Insignts

USA

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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In case you didn’t make it this season – worry not!  The nature of the game will result in many applicants not getting an offer; top schools have low acceptance rates, suggesting that in any given year most people won’t get in. To hedge your bets, you have to be careful about the schools you select, apply to a few schools, and take into consideration your interests, professional goals and cultural fit while doing so. We work with many re-applicants every year, many of whom come to me at low stages, after they have received a reject, if not more.

For the most part, I can easily identify what went wrong with their applications, but sometimes, it is not as straightforward; even great candidates get rejected. This is no way an indication of your abilities, nor is it a failure.

But the brain can trick you into giving up. Because giving up will prevent you from the pain of dealing with rejection. This is the way our DNA has evolved over millennia – to cope with the situation, some may decide to move away from the goal.  But the only way to ensure success is to go on, to objectively and unemotionally work on the next steps. I tell all my clients that one has to be in the game to win the game.

I have divided my response in two parts, a) how do you cope with rejection, and b), what are your options.

Firstly, continue doing what you are doing. Do not quit your job in frustration hoping that you will regroup. It will not get better. It is important that you feel you are mastering something, even if it is not your chosen career path. Make sure you go to work and keep busy. Secondly, it is important to try to be ‘in flow.’ In case you are not getting enough punch at work, pick up a hobby and try to master it. Play a sport, join a club, develop a new professional skill, or maybe learn a new language. Thirdly, socialize. The easiest thing to do is to go into a cocoon in defeat. By doing so you will lose energy and feel even worse. In acting, there are two popular methods: without getting into details, one theory suggests that for an internal feeling to manifest, you have to drive it from outside. By enveloping yourself in gloomy environment, you will manifest that. Force yourself to go out and interact. A progressive and happy external environment will lead to the same feelings internally. In no time your mind will wander away from your burdens and you will feel renewed energy. Fourthly, give back. It is not the end of the world and there are people who need you. Tutor children, help the needy – whatever works with you. You will feel better.

Lastly, don’t blame yourself.  The more you believe you were responsible for the outcome, the more miserable you will be. Reality is that external factors played a role, just like they play everywhere in life. I have observed the workings of a top school’s admissions office for years. I assure you that the same application read on different days or by different people will lead to different outcomes. Just tell yourself that you did your best, and that circumstances beyond your control were not in your favor, and that you could have done nothing to change the current state.

In case you are looking to start in January, there are a number of great options: Columbia, INSEAD, HEC France, IE Spain, Ivey in Canada, and AGSM in Australia all have January intakes. In Canada, a number of Schools such as Queen’s Smith School and York’s Schulich offer Master’s programs that start in January or throughout the year. As an example, Queen’s runs its Masters of Management Analytics in January and May, and the Masters of Management in Artificial Intelligence in August. Specialized programs are a great alternative to the MBA, and can provide very fulfilling academic experiences and rewarding careers.

We have deep experience with all these schools. If you would like to learn more about them, of if you need help with your applications, please reach out.


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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The world has evolved over the last two decades, and today, the pace of change is faster than ever before. Sign onto Linkedin and look at jobs posted by multinationals and well-known firms, and you will observe, without any question, that ‘data,’ ‘digital’ and ‘technology’ are routine keywords on their descriptions.  In fact, in Canada, where I recently spent considerable time, rarely did I come across a job that didn’t require an understanding of technology and data. So much so that even traditional consulting and accounting firms now have specialized innovation hubs and AI practices. As examples, look at Accenture Innovation Hub and Deloitte Omnia AI.

The world is evolving, and over the last two decades, the pace of change is faster than ever before. Sign onto Linkedin and look at jobs posted by multinationals and well-known firms, and you will observe, without any question, that the keywords ‘data,’ ‘digital’ and ‘technology’ are routine on their descriptions.  In fact, in Canada, where I recently spent considerable time, rarely did I come across a job that didn’t require an understanding of technology and data. So much so that even traditional consulting and accounting firms now have specialized innovation hubs and AI practices. As examples, look at Accenture Innovation Hub and Deloitte Omnia AI.

As market needs are shifting, so are business schools. First, they are seeking the STEM designation for their MBA programs, such as at CMU’s Tepper and Michigan’s Ross, which now offer a STEM MBA curriculum, and second, they are offering specialized programs such as a Masters in Analytics. As examples, MIT Sloan, UCLA Anderson, UVA Darden, CMU Tepper, and LBS are few top schools that offer a degree in Analytics. Some of these programs are more difficult to get into than their respective school’s MBA programs!

Canada seems to have been ahead in this data revolution. U of Toronto’s Rotman School, Western’s Ivey School, Queen’s Smith School, British Columbia’s Sauder School, and York University’s Schulich School, all offer a Masters in Analytics. These programs are well regarded in the country. In fact, Queen’s University was also the first to start a Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence in Toronto. The program features a state-of-the-art blended curriculum, star faculty, weekly interaction with industry experts, company visits, and a capstone project, all very well managed by the School.

I have always advised my clients to (a) follow their interest, in case they know what they want, and (b) prepare for where the ball will be in the future. The MBA is here to stay, and the future is digital. Whether you get an MBA or a Masters, successful professionals will be at the forefront of data and AI. And if you opt for an MBA, you should, at the very least, expect to equip yourself with technical tools within your focus area, whether function or industry. For example, if you wish to study Marketing, plan to get deep knowledge in marketing analytics, and if you wish to study the entertainment industry, intend to get comfortable with technology trends in that space. All top MBA programs now offer a plethora of courses that will allow you to gain skills you need for your chosen space.

Ultimately, both degrees offer a path to corporate leadership. Once you join a company, other factors, both internal and external will play a role in your progression. What program to opt for will warrant a more detailed observation of individual profiles. Each candidate has a set of circumstances, and it is impractical to generalize with simple frameworks. With this article, I hope to provide you with some information to aid your decision-making.

 My recommendation is as follows – in case you are on the less experienced side, and prefer to fast track your career with a degree, a Masters in Analytics may very well be the way. Also, if you have an undergraduate degree in business or commerce, a degree in Analytics will add depth to your profile. For those who have technical backgrounds, such as in computer science or engineering, or for those who wish to seek broader industry exposure and keep options open, the MBA will likely be the degree of choice.

Then there are other programs. In case you have identified an area of interest, you could go for a specialized program, such as a degree in Supply Chain, Digital Product Management, Real Estate, Fashion Merchandising, Hospitality, or Finance. There are top-ranked programs in every space, and career opportunities post them are aplenty.

In case you need help with your Masters or MBA applications, please feel free to reach out to me.

The world has evolved over the last two decades, and today, the pace of change is faster than ever before. Sign onto Linkedin and look at jobs posted by multinationals and well-known firms, and you will observe, without any question, that ‘data,’ ‘digital’ and ‘technology’ are routine keywords on their descriptions.  In fact, in Canada, where I recently spent considerable time, rarely did I come across a job that didn’t require an understanding of technology and data. So much so that even traditional consulting and accounting firms now have specialized innovation hubs and AI practices. As examples, look at Accenture Innovation Hub and Deloitte Omnia AI.

As market needs are shifting, two things are happening in business schools. First, they are seeking the STEM designation for their MBA programs, such as at CMU’s Tepper and Michigan’s Ross, which now offer a STEM MBA curriculum, and second, they are offering a Masters program in Analytics. As examples, MIT Sloan, UCLA Anderson, UVA Darden, CMU Tepper, and LBS are few top schools that offer a degree in Analytics. Some of these programs are more difficult to get into than their respective school’s MBA programs!

Canada seems to have been ahead in this data revolution. U of Toronto’s Rotman School, Western’s Ivey School, Queen’s Smith School, British Columbia’s Sauder School, and York University’s Schulich School, all offer a Masters in Analytics. These programs are well regarded in the country. In fact, Queen’s University offers the only program of its kind, a Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence in Toronto. The program features a state-of-the-art blended curriculum, star faculty, weekly interaction with industry experts, company visits, and a capstone project, all very well managed by the School.

I have always advised my clients to (a) follow their interest, in case they know what they want, and (b) prepare for where the ball will be in the future. The MBA is here to stay, but the future is digital. Whether you get an MBA or a Masters, successful professionals will be at the forefront of data and AI. And if you opt for an MBA, you should, at the very least, expect to equip yourself with technical tools within your focus area, whether function or industry. For example, if you wish to study Marketing, plan to get knowledge in marketing analytics, and if you wish to study the entertainment industry, intend to get comfortable with technology trends in that space. All top MBA programs now offer a plethora of courses for you to gain skills you need for your chosen space.

Ultimately, both degrees offer a path to corporate leadership. Once you join a company, other factors, both internal and external will play a role in your progression. What program to opt for will warrant a more detailed observation of individual profiles. Each candidate has a set of circumstances, and it is impractical to generalize with a framework. With this article, I hope to provide you with some information to aid your decision-making.

 My recommendation is as follows – in case you are on the less experienced side, and prefer to fast track your career with a degree, a Masters in Analytics may very well be the way. Also, if you have an undergraduate degree in business or commerce, a degree in Analytics will add depth to your profile. For those who have technical backgrounds, such as in computer science or engineering, or for those who wish to seek broader industry exposure and keep options open, the MBA will likely be the degree of choice.

Then there are other programs. In case you have identified an area of interest, you could go for a specialized program, such as a degree in Supply Chain, Digital Product Management, Real Estate, Fashion Merchandising, Hospitality, or Finance. There are top-ranked programs in every space, and career opportunities post them are aplenty. In case you need help with your Masters or MBA applications, please reach out to me. 


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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In some of my previous blogs, I have touched upon the importance of specializing.  With that, I am saying that in the current times, it is better to build depth in a certain function or industry.  Years back, the MBA program was introduced to provide breadth to corporate employees who had limited exposure to work outside of their own departments.  At most schools, the MBA started out as a ‘general management’ program that would give these candidates an appreciation for all business functions. Things are very different today – the speed at which work is executed has increased significantly, boundaries are no longer the same, and learning options are aplenty.  Today, high school students can create solid digital marketing campaigns.  By the time they are out of college, they have acquired exposure not only to best practices, but also to a number of industries.

So why go ahead and get an MBA?  Well, for starters, the MBA has also evolved.  At most of the top schools, it is a very flexible program in which you can build depth in case you are generalist, and acquire breadth in case you are a specialist.  Also, academic content is not the only reason you go to business school – you go to b-school for the ecosystem it provides, and access to outside of class opportunities that you otherwise will not find easy to get.  The right MBA will provide you with enough opportunity to explore an industry or function in detail.

But there are also some top programs that we don’t look at – programs that are more focused and that are a great alternative to the MBA. Most of us are somewhat familiar with category rankings. In this blog, I am sharing some specialised master’s programs that are very well known in the industry, and provide the same opportunities that an MBA does.

Finance – Besides the heavyweights Wharton, Chicago and NYU, consider the Master of Finance program at MIT Sloan, London Business School and Cambridge Judge. These programs are feeder programs to the best of best in the banking space.  If you want to work in Financial Engineering and risk, look at the Master of Financial Engineering program at UCLA Anderson and Berkeley Haas. If you want to complete your CFA while getting your master’s, consider the finance program at Rutgers University. The school’s proximity to New York makes it an attractive proposition for recruiters in the area.

Supply Chain Management and Operations – Both Georgia Tech and MIT have specialized master’s programs in supply chain management, and both are really well known in industry. The MIT program is a standalone program while GATech’s is housed within the department of Industrial Engineering. Also consider Michigan State University’s Master in Supply Chain Management. It is housed within the College of Business, and many consider it to be the No. 1 program in the US.

Consumer Products and FMCG – This is a no brainer. Go to Kellogg if you get in.  Consumer products account for about 14% of the total hiring at Northwestern – this figure is much higher than that of any other school in the top 25.

Luxury and Fashion – If your heart is set on working at LVMH, you will have to apply to HEC in Paris. If you want to work at Bulgari, go to Bocconi in Italy.  Many of the executives in the luxury, fashion and beauty space have advanced degrees from these schools. Both schools offer specialization in fashion and luxury, and both schools are very strongly connected to industry. ESSEC in France is also very well known in this space.

Sport Management – Ohio University has a world-renowned Master of Sports Administration program.  Equally well known is the Sport Management Program at Columbia University. If want to work at a sports league such the NBA or NFL, or if you want to work as a sports agent – look no further.

Music Business – Music business majors understand both music technology and business. Today graduates of the Berklee College of Music and the Steinhardt School at New York University are working in companies such as Apple, Sony Music and Google.  Both schools offer a master’s degree in music business. At Berklee, you can also do an MBA in Music completely online.

Entertainment – For film and television, the top schools are USC Marshall and UCLA Anderson. Every year graduates from these schools head to the studios, agencies and tech firms such as Netflix. This is a highly competitive field, and not for the faint of heart. But if you have the passion and are willing to persevere, you could be rewarded with an exciting career. NYU Stern also offers a major in Entertainment.

Hospitality – There are not many schools in the US for this specialization. But the one school that is there amongst the few is arguably the best in the world – the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. If you want to interview with hotel chains and Casinos, you’d have better odds if you went to Cornell. There are other very well known programs in the EU. Amongst them is the Master of Management in Food and Beverage at Bocconi, Italy.

Real Estate – Incidentally, Cornell’s Hotel School also houses the top ranked real estate master’s program in the nation. Take a look at it if you are interested in real estate finance and investment. Also look at MIT’s Master in Real Estate Development Program. Both these programs are in the top 2 in the US, and with such brands attached to your CV, be rest assured that you are on your way to a great career.

Airline Management – If the airline industry interests you, and you want to travel the globe, look at the following world famous programs – MBA in Aviation at Embry Riddle University, Florida – USA, and MSc in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University, UK. These schools are feeder schools to pretty much all the airlines in the world.

Human Resources – Cornell is a powerhouse in the field of Industrial and Labor Relations. The ILR School offers a world-renowned master’s program for those interested in Human Resources. The Ross School at University of Michigan is also known to be strong in HR.

Public Administration – Harvard Kennedy School’s MPA degree is one of the best there is in Public Management.  The program is much easier to get into than the university’s MBA program. Given Harvard’s strong brand, the MPA is probably a better bet than many other MBA programs.

So go ahead and specialize. I firmly believe that we are in an age in which specialization is key. Breadth can be built and generalist skills can be acquired at any stage, but after a certain point, it is difficult to specialize. And if you have lost that boat, you are likely to not develop skills that will allow you to stay on top of the game. The programs that I have mentioned are business specializations – you could, on the other hand, opt for specializations outside of business.  Advanced degrees in User Experience, Cognitive Psychology, Statistics, Computer Science, Ergonomics, Robotics, and Urban Design, to name a few, are examples of programs that are likely to give you the same opportunities.

To learn more about MBA and master’s programs, 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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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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One of the most critical decisions for those who are now getting ready to apply to MBA programs is which schools to apply to.  Many of you are absolutely sure of your application strategy, and this is an envious position to be in, but for the vast majority of the candidates, this could turn out to be quite a nerve-wracking decision that frequently changes with bits and pieces of new information.  It is natural and it happens to the best of us. We are genetically programmed to maximize the probability of reward, and new information will push us to scratch our heads.  So what should you do?

The first thing that I tell my clients is to have a diversified application strategy.  This means that you should apply to schools that are safe, within reach and ambitious for you.  This strategy is especially important for those candidates who have the most stellar profiles and those who do not want to target anything less than the top 5. Now obviously, I am not asking anyone to go to a lesser-ranked school, and why should you, but the fact remains – you can only choose where you finally go to at the time of admission, and not at the time of the application.  Given the really low acceptance rates of top schools, admissions, even for the most brilliant candidates is a matter of chance. To maximize the probability of reward, it is wise to hedge your bets.  Also, avoid taking acceptance rates at face value – most of you reading this blog belong to the Indian demographic – which means that you will be compared with the Indian pool in addition to the overall applicant pool. And acceptance rates for the Indian pool is lower that those published by business schools. At the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with any of the top 15 schools. Applying to schools safe for you could reward you with possibilities that you otherwise could not have imagined at the application stage – such as a merit scholarship. I can’t stress enough the importance of this strategy – many a time very brilliant candidates come to me as re-applicants. When I learn more about their previous year’s applications, I can pinpoint with a fair amount of ease that their application strategy has been suboptimal. I myself fell in this trap when I was applying to MBA programs years back.  After getting the GMAT score I wanted, I applied only to two of the top 5 schools and landed up getting the ding letter from both of them.

Another piece of advice, which in continuation to the above, that I offer candidates is to focus their energies on an ideal number of schools rather than a large number of schools.  My logic to this is quality over quantity.  Given the time constraints associated with work and other commitments, applicants come to a point as which they start facing a writer’s block and lose objectivity. They rush to get things done, and ultimately don’t answer the question asked.  Often a time I have interacted with candidates who have applied to between eight and 10 schools.  When I review their applications, I can easily pinpoint that some of the applications are a cut-copy-and-paste from a previous application.  Admissions committees don’t have to be trained to gauge this sort of thing – they can easily make out whether the candidate has genuine interest, and whether he (or she) has answered the question that has been asked.  If an application makes the AdCom members feel that they are the candidate’s safety fallback option, or that the application does not display a certain amount of genuine interest in the program, they don’t feel very good – nobody wants to feel that they are unimportant! I know a candidate who once, upon receiving a rejection from a top 15 US school, sought feedback from the school’s Director of Admissions. The Director explicitly stated, ‘we don’t think you are interested in us, and we are a proud school.’ My recommendation to most candidates is four schools. In certain situations I have recommended five schools, but not beyond that.  This seems to be the ideal number for maximizing reward.

While you are considering schools and working on strategies, you may also want to pace yourself. Many a time candidates ask me whether there is any advantage to applying in R1 vs. R2.  The most clichéd answer is that you should apply when you are ready – till date it remains the best answer. At most schools R1 and R2 acceptance rates are not significantly different, and in case they are, the added advantage of the slight difference in acceptance rates will not outweigh the benefit of a better application, or a better foot forward. Many applicants who have not yet taken the GMAT ask me whether it is better to apply to the ISB in R1 or with a better GMAT score in R2. My answer is to take the GMAT before the R1 deadline, and apply if you get the required score, and postpone to R2 if you don’t.  Don’t stress over the number of GMAT attempts – while we feel it is more important to be perceived as intelligent than hardworking, this is not entirely true for the way others perceive us.  A little known AdCom secret about the GMAT is that the number of attempts has absolutely no bearing on your admissions outcome. In fact, if you have improved your score from a 600 to a 720, it is likely to be viewed with an element of awe.  You are immediately perceived as a committed and hard working person.

There are other considerations when deciding on which rounds to apply in.  You may want to take advantage of the ‘early-decision’ round at some schools, such as Columbia. In case you opt for early action, you are trading off the possibility of more opportunity in the future, for a higher chance of getting in now.  In case you have your eyes set on a top school, but are on the edge in terms of your credentials, early-decision may very well be for you.  Other considerations include awards and scholarships. If you are hoping for some sort of aid or a merit-based scholarship, some schools require you to apply by a certain deadline, which could be R1.  Given the soaring costs of a top US MBA, you might as well apply early.  At most schools, I would avoid applying in the final round, which could be R3 or R4.  Acceptance rates at most schools are significantly lower for the final round, and most students who apply during this round are those who don’t make it in the earlier rounds – AdComs know this, and are basically providing some highly qualified candidates one last opportunity to secure an admit.  Having said that, I have reason to believe that at some top schools, final round acceptance rates are at par with those at earlier rounds, or at least high enough.  These schools include Michigan, Cornell, Texas at Austin, NYU, and possibly Virginia, and Duke.

Other matters include the value proposition of the MBA program.  I almost always tell candidates that the ISB offers a fantastic value proposition – it offers state-of-the-art infrastructure, a great residential experience, fantastic placements, a plethora of international exchange programs, the opportunity to specialize in a number of subjects, and most of all, top faculty from the world’s best business schools, and all this, at a fraction of the cost.  One of the reasons I feel that the ISB has been successful in such a short span of time, is its exchange faculty model.  Many professors of Indian origin working in the US wanted to come back home to India from time to time. Their initial positive experience teaching at the ISB opened up doors to other professors exploring this option. And today, if you look at the ISB faculty roster, you will notice popular names from the likes of Wharton, Kellogg, NYU, MIT, LBS, UCLA and many others.  Having said that, let me also assure you that ISB’s own tenured faculty is par-excellence. Walk into the Operations Management course by Professor Milind Sohoni, and you will be blown away.  Take the New Product Development course by professor Arun Pereira, and I guarantee you that you will not want to budge from your seat.  A B-School is really about faculty, and kudos to them for committing their lives to achieving such depth, and making such a difference in the lives of so many.  I really hope that some of you in this new generation commit to higher learning and get PhDs.  Professors make all the difference – they are truly in a noble profession.  For the sake of not getting carried away, and coming back to the point I’m making – The ISB is an excellent value proposition. If you want to finish in 1-year and quickly get back to work without heavy debt, or if you want to live and work in India in the long run, my alma mater may very well be a great option for you.

Yet another consideration is the time you want to commit to further education.  In case you want to remain in the same industry of function, have already built a certain functional expertize, don’t want to go through the hassle of looking for an internship, or if you simply don’t want to be out of the workforce for too long, the 1-year MBA may be a good option for you.  Keep in mind that there are fewer top 1-year MBA programs, and you are better off with a few 2-year programs on your list as well.  In addition to the ISB, Insead, Kellogg, Cornell, Emory and USC Marshall offer the 1-year option.

Ironically so, I am more in favor of the 2-year program, which I feel has certain advantages.  In case you wish to build depth in a certain function and specialize, the two-year program will give you more opportunity and time to study subjects in more detail. For students wishing to work in Finance, you should to go for a 2-year program.  Finance recruitments have evolved to include a lot of weight on past experience, and hence, performance during the internship is a key parameter for evaluating candidates for post-MBA jobs.  There is a reason for why the finance heavy schools are all 2-year programs.  I’m not saying that you should totally avoid the 1-year MBA if you are a finance major – all I’m saying is that access to new opportunity and the likelihood of a desired placement will be higher at a 2-year program. Do keep in mind that no matter where you go, relevant experience and academic qualifications will play a role in how you finally fare.  If you have relevant experience and qualifications, or certifications such as the CFA, you are likely to get by with ease even at a 1-year program.

The 2-year program also has the advantage of a more holistic experience.  There are more opportunities to conclude tasks that you start, take on certain club and curricular activities in a deeper fashion, learn from 2nd year students, and enjoy the industry specific excursions and immersions. The 2-year program also provides more opportunities to network and form deeper friendships. By the time you get to know people, you have already finished one year. The 2nd year is really when you start building your friendships.

Also, you need to think about what kind of learner you are.  If you are a slow learner, and like to sleep over or philosophize over material before grasping it, the 2-year program may be of interest. But if you are a fast and intuitive learner, or that kind of engineer who has excellent visual and pictorial skills, you are likely to fare equally well at a 1-year program. Teaching methods will also play a role here.  Most of the schools adopt a mix of different styles that include case study, lectures, group work and simulations. Harvard and Darden are the only two US schools that deliver over 70% of their coursework through case studies. Cases are a type of flipped classroom, in which you do prior reading on a challenge that a company is facing, and discuss it in class with the faculty leading the discussion. If you like this sort of thing, you will be very happy with B-School no matter where you apply, because all of the schools use this method for at least part of the coursework.  Of the schools that tend to be more instruction based, Chicago, UCLA and Carnegie Mellon come to my mind. Personally, I feel that the case based method is not fitting for certain kinds of courses such as accounting, quantitative analysis and finance. Cases are more productive when everyone is class has some level of proficiency. Because this is not always the case, and grading is a result of class participation, there is a tendency for students to scramble for airtime, and this leads to random and often pointless discussions.

You may also want to reflect upon the location and size of the program. My advice on this tends to favor schools close to or in the major economic hubs of Boston, New York, Chicago and the Valley, to name a few.  It is not surprising that schools in these areas enjoy a good reputation. The ecosystems of these hubs foster mutually beneficial associations between universities and industry. Amongst other advantages, these associations lead to corporate requirements that bring about cutting-edge research, and research that is capitalized by corporations, not to mention research that has lead to the creation of successful companies. Many of the faculty members at these schools are closely linked to these organizations, and are on their boards.  Many of the faculty members are also running their own companies.  All these advantages translate into better classroom experiences and more opportunities for you, which ultimately culminate into a more effective job search.  Having said that, in case you want to enjoy some time off and live in peace and quiet, love the outdoors, or want to be free from the distractions of city life, a more intimate environment may very well bring out the best in you.  Consider Tuck, Darden and Cornell if you thrive in an intimate environment.  And then there is always the middle path; college towns that offer the best of both worlds – large enough to provide a great off-campus experience, and small enough for you to focus on the task at hand. Ann Arbor, MI and Austin, TX fit the bill here, and if this is what you want, go ahead and apply to Ross and McCombs.

You may also want to capitalize on your cultural outlook or fluency in a certain language.  If you are the kind of person who loves a multicultural environment, a European school will be a good bet.  The same holds true for those who can speak one of the EU languages. Research has indicated that knowing an additional language translates into significantly higher earnings in the long run.  You may want to exploit your strengths by taking up a job that requires you to be bilingual or trilingual.  At schools such as Insead, you will have many opportunities to interview for such jobs.

I will also urge you to look at schools that are powerhouses in their own regions but not often considered by top applicants. Schools such as Rotman in Toronto, AGSM in Sydney, and the Melbourne Business School are truly great programs, and very well respected in their own countries. If you want to work in these economies, these schools will provide better opportunity than even the most elite programs.

I have saved the most important piece of advice for the end – apply to places where you feel you belong. Ask yourself, ‘will this program provide me with an ecosystem, i.e. access to opportunity and recruiters in my desired industry, to fulfill my long-term goals?’  No matter what statistics say, you have a higher likelihood of getting into a school where you feel you belong. This is because your story and interview will naturally be in flow, and convey genuine reasoning and logical interest.  I feel that is world is progressing towards specialization. I also feel that technology is often evolving faster than it can be executed, and hence, pure generalists will be in lower demand.  Don’t view the MBA as an opportunity to create more options for yourself. Instead, have a narrower focus, and use it as an opportunity to build on what you already have a background in.  Even current psychology research has indicated that committing oneself to a single long-term goal leads to a higher probability of financial success and life happiness – so why not? If you want to work in Sports, consider Ohio University’s top ranked Sports Management MBA. If media is your calling, you may want to apply to NYU Stern. If its fashion and luxury, consider SDA Bocconi in Milan and HEC in Paris, and if you wish to work in the automotive industry, you might as well apply to the University of Michigan.

In case you are still unsure, get in touch with alums you know from schools that you are interested in.  They will be able to share insights and experiences that may aid you in your decision. There is always the option of reaching out to an admissions consulting firm – some of them have Admissions Office experience and deep information on what really goes inside business schools.  At CollegeStation, a profile review is free of cost, so why not use the opportunity!

 

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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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.

 

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