Interview with HEC Paris MBA Assoc. Dean Bernard Garrette
Viv Pundir of Admissions.SG caught up with HEC Paris’ Assoc. Dean of the MBA Program, Prof. Bernard Garrette. The transcript of the interview follows.
Dr. Bernard Garrette is a Professor of Strategy and Business Policy, and the Associate Dean of the MBA program at HEC Paris
Viv Pundir: What would you like candidates to know about HEC Paris?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: HEC Paris is ranked #1 MBA Program in Europe by The Economist and provides privileged access to a top-notch international faculty, a global network of alumni and top professional career options. HEC Paris is one of the top-5 universities worldwide for the number of alumni who hold CEO positions in Fortune Global 500 companies.
An MBA graduate from HEC Paris comes prepared for the world, fully equipped with the best knowledge and experience and eager to become a global and responsible leader. What places our graduates apart from those of other schools is our broad and knowledgeable network of academic and corporate partners, our emphasis on transformation, and the fact that all this takes place in just 16 months.
Our emphasis on transformation ensures our graduates are personally engaged with their projects, and leave us with a true entrepreneur and global leader mind-set. At HEC Paris we foster personal development with an ideal class size allowing for intimate dialogue with business leaders through various activities, such as our ‘CEO Series’ and ‘The Executive Committee’ (TEC) on campus. We also believe that leadership comes from direct experience; our students learn from hands-on exercises such as our world famous MBAT and our original St-Cyr Leadership Seminar during which students spend three days in the elite military training centre, benefiting from the opportunity to practice their decision making and leadership skills in a safe and challenging environment.
Graduating from HEC Paris after just 16 months, our students have undergone a truly transformative experience. With the opportunities for customization, internships, fieldwork projects, career activities, international exchanges and double degrees, our program represents a high ROI for individuals interested in advancing their careers.
The success of our graduates is clearly visible with 70% making a change in their job sector, 75% changing functions, and more than 50% changing locations across the globe. Our top recruiters reflect the quality of our graduates; Amazon, Google, L’Oréal, Accenture, McKinsey and Schneider Electric to name just a few.
Viv Pundir: Who is the HEC Paris MBA for?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: We value participants with solid academic backgrounds, and appreciate international exposure. Ambitious candidates with coherent professional projects and aims fit well with our program and ethos; this is often demonstrated to us through significant career progression and a real drive to succeed. We believe that in today’s globalized world, candidates require the highest levels of transferable skills and knowledge, ready for international contexts. Being global is part of HEC Paris’ DNA. The MBA class is made of around 250 students from more than 50 different nationalities. International students account for roughly 90% of the class.
Viv Pundir: Candidates often ask whether business school is a worthwhile investment. What would you say with respect to the ROI of the HEC Paris MBA?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: In 2014, we were named the best Good-value MBA by the Economist. This ranking took into account tuition fees as well as foregone and post-MBA salary. We highly value the fact that our MBA program is a real long-term investment in terms of both professional and personal development. The best reward to our efforts is when alumni tell us that the knowledge they have learnt from courses is still useful ten or fifteen years after graduation. And this happens more often than you could imagine.
Viv Pundir: You offer multiple rounds of applications. Are there any advantages to applying in particular rounds compared to others?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: In terms of acceptance rates, the various rounds of applications are strictly similar. However, applying earlier may generate some practical advantages, including easier access to on-campus accommodation and smoother sorting out of administrative issues (visa, funding, etc.). In addition, very late applications might lead to deferrals to the next intake for capacity reasons (e.g. from September to January).
Viv Pundir: What happens to an application once the applicant hits the Submit button? Walk us through your evaluation process. How many people read each application?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: The admissions process at HEC Paris is fast, thorough, and efficient. Starting from when the applicant submits an application to when he or she is notified of admission, the whole process lasts only five weeks, and if waiting for a response concerning scholarships, six weeks. We are able to achieve such a swift turnout because we hold 12 Admissions Committees per year.
The first step following application submissions is the Pre-Selection Committee, in which applications are examined in detail. If successful at this stage, candidates will be invited for two interviews with HEC Paris MBA alumni.
The final stage of the application process is the Admissions Committee. After the interviews have been completed, a meeting is held which is attended by senior representatives of the French Ministry of Education, of HEC Paris Alumni and of MBA Faculty, as well as the Dean of HEC Paris and the Associate Dean in charge of the MBA. They review every aspect of the candidates’ application, from essays to interview performance. This meeting has three possible outcomes for the candidate’s application: admitted into the program, not admitted, or placed on the waiting list. Candidates are soon thereafter informed of the Committee’s decision.
Viv Pundir: What are you really looking for in an ideal candidate? How can candidates stand out?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: Before the applications process really gets underway, candidates have to meet two prerequisites. First of all, we have to ensure their English fluency as our program is taught 100% in English. Secondly, we have to be confident that the candidate has the intellectual agility to fully participate in classes given on subject matters with which they might not be familiar; this is what we essentially look for when analyzing GMAT or GRE scores.
Once we are satisfied that these two prerequisites have been met, we look at various criteria in assessing the candidates. These criteria fall into four main areas:
Academic performance: we pay close to attention to the candidate’s previous academic accomplishments. This includes their academic level (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate), whether they have completed a Double Major, and the quality and selectivity of the university where they carried out their studies.
Professional accomplishment: we look for evidence of career progression and professional achievements. We also take into consideration the selectivity and prestige of the companies they have worked for as well as the evaluation provided in their recommendations.
International exposure: a global outlook is a particularly important attribute we look for. We consider international exposure on a personal or professional level, the number of languages a candidate is proficient in, and confirmation that a candidate has had experience in multicultural environments.
Leadership potential: we look for demonstrated leadership experience, and the candidate’s ability to convey this potential in their essays and interviews.
Attention to detail: we believe that well-rounded personalities show through the care and effort they put in presenting themselves. Perfectly written resumes, bullet-proof essays, thorough recommendation letters and nicely polished written and oral communication are key factors of success.
Viv Pundir: How important is the GMAT in your decisions? What, if any, roles do the AWA and IR sections of the GMAT play in your decisions?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: At HEC Paris we recognize that it is easier for those who have gone through particular education systems and people from particular professional backgrounds to score well in the GMAT, compared to others. As a result, we do take this into consideration during the application process. However, our minimum requirement is 600, and the mean GMAT score of our admitted students is 690. While we look for candidates who are able to strongly demonstrate their reasoning, writing and quantitative skills, we look for an overall well-rounded candidate and thus the GMAT (or GRE) plays only a small role, albeit significant, in the overall admissions decision.
Viv Pundir: What percentage of the pool do you interview? What does your interview process look like? What percent of the interviewees are offered admission?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: We tend to interview around 40-50% of applicants and have an overall selectivity rate around 25%. In terms of the interview process, we use HEC Paris MBA Alumni as the primary interviewers as we find that they ultimately understand what makes a strong MBA candidate and what it takes to succeed in the program. During the interview, we assess the candidate’s communication skills, leadership potential and ability to contribute effectively to discussion. Finally, we consider whether the candidate “fits” with the mind-set and culture at HEC Paris.
Viv Pundir: Do you have a pet peeve? What is the one mistake candidates make that gets them rejected outright?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: When it comes to characteristics and behaviour that make us reject a candidate immediately, the same thing always comes to mind: lack of honesty and motivation.
We double check our applications and one thing that is unaccepted is when we find out that a candidate has been less than honest about their achievements. We are fully aware that top MBA programs are competitive but we are also aware that the perfect MBA candidate doesn’t exist. When a candidate seems too good to be true, they usually are!
Another key factor in a candidate’s application is coherence. We want to attract the best, most driven candidates and so their motivation to apply to our program has to be clear. It is completely normal for a candidate to apply to several business schools but when someone is blindly applying for the top 20 without thinking about what the school can offer them both professionally and personally, it doesn’t motivate us to accept them. Eclectic choices with little consideration are an indicator of poor decision making and foresight that is vital for pursuing an MBA.
Viv Pundir: How have your application numbers, acceptance rates, and yield changed over the past few years?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: Our MBA program has become more and more competitive in recent years. We can attribute this to multiple factors. In particular, increasing numbers of candidates are looking at Europe as a destination for top Business Education. Schools are rising in the rankings and becoming a better option for many people interested in advancing their careers. Tuition and program length tend to be smaller and the opportunity to live and work in Europe is a huge draw for students interested in pursuing international careers. HEC Paris is in close proximity to La Defense, continental Europe’s largest business district, and Paris’ location to other major European cities makes it ideal for quick business and leisure travel.
Viv Pundir: What percentage of last year’s incoming class found jobs within 3 months of graduation? What jobs did they find? With which companies? In which locations?
Dr. Bernard Garrette: In 2015, 90% of our graduates found employment within the 3 months of graduation. Placement at HEC Paris MBA is an ongoing process throughout the year. Our dedicated Career Management Center has a number of initiatives in place to connect our students with a large range of companies. Companies regularly come on campus to recruit, and there are a number of career fairs, industry forums, and career days that provide students with considerable opportunities to connect with the corporate world. Career Treks to different geographical locations, most recently Dubai and Norway, also allow students to explore international career options.
On average, an HEC Paris MBA participant has the opportunity to meet with 40 companies per month, if she/he takes part in all the Career Management Center activities.
The biggest increase in hiring this year has been in the industry sector, accounting for over half of the graduating class of 2015. This has essentially been driven by the tech sector, accounting for almost 20% of the total graduating class. This upsurge has been led by companies such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn.