This is the final post in the "series" where I will write about my experience during IMD's Assessment Day. Here is a link to the previous entries:
Assessment day, part III - The impromptu presentation
Assessment day, part II - The 1-on-1 interview
Assessment Day, part I - Getting to Lausanne
After we were done with the impromptu presentation, we were taken to IMD's famous restaurant for lunch with a current student. They try to pair the candidates up with a student of similar background. So I sat down with Henrique - a Brazilian who worked in finance prior to his MBA.
I was very glad to have the chance to talk to a current student, and Henrique was a great guy. He answered my questions very frankly and candidly, which really helped me envision myself in the IMD environment. He even gave me some solid advice for the case study discussion and the rest of the day. After I got accepted he took the initiative to reach out to congratulate me, and offered to help me out if I should have any questions. Great stuff!
I had read conflicting reports about whether the lunch is part of the assessment. I wouldn't be surprised if the current students are asked to submit a quick comment or two about the people they had lunch with. But either way, I just treated it as a good opportunity to get a feel for what life is really like at IMD. I appreciated the chance to ask about everyday life, how much time you REALLY have to do things, career prospects etc.
The restaurant was in fact phenomenal, as expected. Lots of variety, and quality food. It's a huge perk that it is included in the cost of the program! Sadly I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have on assessment day, because I was worried having too large a meal would make me sleepy in the afternoon!
The case study
The case study was probably the part of assessment day I was most anxious about. I didn't have any previous experience working through a case study, so I wasn't exactly sure how to prepare, or what was expected of the candidates.
The case will throw a ton of information at you, and give you a ton of "leads" to pursue. It's ultimately your job to decide what is relevant and which leads are worth pursuing. Also, the whole idea is that by discussing the case in a group, you "derive" learning and meaning through the discussion. You end up exploring more angles and ideas than when you just analyze it yourself.
Because of this, I found it difficult to foresee which direction the discussion would go. So I figured the best approach would be to identify as many possible "themes" as I could, prioritize them, and then have pretty good depth of information and data pertaining to each theme, using both the case text and exhibits, as well as my own research.
A couple examples of these "themes" would be something like "what's best for companies vs what's best for the customers/public" or "potential to cannibalize existing business in the short term vs positioning for long-term." I tried to look for evidence related to these issues to understand how they impact the overall decisions/recommendations/outcomes.
This approach may not work for everyone, but it turned out to be a pretty good one for me. By going over the case with each "theme" in mind, starting with what I ranked as the most relevant/important ones, I was able to come at the case from different perspectives. Most importantly, I got very familiar with the case itself. This is crucial, because that way I was able to think back to the case and pull key information to use as evidence for my arguments during the discussion.
The exercise during assessment day was an incredible experience. We started out by discussing the case amongst ourselves, and later had professor John Walsh facilitate the discussion. I think it's fair to say John Walsh wowed us all. He was intelligent, witty and captivating. And he was extremely skilled at deconstructing even what we thought were our most convincing arguments. At the end of the two hours we were all amazed at how awesomely challenging and rewarding the discussion was. It made us all look forward to more of this kind of mentally stimulating work at IMD.
My tips for getting through the case discussion
- Keep the energy level up
This was some of Henrique's advice to me during lunch, which I thought was very helpful. By the time you start the case discussion, you'll have already been working hard for several hours, and you'll have just have eaten a delicious, potentially very large meal. It's easy to start getting sleepy and lose a little bit of focus. So drink some caffeine, throw some cold water on your face, do what you need to do to stay fully engaged.
- Know when to jump in and when to listen.
IMD is really looking for people that work well together, and the case study is basically two hours of uninterrupted team work. When everyone is full of ideas, and excited to share their insights it can be tricky to know when to speak and when to listen. I was worried going in that I would get "drowned out" and not have an opportunity to share my ideas. I was worried I would come up with a really good comment, but not be able to get it out there. I was also a bit concerned that I may end interrupting people and disrupting the discussion.
Thankfully, in my group everyone was very mature and respectful. I found that the discussions were constructive and everyone was receptive to others' comments. I tried to be polite when I did jump in, and others did the same. We were able to build off of each other's ideas, which was extremely important. I think it also helped a lot that the candidates had all met and gotten to know each other a little bit the day before.
Also, it helped that during the instructor-led part of the activity, John Walsh called on us individually, and made sure we all had multiple chances to express our opinions and defend our arguments.
- Always use evidence
The most compelling points are always the ones that are backed by evidence. If you state an opinion but don't have a way to substantiate it, it won't be anywhere near as powerful. This is where it is helpful to know the case well, and to have really examined the exhibits and researched the "themes" ahead of time. You may feel like you over-prepared if you walk away without bringing up a lot of your analysis. But going through that exercise will give you a good holistic view of the case, and the ability to back up your points regardless of the direction the discussion takes.
- Listen actively
I would bet the admissions officers are paying very close attention to how you listen. Probably as much as they are paying attention to what you say.
- Be prepared to defend your points, but know when to concede
During the discussion your ideas may be challenged, probably by other candidates, and DEFINITELY by the professor. You should most definitely defend your arguments, if you feel you can back them up. Again, it is useful to bring up evidence from the case, and to connect your ideas to what others have said.
However, if you don't have enough evidence or don't think your argument is valid in light of new anlaysis introduced by the group or by the professor, it's ok to concede. It shows you are open to different opinions and to reassessing your views. It also shows you are not overly stubborn or defensive, which can be detrimental to the discussion.