The EMBA platform to cultivate new mentor relationships

When Priyanka Narasimhan decided it was time to take her career down a different path, she knew that she needed to draw on the experience of others.

The EMBA platform to cultivate new mentor relationships
Mentors can provide valuable feedback and impart new skills. Photo: HEC Paris

“I was working in pharmaceuticals, in research and development,” says Priyanka, a 36-year-old biologist who lives and works near Cambridge, England.

“What I wanted to do was move away from research and towards the commercialisation of products. While preparing for the career change I quickly realised that I had several gaps in my skills – business skills was one of them.”

While studying an Executive MBA at HEC Paris as part of her plan to change career path, Priyanka realised she needed mentors – people who could help her develop.

“I remember trying to prepare an important presentation. Because I am a scientist, I was immersed in data, that’s all I could see. I was wondering how to make my point in a way that stuck. Those around me, who worked in the luxury sector, looked at the data and could see a story.”

Priyanka’s colleagues, who would become her mentors as her EMBA studies progressed, helped her to create presentations that engaged others and brought them around to her point of view.

“I think the mentoring I received from my more experienced colleagues at HEC Paris helped me more effectively make my case when presenting to different departments and stakeholders.”

An EMBA from HEC Paris not only gives you the cutting-edge skillset to transform your career, but can help develop mentors that will guide you in life

Priyanka Narasimhan drew on the experience of her mentors and colleagues to shift careers. Photo: Supplied

Priyanka is not alone in seeing these benefits. Studies show that career professionals, regardless of their career level, benefit extraordinarily from having mentors – people whom they can consult with and seek advice from regularly.

Research conducted in 2006 for Sun Microsystems found that career professionals within their organisation who had a mentor were five times more likely to be promoted than their peers without one. Furthermore, both mentees and mentors were 20 percent more likely to have received a raise than their peers.

It’s not just mid-level career professionals who benefit: According to a survey by the Harvard Business Review in 2015, 84 percent of CEOs questioned felt that their mentors had helped them avoid costly mistakes and that they had become proficient in their roles faster. Another 69 percent stated that their mentors helped them make better decisions.

The classmates who would become her mentors would provide concrete support not only during her Executive MBA, but as she began a new role as a program manager for Novartis.

“When I was preparing for interviews, for example, I practised with more senior and experienced colleagues. They were there to give input. The skills that they passed on will be valuable throughout my life.”

“Whenever I have doubts, even now I can ping an email and tell them that I have a problem that I need help with.

“When I started the new role I reached out to (a mentor) and told them I was preparing to map all my stakeholders as part of a 90-day plan. I asked them how they would go about it, and they gave me some very valuable ideas.

“I think mentors can really help guide you through undertaking new and challenging roles. They help me understand the functions and priorities of different departments.

“Another perspective is, I’m a first-generation immigrant. I’m a female. I need to see people like me in leadership roles, and I need to connect with them and understand how they navigate through the corporate world.”

Many of the mentors that Privanka still draws upon are part of the HEC Paris EMBA alumni networks; she sees a wealth of industries and levels of experience represented both within the alumni cohort and faculty.

“My EMBA was such a great platform to cultivate mentor relationships. You’re thrown into a world that is so different from your own industry. You are constantly presented with fresh perspectives and a wealth of prior experience.

“I have a few degrees and I’ve been to several universities, but HEC Paris was different because I was constantly learning, not only from my teachers but those around me.

“I continue to access my network, with mentors that come in different shapes and forms. They are my teachers and classmates. I have an established rapport with them. I’m comfortable discussing where my career is at with them.”

“I think an EMBA is essential for anyone interested in going beyond their sector in terms of learning. HEC Paris is utterly brilliant for that.”

Priyanka’s future not only involves an exciting new career at Novartis, but exciting possibilities developed during her EMBA project. One innovative project involves the creation of artificial devices to test chemicals and cosmetics ethically. As she does, she will be offering advice to those in her footsteps.

“I will be making myself available to those seeking a mentor, looking for advice. You don’t want to surround yourself only with people like you. You need a good balance.

“You want to have people who challenge you in terms of skillset and culture, as well as those you can already relate to.

“I look forward to being a part of that.”

Discover how HEC Paris can connect you with the mentors you need for a successful career move.

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Six culture clashes foreigners should prepare for when visiting French families

Family life is central to French culture, but as a foreigner you are likely to find it different to what you are used to. Whether you're visiting for dinner or preparing for a long stay as an Au Pair or exchange student, here are some things to expect.

Six culture clashes foreigners should prepare for when visiting French families
Is this the breakfast of your dreams or worst nightmare? Photo: AFP

1. The sugar-high after breakfast

What you heard about the French is true: they go crazy over their Nutella (literally).

The sweet, chocolate-hazelnut spread, which consists of 55 percent sugar, is a French breakfast classic.

Even as the French have become more concerned about eating healthily and lowering their sugar intake, many parents still let their children slather thick layers of Nutella on their tartines (slices of bread) before leaving for school.

REVEALED: This is how popular Nutella is in France

Some French families don't have a lot of different options on the breakfast table, except Nutella, jam and butter. 

That means Germans, Scandinavians and others who are used to piling egg, cheese and ham onto their bread in the morning, could be disappointed when moving in with a French family.

French people do eat a lot of cheese, but never for breakfast. And as for bacon and egg? Forget it.

READ ALSO 18 ways your eating and drinking habits change when you move to France


A French family on their way to school. Illustration photo: AFP

2. The sanctity of mealtimes 

In many countries it is not uncommon for family members to eat a meals at staggered times with parents returning from work late and the kids passing in and out of the house for their various activities. In France, on the other hand, eating is closer to a sacred ritual.

READ ALSO: Burning question: Do the French really hate all spices?

Every night (and even some lunchtimes), French families sit down at the table to eat a two or three-course meal together. Some families practice a strict no-phone policy at dinner, which means they communicate and have proper discussions, with no one hastily rushing off to their extra-curricular activities.

A normal family dinner in France can last around an hour, and much longer on special occasions like Christmas and Easter.

READ ALSO: How to snack (or not) like a French person


Nutella and fruit juice on the breakfast table of a French family. Illustration photo: ADP

3) The never-ending kissing 

Traditionally in France, people greet each other with la bise, a kiss on each cheek (sometimes more).

READ ALSO: French kissing: Where does the custom of 'la bise' come from

Kissing someone that you have never met before might seem strange, but it is a normal social practice in France. La bise isn’t just something you do the first time you meet someone, it’s a never ending social custom that is repeated every time you meet someone for the first time that day.

Families are no exception, and some children are taught to do la bise before heading off to bed at night.

However, just because la bise is normal, it doesn't mean that the French are particularly 'touchy feely' and hugging is a lot less common than it is in other countries.

In the context of the current pandemic, however, la bise has become a thing of the past, which means there is one less culture clash to brace yourself for.

4) The military-style homework recitals

Education is highly valued in France and, depending on where you come from in the world, you may find that schools here have a more authoritarian teaching style than in your home country.

French children are taught early to recite things by heart perfectly – not necessarily understanding what they're saying. During the homework evening recital, French parents are often severe judges. 

Don't be shocked if parents bark at their six-year-old for having forgotten a line in their poetry lesson. It seems harsh, but keep in mind that the reality back at the school is likely even harsher.

READ ALSO: The French culture shocks you should be prepared for

French school girls carrying briefcases back in 1967. Illustration photo: AFP

5) If the weather is bad, children stay inside

French children might get tough treatment when practicing their homework, but most of them are cushioned when it comes to the weather.

If you are from a country where you were forced to play outside – sun, rain, snow, storm, whatever – you might find French children a bit wimpish.

It's not uncommon that things stop working in France as soon as there is the slightest bit of snow, and most French children grow up under the impression that rain means indoor playtime, so as to avoid their getting clothes wet and muddy.

6) Their extreme bluntness

French people are generally quite open and free-speaking compared to those in some countries. Few topics are off limits in France.

While British parents tend to teach their children at an early age that some things are not appropriate at the dinner table French parents are generally quite open with their children and will talk about pretty much anything, even at the dinner table. 

These differences in table manners reflect a deeper culture difference; while Brits are well-known for being too polite and saying sorry for everything to the point of them being prudish and even closed-off, French people are very to-the-point and will mostly let you know exactly what they think. 

They rarely use euphemisms or beat around the bush – something you should bear in mind before asking a French person whether your new, radical haircut really suits you.

Have you experienced culture shocks when moving it with a French family? Tell us at [email protected]