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Stella Mantechou, Associate Director, Executive Development, INSEAD

20 Dec 2019 15:13 | Deleted user

What are the career advantages of curiosity? What characteristics do employers look for when recruiting talent? How can you make good career choices? Read the answers to these questions and more in this month’s interview with Stella Mantechou, Associate Director of Executive Development at INSEAD, the business school for the world. Let us inspire you to develop your career path!

You are currently the Associate Director of the Career Development for executive students at INSEAD. Can you tell us more about your position and how you support them in their career development?

INSEAD provides career development services to executive degree program students who are looking for their next career move. These students usually have over 14 years of experience, speak a variety of languages, have acquired international exposure, and are ready for either an internal acceleration, an external career switch, or the creation of their own enterprise.

At the Career Development for Working Professionals, we partner with executive students along their career journey and teach them lifelong skills that will serve them beyond their program. I am honoured to lead a global team of career experts who support not only executive degree programs but also alumni of all programs from INSEAD. My team spans across all main locations of our business school, France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi, and consists of 20 coaches and 3 in-house staff.

We empower executives to take full ownership of designing their career. Our role as their co-pilot, is to move them from reflecting on their options, to developing their individualized plan and executing their career vision. Together we help executives and alumni put their dreams into action. We do this through personalized career coaching and a variety of events, complemented by our virtual programs that focus on skill development and on-demand digital content.

Because we have such diversity at INSEAD, from career switchers to aspiring entrepreneurs and internal accelerators we do not believe that “one approach fits all” and although we offer a great career program, we highly encourage our participants to customize an action plan with their coach.

Having over 14 years of global experience in the career development field within the higher education sector, what are the biggest changes you have seen in career management in relation to meeting the modern demands of our increasingly globalized job market?

Today’s fast-paced and dynamic business environment extends across national boundaries and demands a new kind of executive. 

At INSEAD our executive students are well trained to meet these demands. We empower them to think of leadership in a global way, and that also affects how they view their careers. What they think of, as a clear career goal at the beginning of their program, may soon go beyond its initial scope. Once they graduate, they bring this global mindset and skillset to doing business as a force for good.

Companies are no longer hiring talent only
for business acumen but also for interpersonal
and strategic attributes such as innovative thinking,
global networking ability, emotional intelligence
and cross-cultural awareness.

Another change that is observable, from the talent’s perspective, is that we see more people seeking meaning in their work. The millennial generation is leading this movement towards looking to develop a career path that aligns with their personal objectives for fulfilling work. This is one of the reasons that we see a higher number of moves between companies, while in the past, talent would stay in one position or company for longer. According to recent studies, the average person will change careers 5-7 times during their working life. With an ever-increasing number of different career choices on offer, approximately 30% of the total workforce will now change jobs every 12 months. This movement of talent is no longer being seen negatively as job-hopping, and links with one’s longingness for personal growth and better alignment with their career objectives; and that is also why we see more companies investing in employee engagement and retention programs.

We have also started seeing more career switchers. Talent that has been in one career for almost a decade is looking for a change or a new challenge in their next career “sprint”. To achieve these “switches”, more people are currently investing in their upskilling through education. For example, at INSEAD we see talent that wishes to leverage their MBA degree to achieve a radical career change, sometimes while simultaneously changing countries.

Finally, as we start to live longer lives, many senior professionals choose to continue their careers and retire later. Over 40% of professionals over 55 continue to work nowadays, compared to 29% in 1993.

There is also a growing amount of people who decide to start "Second Act" careers in their retirement, instead of leaving of the labour market. There are many cases of successful entrepreneurs not only within the millennial generation, but also within what we call “second act careers”, at talent closer to retirement who reinvent themselves at a later life stage. An AARP survey reports that 79% of Baby Boomers plan to work into their retirement years, at least in some capacity!

How does INSEAD help prepare its students for career management? And could you give any advice on how to make the right career choices?

A successful career is not a destination, it is a journey. It changes as you change, and as your life priorities change. In addition to that, defining success is also a very objective matter. What success means to me, may not mean the exact thing to you. For these reasons, we prepare our students to take full ownership of their career management and customize their personal development plan with a career coach. Questions such as, “what do you want to achieve in the short run”, and “how this links to your long-term objectives”, are very common in career coaching. Personal values must be considered when making what seems to be the right career choice to you: “what is important at that stage in your life”, and “where do you see yourself in the next five years?”; our role as coaches is to help talent find the way and skills so they can get there.

I encourage people to break long-term plans into smaller milestones. Sometimes, the right career choices are not always related to your education or acquired degrees but to your willingness to take a leap and listen to your true calling. Sometimes right career choices take certain sacrifices or time and persistence to materialize.

Sometimes, the right career choices
are not always related to your education
or acquired degrees but to your willingness
to take a leap and listen to your true calling.

Prior to joining INSEAD you held leadership roles in international education institutions while living in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the USA. Have you observed that the needs of talent in these countries differed in any way, and if so how?

It is interesting to observe that regardless of where people come from, their needs are very similar. Everyone wants to find fulfilling jobs and purpose in their work, personal growth and life-work balance. Yet culture plays an important role in the way career decisions are made. Certain cultures are more open to experimentation and exploration of non-traditional career choices. We are also different in how we define success. Certain cultures define success by high financial returns while in other cultures, financial success is not as important in their value system.

Each individual's “ikigai” is personal to them and specific to their lives, values and beliefs. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means "a reason for being." It reflects the inner self and expresses the source of value in one's life or the things that make one's life worthwhile. Everyone is looking for a career that will allow them to feel ikigai, regardless of what part of the world they come from!

You initiated and curated a regional “think tank” in 2012 (Middle East Career Development Conference) that ran for five consecutive years. What did it entail and what motivated you to set this up?

This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! At that time, in the Middle East it was difficult to find a forum where career coaches and talent developers could get together to share knowledge. Most of us had to dedicate time and budgets to travel to the US or Europe to find a knowledge exchange forum. And most of those conference would not bring the expertise and focus needed to tackle the talent needs of the Middle East region. This is why I decided to make the leap and bring people together from the region and for the region, to exchange ideas and focus on what was new in career development, at the time.

As it was an extra-curricular project and without a big budget to execute on this dream, I had to be resourceful and bring the right people together to create value, while keeping the event free and open to all. With a lot of passion for sharing knowledge and the right connections, I curated an event in Dubai that attracted over 300 professionals from all the corners of the MENA region, who learned from each other and exchanged knowledge! The event continued for five consecutive years, with other institutions hosting it every year and last year it was held at the NYU in Abu Dhabi.

You are Greek by origin and have chosen to live in Paris. Why have you chosen to make the French capital your current home?

The capital chose me! It was not planned... I was in San Francisco when INSEAD offered me the opportunity to either be based in Singapore or France. I had been to Paris before and I loved the city: it is gorgeous architecturally and there is always something to do! I chose France because of the variety, multicultural environment, and my personal objective of being close to home. Living in a different country requires a certain level of adjustment and sometimes it takes a little bit longer to feel at home – particularly so when you do not speak French! But after almost 3 years in Paris, it finally feels like home.

Lastly, we like to conclude with a question from the Proust questionnaire: What is your most marked characteristic and why do you think it has helped you in your career?

Always having an open mind and being curious to what is out there and what the future can bring, is one of my most marked characteristics of my personality. Curiosity led me to new opportunities, new skills, new countries, and new careers. Curiosity helped me explore my mental toughness and resilience to change. Curiosity brought me to places, I would had never thought of living in before! Also, the same spirit of being curious to learn has led me in asking questions such as “why is this important”, “what problem are we trying to solve?”; these helped me grow as a professional but also create impactful value in the businesses I worked for.

Exercising positive curiosity has expanded my knowledge,
improved the way I interact and understand people
from different cultures, challenged my limits,
and changed the way I make decisions.

Exercising positive curiosity has pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to grow as a person. It expanded my knowledge, improved the way I interact and understand people from different cultures, challenged my limits, and changed the way I make decisions. So, remain an explorer at heart, be curious, and you will always become better in life and professionally!

Find out more about Stella, here!

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