IMD's Lisa Piguet fields questions on the admissions process at the elite Swiss B-school, including the importance of leadership and international experience
IMD Business School (IMD Full-Time MBA Profile) in Lausanne, Switzerland, reported that 98 percent of its applicants were international in 2010. A truly international vibe is what makes the place unique, said Lisa Piguet (LisaIMD), associate director of MBA admissions and marketing at IMD, during a recent live chat event.She took questions from the audience and Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Francesca Di Meglio (FrancescaBW) on everything from the best time to apply to the perks of living in Switzerland. Here are edited excerpts from their chat. Deva: I work as a design engineer in the automotive sector, and I am mostly involved in new product development. How can an MBA serve me? LisaIMD: My question to you would be, what do you want to do with an MBA? An engineer who does an MBA can easily move into a business position after IMD. In fact, companies that recruit at IMD like these types of profiles because they have a strong base to start from. If you want to continue working in your area, that's fine. You can just build on this. You will get additional business and leadership skills to run big teams and projects. FrancescaBW: How would you describe the culture at IMD to prospective students? LisaIMD: IMD is a very interesting place. I am originally American, so I can say it is truly international. We are one of the most international programs in the world. We like people who are a bit more mature, experienced, and who want to have a career in management. We do have consultants in the program and people who go into consulting and finance but the majority of our students focus on general management. Our greatest strengths, however, are leadership and careers. We have a one-year leadership training [program] in conjunction with the business fundamentals and then we have career services built into the program to help you find your ideal job. VishalR: Is the recent economic turmoil in some of the euro zone a big worry for IMD as far as job placements are concerned? LisaIMD: Not so far. Our 2010 class just graduated, and almost 90 percent of them had a job offer upon graduation. This was much higher than last year. The average starting salary is much higher as well. So, right now I would say no. cswe: I am trying to transition from the academic world into the business world. My background is in linguistics and cognitive psychology. Where should I put the majority of my effort when filling out MBA applications? LisaIMD: At IMD we are a bit different than a lot of schools out there because we normally require business experience. If you really want to apply to IMD, I suggest you go to our site and do a free admissions test called Assess Your Chances at www.imd.ch/mba. It is read by one of my admissions team and they will tell you in detail what you need to work on. VishalR: For non-EU students, how are job placements? LisaIMD: The outlook for non-EU students is quite good. You do have to work a bit harder to find your ideal job if you want to stay in the EU, but if a company likes you it will find a way to sponsor you to get a work visa. It is getting harder in certain countries, but for the people who really make an effort it doesn't seem to be that much of an issue. cswe: Is business experience an exclusive criterion for the admissions committee? LisaIMD: Business experience is definitely up there on the list. Often we will take people with very strong leadership experience (for example, military) instead of true business experience, but due to the type of program we run, we require either strong leadership or business experience. VishalR: Are there any changes in the admission essays this year? LisaIMD: We changed just one, but it is a very small change (about financing). FrancescaBW: How would you describe the ideal IMD student? LisaIMD: The ideal IMD student is normally between 25 and 35 years old, has a minimum of three years of full-time work experience, a decent GMAT score, strong undergrad academics, good career progress, strong leadership potential (I said potential, not experience), and very good EQ [emotional quotient or emotional intelligence]. FrancescaBW: Do you require interviews? What are they like? LisaIMD: Yes, we probably have the most unique interview process in the entire industry. If you are selected for an interview, you must come to Lausanne (right outside Geneva) and spend an entire day with us. It is very similar to a corporate assessment center. We have people writing about our process all the time because it is atypical for the industry. We also conduct the same interviews in Singapore in May and Latin America in September. VishalR: Since I come from a very common applicant pool (Indian, male, engineer), would you suggest I apply in Round One to maximize my chances? LisaIMD: Yes, it is best to apply early. The other suggestion I would make would be to bring out anything that is truly unique about you. You can watch my video blog on our MBA YouTube channel about tips and techniques of passing the IMD interview and what we look for in a candidate. This might really help you. FrancescaBW: What is the biggest mistake applicants make? LisaIMD: The biggest mistake is writing their own letters of recommendation. Please do not do this! Another is not bringing out the things IMD looks for. We look for achievements, business orientation, and leadership (all on the blog I did). FrancescaBW: Speaking of recommendation letters, who should applicants be asking to write these for them? LisaIMD: At IMD we ask that the letters come from people who can determine your business experience. This can be your boss, former boss, client, peer (better for teamwork, however). Please do not use professors or relatives. FrancescaBW: How can applicants really shine? What can they do to stand out? LisaIMD: We are very diverse at IMD, so the more diverse a person is, the better. Again, please bring out all your leadership experiences (not just at work but outside work as well ), your achievements, which can be work- or personal-related, and something unique about you. We like things that are different, so let us know what sets you apart from all the other applicants. VictorP: How important is it to have international work experience? LisaIMD: At IMD the majority of our students have some international experience. However, we know that there are countries in the world where people tend not to leave their home country but either travel for work or do business outside of the country on a daily basis. We will take both of these into consideration. Just make sure this comes out in your application. FrancescaBW: What about the GMAT? What's the average and range of admitted applicants? And how important is it? LisaIMD: At IMD the GMAT is just something we use to assess a person's potential to be a top manager. Our 80 percent range is 620 to 750. I like to say we look at the person as an entire package and not just one part. FrancescaBW: Do you have any tips or advice for applicants who are sitting down with your application at this moment? LisaIMD: Again, just make sure you bring out your leadership , achievements, and business orientation. We also would like to see a personal side to you. Choose your letters of recommendation wisely and have someone (preferably a native English speaker) review your application prior to submitting it. I always tell people to hide the question and then have a friend read the answer and then tell you what the question was asking. That way you know you answered what we wanted to know. FrancescaBW: What's it like living in Switzerland? LisaIMD: Switzerland is a great place to live and study. We are in Lausanne, which is an amazing European city with so much history and charm. The other thing that's interesting about this area is that it's home to more than 100 multinational companies, so many of our MBAs end up working for these companies. They fall in love with the place and stay.