Pascal Michels – Director of MBA Admissions, IESE

A 2010 graduate of the IESE MBA program, Pascal headed from business school to Citigroup in London, where he worked in different financial management roles. He was ultimately enticed back to IESE to serve as a career services associate director for financial services in 2013. After almost four years, he has embarked on a new role of heading the MBA Admissions team in 2017.

“I am incredibly proud of IESE and the work we do in the MBA. During my time as a candidate, I found the application process to be instructive and enjoyable and I am convinced you too will find this to be the case. It is a two-way process of getting to know each other and ultimately a journey of self-discovery for the applicants. I hope that you will find the below information useful in your application journey.”


Question: What differentiates IESE from other programs?

IESE is well known for our strength in the case-study method style of teaching. The amazing thing about the case method is that it is simply the most powerful way to leverage the incredible diversity that we have in the classroom. Students learn from the unique experiences and views of their peers during classroom discussions, which helps them to broaden their scope and deepen their understanding of business as well as people management. Going through hundreds of cases during the MBA can transform our candidates’ mindsets.

Beyond our focus on the case method, IESE is very active in the field of experiential learning. Our curriculum is specifically about experimenting and exploring. In the first year, students undertake the Capstone consulting project where they have to solve a business problem for a real company. In the second year, this concept is reflected in some of the available electives such as Executive Simulation (one of our most popular courses, where you take on a C-Suite role on a board and work with a team to “run a company”) and also in the work that we do during overseas modules that allow students to work on short term consulting projects in different geographies.

Question: Why the 19 months program vs the 12 or 24 months?

Our MBA was created with the help of Harvard Business School and emulated HBS’ five-term, case-study based approach. Academically, our full-time MBA is extremely rigorous, especially during the first year. This is done on purpose as we believe that people get the best out of the learning experience when they are stretched to their limits.

The first year is about acquiring the essential know-how of how a business or any organization is run. The second year then offers a balanced experience, with its choice from more than 100 electives, the possibility of going on exchange with top business schools around the world, the overseas modules available in New York, Sao Paolo, Shanghai and Nairobi, an extremely vibrant student club ecosystem and many other elements of customization. The summer, whether in the shape of an internship or through entrepreneurship,  is all about gaining relevant new experiences and honing newly developed skills. This is an incredibly valuable opportunity particularly for career changers.

Question: How does IESE help students develop leadership skills?

At IESE we teach Leadership as a subject in the first term, but I think it is very telling about how we view leadership by the fact that this class is followed in the second term by follow up courses titled “Managing Oneself” and “Business Ethics.”

The positive impact we expect our graduates to have in their communities over their careers will be built on a strong basis of self-awareness and the reflex to see the human angle in the decisions they take. But becoming a leader takes time, and this is also where our two-year structure is a powerful enabler.

Let´s not forget that one key characteristic of being a principled  leader is good decision making. We´ve spoken about the case study method. At IESE, it´s not simply about having over 60 nationalities around you, but as you take these cases, you´ll learn that one strategy can work in one context and cannot work in another. With this, you learn to make decisions considering various points of view. Students undergo an intense transformation during the first year through interaction with high caliber individuals very different from themselves.

Additionally, the pace at which students increase their self-awareness is breath-taking. The second year then offers a risk-free lab environment to experiment with leadership. Often this takes place through leadership roles in student clubs or school activities such as Spring Games and TedX and even entrepreneurial ventures that students develop. It can also be in the form of deepening their academic knowledge of the subject through electives.

Question: What does IESE look for in an ideal candidate?

Pascal Michels – Director of MBA admissions, IESE

Everyone in an MBA Admissions Director position will say that “the ideal candidate does not exist”. And that is also true for IESE. Our class is made up of a wide variety of backgrounds and every person’s unique experiences enriches the classroom discussions.

That said, there is a number of common characteristics that all our successful applicants share: First of all, they are humble. Humility is a prerequisite for classroom discussions to be successful. We look for students who not only are able to bring experience into the classroom but also who are open to learning from others. This includes but is not limited to having an open mind, being able to listen deeply to others and a willingness to question one’s own beliefs. With this value in mind, at IESE, to learn, you must first be willing to unlearn. Ultimately these are the personality traits that will allow a meaningful personal transformation to take place during the MBA.

Secondly, our students are ambitious. And this is by no means a contradiction with being humble. We look for people who want to have an impact! Literally, people who want to change the world. Leaving a mark, no matter what that mark is and how profound a change it implies, so long as it is positive, is a wonderful ambition to have.

Lastly, and this is probably a given for most top European programs, we expect our candidates to have an international mindset which can be demonstrated in many ways. Nevertheless, it is true that most of our students have lived in more than one country or worked in often very international settings. The MBA class is truly global and our collaborative culture very strong.

Question: What mistakes should applicants avoid in the application process?

Having read a fair share of essays as an interviewer, I will say that candidates need to be aware that it is fairly obvious when something gets copy pasted and tweaked from one school to another. To the trained eyes this is quite easy to spot! The worst mistake is when someone rolls out a standard speech. We like to see that people have understood our culture, our values and are able to formulate a personalized response.

Question: What’s the best way to get to know the school better?

IESE has a culture of engaging extensively and early on with our candidates. The easiest way to get to know each other is to start a conversation with one of our associate directors. IESE distinguishes itself from other business schools by having an ultra-international admissions team who are all graduates of the school. This means we strive to know each applicant’s background at a very personal level to see his / her fit to the class and collaborative spirit of IESE.

From a practical standpoint I would recommend potential applicants to request feedback on their profile: https://mba.iese.edu/page-section/feedback-on-your-profile . Once the form is completed and submitted, we will be in touch with them for a personalized consultation.

Of course, there are many other ways and I always encourage prospective applicants to visit our Barcelona campus. If that is not possible, try to attend one of our events in your region or tune into our online webinars.

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