The Rotman School of Management (University of Toronto) offers one of the best MBA programs in Canada. It has enjoyed the numero uno ranking for 9 out of 10 years. It accepts 15 years of education i.e. three-year undergraduate degrees from India. If you have been concerned about the tough visa situation in other countries, completing the Rotman MBA guarantees you a 3-year work permit in Canada if you choose to apply.
Sameer Kamat, founder of the MBA Crystal Ball interviewed Sheldon Dookeran, from the Rotman School of Management to get a better understanding of the Rotman MBA admissions process, MBA essays, interviews, jobs and more.
MBA Crystal Ball: Most roles in the corporate world involve team work almost on a daily basis. How can applicants dissect and highlight the relevant parts of their experience while working in teams?
Sheldon: An organization’s most valuable resource and competitive advantage are its people and their ideas, diversity, initiatives, and contributions. However, the most challenging part of professional work remains interacting with people, either internally or externally, to accomplish common or individual goals.
Communication seems to challenge us the most, because; unlike data, we are emotional, stubborn, international, fun, competitive, irrational, diverse, aggressive, social, selfish, persuasive, collaborative and every other dynamic behaviour that people bring out in us.
So, Rotman is interested in knowing how well an applicant works with others despite these challenges. Applicants should provide examples of situations where they interacted with others to accomplish their tasks, examples of situations where they overcame conflicts to accomplish their tasks, and situations where they both contributed to and gained from working with others.
MBA Crystal Ball: Many candidates may not have had any formal leadership and managerial experience. But they might have the potential to do very well if/when presented with the right opportunity. How can they demonstrate that potential in their application?
Sheldon: Leadership comes in many forms other than formally managing or supervising people. Rotman looks for a candidate’s potential for leadership if they have not had any formal leadership roles.
For example applicants commonly show leadership by mentoring others, training people, taking initiative and leading by example. These all exemplify ways that an applicant can make an impact in an organization above the expectations of their job.
Applicants can also demonstrate their potential for leadership by taking initiatives outside their professional work in their community and personal interests. A start-up business demonstrates another form of leadership.
MBA Crystal Ball: The Rotman MBA blog mentions that the interview starts well before the actual interview. Does that mean applicants who’ve taken the initiative to reach out to the admissions team (through phone calls, emails) have an advantage over others?
Sheldon: Rotman teaches students to network heavily to land careers. This means knowing a recruiter before that recruiter arrives on campus and meeting with members of the firm you’re interviewing with before the interview. Networking helps you to research an organization and sell yourself to an organization.
Candidates should apply this practice of networking to applying to business school and engage with the admissions team to learn more about the school and to sell themselves. As members of the admissions team, we enjoy providing candidates with the information, insights and resources they need to determine their fit at Rotman.
We love building relationships with candidates by connecting with them on multiple engagements whenever possible. We encourage candidates to engage with admissions, alum and current students either in-person, by Skype, over email, by phone, in coffee chats, at fairs, at info sessions and on social media platforms.
Candidates who take the initiative to engage with us in multiple ways benefit from perspectives to make a more informed decision. They can impress the admissions committee with detailed examples and insights of their Rotman knowledge.
We also benefit from getting to know candidates on multiple levels to help us decide on their fit at Rotman. So, yes, there are advantages to reaching out to the admissions team.
MBA Crystal Ball: This one’s for those who might get intimidated by the new video essay (which replaces the 3rd & 4th essay) and shy away from applying. How is the video essay different from the regular interview format? Is there anything that applicants can do for practice?
Sheldon: Rotman is proud to have pioneered the video essay last year. Admission to Rotman has grown more competitive, and; in an effort to build a strong class, the video offers an additional and non-traditional tool to assess applicants.
Unlike a written essay that applicants can perfect over weeks, the video response gives the admissions committee a glimpse into an applicant’s communication skills, personality and ability to think on their feet. The video can determine if a Rotman will proceed with an interview or not.
The admissions interview mirrors a typical job interview and involves behavioural type of questions. We’ve designed the video questions to be much more fun, personal and conversational. Despite that, I recommend that applicants still appear professional on video.
And although the response is impromptu, it is a good idea to try to respond with an introduction, content and a conclusion. To prepare, candidates can practice asking each other random “conversation starter” questions and provide 30 seconds to think and 90 seconds to respond.
Impressive videos are engaging, efficient, organized, relevant and personal. Have fun with it!
MBA Crystal Ball: Are there any interesting (and possibly not documented) elements of Rotman MBA that you might want applicants to know more about? For instance, the bidding system for electives in the second year.
Sheldon: Many business schools use a similar system for course enrolment where students bid for courses. The system works well. Those concerned about limited seats in a class should know that Rotman conducts a “dry run” of this course selection process to forecast demand.
If the dry run predicts a large demand for certain courses, the Program Service Office will do their best to meet the demand. However, a more unique and less documented feature of the Rotman curriculum is the use of live cases.
The reality of B-school curriculum is that many successful programs grow complacent and don’t prepare students well enough for the dynamic world that exists post-MBA. Students leave business schools with a set of business models in their tool kit but may not be able to apply them intelligently because the models don’t always work in every situation, and; schools typically don’t teach what to do in those cases.
This results from an emphasis on case studies which hardwires students to find solutions to problems that already happened and limits their creativity to find original ideas. Academics write neat and tidy case studies and strategically provide access to a limited amount of data and factors from the past that cannot change. However, the world does not stand still while you work towards a pre-existing solution in an answer book.
So, Rotman teaches Integrative Thinking to take students beyond traditional business models and teaches them how to build original business models. After Rotman students acquire a thorough understanding of business models, we teach them how to build their own business model in live situations. We train them with live cases using live data instead of “dead” cases using stagnant data.
Firms present ambiguous and undefined problems to Rotman students who must apply the concepts of Integrative Thinking to devise a solution using the firm’s live data. Students sign legally binding non-disclosure agreements to access the company’s server.
They present their solutions to executives who can implement their ideas. For example, the Bank of Montreal implemented a customer service solution presented to BMO executives by a team of Rotman students last year.
MBA Crystal Ball: Apart from the regular focus on management theory, the Self-Development Lab offers a great way to enhance interpersonal skills. As cultures and personalities can differ substantially, is this something that can be taught in a class?
Sheldon: The Self-Development Lab is a co-curricular initiative designed and led by, Maja Djikic, a personality psychologist who teaches personality psychology at the University of Toronto.
It is an example of how Rotman invests in its student’s personal growth and development in a way that no other business school has made the effort to do. It consists of a series of experiential workshops that help students to understand their motivations, conscious, subconscious, thoughts and obstacles, and; how they can use that understanding to shape their personality, presence, image, communication, goals and leadership.
The SDL aims to help students reengineer patterns of expressive, communicative and interactive skills by understanding themselves first. This can be taught.
We refer to the initiative as a lab because a lab is a safe place to experiment and learn. The principles behind the SDL have been researched, practiced and adopted over many years. Instructors come from corporate, clinical, entertainment and academic backgrounds to develop and nurture students through intensive, feedback-based learning opportunities.
MBA Crystal Ball: Is it ok to use humor in the MBA essays?
Sheldon: Application reviewers read hundreds of admission essays and can easily grow tired of standard writing. The most engaging writing shows personality. So, applicants should aim to engage their reader through their own personal voice and style.
This is one more reason to write your own essays. If humour is part of your personal voice, then; express yourself naturally. If it is not, then; don’t force humour into your writing.
Humor is acceptable providing it is relevant; it supports your writing and remains professional. Humour should never cross the political, sexual, religious, or racial lines that could be considered disrespectful.
MBA Crystal Ball: What are the best and worst examples that you’ve come across in Rotman MBA essays?
Sheldon: Without quoting from submitted essays, I can say that the best examples of Rotman essays engage their reader with efficiency, detail, narrative and voice. Efficiency respects the reader’s time who reads for answers to the questions. Effective writers do not waste time and directly answers the questions.
The persuasive essays support the answers to the questions with details, examples and evidence. The memorable essays engage the reader by injecting narrative and revealing personality. Among the worst examples of Rotman essays we find grammatical mistakes, run-on sentences, irrelevant quotes and essays that don’t answer the questions.
MBA Crystal Ball: How can applicants draw the line between being over-eager to please and coming across as being less than enthusiastic?
Sheldon: Applicants can appear enthusiastic without acting over-eager to please with authenticity and research. They should not attempt to determine the ideal candidate and then portray themselves as that ideal person. With an enrolment size of over 300 students that grows, Rotman enjoys the luxury of admitting candidates from various industries, functions, experiences, backgrounds and countries.
So, we do not admit candidates with a particular type of profile. Instead, we value your unique experiences. Enthusiasm displays interest. The most impactful displays of interest indicate that that a candidate has researched their passion and the school beyond obvious and generic information.
A well-researched candidate will show their enthusiasm with intelligent questions which impresses the admissions team.
MBA Crystal Ball: Are there any typical (positive or negative) traits that you come across in Indian applications? Any specific advice for candidates competing in the Indian applicant pool?
Sheldon: Most Indian candidates present strong academic, analytical and quantitative abilities and work in a technical function or the technology industry. So, candidates must stand out with strong communication skills, along with skills, knowledge and experience related to their post-MBA career goals.
A candidate’s communication skills should be strong enough to explain what they do so that a 10-year-old can understand. They should project the in-person image of a well-polished and professional individual that Rotman can trust to put in front of a client or a recruiter.
The most competitive Indian candidates have leveraged their effective communication, networking, presenting, professionalism and client interactions to achieve success. If candidates do not have face to face client interactions then they should try to take initiatives to involve themselves in situations where they can interact either internally or externally with clients.
They can gain this type of experience either at work or in their community. Candidates can also stand out by showing the admissions committee that they have a solid understanding of the function and industry that they wish to enter in Toronto/Canada.
They should make themselves aware of any challenges, understand what’s required to overcome the challenges and show the admissions committee that they are proactive about attaining their career goals. Non-technical work experience will also help a candidate from India to get noticed by the admissions committee.
A candidate can also make themselves more competitive with professional development courses such as CFA or FRM certifications.
MBA Crystal Ball: Many applicants believe that most of the MBA action happens in the U.S. How does Canada compete with the U.S. in terms of post MBA jobs and career opportunities?
Sheldon: Applicants will find more business schools located in the US but by studying in Canada, international students will benefit from economic, employment, immigration, and multicultural advantages. The US may have a larger job market but it has an unstable economy and a more competitive labour market.
Firms in the US typically recruit at all top business schools in the US – for which there are many and enrollment is large. This makes MBA recruitment in the US highly competitive. However, Firms typically recruit from 3-5 business schools in Canada including Rotman.
Canada benefits from a stable economy which translates into job security and job growth. We also benefit from a stable government who recognized a shortage of talent and welcomes foreign talent. Unlike in the US, International students in Canada enjoy the same job opportunities as domestic students because international students in Canada do not require sponsorship from an employer to obtain a work permit.
Rotman guarantees a 3 year work permit to all graduates who apply for one. This removes the work-permit from the equation as a barrier to employment and reduces the stress when graduating in the US. Many students who graduate from a US B-school settle for any job simply to stay in the country.
Lastly, many Rotman MBA alumni admit to choosing to attend the #1 business school in Canada over attending a school ranked in the top 25 in the US for the same opportunities and a better brand.
MBA Crystal Ball: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the Rotman MBA?
Sheldon: Despite its ranking, reputation, location, professors and network, Rotman is much more than a finance school. First of all, the only finance courses that students must complete are in the first year. After that, students can choose not to complete any academic courses in finance.
Rotman offers clubs, courses, events, careers and networking in all areas including Real Estate, Health Care, Marketing, Operations, Entrepreneurship, Technology, Energy, Law, Innovation, Entertainment, Consulting, Non-Profit and more. The employment report can mislead readers because it reports statistics by industry. It reports that 46% of graduates landed careers in the financial services industry.
Readers should distinguish between function and industry here and know that this figure includes consultants, brand managers, innovation managers, operations managers, technology managers, product managers and project managers who all work in the financial services industry in non-finance functions.
For example, Peter Chen (Rotman, 2011) serves as Mobile Digital Marketing Manager for the Bank of Montreal. He works in the financial services industry but not in a finance function.