Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My MBA
- Expect to learn a lot in a short time
A one-year programme that teaches 80% of what a two-year programme does is something achievable only at INSEAD. I was quite skeptical when I first started my MBA but I soon realised that it is true; there are excellent professors who teach in an experiential way to help you quickly grasp the concepts. I personally loved Managerial Accounting, Organisational Behaviour, Financial Markets and Valuation, Principles of Strategic Analysis, Negotiations (Horacio!), Art of Communication, Communication and Leadership, China Strategy, Entrepreneurial Finance and Advanced Corporate Finance.
- Survive the packed classes by clearing your third language and getting maximum number of exemptions
I cleared my third language (French, of course) before the MBA started and got an exemption for one of the core courses - incredibly helpful in the first two periods, which are the heaviest in terms of workload. There are tons of group work and if you have no exemption, returning home to do the assignments of all six courses per period is a killer. Be smart, get your exemptions and reduce your stress levels.
- Student clubs are a great way to expand your horizons and networks
I led the Entrepreneurship Club (IEC) and while it may have been taxing at times, given the huge workload, it was immensely rewarding. Firstly, you get to work with creative and enthusiastic students across the campuses, whom otherwise you may not meet if they are not in the same section as well. We have the excuse to reach out to startups, venture capitalists and accelerators and work with them to organise events like talks, panels, conferences, office visits and treks.
This helps to expand your network and get acquainted with potential employers, even before you start your job search. Even though I was based in Singapore, I organised the London startup and tech trek with my IEC and Tech Media Telco (TMT) club peers and that gave me a good overview of the entrepreneurial scene in London.
- MBA Students these days are passionate about entrepreneurship
Coming from the startup and VC industry, I was quite surprised to find my cohort rather enthusiastic about starting businesses or working for startups. Well, after all, we have numerous alumni who started businesses, like Transferwise, Propertyguru, Redmart. The school supports us, be it just to expose us to the topic or to increase our chances of succeeding at our own business. Leverage the Entrepreneurs-in-residence chats that happen every week to discuss the next steps for your ideas, take up classes like New Business ventures, Corporate Entrepreneurship or Entrepreneurial Finance to build your knowledge in this area and join the Venture competitions organised bi-annually to get your first funding.
The clubs also organise talks by entrepreneurs, VCs, treks to startup offices/ accelerators etc. In Fontainebleau, we also have The Mews, where you can meet like-minded individuals excited about startups. Last but not least, we finally have our very own incubator, INSEADers, just across the road from the Singapore campus.
- Expect to meet smart, sharp, inquisitive, analytical peers
I used to study engineering and so business topics were alien to me. Thanks to my smart group mates, no assignment was ever a problem. I am deeply inspired by how they think, analyse data and make associations between different bits of information. Expect to become a sharper, more thorough and deeper thinker after this one year.
- Consultant classmates are a godsend
INSEAD does not earn its reputation as a “consulting school” by chance. About 26% of the students are current consultants and the amazing thing is they are so helpful to teach you the ropes and help you with the tough case interviews. I did over 20 case practices during my time in INSEAD, and even though I did not end up in consulting, I found the practices very helpful in training me to structure my thoughts and communicate better. Given that nowadays, corporate interviews involve cases too, practising cases with your consultant peers is always helpful.
- Alumni are super helpful and approachable
One thing that I am very grateful for is how approachable our alumni are. I would connect with them on LinkedIn, through a simple search of “Company name” and “INSEAD” and most of them are happy to give me their thoughts on a particular industry/company/role and provide tips for the interview. Some even refer me to the company’s HR. The strong network we have is just incredible, as I could virtually find INSEAD alumni in any company that I was interested to work in. I also stay in touch with my INSEAD interviewers and they have given me perspectives on certain industries/leadership programmes. As I graduate in a few days, I look forward to giving back and helping the future INSEAD students too.
- Internships are not a means to an end
As part of the December class, we had an internship during the summer break. Some classmates were quite stressed or unhappy when they could not get the internship at that investment bank, Amazon or Paypal (well, I was at first) but all of us soon realised that
an internship is not a must to secure good jobs at the end of MBA. I know a few students who did not do internships, but travelled and practised cases over the summer and ended up in MBB or leadership programmes at the corporates.
The key is to do something meaningful in the two months so that it value adds to your MBA.
Personally, I did not find my internship through on-campus recruitment, but through my personal networks. And I was lucky to be tasked with digital marketing and growth hacking (something I never did before in my full-time job) at a fintech company during my internship. It provided me with the leverage to join growth companies looking for candidates with that kind of experience.
- Besides company talks, there are also office visits and coffee chats to help you understand the employers better
I was pleased to discover that besides the usual company talks, employers also organise office visits, coffee chats, dinners etc. to give you the opportunity to speak to current alumni at these companies. These events are incredibly helpful and go to show that
INSEAD students are in high demand, as recruiters invest so much of their time and money to engage with us. At these sessions, jump-start your career search by asking about the work at the company, understanding the skills required for the role and the deadlines to apply for the jobs etc.
- Last but not least, National Weeks are serious stuff!
Pardon my abruptness by bringing up this topic but part of making the INSEAD journey so memorable is how hard we play, after working hard. The National Weeks and Dash are serious stuff - different nationalities take weeks to plan all kinds of activities like dinner, performances, workshops and clubbing events. We would also often dress up as movie characters, celebrities, superheroes, racing from the Heritage condos to school or just annoying our professors in classes. Check out #inseadmoments for the photos!
One year has flown by so quickly for me but it has been a year of unforgettable memories and wonderful friendships. I find myself a better thinker, negotiator and more confident individual, ready to re-enter the workplace and take on whatever challenges that head my way.