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Admissions Director Q&A: Benoit Banchereau of HEC Paris

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We are delighted to have Benoit Banchereau return for another Admissions Director Q&A on behalf of HEC Paris. Benoit has been leading the marketing and the recruitment for the full-time MBA, EMBA and Trium EMBA programs of HEC Paris for the last seven years. He started his career as a journalist in France and in the UK before joining the strategy consulting firm AT Kearney, where he oversaw marketing and communications for the French market for a decade. He then joined Freshfields, the UK law firm, in France as Director of business development for 4 years. Benoit graduated from the Sorbonne with a degree in Journalism and from the international marketing program at INSEAD.

Read on for Benoit’s insights in the HEC Paris MBA program, the hallmarks of its location, what to expect in admissions and more.

Benoit Banchereau, Executive Director, Communications, Marketing & Admissions, MBA Programs, HEC Paris

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

Benoit Banchereau: Though the name of the school is HEC Paris, the campus is located on a 340-acre wooded campus, 10 miles (17km) southwest of Paris, from which the culture, history, and charm of the French capital are easily accessible.

Strategically situated in the Paris-Saclay Innovation Cluster, our location enables our students to draw upon the expertise of the cluster and team up with scientists to bring their technological inventions to market. Our proximity to Paris allows students to easily find an internship in the city and to take advantage of Paris’ location as a travel hub for all of Europe.

Many of our MBA students choose to live on campus, in one of our residence halls. We offer individual rooms, and a small number of apartments that are reserved for couples and families. In order to take advantage of on-campus housing options, we suggest that you apply as soon as possible after you’ve been accepted to the program.

Our location in the picturesque village of Jouy-en-Josas offers something for everyone. Whether you want to study, party, play sports or go out, the HEC Campus has it all: a cafeteria, a bar and cafette, study rooms and a lounge, a newly built gym and sports hall, not to mention 8,000m² of sports fields. Our library offers 60,000 books and e-books on management, as well as 1,500 periodicals in a variety of languages to help keep you up-to-date.

Our Languages Center offers students the chance to practice their French (as a foreign language) or learn a completely new language. All of this is located in the beautiful surroundings of the French countryside, with acres of woods, lakes and fields to be discovered.

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?

BB: We connect with applicants from the moment they make first contact with us, so the time before submitting an actual application is just as important as the time after they have submitted it.  At HEC Paris, we try to get to know each and every applicant through email or phone before they apply, so we understand them and their goals. Once they submit, the relationship doesn’t end.  As applicants move through the process, their Marketing & Recruitment Manager stays in touch. Once a complete application is submitted, applicants will know within 2-3 weeks if they have made it to the final round of consideration. If they are selected to move into the final round, alumni interviews will be scheduled and the application will hear from both their Admissions Officer and Marketing & Recruitment Manager, who will offer them advice on their upcoming interviews with two MBA alumni.

In the 2 – 3 weeks following pre-selection, the candidate will meet two MBA alumni for one-on-one interviews. They will have the chance to both present on a topic of their choice and discuss with our alumni to assess fit. The interviews are traditionally in person and take place in over 80 countries. After the alumni interviews, we host the official jury, wherein we make admissions decisions. The whole process takes 5 weeks, which means applicants will know if they’re admitted within 5 weeks of submitting their applications.

Once admitted, candidates can apply for a merit-based scholarship.

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read an essay? 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?

BB: Candidates should take time to think about the questions before drafting their responses. We are looking for genuine responses so candidates should write from the heart, and spell check and proof read their essays. They should also look at their overall essays to make sure they complement each other and that there is not too much repetition.

Keep in mind that we are reviewing many excellent applications, so it’s best if candidates present their true selves, which can help them stand out.

We have an open essay, where applicants can share anything that they would like.  It can explain a gap in their CV, or how they’ve experienced diversity, or the challenges that brought them to this place today. This can be very useful in getting to know our candidates and understand their situation.

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 (resume-based, behavioral)?

BB: No one knows the HEC Paris MBA program better than our alumni. Top candidates will move on to the interview round of the application process. We receive over 2,500 applications per year and around 20 percent are advanced into the final round of interviews. The interviews are conducted by two MBA alumni. Each interview is about one hour. During this time candidates meet with an alumni from their city of their choice. They will share a presentation on a topic they have chosen and have time to ask the interviewer about the program and its culture. Interviews are typically conducted in person but have moved to video chat during the Covid crisis. Our interviewers assess is the program is right for the candidate and if both interviewers feel it is not, then a candidate is not admitted to the program. We believe that our alumni know best who will succeed and fit at the HEC Paris MBA and we put our ultimate trust in our past students.

CA: What is your testing policy?  Do you offer exam waivers?  Why or why not?

BB: HEC Paris feels strongly about requiring a standardized test, and even through COVID, we didn’t waive this requirement. The GMAT or GRE, is a great indicator for us, that students will be able to follow classes and perform well during the MBA. While test scores aren’t the most important part of the application, they do show that the applicant has invested time and prepared.

CA: Tell us briefly about two popular aspects of the MBA program.

BB: Students continually name our Off-Campus Leadership Seminar and the MBA Tournament (MBAT) as two of their favorite traditions at the HEC Paris MBA. Both events are very popular.

During our Off-Campus Leadership Seminar, students spend two days proving – and improving – their team-leadership skills during a series of increasingly difficult field exercises supervised by military-trained professionals. Just as in the real world, the Off-campus Leadership Seminar teaches them to lead in situations where they don’t have all the answers, where they confront obstacles that they’ve never seen before. During the seminar, they stretch their limits and go farther than they ever thought possible, learning how to leverage the strength of their team to accomplish a common goal. After each timed exercise, their mentor provides feedback about their effectiveness at leading the group and their methods of problem solving.

The program develops participants’ confidence to lead in all circumstances and teaches them how to motivate others to work toward a common goal.

The MBAT, renowned as the MBA Olympics, is the largest gathering of MBA students in Europe. Students participate as members of the MBAT’s core team, and take on the responsibility of organizing a three-day, multisport competition for 1,500 participants. Students are entirely responsible for the MBAT, including all of its organizational and operational details.

CA: As we learn to live with COVID-19, campuses have opened up and students are back. What about prospective students? Will they have the opportunity to visit campus? Will admissions interviews be conducted virtually?

BB: There are several ways candidates can connect with us: we host in-person meetings in selected cities worldwide, or they can schedule an online one-to-one information session or join an upcoming webinar to learn more about the HEC Paris MBA. They can also set up a visit to our campus. And interviews are held virtually or in-person depending on the wishes of the interviewer and interviewee.

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

BB: Our whole application process takes 5 weeks before candidates know if they have been accepted into the program. In addition, we offer coaching throughout the admissions process – if you are working on your application, your Marketing & Recruitment Manager is happy to set up a call to answer any questions you might have.

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.