Khalid Khan shares his experience and approach that helped him get into Saïd Business School (SBS) at the Oxford University – one of the oldest and most universities in the world.
Getting into a world-class MBA program requires you to go on a journey to find yourself and what you want to become. This is not an easy trek, and there are no short cuts or safety nets. This is a real life test of perseverance and resilience – you can be knocked down, you can either accept defeat or return stronger. This journey has led me to find a place in MBA program at Said Business School, Oxford University.
I work as a Business Analyst in a multi-national Pharmaceutical company. Outside my job, I am part of many extracurricular activities. I work closely with NGOs for homeless people and old-age homes, lead two site-level initiatives at office, run a social initiative for vision correction among underprivileged students, participate in long-distance running, do some photography, and experiment with cooking.
If you think that what you do between 9 am to 5 pm will make you a strong candidate, think again. Every applicant has a 9-to-5 job, this is clearly not a differentiator. What you do outside your office time is important to make a difference in a very competitive applicant pool. Another reason why 5 pm to 9 am is important is because you own this time unlike 9 to 5, which is owned by your employer.
There are two main reasons why I wanted to do an MBA. I wanted to immerse myself in a challenging academic environment with students from around the World. I believed this experience would help me to know more about myself, and to find out what I love to do the most. From a career perspective, I needed MBA to switch into a role of Business Technology Consultant. Though my current role was quite exciting and consulting oriented, it was limited in scope.I wanted to equip myself with tools and techniques that are necessary to solve business problems in any sector.
When I started preparing for GMAT, I underestimated the difficulty level, since I already practiced a lot for other competitive exams. It took some time and lot of mock exams to appreciate the responsive nature of adaptive test engine and the standard of Verbal. My score in Quant was consistently above 45, but in verbal it hovered around 22 to 30. Clearly, I needed to work more on Verbal section to have a decent shot at crossing 700.
To achieve this target, I first identified my weak areas, prepared a plan to strengthen them, made weekly checkpoints to track progress, and scheduled mock exams at intervals to check my base score. Maintaining high momentum, despite setbacks, intense office work deliverables, and low mock scores, was key to finally achieving my target score of 700.
Preparing MBA application was quite hectic and time consuming.Irrespective of schools, the crux of every application lies in clarity of thought about yourself – Why MBA, Why xyz School, post-MBA goals, What value do you bring to class. Answering these questions required lot of introspection and networking. Once I prepared the outline, I took feedback from many people to understand how my answers are received. I carefully considered feedback and revised my drafts continually.
I invested good amount of time in doing research about schools. I was looking for 1 year program among top 50 FT colleges outside US. After considering other factors such as value for money, International mobility, and brand recognition, I shortlisted following schools – ISB, Oxford Said, RSM, and St. Gallen. I have spoken to many alums and current students from these colleges to find out the fitment. I did intense survey on LinkedIn to gather information about alumni – Where they are working? Which function? Which country?
Oxford Said, being embedded in a World-class University, portrays a vision to solve world scale problems. They stress on thinking big scale and creating societal impact. The curriculum is designed to apply class-room learning under three cross-cutting themes; Global Rules of the game, Entrepreneurship, and Responsible Business. Because of my involvement in social work and future plans to work in this sector, I was certain that Oxford SBS is a school that will enable me to fulfill my goals.
As I got interview invite three weeks in advance, there was sufficient time to prepare. Realizing that stakes were too high to afford risk, I wanted to give my best. MCB was the first to click in my mind. When I was researching about MBA programs, colleges, admission process, etc. I have come across MCB many times and got valuable information. I also knew few friends who took interview prep from MCB and performed really well in the actual interviews. I signed up for the Interview Prep package, and the enrollment process was quick and seamless.
I was working with Manish Gupta (MG) for my mock interviews. The simulation of an actual interview was helpful to practice control on nerves, check how answers are received, and gauge confidence. MG’s detailed feedback and suggestions after mock interview informed me about what I need to improve and what was lacking. Though I have given mock interview to my friends also, the kind of professional feedback that I got from MG was really important to analyze my weak spots and work on them. After my second and final mock interview with MG, I felt more confident and relaxed.
Oxford interview was calm and very conversational. Interviewer, who was an Admission Manager at SBS, was thorough with my application. From her initial questions, it looked like she was interested to know more about my job and my interest towards healthcare sector.
First question was about my job. Here I talked about primary duties as well as my initiatives and involvement in organizational work.
Second question was about my post-MBA employment plans. Here I talked at length about how executives at my company want me to return in a new role and how MBA will help me to achieve that role. While answering this question I also described how Oxford and its philosophy are so interlinked with Novartis and the overall healthcare business. I touched upon the various challenges in Healthcare such as affordability, access, and disease burden, and connected this with Oxford’s vision to solve world scale problems. By this point, I was able to direct the conversation flow to highlight a few other areas in my profile.
Throughout interview, I was sensing positive reception of my answers. In the end she asked how I would add value to the class. Here I mentioned about my social initiatives and experience in healthcare and passion to solve problems. When I left the room, I felt confident and positive.I have also sent a thank you email to my interviewer the next day.
The result day was on 3rd March – two weeks after my interview. I was restless whole day and couldn’t focus at work. To stop thinking about the outcome, I slept for around 4 hrs during daytime! Any notification sound instantly froze my attention. The much awaited email finally came in around 8:30 pm. I read that email two to three times, to ensure it’s true. Feeling overwhelmed, I wasn’t able to process anything for some time. I just went blank for around 10 min. When it finally settled in, I informed my parents. The happiness on their faces was worth more than the effort and hardship I had to put in for this.
I had to overcome many barriers to reach here. My two cents of advice for someone who started this journey – have firm believe in what you want to become. Do not flinch in your goals when people don’t believe in you. If you have faith in yourself, then everything else will fall in place.