Is an MBA only for people with business backgrounds? What if your previous work experience doesn’t seem to fit into any of the more traditional pre-MBA profiles such as consulting, finance and corporate? Assistant Director of MBA Marketing and Recruitment Michael Wort shares insights as well as admissions advice for applicants with “non-traditional” backgrounds.
“But I’m not a finance specialist!”, “I’m not a consultant”, “I haven’t been working in the corporate world”, “My background is atypical”, “Will I fit in at INSEAD?” While travelling in different countries running recruitment events for the INSEAD MBA these are statements that I quite often hear from prospective students from “non-traditional backgrounds”. Rest assured: all dimensions of diversity are celebrated at INSEAD.
We have alumni who were medical doctors, soldiers, lawyers, architects and entrepreneurs before they joined the INSEAD MBA to get a thorough understanding of business topics, and have often used the degree to make career changes.
Pre-MBA Sector Experience
Below is a breakdown of pre-MBA sector experience for the classes of 2018. While about half of the class typically comes from a consulting or finance background, the other half is made up of a myriad of other sectors and industries.
However, we understand that when considering whether to apply to the INSEAD MBA you may be concerned that you might be lacking in experience compared to those that have been working in the corporate sector, financial services or as consultants. Alumni tell us that these differences in knowledge might be apparent at the start of the programme but due to the collaborative environment which encourages all students to share their knowledge with others, even the “experts” are sometimes surprised at how they are challenged on technical knowledge by non-specialists by the end of P2!
You also have the option of attending Business Foundations Week before the start of your MBA, an on-campus programme designed to equip you with foundational knowledge in Financial Accounting, Finance and Quantitative Methods - tools that you will use throughout the MBA curriculum. Business Foundations Week is part of "Period 0", a selection of on- and offline courses and webinars to bridge pre-knowledge gaps and familiarise yourself with INSEAD's teaching methodology.
To facilitate these exchanges, students are allocated to carefully constructed study groups of five to six members at the beginning of the programme. Each group is designed to be as diverse as possible in terms of nationality, gender, previous work experience and even personality. This way, all students are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and discover new ways of approaching tasks, encounter new ways of thinking and reacting to situations.
You will be doing most of your core curriculum assignments with your group, giving and receiving lots of feedback and challenging each other’s assumptions. There may well be some disagreements and a few fireworks as group members will think and act differently from what you’re used to, but these experiences will give you the skills you will need to successfully manage diversity in your post-MBA career.
Admissions Advice for Non-traditional Profiles
What the Admissions Committee looks for in profiles from those with non-traditional backgrounds is the same as what they look for in those from any other background. This is explained fully in the Admissions Criteria.
Specifically for candidates with non-traditional backgrounds, my advice is to showcase the elements in your profile that differentiate you from other applicants and how your experiences will enhance the class discussion, while highlighting transferable skills that you can capitalise on at business school and in your future career. You should also have a well-defined objective for doing the MBA and a clearly articulated vision for what you want to do afterwards, so that the Admissions Committee is assured of your purpose and focus at business school.
To gain clarity on these points you may need to spend some time to research career paths and the required skill sets. Speak to alumni or current students with a similar profile to find out what elements of the MBA will be the most useful for the pivot you are looking for, and integrate that knowledge into your application.
Best wishes for your candidacy, and don’t hesitate to contact us for further information!