Why the IESE admissions process isn’t efficient, but it’s effective

Finding the perfect MBA is all about finding a business school that matches your values and ambitions. To understand how business schools find candidates that are a good fit, we spoke to Tomofumi Nishida, Deputy Director of the MBA (Asia & Middle East) at IESE Business School.

In short

How the IESE admissions process focuses on finding “a good fit”

Tomofumi Nishida wasn’t expecting to return so soon after graduating from IESE Business School in 2016. He initially studied an MBA to change direction in his career, looking to move from finance into something more suited to him. HR and education were already in his mind as a possible answer. When the opportunity arose to return to IESE, he couldn’t turn it down. Having already gone through the school’s admissions process, he knew IESE was a perfect fit for him.

In his current role as Deputy Director of the IESE MBA (Asia and the Middle East), he can work from his native Japan while still benefiting from the international exposure of an international school. He says that the chance to work with fellow IESE alumni on the IESE’s admissions committee was a big attraction for returning.

“Everyone in this admissions committee is a graduate of IESE Business School, so I could easily respect them and some of them were even my classmates. I wanted to be surrounded by these kinds of respectful and talented people after graduation,” he says. (02:42)

It’s a bit of a surprise to hear Tomofumi say that his own school’s admissions process is not efficient. However, it’s with good reason. He says that taking extra time to assess each applicant allows them to find candidates that fit the IESE DNA.

“Interestingly, internally we often say that our admissions process is not so efficient, but it is effective,” he tells us. “That’s because we tend to spend a lot of time getting to know an applicant – who you are beyond the documents. In other words, we put a bit more emphasis on interviews. This is also beneficial for applicants to know what kind of school we are, or to check that you’re a fit for IESE.” (03:25)

What is the IESE assessment day?

As part of the process to get to know you, some IESE applicants are invited to an assessment day. It’s a chance for you to get a feel for the culture at IESE, but also for the school to understand you a little better. It may not be efficient, but it’s an effective way to find candidates who are the right fit for IESE.

“The assessment day – potentially taking place after the interview – is all about team discussions, team presentations, class participation, etc. Not everyone is invited to this process and an invitation doesn’t mean you’re at an advantage or disadvantage. It just means we need a bit more information at the admissions committee to make a better decision,” Tomofumi explains. (03:59)

During this assessment day, applicants have the chance to witness IESE’s case method of teaching in action. Originally pioneered at Harvard Business School, the case method involves analyzing real-life business cases from over the years. Since around 80% of IESE MBA classes use the case method, it’s a great way of seeing if it’s a style that suits you.

“We have this step because we emphasize team discussion and class participation in our core teaching method, which is called the case method,” Tomofumi explains. “The assessment day could be a great opportunity to check your fit with IESE. For instance, if you feel less comfortable with the class based on the case method, I don’t think you should come to IESE!” (04:10)

Making the triple jump after your MBA

Students come from all over the world to study at IESE. They then disperse to just as many places when they graduate. You’ll find IESE MBA ‘20 graduates in five different continents. Forty-six percent are staying put in Europe and the rest are distributed across Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the USA.

And this makes sense. For many people, an MBA gives them the chance to launch a career in a new country. But it also gives candidates the help they need to change function or enter a new industry. In IESE’s case, the majority of its MBA graduates end up in consulting (33%), finance (22%), and technology (17%). 

Some people decide to use an MBA to make the so-called triple jump – changing country, industry, and function. It’s a difficult move at the best of times, but especially so during a global economic downturn. Tomofumi says that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a large proportion of IESE MBA 2020 graduates made a triple jump.

“A triple jump means changing the industry, function, and location simultaneously – it’s not easy at all. However, this class did an amazing job. Triple jumpers accounted for 33% of the MBA class of 2020, which is remarkable because this class was extremely affected by COVID-19 in a negative way,” he reveals. (08:35)

How can you get to know a business school before applying?

For a school that places so much focus on getting to know its applicants, it’s not a surprise to learn that their (virtual) open days are an extension of that. Tomofumi breaks down the components of an IESE open day.

“In the virtual open day there are three components: the first one is an MBA overview, the second is a real MBA class based on the case method, and the third is an alumni discussion. The [second part is particularly] an opportunity for applicants to check your fit with IESE and whether you could feel comfortable with the case method,” says Tomofumi. (10:22)

He also suggests reaching out to the school directly. It’s another chance to get to know the school, and for the school to get to know you. It’s really what the IESE admissions process is all about.

“Aside from that, you can freely reach out to us so we can introduce you to someone appropriate. Through this kind of personal interaction, you can deepen your understanding of IESE as a whole,” he adds. (10:48)

Deepening your understanding of a business school is essential to choosing the right MBA. It’s why schools like IESE give you so many chances to interact with them and understand how they work. This is helpful for finding out if they’re a good fit for you, but also if you’re a good fit for them. If you find a school that ticks both of those boxes, it might be the one for you.

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