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My first interview was with the VP of a VC company in his office. The interview was at 3 PM. I arrived 10 minutes ahead of schedule and his secretary showed me to a meeting room. And here things started going downhill. He made me wait till 3.30 PM before he came in. I kept my cool and generally was going through my application. I figured if this is a stress interview, I won’t let him break me. He came in, introduced himself, and asked me if anyone had debriefed me on the whole interview process. I was honest and told him my level of knowledge was restricted to what I gathered from forums and blogs. He took me through the entire process.
I reproduce it here in its entirety because its useful information which I did not find elsewhere:
“The interviews are not meant to evaluate whether you are a suitable candidate for INSEAD. I neither have the expertise nor the time to do such a complete evaluation. The INSEAD Admissions Committee (who is an outsourced bunch of people) has tremendous skill in doing this. My job is to assess whether you are someone whom I would like to work with in the future and to feedback that information to the adcom. You had two professional recommendations with your original application. Think of these interviews as two other recommendations included in your file. After the interviews, the adcom will relook the entire package, your application, and the four recommendations. They will once again evaluate your GPA, GMAT, essays with these four recommendations to help them further. These will be assessed by a panel of 3 INSEAD professors chosen anonymously every year. If there is a split vote the third assessor will make the final call. So, it is a 2/3 vote that will decide your candidature."
After this debrief, the actual interview started. My interviewer was very familiar with my company and was probing me regressively on their strategy. In general, he was abrupt, brusque, and sometimes seemed disdainful, but I plugged away. I refused to get flustered and kept correcting him if he made some wrong assumptions. There were many questions on the decisions my company had taken, their future course of actions (for the curious ones, no, I didn’t reveal any trade secrets), etc. He also drilled me about my work and how it tied into the overall strategy of the company and why I was chosen by management to do certain things, etc.
In the middle of the interview, he walked away for another 20 minutes to attend another meeting. He also took two phone calls while I was talking. I found this to be a bit unusual considering all I had read about the chilled-out interviews that INSEAD alumni conduct. Towards the end, he asked me if I had questions. Then, I decided it was time for me to be a bit assertive. So, I asked him pertinent questions about the state of VC funding and had many follow-up questions (on-the-fly). I did throw in a few INSEAD related questions. After a while, he started looking at his watch and then closed the interview. He asked me to see myself out as he had to run to another meeting.
I came out feeling a bit astounded, not knowing what had just happened. I guess it was fine, given that I was accepted. So never think it is over until it is over. And never back down from who you are. Express your individuality and let it shine through. Show that you are confident, thoughtful, intelligent, sensitive, and not afraid to stand up for what you believe in. All good traits to have outside of the interview room too.
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