furthermore, the faculty and the staff are excellent! Looking at the list of the professors and their CVs (accessible on the ENPC’s website), I was very impressed by the high caliber of the faculty – all of them have unique personalities. Last but not least: compared to other business schools, the program is affordable – in French you would say: “un excellent rapport qualité/prix.”
How would you describe the learning environment at ENPC?
The system of “block teaching” enables the school to hire professors on a short-term basis, hence cost of faculty remains under control but the quality is at a global level: during my studies, we had professors from all over the globe – the US, South Africa, UK, Ireland, Australia, Switzerland, etc. – and all of them had a proven record of professional and academic experience, as well as success. The majority do not only teach at ENPC, but also at top-class business schools like INSEAD, IMD, or Trinity College Dublin.
For what reasons do you believe other MBA applicants might be interested in ENPC?
The ten months of the ENPC MBA program can be the most exciting, busiest, and fastest ten months of your life. The SATisfaction that you will receive after the program is tremendous. You meet great people, you learn a lot, you travel, and you have to work a lot! If you prefer a relaxed but professional atmosphere, a top-class but approachable faculty, a multicultural, diverse, and friendly peer-to-peer experience, then you should choose the ENPC. At the end, you will see that it will give you a lot of confidence in yourself.
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Philippe: GSB is a real change of scenery

Philippe was in need of a change of scenery. Born in Aurillac, he studied in Toulouse and Nantes, and had been working as a coverage analyst for Banque Palatine since 2009. To his surprise, this change of scenery would come in the form of an MBA Program in South Africa. The following interview will demonstrate how Philippe got accepted into his dream school with our help
Which courses did you take with us?
I took the GMAT Prep’ class for 30 hours – 6 weeks, and I have been coached by an expert/professional during my MBA applications. I was very impressed with the coaches and instructors in your center as they have graduated from top universities, and they have all scored in the 90th percentile or higher on tests.
What was your final score on GMAT/TOEFL?
I have reached 660 on the GMAT, and 101 on the TOEFL.
How did our coach help you get into the school of your dreams?
My coach trained me very well, in terms of the practical and theoretical aspect of speaking and writing. For instance, my coach was very helpful in editing essays, presentations, and preparations for interviews. I was amazed by my coach’s skills due to their excellent knowledge of the application process that would have been difficult to acquire on my own.
Would you recommend Sight test prep for someone wishing to start an MBA program?
Yes! There are many steps needed to get into an MBA program, and SIGHT helps you achieve this every step of the way. From planning through implementation, Sight test prep provides 360 degree assistance for admission to undergraduate and graduate programs which makes the entire application process much smoother and less stressful. I have to affirm that I am appreciative and grateful for the extra support that I have for my MBA application.
Were you happy with the quality of the courses?
Yes, I was very SATisfied with the quality of the courses given. My coach and professor were very encouraging, friendly, and professionals in teaching. The course materials were also pertinent and relevant to practice and improve my score for MBA programs. Through my experience with you, I was glad to be able to reach my highest score potential, and I can finally say that my coach and professor have prepared me well, and made me more confident Yes, my coach were very friendly, and they provide several course materials in order to be able to practice and improve your score.
What was your dream school?
I would like to be admitted to the Graduate School of Business in Cape Town. I have always dreamed of going to this Graduate School as I believe that it will be able to enrich my profile, expose me to an international career, as well as expand my connections through the MBA programs that are being offered by the school in Cape Town. The Graduate School of Business in Cape Town is considered to be one of the very best in the world, and I am certainly impressed by their prestigious reputation for excellence and innovation.
What is your future plan?
As for my future plans, I intend to continue to live and work in South Africa, and I hope that I can be able to find a position in a private equity firm. I would like to gain more professional experiences in the business industry so that in the next five years, I can be offered a high position in business companies or international financial institutions. Essentially, I can see myself working as a high-performing employee in a well-established organization where I can be able to widen my horizon to new experiences, ideas, and knowledge.
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