Insignts

Application Essay

Like it is with most matters, humanity acts not at the right time, but reacts when the damage has been done. There are econometric theories that prove we follow the herd, mostly because we don’t understand what we are doing, until the bubble bursts. The easiest analogy is the financial market. Are they efficient? Does the price of the stock represent the true value of the asset? These anomalies have been observed and studied, and these questions have been discussed in finance and behavioral science classes for ages. What is – is not always real. But change does not happen with observation. We also love what is – to follow the status quo. Few have the muscle, the will, the intelligence, and the time to move away from stability and challenge existing systems and power structures. Change happens when it’s late. And late it is, for an age-old admissions process in which applications are created by consultants, who are now available at every corner of the world and at every price point. The industry has zero barriers to entry.

Admissions Offices can read an application and find out whether the applicant has written it. Business Schools even know that most recommendations are gamed; applicants have drafted them and their consultants or editors have added behavioral touches and cleaned them up. Where is the originality business schools once sought? Where is the applicant’s real voice? More so, why are schools putting up with this?

Essays were introduced at a time when telecommunications systems were not developed. Admissions offices substituted essays as a means to evaluate interpersonal skills because face-to-face meetings were not possible. Interviews were not required. Essays were a reflection of the candidate’s motivations. But now, and for quite some time, things have been different. People can meet, interact, and do video interviews. When a picture speaks a thousand words, and when a sequence of moving images can easily be created on your phone, what role does a 500-word essay serve?

‘Why do you want to do an MBA, why now, and why from our oh so great School?’ Give me a break! Is it fair to expect original answers to questions that are so unoriginal? Are schools going to admit a candidate simply because they are interested in them? I’m not sure. You can talk about starting clubs and driving global treks, you can discuss the superior leadership skills you developed in the extensive four years you spent post college, you can drop alum names in your essays, and you can try to project the perfect image of a candidate who so wishes to make the world a better place and give back to his community, but you know what, the prom queen is not going to date you because you are begging to be with her? She wants a rockstar – a genetic structure superior to hers, a personal brand bigger than her own.

Adcom officers too can humor themselves reading fake answers about big plans candidates have to solve the world’s problems, admire the pretense they are projecting of a utopian world viewed through rose-tinted glasses, or even empathize with each other on their contribution to human development, but even they know you only want the brand, the network, and oh, I almost forgot, that job in consulting. And why not – who will hire you later if you don’t have top brands earlier? Even founders without pedigreed backgrounds have preference for people with experience in top firms. If anyone tells you that brands are not important, or that grades are not important, or that education is not important, be wary, because most of them are really successful or they are naysayers. Read the requirements of jobs posted even by startups, and you will frequently find ‘Consulting,’ ‘I-banking’ and ‘top-tier MBA’ on their descriptions.

The entire process is also not geared for any efficiency. Great candidates land up not applying to B-schools because navigating recommenders again and again, and coming up with innovative answers to an array of essay questions for each application is difficult. Even the GMAT could be a roadblock for many, those who would otherwise make great candidates but who haven’t been able to score well on tests because of socio-cultural, economic, also diverse academic backgrounds. Many applicants, even the smartest, land up taking the GMAT multiple times, adding another layer of stress, and wasted time, energy, and money.

One solution – A common application created and managed by the T20 schools. One written essay, such as Yale’s ‘Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made’ or MIT’s cover letter, one video essay, and one recommendation. GRE/ GMAT to be made optional for those who cannot validate their quantitative aptitude through prior coursework. Think about it – if you graduate with a 3.8 GPA from the Ivy Leagues or another top school, do you need to prove you are intelligent? If you attended the IITs, can someone claim you have no brain?

This common application, managed by the Schools, should allow the candidate to apply to all the places she wishes to apply to – in one go. She saves time, energy, and effort. But this cannot be done by a profiteering private company that is claiming to solve problems in the name of humanity and making millions on the side. This has to be a non-profit controlled by the Schools. Else it will be one more company driven by a profit-maximizing agenda that will suit some but not all, ultimately creating more problems and more divide.

MIT’s process is admirable:-

  • A cover letter allows you the freedom to talk about whatever you feel is relevant
  • It asks for a video essay, which they have not outsourced to a private company; they retain control.
  • It only requires one letter of recommendation.
  • It has made the GMAT optional, which will now allow many great candidates to apply. I have come across many who have sound business acumen and would make great MBA candidates, but haven’t scored high on standardized tests. Many of these candidates should be given a shot. A great artist can come from anywhere – Ratatouille, the movie!
  • The interviewing process is holistic and mirrors a conversation, rather than a series of checkmarks.

Life is not a series of checkboxes. All boxes checked do not maketh a great candidate. Likewise, few boxes checked do not make an undeserving one. Who would know that better than MIT, the school that brought us System Dynamics!


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this site and in this article are opinions, and all data and information provided here are for informational purposes only. CollegeStation Eduservices LLP, its partners, clients, or any of its associates make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information provided on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

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To begin, I hope that you, your families, and your friends are well. During these trying times, I pray that you are safe and come out on the other side of this pandemic stronger than before.

Across popular MBA news platforms and forums, growing concerns about business school and the future of MBA education are fueling discussions. Travel and visa insecurities are driving up deferral requests by incoming students, therefore hinting at low yield. Most schools have delayed R3 and final round deadlines to May and June.  GMAC and ETS have launched at-home online GMAT and GRE testing, albeit with mixed reviews. And many top schools including Kellogg and Darden have altogether waived off testing requirements. Rumors also exist that many tier 2 and 3 schools are in hot waters with regard to filing classes and experiencing difficulties. There is no doubt that the current situation has had an impact on everyone.  With this brief article, I hope to provide my interpretation of how COVID -19 will affect 1) placements, 2) program delivery and 3) admissions.

Placements

Given that many organizations have halted hiring, and that millions have lost their jobs, there are concerns around the health of the job market in America, the destination of choice, for the most part, for MBA hopefuls. Arguably, this is a good time to re-skill.

There is historical precedence that the beginning of recessionary periods is a good time for education because time taken by the economy to recover can be used effectively to develop abilities that will be of value when the market bounces back. Those who do not develop additional capabilities now may struggle in the future and lose out to competition that is at the forefront of new thinking.  Unlike labor markets, organizations cannot and do not spend time playing catch up. They have to compete irrespective of the environment and win or lose. In the innovation age, systems can become outdated even before they can be executed and hence, employers do not have the luxury of providing employees long learning curves. They will hire those who are most relevant, and those who can immediately contribute.

I know many international students who gave up the American Dream in 2008/09 during the housing crisis, only to find a rich job market in 2011/12; this was likely the right time to catch the tide low, when tech companies were growing, and hiring. Also well known is that economists who study the future of work frequently recommend education as a path to economic prosperity. Data science, digital technologies, and cross-cultural acumen are skills that will be in demand in the future. Also, I have always held the belief that specialization, whether it is function or industry, will be the order of the day. I am not saying that generalist skills are not valuable – they are, but as you navigate your career, consider diving deep in marketing analytics, taking a course or more in applications of AI/ML, learning a foreign language, and gaining exposure to work in an international environment such as Asia or Africa. Fortunately, the MBA is well designed for such learning.

I am confident that any kind of formal education, even a Masters or a PhD, will at this stage be favorable to your career in the future. Careers in or related to automation and robotics, virtual work and communications, digital entertainment and education, integration of home and workspace, data security, and healthcare will be sought-after. Services and products that reduce human contact, such as food delivery, are also likely to be hot.

Program Delivery

There are concerns around the value or price tag of the MBA, and how education will be delivered. The MBA is a premium, expensive and professional degree program, and business schools are well aware that experiential learning, group work, industry outreach and networking opportunities are important elements amongst its offerings. While schools will take advantage of digital learning technologies, not all coursework will go online. If that happens, demand for education will fall, and schools’ ability to charge a premium will be lost. In the long and short run, I feel there will be no impact on the quality of delivery. If at all, schools will blend the best of learning practices in both digital and classroom to create an experience better than ever before. 

Evolution, any which way is inevitable; top business schools regularly revamp their programs to offer the latest in management thinking and through the best delivery channels. As examples, MIT is successfully running blended programs through EDX, and Harvard offers many courses through its well-received HBX platform. Best practices from these platforms, and others, will eventually make their way into MBA programs, and I am sure schools have been thinking on these lines for quite some time now.

Trivia: almost all schools in the top 18 have invested millions in state-of-the-art facilities – these facilities are designed for social interaction.

Admissions

At the top schools, I foresee a very competitive year ahead, given that many students have deferred and postponed their plans this year. For schools not in the top 10, getting in may be easier than before. The current situation in America is tipping the scales – if an attribute for a product becomes less attractive, another attribute has to become more desirable for the product to remain attractive. So if the prospect of an American education is becoming less attractive to you because of underlying current insecurities, it has to be compensated by a better brand. Hence, more people will aim higher.

Nonetheless, for those who value a global brand on their résumés over other attributes, such as a degree that could generate opportunities anywhere in the world, this is still a good time to apply. Even if you view yourself as a Silver or Bronze candidate – with a lower GMAT and work experience in a less well-known company, or if you are someone who is still contemplating an MBA, consider taking the plunge now. I am positive you have a shot at the top 20. Management education is an American concept; it is here to stay.

Every candidate is unique, and a detailed analysis can only be done by taking into consideration your situation, background and interests. To move out of the uncertainty of where you stand in the scheme of placements and job opportunities, to invest in your future the right way, now is the time to give a hard look at your opportunities for the future. We are a boutique firm, and work with no more than 50 candidates for each season. We provide our clients unlimited consulting hours and promise a deep and meaningful engagement. In case you wish to discuss your profile or learn more, give us a call!


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this site and in this article are opinions, and all data and information provided here are for informational purposes only. CollegeStation Eduservices LLP, its partners, clients or any of its associates make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information provided on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

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Panel: You seem to be timid and submissive. Do people take you seriously?

Candidate (Male): They don’t, till the time I open my mouth. Once I do that, things change.

(Result – Admitted)

Panel: You’re not appropriately dressed for an interview. Do you walk into work this shabbily?

Candidate (Female): I’m overweight. I can’t carry off a skirt, and look bloated in a sari. I wanted to make an impression, and a Patiala suit was best I could come up with to make me look thin.

(Result – Admitted)

Panel: Did you take feedback on your previous application?

Candidate (Heavy Bengali Accent): Yes – they said my communication skills were not up to the mark.

Panel: And what do you feel?

Candidate: Given my background, I cannot speak the Queen’s English. I want to build a career in Engineering. I may not sound impressive, but I can explain drawings better than anyone else.

(Result – Admitted)

Panel: Money or ethics?

Candidate (Female): Money.

Panel: Elaborate.

Candidate: There is no absolute black or perfect white – all I see around me are different shades of gray. I am not unethical, but I don’t see any saints around me. To move ahead, I need to be smart, and play my cards well.

(Result – Admitted)

These are actual ISB interviews. I know this, because I was sitting in them! For every such success story, I have at least one more of a candidate who was rejected. And after having conducted hundreds of actual interviews, I can assure you that winning candidates have attributes in common. The MBA interview is not designed to be rough (and surely not crazy), and the above questions aren’t the typical questions, but keep in mind that the panel can ask you anything. Also, don’t mislead yourself into believing that these candidates displayed brilliance – they did, but more than that, they displayed authenticity.

The ISB interview will be a panel interview – you will have two to three members who could either be alums or senior staff. Personally, I am not very fond of 3-member panels. I don’t find the process very efficient; there is pressure on candidates and a large panel makes the environment intimidating. Moreover, members could have a tendency to struggle for airtime, which could make the process unproductive. Foreign B-Schools will have one member – a senior staff or an alumnus. In India, most foreign schools will have alum interviews or ‘discussions.’ Harvard interviews, as some of you know, will be conducted by staff.

No matter whom you interview with, the nature of the interview remains fairly common. For most schools, including the ISB, the interview will remain within the realms of your own profile. For the most part, there will be no ‘trick’ questions, and if there are any, they will be from your own function or industry, and will only facilitate a validation of your claims. Alums are instructed to check whether (a) they would want you in their study group and (b) they would want you in their alumni network. This thought has merits. Alums have interest in their school’s reputation. Given that they have been through the journey, they will want to associate with candidates who display potential. Amongst the many strategies out there, here are a few that work.

Approach the interview as a conversation. The interview is not about right or wrong answers. It’s about how you answer and how you substantiate your claim. Be careful while using statistics – they cannot be argued with. Don’t be the smart alec. Alums generally do not like arrogance. Try to gauge the evaluator’s body language, and respond to it. If they want to change course, or ask another question, they will give you signals. Follow their lead!

Answer the question and don’t beat around the bush – request the panel for a minute in case you need to bring structure. Don’t memorize and don’t try and cover everything. The panel can gauge how desperate you are for the MBA, and believe it or not, trying too hard can lead them into believing that you are needy. Confident and high potential candidates come across as deserving but not needy. Often a time displaying interest in a program comes across as neediness. I once interviewed a candidate who went on and on about clubs she wanted to be a part of, the classes she wanted to take, and alums she was in touch with. She didn’t get in. The panel doesn’t want to know how well you researched the program; they want to see whether you are serious about your career, and whether you have taken measures to learn and progress.

While you prepare for your interview, think about examples from your life that left an impression on you, and then try to apply them to various questions. For example, a project you worked on in China or Africa could be relevant to various behavioral questions on handling people, challenging situations or diversity. Stick to examples from your professional life, unless you are committed on a curricular interest. B-Schools are interested in your career, and they know you are not going to throw ball for a living! As an informal rule, 80% of your answers should be from your professional career.

All schools will evaluate you on communication. Communication does not mean fluent English; it means clear thinking and getting the meaning across. Be honest about your shortcomings and do not appear defensive. If you can, position your weaknesses as strengths, or try to display measures you have taken to improve upon them. I once interviewed a candidate who was laid off. He tried to mask his unemployment by talking about how he had become richer as a result of his travels, which his work was not allowing. Again, he went on and on. Ultimately, I had to tell him that an evaluation was only possible if he answered the questions. He didn’t get through, and this was not because he was unemployed. It was because of his judgment – he doubted the panel’s intelligence. If he was honest about his situation and elaborated on his struggles, he would have had a shot.

Read the newspaper. ISB is unlikely to ask you questions around current affairs, but they can ask you deeper questions about your industry or function. You are expected to talk intelligently about matters you have claimed in you application. Having a grip on current matters pertaining to your industry will give you an advantage.

I know some alums and staff who ask puzzles and trick questions. I am not particularly fond of such questions, and they are not the norm, but you may still get them. Take a minute or two, but if you cannot solve the puzzle, don’t waste time. Walk the panel through your thought process and respectfully surrender!

The firm handshake and the ‘thank-you’ note – give me a break (I’m bringing some humor here)! I never found anyone who made an impression with a handshake, let alone get an offer. Staunchness comes across as simulated. I’m not saying don’t shake hands – gauge the environment. If you evaluator asks you to sit, and the table is large, you don’t have to walk all the way around only to greet the panel. Similar is case with the ‘thank you’ note – ditch it, because nobody reads it!

At CollegeStation.in, we have a special interview package in which we go through your application, give you a list of unique questions designed for you, simulate interviews, and give you feedback. If you’d like to learn more, get in touch with us on info.collegestation@gmail.com or +918725800159.


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this site and in this article are opinions, and all data and information provided here are for informational purposes only. CollegeStation Eduservices LLP, its partners, clients or any of its associates make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information provided on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

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(This post is not about the ISB, but I am starting it with some insights from my experiences at the school. I have covered the 2+2 at Harvard as well.)

A few years back, the ISB introduced the Young Leaders Program (YLP) and the Early Entry Option – admissions programs designed for candidates in college, or with less than two years of experience.  These products are testament enough that the Indian School of Business also wants more applicants with less experience in its program.  These decisions are not based on notions and fancies, but on well thought through facts discussed in various forums led by the School’s top management and Dean’s Office.

One of these facts, which should not be a surprise, is that the MBA market is also driven by supply and demand. And demand, for the most part, is driven by recruiters. One of the reasons the ISB introduced the YLP and the Early Entry Option is because there were indications from the recruiting community that they wanted more candidates in this demographic; candidates who could easily be molded into their corporate cultures. Having worked at the placements office at the ISB for a number of years, I can assure you that the number of jobs posted for such candidates has been on the rise.

So what do you do to increase the odds in your favor? In my previous blog for candidates with more than 8 years of experience, I have advised candidates to establish depth of experience.  For the younger generation, my advice is against establishing depth of experience, because you don’t have any!  In case you position yourself as an expert, you are likely to face tough questions from senior alums and staff members who have more experience than you.  Instead, focus on your value system and motivations – highlight your interpersonal skills by focusing on your journey and the choices you have made.  In my experience interviewing YLP and Early Entry candidates, I have observed that the panel invariably gives points to ‘likable’ candidates – candidates who are modest, and who display genuine interest in their future goals.  Don’t sound boastful about your achievements because it is too early in your career to be vocal about them.  Also, don’t try to cover everything. Harvard, as I understand, has a phrase for such candidates: scripted. Instead, be subtle – state your achievements, but focus your journey.

Here are some facts about YLP and Early Entry ISB applicants: They have higher GMAT scores, they have good grades in Xth and XIIth, and they went to well-known colleges.  There is no preference for a particular undergraduate program – in other words, there is no indication that a B.Com will have a higher probability of success than a B.Tech, or visa versa.  Winning candidates are also almost always working at a top firm, or have secured a job at a top firm.  Analyst roles seem to be popular in this group.

I have reason to believe that for the 2+2 program at Harvard, successful candidates are more likely to be American Caucasians with STEM backgrounds.  For Indian applicants targeting the 2+2, I recommend you get your profile evaluated by a consultant who understands Harvard.  In four out of five cases, I have recommended that the candidate push the application to a later date, and complete four years of experience.  For Harvard, it is also possible that women applicants from India have a slightly better shot.

As always, all advice is based on likelihoods and probabilities!  There are no rules to the game, and we are trying to maximize opportunity based on profiles and patterns. To learn more, do get in touch with us.

 

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this site and in this article are opinions, and all data and information provided here are for informational purposes only. CollegeStation Eduservices LLP, its partners, clients or any of its associates make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information provided on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

 

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(This post is not about the ISB, but I am starting it with some insights from my experiences at the school)

If you belong to the Senior Executive Club (SEC), the ISB is a good choice! In any given year, between 50 and 100 students with more than eight years of experience join the ISB – some of these candidates have well over 10 years on their CV. Upon enrolling, they become members of the SEC club, which works with the school on a number of initiatives in learning & development, networking, and placements.  Right from the beginning, the school closely works with each member of the SEC on wide-ranging matters such as targeting lateral roles, career management, leadership training, academic planning, interview prep, and industry connect.  The ISB is a great place to be for candidates with more experience, but make no mistake, you will need specific strategies if you want to get in.

First of all, let me begin by saying that the ISB has no bias for older or younger applicants.  For quite some time, the ISB has advertised during its admissions info sessions that it likes those senior candidates who have potential to reach the CXO suite within 5 years of graduating.  In practicality, such a presentation is not as simple as it sounds.  Often a time, putting your best foot forward is more difficult when you need your goal the most.  And for many, this is a stage in which candidates are looking for a springboard to accelerate their careers.

Amongst the strategies that work, focus more on your depth of experience and highlight your professional expertize.  With many years of experience, softer skills are considered a given.  Emphasizing leadership experience and curricular involvement are unlikely to make you stand out, unless these experiences are truly great.  On the same lines, it may be a bad idea to state ‘career change’ in your short-term post-MBA goals. I have observed that in this group, candidates who fare well generally have a focused career path, goals that have evolved from past experience, high confidence, and conviction to handle their own careers.

The key takeaway from this post is to craft an application that doesn’t make you look needy – you have to present yourself as a scarce commodity who has plans, and who can reach the C-suite with or without the MBA.  Also, get the best GMAT score possible.  For senior executives, a high GMAT is very important.  Admissions committees like the reassurance they get from high scores because for experienced candidates, high scores give a certain ‘wow’ factor – the feeling that this candidate scored high despite being out of books for so long!

For candidates looking at the US Schools, avoid dwelling over statistics on average age. Instead, come up with good reasons for why you are targeting the specific school. While all the schools have students who are in their 30s, I have reason to believe that some schools are more open to older applicants.  Look at Duke, UCLA, INSEAD, IE Spain and IMD in Switzerland if you are a senior executive. The average age at IMD is way higher than that at other schools and many students here are well in their 30s.  It is also a close-knit program with a fantastic network. Another school to look at is IE Spain.  It has dual degree arrangements with Yale SOM and MIT Sloan – Not bad if you get two top degrees in two years, and all this while building a network across two continents.  At IE, you don’t even have to take the GMAT; although you will have to take IE’s own assessment in case you opt out of the standardized tests.  Also, you may want to look at 1-year programs at Kellogg, Emory and USC Marshall – these are great programs if you are on the other side of average age.

In the end, I would like to point out one observation – at most schools there are fewer people in the 30+ or 32+ category not because they don’t get in, but because they don’t apply.  I have conducted actual interviews year on year at ISB for applicants in the 8+ years category, and there is absolutely no bias in the way senior executives are evaluated. In my own experience as a student and as a staff member, I’ve really enjoyed interacting with SEC members; they have great experience, and have greatly added to my learning at ISB, even when I was working there. If there were more applicants in this group, it is likely that more would get in. The fact remains that at a certain stage in life, taking the plunge becomes more difficult if you have added responsibilities, and this is most likely the reason why there are fewer senior MBA students at top schools.

At CollegeStation.in, we are working with many students with more than 8 years of experience.  They have very interesting stories to tell, and we love working with them.  If you would like to discuss your profile, or simply learn more, do get in touch with us.

 

DISCLAIMERThe views expressed on this site and in this article are opinions, and all data and information provided here are for informational purposes only. CollegeStation Eduservices LLP, its partners, clients or any of its associates make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information provided on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

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Routine activities have evolved over the years. Advances in technology have not only brought us close, but they have also enabled us to get to know each other better.  Today, we can not only connect with friends from all over the world, but we can also get a better idea of who they are from what they post and tag on social platforms.  Technology has enabled transparency, and there is less information asymmetry.  In a connected world, nothing is as ‘hidden’ as it was in the past, and for the most part, what you see is what you get!

Keeping up with the times is probably a B-School agenda!  The current generation of millennial MBA applicants is very different from applicants even as recent as ten years back.  Not so long ago, HBS asked for five essays as part of its application. Now it asks for only one, and that too starts with, ‘what more would you like us to know…’.  Schools now have more creative requirements such as presentations and pictures. Some require video essays, and there are others that allow the applicant an open hand to present what they want to in any medium of choice.  Chicago Booth provides you this open canvas. Kellogg, MIT, Rotman and Insead have video essay requirements, and NYU wants to learn about you through pictures that best represent you.

So what are the admissions committees hoping to achieve with these new requirements.  To cut the answer short – the new generation is better at expressing themselves with a free hand, the number of platforms to communicate ideas has increased, and the new platforms are more ‘transparent.’ The admissions committees want to get to know you, and hence, with these new requirements, they are giving you more opportunity to present your true self, and they are doing so by pushing you into mediums that more authenticate your profile.

One less talked about fact is that traditional application requirements are now becoming boring. It does not take a lot of intelligence for the AdComs to realize that majority of the recommendations have been gamed – LORs are often long, full of praise, and frequently capture more detail about the candidate than asked for or required. There is no surprise that the ISB has reduced its LOR requirement to one.  Similar is the rationale behind limiting the number of essays.  Consultants are making essays faultless to the extent that admissions committees are not finding them to be thought provoking anymore. The essays often come across as so unoriginal that reading them becomes a lackluster exercise for the committee members who have to evaluate thousands of applications.  Having said that, even if all the essays were interesting and real, I don’t see how four essays can do the job one essay can’t – and AdComs have realized that the incremental benefit of having additional essays is low.  With four to five years of average work experience, not all students have gone through journeys that allow them to paint interesting stories for all the questions. And schools know that such traditional application requirements give advantage to some candidates, and disadvantage to others.

Another less admitted fact is that schools are now placing more weight on the measurable and credible elements of your application.  In no way am I saying that the essay is becoming outdated. The essay is here to stay.  All I’m saying is that schools are moving away from traditional essay requirements to methods that (a) provide creative freedom, and (b) are more likely to ‘validate’ the candidate’s story. The open-ended essay is an example of a medium that provides creative freedom, and the video essay is an example of a medium that validates the candidate’s profile.

If you would like to learn more about how you can craft a solid application and put your best foot forward, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at info.collegestation@gmail.com or +918725800159.

 

DISCLAIMERThe views expressed on this site and in this article are opinions, and all data and information provided here are for informational purposes only. CollegeStation Eduservices LLP, its partners, clients or any of its associates make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information provided on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

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As most of you are aware, the application portals for many schools, including the ISB are now open.  With this article, I hope to give you a little insight on some specific strategies you can use, and elements you need to be careful of, or possibly avoid entirely in your application.  On the face of it, there are many who may disagree with some of these strategies.  Especially to those who are filling their applications for the first time, these tips may seem contrary to generally accepted theories.  It is a fact that it has taken me time as well, to get myself around to what really makes a strong application. When I go back and read my own application essays I wrote years back, I often laugh at the thought of how naive I was – the first essays that I ever wrote were truly embarrassing!

Nonetheless, life panned out just fine. I finished my MBA from the ISB, and worked there for 4 years. During this time, I read many applications, and conducted admissions interviews year on year.  Working with young and ambitions students has been very rewarding and fulfilling, and I’ve been lucky to have forged some very good friendships over the years.  Obviously, the nature of the job, especially when it comes to campus placements, is not without its challenges, and it is difficult to keep everyone happy. But by and large, most students come out clean.  Everyone may not get their dream job, but most of the students are satisfied with the outcome of placements.  The ISB is a great place to be, not only as a student, but also as an employee.  For those alums and future alums reading this, do consider working there.  Come back and build ISB, for the ISB is playing its part in building India, and also the world.

So why am I telling you all this?  A very senior executive search leader once told me, “All experience is great experience.” Had I not worked at the ISB, I would not have acquired skills required to take on admissions consulting. Students teach you a lot – they expose you to careers unknown to you, to effective interviewing techniques, to career planning, to the art of CV writing, to behavioral science, and even to body language. Observing a student’s progress over the course of the 1-year MBA is a fantastic learning experience – with time, and if you are inclined, you will learn to draw patterns for attributes that lead to career success. Yes, crafting a winning application is definitely a skill.  And below are a few things that you should keep in mind when starting your application. Do note that these strategies are all interrelated.

Do not try to cover everything. One big mistake that students make is to try and cover every little detail in their applications.  This is not a very good strategy because AdComs find it difficult to navigate through such essays, and have to make an extra effort to put things in perspective.  Such essays often do not have coherence and logic.  They come across as boring, and the applicant comes across as lacking focus. Moreover, these essays open up a Pandora’s box when it comes to interview questions. When I come across essays with too many tall claims, I usually have many questions to ask the interviewee, who often gets trapped in a web of unconnected dots.  Most often such candidates don’t have good answers, they find it difficult to bring flow to the interview, and ultimately find it difficult to convince the panel. The best essays are simple stories, but told very well. A good idea is to stick to a topic, and narrate an interesting story or give an example, obviously from your own life’s experiences.

This brings me to another important point – write about what you want to tell the admissions committee, and not about what they want to hear.  Every now and then I come across essays in which dreams and ambitions are not grounded in reality, and hence they miss the relevance of what the admissions committee wants to achieve. AdComs genuinely want to get to know you, and if they can’t do that, your chances of getting an accept letter are slim.  There is a method to this madness, but there is no formula or standard for a successful application.  When you begin your application, reflect on who you genuinely are.  Do not wear the mask of who you want to be seen as, for the admissions committee will see through it. While doing so, do not presume that your own story is not good enough. Everybody has a story to tell. If there is only one piece of advice that you should take from this blog, it’s this – be truthful, because if you are not, chances are you will again find yourself in a web of hollow claims and simulated answers that will not make you look good.  Do not fall in a trap – if you cannot talk about a topic at length, do not mention it in your application.

I have come across many candidates who feel they don’t have a success story to share. There are others who don’t have brand names on their CV. I am regularly consulting with candidates who have lower confidence as a result of this, and I spend hours working with them, who are otherwise fabulous, on developing their energy levels! Those of you who fall in this category, remember that MBA programs, for the most part, will not evaluate you on success – they will evaluate you on potential, and hence they are more concerned with your journey.  Winning candidates usually come across as truthful, consistent and real, and across all stages of their application.  They seem excited about the journeys they have taken, and not by the success they have got.

Avoid mentioning star professors and popular courses. Every second application I read mentions how much the applicant is keen on learning from one of the professors or courses.  Candidates think that by doing so, they are displaying interest.  The fact remains that interest will not get you into an MBA program, your credentials will, and you are better off by using the space for something else.  All candidates who apply are interested, and quoting professors alone does not differentiate you. Have you done work for the faculty?  Do you have a background in topics that the faculty is working on? Can you get the faculty to recommend you?  Can you display reasoning for why a faculty’s research is relevant to you? If your answer to some of these questions is a yes, by all means go ahead and quote the faculty. If not, it is better to state more authentic reasons such as location, class size, connections with a particular industry, or overall strength in certain coursework to display interest.  An interest to work in the automotive industry could be a perfect answer for the University of Michigan. A passion for technology is reason enough for Carnegie Mellon, and wanting to experience city life could be a valid reason for NYU.  Obviously, you have to build your answer and back it up with genuine reasoning.

Don’t exaggerate on curricular activities, community involvement, and that international student association where you have had leadership experience.  Community involvement and leadership experience are phrases that are confusing, and not well understood, especially in India. I feel that they have been romanticized over the years.  With such phrases, the AdComs want to know whether you are a well-rounded individual, who has interests outside of work, and has the commitment to carry though these tasks and achieve depth.  I once interviewed a candidate who mentioned that he was deeply interested in origami. Upon asking him to elaborate on his unique hobby, he not only gave me excellent answers to why he loves origami, but also came prepared with paper, and made a few objects to demonstrate his ability, while at the same time explaining every little detail about paper folds and balance.  I knew he had prepared for this in advance, but I was impressed – a very simple interest, a very simple story, but told very well.  He displayed the characteristic of an individual who had the curiosity to study a subject, and commitment to acquire some level of depth.

Do note that any curricular or community interest will not supersede work experience and academics, and hence avoid making outside of work activities your entire discussion topic in an essay or interview, unless you are specifically asked about them.  Your activities can indicate some level of potential, but most of the times they will not outpace the more core elements of your application.  Ultimately, the AdCom is more interested in your professional experience and motivations.  Even during the interview, avoid leading the panel with examples from you curricular interests. Stick to examples from your professional background.  As an example, I once interviewed a candidate whose entire application spoke of his leadership experience with a popular global student organization. Even during the interview, all his answers revolved around his experience working with this organization, and he went on and on about his persistent interest in leadership.  The entire application acme across as shallow, and ultimately I had to ask him whether he was interested in anything else.  Do keep in mind that there are sociocultural differences between American and Asian business schools.  While all the AdComs can very well gauge whether an application has depth, US schools are more likely to be open to certain softer aspects of your profile.

Steer away from resume spikes, fads and anything that doesn’t add depth to your profile. Very frequently I come across essays that mention the candidate’s involvement with an NGO. In case he (or she) is shortlisted for an interview, I make it a point to poke him with a list of questions surrounding the NGO and the work that he has done.  This usually gives him away. A three-month stint done part-time and without interest for the purposes of writing something in the application is really not worthwhile and the admissions committee can see through it. The committee might be impressed with a candidate who has spent 3 years working for a cause, but not by short-term stints.  NGO experience is such a big fad, that even admissions consultants advice candidates in favor of it. Most often this experience neither adds any depth to an application, nor does it convey any genuine interest.  The only spikes there exist on a CV are the achievements you have realized with hard work and persistence.

Avoid flowery English, and focus on what you want to convey.  The MBA application is not a test of creative writing, and people who evaluate your application are not trained to evaluate you on decorative writing (though they may be really good at it themselves).  They are trained to evaluate you on how meritorious your profile is, whether your story has depth, and whether you come across as a high-potential candidate. Unnecessary creativity has a tendency to shift the reviewer’s focus from the story to the writing itself – and this is harmful for your candidacy.

Get over the GMAT – Really. The most common question on any admissions thread is ‘What GMAT do I need?’ I have written a full blog on the GMAT, but will say this again – you need the best score that you can get.  If you have a 700, a 740 is unlikely to significantly increase your chances. Many candidates get in with scores in the mid six hundreds, and sub 700 scores should not prevent you from applying. Having said that, you should not aim for that. You should aim for at least a 700.

I’d be lying if I say that chance does not play a role in the eventual outcome.  Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection has provided evidence in support of people looking out for those most similar to them. If someone similar to you interviews you, chances are that you will be liked. And at the end of the day, likability is one of the factors that will lead to interview success. While staff and alumni are well trained to conduct interviews, they are still more likely to give you the benefit of doubt if they like you.  They are also more likely to give you more opportunities to bounce back, or even bend the interview in your favor in case the first few questions don’t go as planned.  Now I don’t think anybody can guarantee whether the panel will like you, but here are a few suggestions that may help.

Avoid being a smart Alec, or the wise guy. Maverick like behaviour in essays or during the interview is not recommended unless you really have a strong point to make.  Remember that the admissions team is comprised of very smart people, most often alumni, who not only have deep knowledge about various topics, but are also at that stage of life when they are not very receptive to arrogant behaviour. They have been through the drill.  Remain calm, display emotions in a smart way, argue respectfully, but appear genuine, and be very interested in the topic being discussed.  The panel will almost always like modest and sincere candidates because such qualities validate that they can collaborate and work in teams – and teamwork is a key attribute for career success.

Answer the question – don’t keep rambling pointlessly or digress from the topic.  If the panel wants to know more, it will ask you. The interview remains inconclusive if the panel cannot get answers to the questions they want answers to. If you keep rambling, you will neither give the panel any meaningful insight into your life, nor will you have time to answer the more important questions. The best interviews appear conversational in nature.  If you feel that the panel is not enjoying the conversation, cut your conversation short, and allow it to ask you something else. Doing so will make it more likely for you to get questions you can answer better.

A long interview doesn’t mean a good interview, and a short one doesn’t mean a bad one. A short interview could mean that the panel has made its decision in less than the time allotted for the interview. Those of you who understand statistics, remember that the panel will avoid what is called a Type II error – in other words, it will not hang an innocent man (A Type I error is setting a guilty person free). Type II errors are generally more critical, and hence, if the panel has to reject you, it will gather all the evidence before they decide to do so, and this could lead to a longer interview! If your answers are focused, the panel will have more time to give you to bounce back, if required.

Try to maintain reasonable enthusiasm and energy during the interview.  It is true that enthusiasm is infectious.  In a situation in which there are no right or wrong answers, it pays to remain positive. Interviews are really about how you answer, and not what you answer, and enthusiasm is likely to add to ‘how’ you approach the question.

In the end I would like to say that application strategies are aplenty, and no one strategy fits all. A good story is your own, and your strategies have to be tailored for you. Given how unique everyone is, discussing techniques irrelevant to you do not serve a purpose – what matters is what is relevant to you.  I wish you all the luck for this admissions cycle.  If you would like to discuss your profile with me, you may get in in touch with me by clicking on the contacts page of this website.

 

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this site and in this article are opinions, and all data and information provided here are for informational purposes only. CollegeStation Eduservices LLP, its partners, clients or any of its associates make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information provided on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

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Before I present an answer, allow me to elaborate on this question, and what ‘switching careers’ really means. Ask any B-School’s career center, and they will proudly say that over 70% of their students are career changers. Given the diverse backgrounds that students come from, and the kinds of roles that are posted at B-Schools these days, it may be a little difficult to bring complete transparency and objectivity to what a career change really is. At most schools, a career change is considered as a function OR industry shift.  This, in practicality, is very achievable, but is this really a career change?

A career change, arguably, is when you want to do something else because you don’t like what you are doing now! Given that you only have experience in what you don’t like doing, you find yourself in a vicious circle.  Not liking your current situation is only natural, but it does not mean that you have to radially change your situation to find your true calling. Career centers at most schools will also advice you against radical changes.

The MBA, in itself, is not a specialization – it is a program designed for specialists, and hence the experience requirement in the application.  At most top schools, the average experience is around 5 years, and there is a reason for this.  With the ‘why now’ question, Schools want to gauge whether you have acquired some level of functional or industry depth.  At this stage if you want to change careers, it is more difficult for the School to launch your career because the MBA will not provide you depth – it will only provide you breadth.  Hence, it is necessary to look at your post MBA job as an evolution to your background. Rather than a career change, look for career growth.

The top 200 to 300 jobs posted at the Indian School of Business, or for that matter, at any other top B-School, arguably, will not weigh past experience over brilliance – these are strategy, consulting and leadership rotational roles that will look at intellectual horsepower and problem solving ability over depth of knowledge.  The companies that hire for these roles will look at your CGPA, brand quality of your undergraduate institution, and a competitive pre-MBA job as evidence of potential.  They will have multiple rounds of case based interviews to ensure that you can address problems quickly, with confidence, and with incomplete information.

For an engineer who has worked at a manufacturing unit, will a job at a top consulting firm be considered a career change? For an arts graduate, will a tech or digital role at a branding agency be a career change?  For a commerce graduate, will an operations leadership role at an ECom giant be considered a career change?

What about the rest of the jobs? Recruiters will, for the most part, shortlist candidates based on experience, and will consider either functional knowledge OR industry depth when evaluating your profile.  A Chartered Accountant working as an analyst in a bank could be selected for a finance role in an engineering conglomerate, or a sales professional working in a consumer electronics company could be selected for a category management role at a major retailer.  Are these career changes?

The term ‘career change’ is really irrelevant – what is relevant is whether an opportunity poses career growth.  Also relevant is whether the candidate is satisfied with the outcome of his or her final placement.  I don’t view most post-MBA jobs as career changes.  I view them as career growth opportunities, and for years I have observed that most students who crack these roles are satisfied with their outcomes.

To maximize opportunity, one should make use of the school’s ecosystem and strengths.  I do not recommend that students go off on a wild goose chase looking for that dream job. I have gone through enough data to conclude that your likelihood of getting a job through campus-facilitated sources (In India) is much higher than going off on your own.  Top recruiters get tens of thousands of applications per month, and your application, most often, will not even reach the hiring manager’s desk.

My advice to you is this – once you get into an MBA program, do everything to get into the best possible company as early as possible.  Obviously, this is not easier said than done!  However, at schools such as the ISB, you will be immersed in Career Services and L&D activities from the beginning – you will network not only with alumni, but also with recruiters who visit campus for various club activities.  You will form strong bonds with the Career Services staff. Career Services maintains personal relationships with the who’s who of the recruiting community, and have the ability to push your CV into the right hands when required. It is very important for you to network with such people who can get you your next break.  Social capital is a predictor of success, and I can say with a fair amount of ease that students who spend more time with the placements department find it easier to navigate their job search and interview processes.

At most schools (in India), placements are designed for the most sought after recruiters to visit earlier – the top companies will come earlier, and hence the best students will get placed earlier.  Try to get placed earlier, for this will be the only time in your life when you will have the upper negotiating hand with recruiters!

As far as you application is concerned, try to answer the ‘why now’ question by stating why the MBA will be a natural progression to your career, given your past background.  Bring flow to your short and long-term career goals, for the admissions committee is unimpressed by dots that are not connected, and will probably give you a hard time during the interview in case you are shortlisted for one.  If you want to be a product manager at that ECom giant and you don’t have relevant experience, at least show that you have done some work in technology.  Or try to provide evidence of interest.  If you want to work in banking, be prepared to answer finance questions during the interview if you don’t have relevant experience or education.  If you want to work in consulting, make sure you have an answer for why you will be a good fit.

So will the MBA help you accelerate your career?  For the most part, you can’t go wrong with it, especially from a top school.  The best schools will provide you an unparalleled ecosystem and access to a plethora of opportunities.  Having said that, times have changed – in comparison to the past, organizations now have different requirements, education systems have evolved, and for sure the new generation is much more aware.  I tend to believe that, in the future, a narrower focus will be of advantage to the aspiring professional.  If you haven’t acquired some level of industry or functional depth by the time you begin your MBA application, hang on just a bit.  Also consider a specialized Masters to put your career on the fast track!

 

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this site and in this article are opinions, and all data and information provided here are for informational purposes only. CollegeStation Eduservices LLP, its partners, clients or any of its associates make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information provided on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

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