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Admissions Director Q&A: Tino Elgner of IE Business School

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IE Business School is centrally located in Madrid’s financial district. Their international appeal and urban environment fosters strong student, faculty and alumni communities. In addition to the school’s one-year, full-time International MBA, IE offers tech, part-time and executive MBA options.  In this edition of Admissions Director Q&A, we hear more about IE from Tino Elgner, the Director of Admissions for the Tech MBA & IMBA Program.

Born in Germany, Elgner graduated summa cum laude from Clemson University, USA, with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in psychology. After ending his semi-professional tennis career, he moved on to graduate from IE Business School with a Masters in Management.  Subsequently, he opened his first import/export business, Cestos del Sol, before accepting a product management position at IE. He has been with IE for the last 8 years and currently serves as the Director of Admissions for the International MBA & Tech MBA program.

In his free time, Elgner enjoys CrossFit and dedicates the rest of his time to his family and Future Kids Foundation. Being an avid believer in lifelong learning, he is currently completing a DBA with a focus on leadership at IE Business School.

Clear Admit spoke with Elgner about the new Campus IE in Madrid, the new Tech MBA, what distinguishes a good application essay from a great one, and more.

Clear Admit: What’s the single most exciting development, change, or event happening at IE in the coming year?

Tino Elgner, Director of Admissions for the Tech MBA & IMBA Program at IE Business School

Tino Elgner: Choosing only one thing is a tremendously difficult task, as IE is an institution that eats change for breakfast, lunch, and dinner due to its entrepreneurial spirit, which pushes the school to seek relevance and see change as a constant.

Next year for example, IE will continue its expansion plans through inaugurating Campus IE, a 35-story high urban and tech-based campus in the heart of Madrid’s Financial District, with 70 cutting-edge classrooms, an auditorium for conferences and lectures, sports and leisure centers for student use, and a number of state-of-the-art libraries.

However, one of the main things that gets me up in the morning when thinking about 2020 is the opening ceremony of our recently launched Tech MBA. Being the first of its kind in Europe, I am particularly excited to get to welcome students from around the world to this program next year. 

CA: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

TE: Our IMBA program is around 45 percent customizable and we are constantly looking into ways of making it even more so. Two of the recent changes, for example, include the addition of a Data Analytics class to the core period of the IMBA. While during the electives term, students will now be able to choose a concentration area, such as Accounting, Family Business, Technology & Innovation, and Entrepreneurship among others, with the goal to sharpen their career focus in a specific academic area if they wish to do so.

However, “customization” comes with “self-reflection,” as every choice often requires giving up another. The importance of this understanding is something that candidates sometimes underestimate, but could help to strengthen their applications.

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.)?

TE: The life of an application actually begins long before an applicant clicks “submit.” Using our 31 international offices as local platforms to stimulate dialogue through events, online sessions, master classes, and alumni gatherings among others, we try to encourage applicants to self-reflect on a variety of important questions before they officially apply. “Do I need an MBA or do I want an MBA?” “Is it the right time?” “What are my career goals?” “What am I looking for in a business school?”

To actively think about these and many other questions will help candidates understand what an MBA can and cannot do for them, while strengthening their overall application and putting their best foot forward. In other words, the admissions team will be each candidate’s biggest fan, but also biggest critic.

Once the candidate clicks “submit,” candidates will be invited to additional events as to keep the dialogue open, and to further increase each candidate’s understanding about IE Business School before the interview stage. It is important to keep in mind that we interview the majority of our candidates, once or sometimes twice.

Diversity, like leadership, can be defined in many different ways; and the interview stage, together with all the rest of the application materials, is our way of understanding each candidate’s diversity. Prior to the interview, candidates are also asked to complete an online video assessment, which tests their on-the-spot communication abilities mirroring an environment that is similar to what class discussions during the IMBA will be like.

After the interview, a holistic report is written that compiles each applicant’s information and a recommendation. This report is read by each member of the Admissions Committee several times and a decision is made.

CA:How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? What is one key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write?

TE: Essays in our application come in two forms – live video assessments and more traditional formats. As the video assessments are timed, I recommend candidates not to put the Iliad into their 1 minute, while also attempting to focus on pitch, structure, and content. Keep it simple, organize your thoughts, and focus on only one or two ideas when answering the questions at hand. The questions are broad enough for anybody to have opinions on them. Hence, staying calm might already be half of the marathon.

When looking at the more traditional essays, our candidates are asked to respond to one specific question that is common to all applicants. Also this question is very broad, and hence offers a great opportunity to complete one’s application in a very individualistic way.

Furthermore, candidates are free to choose between different media to craft their answers. Oftentimes, I get the question of whether or not we prefer one medium over the other. The answer is “no.” The choice of using a PowerPoint, a video, or text does not make a difference. It is the candidate’s choice to pick the one with which s/he can answer the question at hand best. A very well-written essay arguably will take as much time as a well put together video or PowerPoint. Hence, applicants ought to choose the one, which allows them to best express themselves in their preferred way of communication.

CA: How many essays would you wager you’ve read in your tenure at IE? Thinking about the essays that have been the most memorable, is there something they have in common?

TE: Essays come in all forms and shapes. I cannot recall an actual number, but during my 8 years in this position, I am sure that if I put all of the essays together, they might come close in length to Marcel Proust’s elephantine Remembrance of Things Past.

There are a few things that distinguish the good ones from those with areas of improvements. But if I had to pick only one recommendation it would be the following: understand how you are being understood and tell more than “just” a story.

Good essays, or to keep it general – answers to posed questions – put given answers into context and help the reader(s) understand, without many deviations on possible interpretations, why the candidate chose to write about what s/he wrote about, and why this is important when looking at the selection process, given the plethora of ways of what one could have written about.  This arguably requires that one understands how one is understood, as just because something is put on paper or said, it doesn’t mean that the audience understands what one was trying to say.

CA:Could you tell us about your interview process?  Approximately how many applicants do you interview? Who conducts the interview (students, admissions officers, alumni) and what is the nature of the interview (blind, non-blind)?

TE: We interview almost all of our candidates. With a student body that is almost 95 percent international, coming oftentimes from more than 72 countries, the interview gives us the chance to really understand the story and diversity behind many of our applicants.

It is an opportunity for candidates to shine, and for us to truly give individual attention to every applicant before the final decision. Interviews usually last one 1 hour. They are done either by IE alumni, members of the admissions team, and/or representatives in one of our international offices, who oftentimes are IE graduates themselves.

There is no strict structure of what types of questions each interviewer has to ask, as communication in general is not that linear. However, there are aspects of someone’s background and skills that the interviewer will try to understand that is common to all applicants.

CA:Anything else you would like to add?

TE: Pursuing an MBA is often a life-changing and complex decision. The increasing number of MBA-offering schools, in addition to the different formats and types of MBA programs that exist today, make this an even more intricate undergoing.

If, furthermore, one adds the variety of specialized masters and the differing career paths of prospective candidates, it is very understandable that a multitude of opinions on what the “right” choice might be exist. Hence, taking the time to self-reflect is extremely important. For example, “wanting” something, and “needing” something can arguably constitute two very different or similar aspects in one’s reasoning. However, pushing oneself to make the distinction between desires and needs, might pave the road for a more objective analysis.

There are many ways to think about whether or not an MBA is the right investment. However, once chosen, it is important to realize that the “effect” of an MBA is “interactive:” it is not the MBA by itself that brings the ROI one seeks, but how one uses the program and what one uses it for. It is like reading a good book: what you put in, you oftentimes get out.

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.