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Admissions Director Q&A: Paula Amorim of IESE

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Along with IESE’s four campuses in Barcelona, Madrid, New York, and Munich, the school has facilities in São Paulo as well. IESE’s full-time MBA program is headquartered at the University of Navarra’s campus in Pedralbes, a residential neighborhood of Barcelona that sits just 20 minutes from the city’s downtown area. In this edition of our Admissions Director Q&A, Paula Amorim, Director of Admissions and IESE MBA ’16, discusses the hallmarks of the IESE MBA, what to expect in admissions and how you can learn more about the dynamic and diverse program.

Paula Amorim, IESE Director of Admissions and IESE MBA ’16

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

Paula Amorim: I believe that the uniqueness of IESE comes from the combination of two aspects: the case methodology and a truly multicultural and diverse environment. Our learning experience relies on the exchange between our students. That is why from an admissions perspective, it is important to have students who come from all over the world and have different backgrounds, so that the discussion can be as rich as possible. However, the knowledge transfer among students would not be possible if we had participants who are not willing to share what they bring with them. IESE’s MBA is structured in a way that teamwork and collaboration are essential for the system to work properly. Therefore, we are actively looking for people who are aligned with our values and the school’s culture.

CA: How might the applicant experience look different this year due to COVID-19? How would you advise candidates to get to know your MBA program and student community if they aren’t able to visit your campus?

PA: We have already planned our activities to be online throughout fall and winter. Although we are deeply sorry not to be able to meet candidates face-to-face, we have organized ourselves to over-deliver content and create even more opportunities for candidates to interact with our admissions team and alumni. We have built a robust events plan that will be managed centrally, while the regional events will still happen. There are advantages to the online model also, where candidates will be able to participate in events with other candidates from other parts of the world and even have access to sessions they did not have access before, like our case classes or lectures with professors. Visiting the campus is a true privilege and we do feel sorry that we are not able to show our beautiful campus, with which our candidates fall in love. However, IESE is building a strict protocol that will allow candidates to visit the campus, if they comply with all the measures and guidelines. Thus, I would incentivize the candidates to reach out to us, in case they are interested in visiting the campus to get more clarity on the process.

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.)?

PA: My team is structured in a way that overlooks the process from beginning to end. This means that the person who meets candidates in MBA fairs, informational events and coffee chats is the same that sits in the Admissions Committee to discuss the candidates. We are organized by region, therefore after the candidate clicks “submit” the Associate Director responsible for their country reads the full application, rates it and brings it to a committee, where we will discuss if we will move that candidate to the interview stage. The members of the Admissions Committee, who are all IESE alumni ourselves, are responsible for conducting the interview, which can be online or face-to-face, depending where the candidate is and who the interviewer is. In case the Admission Officer already knows the candidate well, we delegate the interview to a colleague from another region, so we can have more perspectives on each candidate. For this reason, it is very important for the candidate to be in close contact with the admissions officer from their region since the impression they leave will be taken into consideration during the committee. As I mentioned in a previous question, the cultural fit with the school is very important for us, so we take a very personalized approach, getting to know our candidates on a personal level and understanding their motivations. An extra step to get even more information about the candidates is the Assessment Day, which is a group dynamic that we usually host in the Barcelona, New York and São Paulo campuses, and in Singapore and Hong Kong. We try to emulate the type of experience we would have during the IESE MBA to see how candidates perform in the environment. That helps keep the consistency in the candidates we admit in terms of value, attitude and behavior. Once we have all these steps complete, we take the candidates to a committee where the representatives from all regions are present and we discuss each candidate one by one and make a joint decision.

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?

PA: The essay portion is extremely important for us. We have already decided on the essays for next year and we are keeping it short and sweet, with two mandatory and one optional essays. The first essay helps us have a better understanding of who the candidate is as a person, what is important for them and how that is aligned with IESE. The second is about post-MBA career goals, while the third is an open-ended question, where the candidate can choose to talk about anything they want. As you can see, it is not long, so we expect the candidate to put a lot of thoughts into it. We want to read something genuine, deep and properly reflected upon. It is a true turn off to read poorly written essays, where you can feel the candidate did not put enough effort in it. We do not expect literature masterpieces, so the candidate does not have to spend time trying to find beautiful words or sophisticated sentence structures. We are looking for content and depth in the ideas. Therefore, it is important for candidates to discuss their thoughts with their partners, friends or families, in order to put the ideas into place and be able to convey their true selves and goals.

CA: Anything else you’d like to highlight about your MBA program or admissions process?

PA: I would like to reinforce the importance of doing thorough research when applying to business schools. I cannot reinforce enough how each business school has its own personality and some schools will offer experiences that are closer to what you are looking for. Explore the alumni network the school has and connect with people that have similar profile as yours, or that work in a field you want to go into after the MBA. LinkedIn is a great ally in this moment and the alumni are the purest source for learning about the school. Go deeper in the academic and learning experience that the school provides. At IESE, we use the case methodology in 80% of our classes, so it is interesting to understand what that really means for your development and the MBA experience. We organize case classes for our candidates, so make sure you attend one of those and witness the dynamics of a case class (they will happen virtually also). Last but not least, study the employment reports of the schools you are applying to and try to understand exactly how your goals match with the offerings of the school. If you are not looking at the most traditional MBA paths (consulting, finance, tech, big companies), connect with the admissions team and alumni so they can help you understand what your job search would look like. This reflection will help you leverage your candidacy and show you know where you are going.

On a final note, we have many channels you can access and learn more about the student experience and the admissions process:

Good luck in your MBA journey!

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.