A Foot on Three Continents

INSEAD's Claire Lecoq says the school's global perspective is key to placing students in a competitive marketplace

Claire Lecoq is the director of MBA Career Management Service for the Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore campuses of INSEAD's (No. 1 among BusinessWeek's 2002 B-school rankings outside of the U.S.). Lecoq has an MBA from IMD in Switzerland. Before joining INSEAD in 2003, she handled executive searches for Korn Ferry International (KFY ) and was the director of marketing strategies for Tupperware Europe (TUP ).

As Lecoq settles into her new role at INSEAD, she's hiring five new staff members to provide more personalized service to both students and recruiters. Lecoq recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online project assistant Francesca Di Meglio. Here's an edited transcript of their conversation:

Q: What help do you offer INSEAD students as they approach the job search?


Our MBA program is 10 months long. It is very demanding in terms of time we start getting [MBAs] prepared for the job search on day one. In the first four months, we have them take a number of self-assessment tests to determine their specific career goals and personal strengths.

A lot of seminars are organized on both campuses to help students define where they want to work after INSEAD. We expect them to reflect on themselves and give them all the tools to do so because we have a lot of career changers, and they need to find out if they will be competent in a different industry.

We [then] expose them to all sorts of events with professionals from different sectors. Four months before graduation, companies come to campus to recruit, and the job search becomes more active and intense.

Q: What have you done to help students overcome the obstacles they've faced in the tough MBA job market?


We explained that they had to readjust their expectation level to the level of the marketplace and...that finding a job requires work. The school is definitely there to support them...but there's also some personal work to be done. If we felt that a student's career goal could not be optimally filled by the activities on campus, we worked one-to-one to make sure he had a concrete plan and took proactive steps to reach his target. We also tried to further develop relationships, both with current recruiters and those we had never been in touch with before.

Q: Which recruiters are missing at INSEAD?


About 50% come from industry at large, 30% come from consulting, and another 20% from finance. Within the industry-at-large group, we have good connections with pharmaceutical and medical-related companies. We probably need to further develop our relationships with consumer-goods companies.

We have very strong recruiters in L'Oréal and big international groups, but we could probably attract others. The IT sector is another group that is missing a bit. These companies took a step back from recruiting during the economic downturn, but they are starting to return.

Q: Are you doing anything special to lure recruiters to campus?


For the media industry, we set up a half-day workshop for recruiters from about 10 companies to discuss...key topics in their industry. We organized this program with a professor who teaches an elective on the media and the student media club. After the recruiters' closed session, we opened it up to students to network. This was highly successful. Already three [companies] that never recruited here before have expressed interest in recruiting.

Q: Do you offer any perks to recruiters?


Recruiters can subscribe to an affiliate membership that gives them priority access to students, faculty, and activities at the school.

Q: Do companies pay for this membership?


Yes. The companies can also work with the student body and sponsor student activities. For instance, about 7 to 10 times a year, students hold an international week dedicated to a particular country. Usually, [each week] is sponsored by a company with origins in the [featured] country.

Q: What makes your MBAs unique to recruiters?


The intensity of the program makes them very quick on their feet. Recruiters tell us that INSEAD graduates stand out by adapting to all sorts of changes in companies. INSEAD also gives students the possibility to study on three continents: in Europe, Asia, or at The Wharton School in the U.S. [It's not uncommon to find] an Indian IT professional working [in class] with a German lawyer and a Japanese consultant.

Q: How do you balance the playing field so that INSEAD students in Singapore get the same results as those in France?


Asia is such an expanding marketplace that this is more of an advantage than a disadvantage. When recruiters come to campus, we don't discuss where a particular student is located. If a recruiter in France is interested in students in Singapore, we set up whatever is needed to interview them, regardless of where they are located.

Q: Do students in France get placed more easily than those in Singapore?


No. We have students from Europe who study in Singapore and choose to finish in Singapore because they are interested in Asian business [and vice versa]. In terms of taking more or less time to get placed, there is no difference.

Q: Do student clubs have the time to initiate and organize recruiting events even though the INSEAD program is accelerated?


It's definitely a challenge. We have fewer clubs than the U.S. programs, but the few we have are pretty active. Our students have attracted a lot of companies as well as alumni for half-day seminars. INSEAD students are dynamic and energetic people. I don't know how...but they even manage to have parties.

Q: How did the last batch of MBAs, who graduated in July, 2004, do in terms of job placement?


The market is definitely picking up. I have done a lot more counseling sessions on negotiating the [compensation] package and dealing with multiple offers than I did six months ago. Given the short program, you always have people who are still looking [for jobs] after graduation. Some students wanted to focus on the academics and worry about their job search afterward.

Q: Are MBAs able to change careers with flexibility at INSEAD?


In a tense marketplace, recruiters tend to be conservative. It gets more difficult for students to change careers. When a company recruits only two MBAs, [the recruiters]...would like to see candidates with previous experience. On the other hand, there are a lot of recruiters looking for fresh blood. Typically, finance recruiters have been very open to hiring students from other business sectors.

Q: Many schools enhanced alumni outreach as the job market got more difficult. What did INSEAD do?


We recently began to link students on both campuses with the alumni clubs. We plan events related to different topics of interest in a given sector as a way for students to network with alumni clubs organized by industry. Alumni will also help students with interview simulations. In general, when students are interested in a company, their point of entry is often the alumni book.

Q: What are your future predictions: Will students have an easier time getting a job a year from now?


I'm no Nostradamus. But we are seeing a definite turnaround. We are at the beginning of the pickup, so I would expect that the coming two years, at least, are going to be good for MBAs. After that, anything can happen. Our Asian campus is a great new leverage, and we can offer companies MBAs with a truly global perspective.

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