(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.


Read More

(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, 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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Over the course of my career, and as an independent consultant, many candidates have asked me what score they need to get into the ISB. Candidates view the GMAT as a make or break situation, often considering it the most important part of the application. It is a very important part, but reality is somewhat different from what students have traditionally thought.

My own experience working with candidates has given me reason to believe that there is little correlation between the GMAT and academic performance during the MBA, as long as the candidate achieves a certain hygiene factor on the GMAT.  I also feel that there is little correlation between the GMAT and success in placements or interviews, as long as the same minimum score is met.  The key here is – “As long as a certain score is met.”

The Admissions Committees are evaluating potential for success. When they look at an application, and all its individual elements, they want to answer one question first – Can this candidate succeed?  To answer this, AdComs will evaluate evidence of past success and evidence of brilliance.  Every school has its own evaluation criteria, and certain schools will place more weight on past performance, while others will tend to bend in favor of brilliance. For example, a candidate with a 3.8 undergraduate GPA from a top college and a 700 GMAT will have a better shot at certain schools in comparison to a candidate with a 3.3 GPA from a lesser known college and a 770 GMAT, and visa versa. Both these candidates have provided some level of reassurance to the respective admissions committees. Having said that, I don’t think that a candidate with a 3.5 GPA (or a comparative undergraduate background) will significantly benefit from a score of 760, when she already has a 710.  This is because she too has established acceptable requirements for both evidence of past success and evidence of brilliance.  Once such evidence is established, AdComs will move away from the question, ‘Can she succeed,’ to ‘Will she succeed,’ and look at your overall story, and other elements of your application.

So what do you do if your score is a 690? If you are applying to the Indian School of Business, you could avoid taking it again as long as you can establish some level of past performance.  As I have mentioned, B-Schools will view the application as a system, and will put a check mark on elements that give them reassurance.  The more boxes you tick, the higher your likelihood of admission! High scores in 10th and 12th – check, Bachelors from a top college – check, solid GPA – check, work experience in a well-known company – check, good GMAT – check, and so on. Once these quantifiable elements are evaluated, AdComs will look at the softer elements of your application i.e. your story, and ultimately, your interview.  The GMAT is only one element, and for the most part, cannot get you in by itself (although it can keep you out).

Hence, if you are applying to the ISB, and you have a good academic background and experience, you can avoid taking it again.  But if you went to a lesser known college, have experience which is difficult to explain, unimpressive grades, and are making more effort to bring flow and consistency to your story, you may benefit by taking the GMAT again, for a higher score will establish brilliance, and compensate for the lack of other elements in your application. A high score will give evidence of potential when it cannot be measured by past success.

For the ISB, the minimum score I recommend is as follows:

For male applicants – 650

For female applicants – 620

 For the top 20 US schools, I recommend that you aim for at least 700. There are a ton of articles and statistics on the web that are in favor of a higher GMAT score, and I tend to agree with them.  Especially for Indian male applicants, getting into a top US school is arguably more difficult than getting into the ISB.  Given the sheer volume of applications, increased pressure from rankings, and soaring average GMAT scores, AdComs will tend to give the GMAT the benefit of doubt when comparing domestic and foreign candidates.  Having said that, even for most US schools, I doubt whether you’ll significantly benefit with a 760 if you already have a 720.

 In the end, I would like to state that you should apply your own intelligence and judgment to your situation.  Every candidate is unique, and while we all love to obsess over the GMAT (and GRE), you should really consider the merits of your overall application.  If there is only one piece of advice you need to take away from this article, it is this – try to get the highest score that you can, but do not refrain from applying if you have a lower score, or a less pedigreed background. Admissions Committees realize that socioeconomic factors play a role in who you are, and they are only striving hard to evaluate your potential for success. There are times in which a candidate’s potential cannot be evaluated from prior backgrounds alone, because not all have had access to the same opportunities.  In such situations, the GMAT, your essays and ultimately your interview play a bigger role. Everyone has the right to an education, and if you are passionate about learning, you should not be deprived of it – there is a school and a program for everyone.

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.

Read More