Rhoda Yap joined INSEAD as Global Director of the Career Development Centre (CDC) in September 2021. In her role, Rhoda oversees a team of 40 dedicated employer engagement specialists, career coaches and operations staff across all INSEAD campuses, designed to partner with students and alumni on their career journey.
Rhoda holds an MBA from Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in Law from King’s College London. She started her career as a lawyer and management consultant, before switching into fashion retail and higher education.
What are her views on the value of an INSEAD MBA, and what can students expect from the career development experience? We sat down with Rhoda to find out.
Rhoda, tell us a little about yourself, and what brought you to INSEAD?
Rhoda: Like many of our students, I’ve switched industries and geographies throughout my career. When I reflect about those pivotal moments, the first one that stands out was when I did my MBA.
At that point in time, it opened a whole new world to me. It gave me names for certain concepts that I had discovered while being a lawyer, but suddenly I learnt the right vocabulary.
Having the right vocabulary enabled us to tap into existing knowledge – for example, being able to articulate that you were facing an operational optimisation problem accelerated the process of improvement. It was an empowering experience.
With the MBA also came the opportunity to join a top-notch consulting firm, and that was McKinsey USA - the second pivotal moment in my career.
My work in management consulting hyper-accelerated my professional development, introduced me to a lot of people and gave me a lot of options.
Post McKinsey I did a stint in retail and was also self-employed for a while.
By the time I thought about getting back into corporate employment, I started to wonder how I could leverage upon my skill sets and contribute to society.
It was at that moment in time that I discovered the role of the inaugural Career Development Director of the Asia School of Business (a greenfield business school set up by MIT Sloan and the Central Bank of Malaysia).
I was brought in to set up the Career Development Office because I came from such a generalist background, had had exposure to recruiting functions while I was at McKinsey as well as the experience of being a student in an Ivy League business school.
So that is how I landed the role, even though I had no direct relevant experience at that point in time.
When I reflect on my journey thus far, many of the opportunities that came my way were very serendipitous.
Some may find it a little strange when I admit that I, as the Global Director of the Career Development Centre, did not have a long-term game plan. But my game plan essentially was to really do the best and contribute the best in every role that I had.
In the course of that pursuit, and as a result of the work that I did, many doors opened themselves to me. And every time when new door opens, I think “How fascinating! Let me try that!”.
So when this opportunity at INSEAD came up last year, I jumped right in again, and here I am today.
What was your first impression of the school?
Rhoda: I have to say I was a bit starstruck. It was a little like going to the movies or the set of your favourite TV show, and suddenly you realise that you’re actually a part of the production.
I had a deep sense of appreciation for this amazing community of students and staff.
When we talk about diversity, INSEAD is basically unparalleled.
But what is also fascinating to me is that, in spite of the diversity, people here can work in a very coherent and coordinated manner to actually come up with great ideas – precisely because of this rich diversity.
I would say that I had half expected it, but when I saw it, it exceeded my expectations.
I find that now, I come in to the office every day and I wonder, “Okay, what am I going to see today?”. INSEAD is a very special place that fosters that kind of creative curiosity.
You’re heading the INSEAD Career Development Centre (CDC), which is designed to partner with students on their career journey.
What makes the CDC so special and what can incoming students expect from this partnership?
Rhoda: Before I came to INSEAD, when I looked at it as an outsider, I was always very impressed with the fact that as a school with more than 75 nationalities in each MBA class and global graduate placements, it was able to come up with employment statistics that were consistently top-notch when it did not have a natural home ground advantage the way that American business schools have.
Now that I am here, I can see that these results are possible because of the unique way in which the employment engagement team is structured, with deep expertise in all the relevant geographies and sectors.
For example, if you’re interested in tech or finance or corporate sector roles in Southeast Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East - we have people assigned to those specific portfolios.
They will be able to give you on-the-ground intel as to hiring targets and identify companies who are prepared to sponsor work authorisation for the right candidate.
You’re not going to find that at other business schools who might have a certain expertise in their home geography only, so this is something which is truly INSEAD.
Also, only a school the size of INSEAD can run an employment engagement team of this scale.
Secondly, because the INSEAD MBA with is so compressed with its accelerated 10-month curriculum, we must be very mindful about what we curate for the students and what engagement points we build with recruiters.
We are trying to move beyond conventional recruitment presentations and towards more intimate settings, so that both the students and the employers will get more value for the time that they spend in the process.
As the world emerges from the grip of the pandemic, markets are once again flush with employment opportunities.
What trends are you observing in the global landscape, and how do you see the value of an INSEAD MBA in these continuing, uncertain times?
Rhoda: In terms of trends, I'm always cautiously optimistic.
The world will continue to change very rapidly, but what we try and do at the CDC is to equip students with the ability to be market resilient.
No matter what happens, there are always going to be jobs out there, but how do we educate and bring that awareness to the students of where to look?
From one year to another, trends may shift. For example, this year the consulting sector has all-time high hiring targets. But this is not always going to be the case because when you have an all-time high, there's going to be a slope back as well – but we are not able to forecast what that gradient or plateau might be.
Therefore, it’s important that we educate students so that they are able to see and appreciate these changes and developments of talent demand and supply themselves, so that they can adjust their career preferences accordingly and ensure that they have a fulfilling a career path throughout their life.
When it comes to the INSEAD MBA, I will say that once you go through something that is so intense, it hones your resilience.
The experience here will enhance your ability to go to the fourth and fifth gear and maintain it for an extended period of time, if need be.
Why is that important? My take is that as the world continues to be very fluid, change is always inevitable. And when there's change, there will always be this level of additional work or that additional push that is required.
So having gone through a push-type of experience like the 10-month INSEAD MBA, I feel that any individual will be equipped to say: “When this comes, and I face it in my organisation, or in the business that I run, I will be able to persevere and thrive, because this will not be my first rodeo. I have already experienced it while at INSEAD”.
What are the top three questions you get asked by this year’s MBA students? And what do you tell them?
Rhoda: One of the most common questions I get asked is, “Should I go into consulting?”
As an ex-management consultant myself, sometimes I feel that maybe I'm biased. But I do feel the three years that I spent being a consultant accelerated my career and gave me tools in addition to the MBA that I continue to use today. So I would say - definitely, it was time well spent.
Another common question is “How do I network?”
When we talk about networking, there are a lot of different conceptions to it. There are those of us who are somewhat natural networkers. People who are just a bundle of energy and enjoy engaging and getting to know people – actually, our employment engagement team at the CDC, they are a lot like that.
But some people will naturally feel a little averse to it. I remember when I first started out in my career, it just felt very awkward and uncomfortable.
For those of us who are not natural networkers, my advice is to think about “how can I contribute?”
Through networking, you can basically showcase what your skill sets are, what experience you have, and how you can contribute to what’s at hand - whether that’s an organisation or a course or on idea.
When you frame it in this more altruistic way, I find it easier to put yourself out there, and it just gets easier and easier over time.
The third question is “How do I prioritise?”. MBA students are always strapped for time.
Understanding how to manage your time and your energy is key to success – not just during your MBA, but moving forward as well.
At INSEAD, the MBA really forces students to be close to militantly disciplined with their time. But then there's a fine line between being mindful of your time and being transactional with people. I think this is an area that most people will continue to have to refine over time.
If we use a simple analogy of putting rocks, pebbles and sand in a jar, my take is that you put in the larger, more important things first, before you think of the smaller things.
So at INSEAD I will say, academics and career, those are the rocks. And then comes the socialising, the parties, the extracurricular things – those are likely the pebbles and the sand that students will have to manage.
Finally, what advice would you give to incoming MBA students who have just received their admissions offer?
Rhoda: When people get that offer, they might be in awe of the idea to have a full 10 months to explore career options. Honestly, that time is going to really fly!
My advice is to wind down your current work as soon as possible and start getting yourself into the mindset of being a student, and create reflection time of what you want to get out of these 10 months.
If we send you work in the P0 period, try and do it and build a strong foundation, because you're not going to have time for this later on.
The more and the better you know yourself, the faster you will get to the finish line and the more satisfied you will be with your MBA experience.