INSEAD Interviews – Part 1

It’s a bitter-sweet moment when you receive the pre-selection e-mail from INSEAD informing you’ve been short-listed for interviews. On the one hand, you’re super happy to have made the first-cut and on the other hand, your anxiety level shoots up even more since you’re closer to the finish line. To end up on the losing side after interviews is, IMO, more painful than a ding without interviews. So many ifs and buts go through your head if you get dinged after interviews.

I received my interwiers’ details nearly a week after the pre-selction mail. Both were pretty young (mid-30s) and were in impressive positions. One was a VP at a VC company and the other was a Marketing Director of a technology company. Here’s a hint to those who receive the pre-selection mail: research as much as you can about your interviewers. Firstly, it gives you an insight into who they are and what they’ve accomplished which will make the conversation flow a bit more smoothly and ease your nerves that you’re not facing a monster, and secondly, it gives you great fodder to ask them some interesting and intelligent questions towards the end. It’s more than likely that such people are listed on LinkedIn and their pages are usually upto date. If you’re lucky (as in my case), your interviewers’ LinkedIn profile might have a link to a personal blog that he/ she maintains.

My general strategy for preparing for these interviews was to go through other blogs like this, read up on how INSEAD interviews are generally like, make a list of questions that I can collect and just mock through them. I found this site to be particularly useful:

There are 3 basic questions one needs to prepare for:

  • Why MBA?
  • Why now?
  • Why INSEAD?

They might not be asked so pointedly, but the basic idea remains the same. Beyond these three, its an open field and anything can be asked. If you’ve made it to this stage, rest assured that you are good, be confident and trust your brains. They got you thus far, they will get you further. The interviews are not technical in any manner. They are supposed to be about you and it’s best to think of them like an extended HR interview. Easy right? The tough stuff is always before the HR interview. As with any HR interview, take with you your CV and your application. You might be asked for it; I wasn’t.

It’s best to dress formally. I know in some other forums and blogs, people recommend a suit, etc., but I find that overkill. What if your interviewer turns up in beach shorts (has happened to others before)? So, buy a nice pair of pants, polish up your shoes, iron your cuffs and you should be good to go (I do apologize to my female readers, but I am not an expert on formal clothing for females). Remember, the most important thing is you should feel good about yourself in what you wear.

So my first interview was with the VP of a VC company and it was at his office. The interview was scheduled for 3 PM. I arrived 10 minutes ahead of schedule and his secretary showed me to a meeting room. And here things started going downhill. He made me wait till 3.30 PM before he came in. I kept my cool and generally was going through my application and more mocking. I figured if this is a stress interview, I won’t let him break me. He came in, introduced himself and asked me if anyone had debriefed me on the whole interview process. I was honest and told him my level of knowledge was limited to what I gathered from forums and blogs. He took me through the entire process. I reproduce it here in it’s entirety because its useful information which I did not find elsewhere:

The interviews are not meant to evaluate whether you’re a suitbale candidate for INSEAD. I neither have the expertise nor the time to do such a complete evaluation. The INSEAD Admissions Committee (who are an outsourced bunch of people) have tremendous expertise in doing this. My job is to assess whether you are someone whom I would like to work with in the future and to feedback that information to the adcom. You would’ve had 2 professional recommendations with your original application. Think of these interviews as 2 other recommendations that will be added to your file. After the interviews, the adcom will relook at the entire package including your application and the 4 recommendations. They will once again do a fresh evaluation of your GPA, GMAT, essays with these 4 recommendations to help them further. These will be assessed by a panel of 3 INSEAD professors who are chosen annonymously every year. If there’s a split-vote the third assessor will make the final call. So, its 2/3 vote that will decide your candidature.

Update 9th July 09′ – I found this interview with Jake Cohen (dean of the INSEAD MBA program) where he actually talks about the faculty making the final decision. Click here to read this interview.

After this debrief, the actual interview started. My interviewer was very familiar with my company and was probing me heavily on their strategy. In general, he was abrupt, brusque and at times seemed disdainful, but I plugged away. I refused to get flustered and kept correcting him if he made some wrong assumptions. There were many questions on the the decisions my company had taken, their future course of actions (for the curious ones, no, I didn’t reveal any trade secrets), etc. In between, he drilled me about my work and how it tied into the overall strategy of the company and why I was chosen by management to do certain things, etc.

In the middle of the interview he walked away for another 20 minutes to attend to another meeting. He also attended to 2 phone calls while I was talking. I found this to be a bit unusual considering all I had read about the chilled-out interviews that INSEAD alumni conduct. Towards the end, he asked me if I had questions and I decided it was time for me to be a bit assertive. So, I asked him pertinent questions about the state of VC funding and had many follow-up questions (on-the-fly. didn’t prepare them beforehand). I did throw in a few INSEAD related questions. After a while, he started looking at his watch and then closed the interview. He asked me to see myself out as he had to run to another meeting.

I came out feeling a bit dazed not knowing what had just happened. I guess it was good in the end considering I’ve been accepted. So never think its over until its over. And never back down from who you really are. Express your individuality and let it shine through. Show them you’re confident, thoughtful, intelligent, sensitive and not afraid to stand up for what you believe in. All good traits to have outside of the interview room too!

In my next post, I will take about my second interview which was poles apart from this one.


5 Responses

  1. Thanks for the post, very helpful!

    Is Part 2 (second interview) already online?

  2. Hi Raphael,

    Part 2 is online now. Hope you enjoy it just as much.


  3. wow. guy sounds like a d-bag. a bit similar to my own experience with a VC lady interviewer.

    would love for you to link my blog. if you think it’s ‘whiny’ you’re probably using the wrong tone to read it. it’s bitingly sarcastic and hilarious (imho)

  4. Yeah, probably was a d-bag. This was the toned-down version BTW. You’re right, “whiny” and “bitingly sarcastic and hilarious”, “po-TAY-toes” and “po-TA-toes” (works with tomatoes as well).

    You’ve been linked. :-)

    • Interesting read. I am looking forward to my interviews too, so your insight might definitely be handy or as the VC might joke, “handful” :)

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