Self-help gurus from across the world have made millions convincing readers that they are unique. When some of these Indian readers with pumped-up egos, sit down to fill up an MBA application form, they experience what many Stephen Hawking students never will – a big black hole.
How do you differentiate yourself from other MBA applicants?
The question seems logical as long as it’s on the business school website. It becomes annoying when you try to answer it. This is true for many Indian applicants who score above 700 on the GMAT.
Admission officers struggle with the same problem while evaluating Indian applications. While they try to provide general ideas on the official business school blogs on what MBA application reviewers are looking for, these are mostly country-neutral in nature i.e. not aimed specifically at Indian applicants.
Sudershan ‘Suds’ Tirumala (Regional Director, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth), shares his views on the topic.
During the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with MBA applicants across the length and breadth of India, a few constants have unfailingly stood out for me:
1. It’s obvious applicants want to get admitted to a brand name school. What that brand will do for them, whether it’s the right place for them, whether they will be a good fit in the program – these critical questions mostly come up by accident, if at all they do.
2. Indian applicants tend to think they’ve achieved it all, if they get a good GMAT score – which is far from the truth, by the way.
3. Consulting is, by far, the one career path Indians talk about the most. A vast majority of the applicants I’ve talked to want to be associated with consulting one way or another!
Over the next few – or however many – posts, I’ll try to debunk or reinforce the seemingly infallible logic that’s held in high esteem by the applicant community.
Over time, we’ll even explore the rationale for some of these observations or maybe get into answering other questions posed by the discerning readers of this blog, but first, let’s start with the applicant story.
The typical MBA aspirant from India who is targeting a business school, articulates a line of thought, that almost uniformly sounds somewhat like this.
– I’ve got my degree in engineering from so and so university and I’ve been an integral part of the college “tech fest” as an organizer
– After undergrad, I’ve been working in XYZ industry in such and such capacity and have been very involved with extracurricular activities through the company’s CSR initiatives
– I’ve set my sights on an MBA to advance my career further in the industry I’ve been a part of
– After the MBA, I want to get into consulting in order to be exposed to best practices that are being followed across industries and projects
– After a few years of this kind of experience, I’ll come back to India and apply these best practices to make a difference in the country and to the sector of my interest
– And I want to make it all happen through this MBA program because of its strong alumni network, collaborative community, learning in the classroom as well as experiential learning – the works. You can basically plug and play any MBA program in the world and hope to sound somewhat authentic.
Does the above story sound familiar?
Do you reckon the numbers of admissions officers from MBA programs around the world who maybe hearing a similar story or a close variation of it from Indian applicants over and over again?
How do you expect the admissions officers to react to these monologues that sound more or less identical?
Given this incessant onslaught on the senses of those of us evaluating applications, how do you expect the admissions committee of a given school to separate the wheat from chaff, figuratively speaking?
Make no mistake, it’s as much a challenge for those of us evaluating candidates as it is for the applicants who are articulating these “uniquely” Indian stories and trying to make a convincing case of their candidacy.
What can the applicant do, to stand out from the crowd and be seen as the elusive wheat rather than the ubiquitous chaff?
– The key is in being genuine, and that doesn’t mean being genuine for the sake of it
– It’s about meaning what you say and saying what you mean
– It’s about taking the time to do enough introspection
– It’s about thinking through and identifying what it means to be you, and staying true to that self
– It’s about figuring out what makes you tick and what really gets you excited
– It’s about distilling the message about your aims and aspirations to such an extent that you can say it even in your sleep
– It’s about applying when you’re absolutely ready to make as strong a case for yourself in the application and not be in a hurry to apply for the sake of a deadline
– And finally, it’s about following your passion and doing what you love and not loving what you do
It’s as simple or as complicated as that, depending on how one looks at it. Sometimes, this sort of introspection takes time, and it’s not something to be forced upon oneself based on some arbitrary business school deadline.
It so happens that the prospective MBA applicant wakes up to the need to effect a change in their lives somewhat suddenly.
Maybe it’s an unsavory development on the job front.
Maybe it’s a quarter-life crisis of redefining yourself – having gone through the motions of an undergraduate degree that is mostly a result of following what all their peers have been doing and not because of independent thought.
Maybe it’s that urge to scale up the corporate ladder faster. Maybe it’s just to beat the monotony that unfailingly sets in every few years when pursuing a career.
Whatever the reason, the fact that this realization has dawned is a good thing. But try not to succumb to the usual suspect narrative that has been forced down the throats of MBA aspirants.
Remember how you went after an engineering degree or a medical degree because everyone else was doing the same thing?And somehow, not following that path would mean you were the nail that dared to rear its head above the rest and so would face the hammer?
Well, what’s the point of thinking about an MBA if you sound exactly the same as everyone else? How are you different from the crowd? Why are you the most deserving candidate for an admission compared to the rest of the applicants from India?
Give this some serious thought. And then give yourself the time you deserve to really think through your priorities and your objectives. Forums are great to network with fellow applicants but when it comes to getting more information about a school, rely on your outreach to the Admissions Committee of the school you’re interested in. That’s as official as it can get, in terms of information regarding that school.
Finally, be your own person. Chart your own way. Follow your heart. And then see what a difference it makes to you personally, professionally, and intellectually. That’s the way to rise above the crowd.
Next article: How to know if you ‘Fit’ an MBA program and Business School.
Read more posts from Suds on MBA admissions and careers.
If you have queries for Suds about this article or suggestions for new ones, please post them below in the comments section.
Read the interviews with the Admission Committee officers of many other top bschools.