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MBA Admissions Tips & Advice from HEC Paris MBA Director & Star Applicant

Recommenders: Choose Wisely

Sara Vanos: When applying to the HEC Paris MBA, you will be asked to provide two references. I would advise you to not underestimate the importance of the references section; it’s important in assessing your overall profile, and more specifically your recommendation letters act as endorsements of your career achievements and of your potential to succeed.

Professional references are preferred over academic or voluntary references.  I would advise you to choose references from people under whom you have directly worked over someone very senior who doesn’t know you. Talk with them before sending the references link to make sure they know your goals.

Kendra Bills: The HEC Paris MBA application requires two letters of recommendation and the recommenders are sent a link where they can access an online form and answer some questions about the person they are recommending. In general, they ask the recommender to evaluate some abilities (communication, intellectual or academic ability, analytical skills, and language–English–ability) and answer some questions. What is important here is to choose someone with whom you’ve closely worked and who can really describe who you are and highlight your strengths. They value the quality of the recommendation over who’s writing it (sometimes a colleague or client will be a better recommendation than a CEO). Remember to keep it professional. Professors and teachers shouldn’t be a letter of recommendation unless the applicant is working in the educational sector.

Presentation & Fit: Two Goals for Two Interviews at HEC Paris

Sara Vanos: After submitting your application, our Admissions Jury will review and evaluate your candidacy. We review every single application from top to bottom, looking for excellence across academics, career, extracurricular activities, goals, and references.  Exceptional applicants will be selected to move forward to the final round:  interviews with two MBA Alumni.

During these interviews, you will be asked to prepare a presentation on a topic of your choice.  I recommend spending time on both the topic choice and, of course, on the presentation itself, as it’s a reflection of your preparation and skills.  Our alumni really look forward to meeting you, to sharing the HEC Paris values, and getting to better understand your path and motivations for joining HEC Paris. This final round will help you assess your fit with the school, giving you the chance to meet with our alumni and ask about their MBA journey, which amounts to an exclusive ‘insider’s view’ of the program!

Our alumni are passionate about HEC Paris, and they hope that future MBA students are equally enthusiastic. A best practice would be to spend time researching HEC Paris, with clear reasoning as to why you would like to pursue an MBA — and more specifically, why HEC Paris.

Mistake to Avoid
Surprisingly, not all candidates have questions for our interviewers! I suggest carefully preparing some well-thought-out questions for your interviews; this will show that you have researched the program, and it will help you better understand our MBA.

Kendra Bills: I thought the interviews were the most interesting and valuable part of the entire application process. Interviews are unique at HEC because you are interviewing with two alumni, not the school board, professors, or admissions committee. I really enjoyed this approach because it gave me a chance to learn more about the program from a former student’s perspective and showed me that alumni remain involved in the school after they graduate–something that, in my opinion, is very positive about the school. The interviews that I had felt more like a conversation than standing in front of a committee and trying to prove my worth. I was able to learn the alum’s real perspectives about different topics and if I was having doubts about anything regarding the school or program, I could try to clarify them right then and there. The interviews are valuable in that they allow the school to evaluate the fit of the student but they also allow the student to evaluate the fit of the school to themselves. They are definitely something to prepare for and be taken seriously. Make sure your story on your written application is consistent with the story you tell in your interviews.

The scheduling of the interviews is also unique. You’re assigned two alumni and are given their names and email addresses and are asked to reach out to them to schedule and complete the interview by a certain date. It was nice to have this flexibility and consideration of my own schedule from the school. I was applying to other schools in Europe (while living in Montana – MST time zone) and some interviews were scheduled for me at 4am my time- not very considerate on their end, and showed the schools weren’t able to adapt–a kind of “my way or the highway” philosophy I didn’t really appreciate.

Both of my interviewers were very welcoming and pleasant to talk to and gave me a lot of information about the overall experience at HEC (classes, dorms, clubs, cohort experience–you name it!) and what the school had to offer. One even connected me to his HEC classmate who is currently working on sustainability projects because I mentioned a big reason I wanted to go to the school was their Sustainable Disruption Specialty and my career goals in that field. I ended these interviews with even more confidence in my desire to participate in HEC’s MBA program and confidence that it was a good fit for me.

For the interviews, you’re asked to prepare a 10 minute presentation. The instructions are very vague–you can choose any topic you wish, and there will be no communication between the two interviewers– so you can use the same presentation for both, or create two separate presentations if you wish. This is your opportunity to show that you can deliver a message with clarity and to express creativity and passion in your presentation. The subject doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t have to be work related; in fact, sometimes it’s more memorable if it’s not work related.

Applying during a Pandemic

Kendra Bills: I was applying to the HEC Paris MBA program in May of 2020, when there was a lot of uncertainty how Covid-19 would affect the upcoming year. The next year’s plan (regarding Covid-19) was a large topic to consider when I was talking to schools about their program.  The preparation for the next school year, in my opinion, showed a lot about the organization of the school and how they can adapt with the changing times. I think this is incredibly relatable to business environments. Business environments are always evolving and changing. I didn’t want to go to a school that was teaching yesterday’s business practices–I wanted to go to a school that was learning from the past and present, that was constantly adapting and responsive to disruption.  When talking to schools about their plans for the upcoming fall semester in regards to Covid-19, most had a general plan of whether or not they would be online, but HEC was able to offer a concrete description of how they would facilitate the plan. They had prepared all their classes to be online the semester before (in case they were forced to go virtual by government regulations or in case a student had to quarantine) and they would try to give as much face-to-face instruction as possible. In order to do this, they had to adapt the size of the classes and provide different means of teaching to not only to ensure that they were complying with regulations, but also to allow students and professors to feel safe during this time. HEC was able to lay out a concrete and comprehensive plan to me, which showed a lot about the organization, adaptability, and their willingness to go out of their way and adapt for their students.

One Final Thought

Sara Vanos: Remember, we are here for you to coach and guide you through the application process.  We have a dedicated team of regional recruitment managers who respond to everyone who gets in contact with us.  Your first step is our Connect Form — and we hope to hear from you soon!

Posted in: Admissions Tips, Application Tips, General, Pre-Matriculation Tips, Research Tips, Sponsored Content

Schools: HEC Paris

About the Author


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.

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