Interviews: HEC Paris and ESCP Europe

Last Friday, I interviewed at New York's Alliance Francaise (French Language Institute) for my Masters in Management programs at HEC Paris and ESCP Europe (through the admissions council SAI).

I would consider myself a pretty seasoned interviewer with a pretty good track record (including a $1300 interview I flew half way across the world for). I'm generally good at first impressions and relatively good at expressing myself (well, at least under pressure - I ironically have trouble formulating sentences in daily conversation, probably because my brain thinks faster than my mouth can speak). Anyway, despite two whole hours of preparation (which is a lot for me because I don't like to sound scripted), I was not so pleasantly surprised by some of the most thoughtful (read: hardest) interview questions I had ever been asked in my life. Wait what? Let me write a research paper on this before I provide you my one-paragraph conclusion. But seriously, we were discussing topics that would make hour-long conversations. 

Granted, HEC Paris is the #1 business school in Europe, and the Masters in Management also happens to be their flagship program. I did not expect the interview to be easy, but what struck me was how with just a few targeted questions, I was having a deep, thought-provoking conversation about my career path and how I could realize those aspirations. Instead of scripted responses to the equally scripted questions I was used to being asked, I was being pushed to think creatively and intelligently about my background, my strengths, and how this program could benefit my career. 

Three French interviewers, one young self-identified strategy consultant, an older man in his 40s who was probably too accomplished to talk humbly about his profession, and an African American man who gave me the vibe of working in the Fashion industry, sat across the table from me in a very small room. The first question was easy enough - tell us about yourself. This was a no brainer. I gave a positive, concise, but also detailed overview of my academic background, interest, and future plans, weaving in a few facts about the schools and how they would contribute to my career plans. 

The next question asked me to describe a consulting job on my resume and what I learned from it. This was posed by the strategy consultant who at the end, seemed pleased with my answer - my conclusion being that as a consultant, you can't expect to make monumental challenges in one day. It's all about small impact, little bits at a time, and hoping that something you said or did will shape management's decision moving forward in some positive way.

Then came the first challenge - stemming from my somewhat ambiguous career aspirations. I was asked, rather pointedly, if I could elaborate on the specific goals I had after graduation. At this point, I was conflicted about answering truthfully (that I had narrowed my choices down to three career paths) or telling them what they wanted to hear: a well-defined plan in a specific area. I hesitated and told them the truth -the whole truth. I said I made the mistake in undergraduate school to focus on one career path, only to find that it was not meant for me (namely, banking). I realized from this experience that I am far from a well-informed decision about my final career destination, but I do have three very specific career paths that I hope to explore in graduate school: luxury marketing given my background in psychology/consumer behavior and fluency in Chinese, strategy consulting given my current and past work experiences, and finally tech startups given my startup project and interests in technology. I told them I was still exploring and keeping my options open, but in a focused and disciplined way. This was surprisingly well-received. But then I got my two worst questions.

Imagine that I am the director of L'Oreal, the middle-aged man, who very well could have been a director at L'Oreal, said to me, sell yourself to me. I had never had to pretend to sell myself in an interview where I was already pretending to sell myself. My brain got confused and they had to cut me off.

Then came another question about a subject I had no actual knowledge about - Tell me how I would sell luxury French wine to the Asian markets in a way that would stand out from other international brands. My heart dropped because I knew nothing about the luxury french wine industry. I somehow miraculously spew out something about playing the French exclusivity / limited-supply card to differentiate itself from the American mass consumer / volume-driven sales strategies. The interviewers, though not elated, seemed content with this response. It was a bull shit answer, but at least a well-constructed bull shit answer, my boyfriend later told me. 

At the very end, I was asked to speak some French "off the record". This was rather easy since I got to pick the very basic sentences and say them perfectly. I got some nodding frowns ("not bad"), and then was just as quickly escorted out as I was escorted in.

How did I think I did? I honestly have no idea. All I can say is I tried my best, and I can only hope that they liked who I am. 

Results come out next week! So I'll keep you updated.

until next time,