A double thumbs up to the world rapidly becoming a global village. What better example can you get than stories like these where you could grow up in India, study in the UK and get a job in China!
While studying at NIT, Rohit Kumar, probably had no idea that he’d end up studying in one of the oldest universities in the world and then working at Alibaba, a company that made Jack Ma the richest entrepreneur in China. And we’re talking about not just any role, but their prestigious flagship leadership program. Over to Rohit, to narrate his story.
To introduce myself,I am like any other Indian student who studied computer science, worked for an MNC and then went for an MBA. But what differentiates me from others is my experiences in life, my humble background (I come from a small village and lost my father at a very early age), my struggles to get a proper education when I could not afford it and had to drop out.
Persistence, quick learning abilities, eagerness to help others (I was the one on whom my classmates always relied to learn the concepts on the night before the exam in the engineering college) and never-give-up attitude are some of the traits that define my life. I am an embodiment of my aspirations and experiences.
I worked for Samsung for five years before I went for an MBA. I was a software developer for the major part of my tenure there. Even thoughI was happy with the work-life balance and respectable pay, it became monotonous over the period of time and I wanted to change roles to learn more things, especially the business side of things. But no one would offer me a job/role as I did not have the related experience and that is when I decided to go for an MBA to learn various aspects of business and change my career trajectory.
My GMAT story is a bit unusual. I was not sure about studying abroad because of high cost and was thinking of doing an MBA from India after taking CAT. However, just two days before the deadline for the CAT application, I decided to try GMAT and booked the next day evening slot. My thought was, if I don’t get a good score in GMAT, I will apply for CAT.
However, destiny had other plans for me. In spite of working till 2 pm on my exam day, I went with hope and confidence, took exam at 5 pm and still managed to score 740. I was very pleased with my performance. I believe my ‘hedge my bets’ strategy paid off because even though I was not considering the GMAT before, I had still tested the waters and taken the 2 free GMAC software tests before applying (with scores of 750 and 760).
I believe GMAT is a small part of the application process and the real fight/work starts after GMAT. Applying to a foreign school and being part of the most competitive applicant pool (Indian, male, IT), compels you to find ways to stand out in the incredibly crowded space. This is why it is important to have a consultant, and a right one, by your side.
So I reached out to a few friends who recommended me 3-4 good consultants. I contacted these consultants and ended up selecting MCB as I found its interaction, reviews and service cost most attractive. Considering the time I had for the school application deadlines, I opted for the 3 school package.
I worked with Manish Gupta (popularly known as MG) from MCB, and I’d say from the first interaction itself I knew that I had chosen the right partner in my application journey. He pushed me to dig deeper and transform my thought process about how I should approach the whole application process (including why I wanted to apply to a particular school and what I wanted to do after my MBA).
Moreover, MG is to-the-point and blunt in his approach to consistently bring the best out of you. If you think that you paid him a fortune and his spit better be laced with gold, then my friend, you are totally wrong. I would say that it is the best quality a consultant can have as it is the consultant’s role to show where you are and how much effort is needed for your best application. I still remember how my first draft was torn apart and how it invigorated my whole thinking process.
You may feel fear, anxiety, and anger at that same moment but I would say it is the turning point from where there are only ups and no downs in your application process.
I applied to 3 schools and got interview invite from all of them. I think it is always better to choose a combination of stretch school, reach school and safe school. I did the same. I talked to alumni and current students from the schools and learnt a big deal about the school life, placements, clubs, and experiential learning opportunities.
Interviews are the most intense and fascinating part of the entire application journey as they bring life (face) to your applications. All my interviews were with the school staff/consultants. My interviews (via Skype) were almost 30-45 minutes and they not only asked all usual questions like why MBA, why this school? What after MBA? but also confronted my knowledge about the school, how do I fit and what values I would bring to the school.
It feels very light once the interviews are over but then starts the never-ending wait for the results. Even though usually it is around one month of wait for the wait, it always seems longer. For me results were as mixed as it could get. I got rejected from one, waitlisted in another (which got converted later) and selected in one.
Getting the acceptance news is so exciting that you feel on the top of the world, at least for a few days till the glow fades away. I selected Oxford Saïd over the other school as Saïd is a one-year program (means you save cost and time) and I believe Saïd has the maximum possible exposure to the university a b-school can have.
With lots of hopes and dreams, I went to the other side of the pond, to one of the most diverse MBA programs in the world. Our batch consisted of phenomenal students from more than 50 nationalities, from any career fields you can imagine including Olympians and actors, from as young as 22 years old to 41 years old.
The university is incomparably beautiful that you will fall in love with it at first sight. The only place where you go to dinners and write exams wearing tuxedos in centuries old halls, where your thought process is stimulated by meeting incredible people, listening to the world leaders/celebrities and debates every week in Oxford Union. I still remember a quote from a classmate that truly resonates the experience – when Oxford offers you such great deal of experiences it would be a damn shame if all you got from Oxford is an MBA.
And of course, the most overwhelming part of the MBA journey –the job hunt. Job hunt abroad is totally different from India and there are no ‘placement days’. Employers come and present the job opportunities and you have to apply through the school or company portal. For some, the pursuit starts from the very first day and for some it never starts as Oxford puts a lot of emphasis on entrepreneurship.
However, if you are searching for jobs opportunities, it is always advisable to talk to different people – classmates, alumni, careers team, company representatives, and professors – and discuss your interest, pick their brilliant minds. You never know where you would meet the best opportunity. As it is the most important part of an MBA, the earlier you get in the game, the better.
In my search, I got many interviews and many rejections. Honestly, I was not ready and was just applying without thinking or preparing. However, after almost half the MBA was over, I got serious and even then I had to face few rejections. But finally I applied to Alibaba and I got through after a grueling interview process.
The interview process for Alibaba included Skype interviews, case studies, and then final round of face-to-face individual and group interviews in China. You have to be thorough in what you did before your MBA, during MBA, about company and market as interviewers would like to know you, your experiences and your thought process all in the same interview.
Getting selected into one of the world’s most successful technology companies, and in its flagship leadership program is like a dream come true (at least for someone who has tech background and wants to use it even after MBA). I had to move to China for a year, which was a big decision as we (Indians) don’t see China as a big opportunity. Moreover, being a vegetarian doesn’t help.
However, it was too big an opportunity to miss. China is a very different country, incredibly different from what we hear about China and is the hotbed of innovation in today’s world, just like Silicon Valley (just do a bit of research if you don’t agree). I believed getting into a leadership program would be a continuation of my one year MBA, and it turned out to be right.
And so after almost 2.5 months of complex visa process, I joined Alibaba in Hangzhou, China and the experiences have been filled with immense challenges and opportunities. Working in a country where you don’t speak the local language and where English is rare to find, every day brings new learning opportunities. Working alongside the hardworking and creative colleagues, helps to bring out the sparking and innovative version of you.
Today, I feel proud and fortunate that I got the opportunity to study at one of world’s best universities and work at one of the world’s best companies. To future aspirants I would like to say, be authentic, take pride in what you have done and express your story in the best possible manner because only you know your story. Enjoy this journey howsoever tough or intense it is. Give it your best and you will enjoy the moment more when you reach your goal. It is the journey that will help you develop strength and character, and transform you for life, so make it a memorable one.
Don’t wait for it to happen to you, take the lead. Be the captain of your ship!