Mannheim Business School is among the top business schools in Germany. Tarun Kaila, a banking and finance industry professional, already had an MBA (PGDM, to be precise) from the Welingkar Institute of Management in Mumbai.
He explains why he felt the need for a second MBA from Germany. Starting with the first challenge of preparing for the GMAT along with a full-time job, he navigates us through the various hurdles he had to cross before he could get into the country that had fascinated him for long.
Sticking to the norm has always been difficult for me. Since my dad’s an engineer and my mother a teacher, education was a big priority in the household. Growing up in Chandigarh, I recall grade 11, when I was enrolled to a dummy school by my parents. The idea behind that was simple, skip school and maximise time spent at tuitions. I saw hordes of classmates attending Physics, Chemistry & Mathematics tuitions with a clear goal of scoring big in the AIEEE and the IIT-JEE. One session in those batches of 150-200 students and I was sure this is not what I wanted to do. From purely a probability point of view, the odds were stacked against me.
On the other hand, Hospitality and Customer Service were industries that had caught my fancy early on. I took the all India Entrance exam for hospitality NCHMCT-JEE and scored a top 25 rank. This got me straight away to the best hospitality institute in the country – IHM Mumbai. As a part of the course, I got the opportunity to intern with the Jumeirah group in Dubai. This is where I had my first exposure to Germany. My manager was German and I was intrigued by her working style. It left a lasting impression in my mind.
Post my internship in Dubai, I came back to India and ended up pursuing a PGDM from Welingkar Institute of Management, Mumbai. At the end of the PGDM course, I went back to work at the family business. From there I made a transition to banking and financial services and finally to a startup focussed exclusively on Wealth Management. Numbers and the stock market, coupled with close interactions with Fund Managers and Investment Bankers were the highlight of this phase of my life.
All along, the itch to work in Germany stayed, till I decided to pursue an MBA from the best Institute in Germany – the Mannheim Business School.
Preparing for the GMAT was another exciting phase. Private jobs in India mean that you aren’t going to be back home before 8PM. I worked for Banking Sales. The mandate there was a very clear one: ‘No one is going home till targets for the day are met’. Under those circumstances, it took me a month of staying up till 2AM, preparing with the Manhattans, Kaplans and of course the Original Guide, to score a 700. I knew from my research about the Mannheim Business School that my score of 700 was a good score, I was on the upper side of the typical applicant score band. It was quite an exciting moment back then. 25 percent of the battle had been won.
It had also become clear quite early on that I was going to be competing in a pool of applicants that came from a highly technical background (read Engineering). This is primarily attributable to the fact that Germany is still a manufacturing based economy, producing world class products by employing smart, technical people in both R&D and also Business functions. I, with a hospitality and customer service background, having worked in the Banking & Financial Services sector, was a profile that wouldn’t exactly stand out as being relevant. A similar profile, from what I understand, would work wonders in the US.
Now that I am on the other side, I also know for a fact that Mannheim Business School receives anywhere between 60 to 100 applications from Indian applicants on an annual basis. Most profiles look like this: Engineering from top Indian Institute, 700+ GMAT, 3 to 5 years work experience. The admission committee goes bonkers trying to sort out the good applicants, essentially because they all look the same.
Given this situation, and the history of Germans being typically risk-averse post a certain major event in world history, I realised that I needed someone who could help me deliver all that I had to say in my application, in a crisp and concise manner, exactly how the Germans would want to read it.
Here is when I wanted to explore my options and I came across Sameer Kamat from MBA Crystal Ball. The team at MBA Crystal Ball came with great references and just one interaction with Sameer made me decide that I wanted to take up the MAP process and also seek help on the essays from them.
The MBA MAP process was the starting point of the application preparation phase, where I underwent a mock interview as a potential applicant. There were all sorts of tough questions in the mock interview and by the end of it; I knew exactly where I stood as an applicant to the B-School. I think it was a much needed reality check that paid off well during the actual interview stages.
This was followed by an elaborate debriefing and a report which presented a ranking of my likelihood of making it to the top B-schools out there. Quite honestly, some things that Sameer mentioned back then have still stayed with me, especially the Gatekeepers analogy which is covered in the MBA MAP. The 3 Gatekeepers analogy helped me step into the shoes of each interviewer. I knew exactly what to tell them and how the story should flow.
Next up was the brainstorming for shortlisting colleges that I needed to target. No matter how much reading one might do, the team at MBA Crystal Ball is always more updated on the exact status and scenarios at each of the B-Schools. It was interesting to see Sameer make me convince him on why I wanted to choose a certain B-School over another. The devil’s advocate approach he adopted helped me really pin-pointedly figure out the exact reasons why I wanted to apply to a specific B-School. These were useful later on during the interviews, since ‘Why do you want to study at our B-School?’ is a staple question for all admission interviews.
My criteria for selecting colleges were pretty straightforward. I wanted to study in Germany. It was a second business degree, so I didn’t want to spend more than a year (Read Best Business Schools in Europe – France, Germany, UK, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy and Denmark). The fee was lesser than the American schools and finally, the 1.5 year visa extension to seek a job later on was a big plus. I ended up applying to 5 B-schools, 3 in Germany and 2 in Canada as backup.
Since I had already transitioned to financial services, I wanted to land an Investment Banking job in Frankfurt (the European financial centre). Research and discussions with alumni told me that being close to Frankfurt would enable multiple interactions with the industry and increase the chances of landing a job there. (This later turned out to be true; case in point is our visit to the European Central Bank where we got to understand why Mario Draghi does what he does, and also how to land a Tax-free job at the ECB).
Once the applications were sent in, out came the interview schedules. I was fortunate to have received the chance to interview with all colleges that I applied to. Again, credit goes to MBA Crystal Ball for their support.
What is interesting is that Mannheim Business School particularly requires candidates to prepare a 5 minute video presentation. This helps the B-school filter through the heaps of applications that they come across. I think this is a great way for candidates to highlight what is unique about them, to the B-school. Manish Gupta (MG) provided me with good pointers to what to include in the video presentation.
There were two rounds of interviews, the first one with the Admissions Manager where I was questioned about reasons to choose Germany and specifically Mannheim Business School. I was also asked to speak a bit in German so that the interviewer could ascertain by command over the language. I had been learning the language for 2 months by then, this part went very smooth.
I was then shortlisted for the second round of interviews. A gentleman from the Career cell interviewed me on my post MBA ambitions and goals. He wanted to know how exactly I was planning to enter the Investment Banking Industry in Frankfurt. The latter half of the interview revolved around a case study that had been handed out about 3 days before the interview. It was an interesting case about a popular apparel brand and its global operations.
I heard back within a week with the great news that I had been accepted. My joy knew no bounds. Not only did I get into the top B-school, but I had once again defied the norm by being a non technical background profile who made it to a typical German B-School.
Some learnings from the application process – specific to German B-schools:
My next article covers my life as an international student in Germany and how I got a job.