I worked with CrackVerbal for my applications. I was taken through a self discovery process of sorts because the nice thing about Arun is that he questions your reasons for doing an MBA. It’s not treated as just an application, but you are also learning things about yourself which helps bring more perspective. The entire process tested me in ways I had never expected and I ended up learning a lot about myself.
What was your professional background like before you applied for an MBA overseas?
I’m a B.Com graduate from Delhi University, post which I pursued an MBA at IMT Ghaziabad. I then worked in the agri-business for a few years out of parts of Africa, spent some 3 years there, and returned to India to join ITC in a similar division. I then felt I wanted to switch to the management domain. I joined Danone and worked there for 3 years and that’s when I decided on doing another MBA.
Why did you feel the need to do another MBA?
I felt the MBA was an extension of my undergraduate studies. It was a theoretical exercise to me since I didn’t have any work experience which would help me relate to the subject matter. Looking back, I feel it would have been better for me to have worked for a while and then do an MBA, but it did help me land a good job.
After spending some years working and learning some business skills, I now feel the need to return to school to test out and validate the things that I have learnt on the job.
What sort of an MBA program will you be pursuing now?
Considering my years of work experience, age and skill set, there were several factors which I considered:
A one year program was my prime focus. I had already spent 2 years learning the theory during my first MBA. One year programs are not that easy to come by, I applied to INSEAD, Oxford, Cambridge, HEC Paris and Kellogg in the U.S. which are the few one year programs available. I also got interviewed by all of them; I was wait listed at Kellogg and given offers by HEC and Cambridge.
The next thing I was looking at was the classroom environment. I was looking for a more collaborative environment where I can interact with all my classmates and get to know them better, rather than being in a class that is too large, especially since I want to get into a career in Entrepreneurship and Consulting, this would be important.
Finally, I wanted the school to be close to a city but not within it, as it would help enhance my learning experience. Based on all these factors, I chose Cambridge after which I said no to Kellogg.
What made you choose Cambridge over HEC?
There were a couple of factors which made me choose Cambridge over HEC – the first one being language. I never felt I had a natural flair for languages and despite living in the French speaking parts of Africa, I could never really pick up the language.
The other aspect being my post-MBA career focus which is in Consulting. I searched for people on Linkedin from both HEC and Cambridge and found that Cambridge was better suited to me. It has a very strong focus on Consulting. I also want to work in London ultimately, so it made more sense to study there as well. Although HEC Paris has a wonderful course, to me Cambridge was a better fit.
How did you go about preparing for the GMAT and the applications thereafter?
I took the test twice and I didn’t do too well the first time around. It took me 4 years to take it again. I tell a lot of people who come to me for advice to try and do well the first time around so you can get done with it. It’s unlike CAT where the exam is scheduled on a particular day. Although you can take the GMAT after 30 days of your first attempt, you still need to plan it and that takes some time because we tend to procrastinate. You have to mentally prepare yourself from scratch which is not always easy.
The second time I took the GMAT, I applied a more focused and clinical approach. I stressed on the areas which I was not too strong in. I was also at a disadvantage – being outside of India, I had no access to coaching classes so I had to do it all on my own.
As far as the application process was concerned, I worked with CrackVerbal for my applications. I was taken through a self discovery process of sorts because the nice thing about Arun is that he questions your reasons for doing an MBA. It’s not treated as just an application, but you are also learning things about yourself which helps bring more perspective. The entire process tested me in ways I had never expected and I ended up learning a lot about myself.
The other good thing about Arun is that he never sugar coats the weaknesses in your profile, he lets you know what won’t work and then helps you showcase your profile the right way. There really are no weak profiles, because every profile is unique. It helped me understand my strengths and speak of them, while I also mentioned my weaknesses.
That’s an interesting insight, one would assume that having taken the GMAT once before, you would have more confidence to deal with it the next time around and it would be easier, is it common for people to find it more difficult the next time around?
The GMAT, I feel is the most brilliant exam ever. I have taken several exams but this one was the best. I feel it tests your knowledge and additionally your management skills. The exam itself is like a decision making process, the questions you get and the levels of difficulty that test your ability to make a decision at that point. Being right or wrong is a different thing.
It’s also an exam you have to plan around – when you take it, how you prepare, etc., all this tests your ability to manage tasks. It’s not an easy exam. Yes it is harder the next time around because of these factors as you need to stay motivated and work on it. It’s easy to forget about it and give excuses because of work, family commitments etc., but it’s really difficult to actually stay focused and manage your time from start to finish. That’s why it’s better to finish off with it the first time around.
Does having an MBA while applying to another play to your advantage? How do you feel the panel would have viewed your profile?
I don’t think having an MBA goes against you or works for you. Looking at a specific case – Kellogg requires that you have prior business knowledge, so that way my Indian MBA helped.
The other schools liked my profile too, so there was no question of it being a hurdle, it was simply the question of whether I’m doing another MBA for the right reasons. As long as you can get that point across, you won’t have anything to worry about.
What was the interview process like?
Every school follows a different type of interview process. For instance, Judge has a more exhaustive one which involves two rounds of interviews. The first round, you are interviewed on a personal level and the second, you actually get a chance to visit the school, attend seminars, speak to alumni and then meet the panel.
My personal opinion is that B-schools in India and abroad differ in their interview process. In India, it tends to be more technical where they ask you to draw graphs which is easier when you are fresh out of college. The interviews are treated like stress interviews where you are asked several questions on say costing or economics and asked to draw figures and charts.
Abroad, they tend to want to get to know you better as a person rather than just focusing on the theory. I found it to be a more enjoyable experience and a less hectic one. It was more of a discussion between two adults which involved a more open environment. There was no right or wrong or no conclusion which was drawn.
I was simply asked questions like – what I felt was going wrong in the dairy industry back when I was working with Danone, what feedback would I give my CEO, and so on. It was just to gauge whether you are logical and what you say makes sense. It was never like a teacher talking to a student.
You mentioned you worked in several countries, do you feel your Indian MBA helped you with that?
The Indian MBA did help me get a good job which helped start my career. I also made plenty of good friends and yes it taught me the theoretical knowledge which I needed. However, I felt most of my learning process was on the job and it didn’t really help me grow as a person. It’s catch-22 sort of situation where ideally you would like to work before doing an MBA but would you get a good job without one?
What are your future plans post your MBA?
Immediately after my MBA I would like a job because I’m taking a loan!
Long term, I would like to work in Consulting and perhaps open a boutique Consulting firm in India and maybe even a restaurant!
What advice would you give to future MBA aspirants?
I come across a lot of people with some basic questions, which is good but I think when you’re ready to spend Rupees 20 Lakhs to 50 Lakhs on an education, you should research out the possibilities well. Seek out profiles on Linkedin or online forums, look at people who are doing what you would like to do and then speak to them to see how possible everything is, because it will help you plan your career well.
Make sure you speak to people who are in your target industry and alumni who are either currently studying there or who recently graduated. Take a scientific approach to networking. It doesn’t make sense to add everyone at the school. Deal with networking in a focused manner.
Secondly, I would say don’t take more than 3-3.5 months to prepare for your GMAT, some people keep preparing, don’t do that. Try and limit your preparation time to within 3.5 months.
Don’t jump ahead of the game – lots of people think about their application process without even giving their GMAT, this won’t help them in any way.
Make sure you give yourself time, the application process is a very long one. I had submitted my application on 21st September of last year and I’m joining school this year, so that’s how long it took me. And don’t take rankings too seriously while choosing a B-school.