One buzz-word that you often hear around you these days is disrupt – I took this word to heart in 2015, and decided to disrupt my little world. With inspiration drawn from my wife, frustration drawn from my stagnating professional life and an urge to be in a geography where both me and my wife can pursue our careers – I decided to go for an MBA.
If I were to ask any of you, with a promise of no ramifications, if any one of you feel that you haven’t earned all the success that you’ve had in life – I am sure most of you would answer yes (dont worry, you are an insecure overachiever and Financial Time’s Andrew Hill has an interesting article for you). I almost certainly will say yes.
I always felt as an impostor at IIT Delhi. People around me were the smartest and brightest brains in the nation – “how did I get myself into this” was a continuous question that was running through my mind. Being among such company definitely helped my confidence that I can achieve anything (if you haven’t already, check this amazing TED talk on Fake it till you make it by Amy Cuddy).
This confidence has helped me till date and this is why I always advice to prospective students or hires that brands are important when you are selecting an institute or a firm to work with. Every name that will show up on your CV will add to your brand equity and hence should not be taken lightly.
Post IIT Delhi (2006), I worked with Schlumberger in different parts of the world. Was fortunate enough to travel, work and explore multiple cultures across the globe. Worked on some of the most difficult sites in the world as a field engineer, then moved into the management as a front line manager and then in a support role. Each role more challenging than the last one and more rewarding.
In 2014, with the oil price crash, it was evident that we are entering into a new normal and I should try to diversify my skill set and experience before I get institutionalized – and hence the disruption – after 9 years of working with Schlumberger, I decided to pursue an MBA.
Where to go to school is a very personal choice. Apart from the rankings, statistics and dollar numbers, each of these schools also have a character. Talking to people and asking the right questions (right = what is most important to you) is crucial in identifying the character.
Few factors that I had in mind were
The choice was clear, though not simple and I decided to go to INSEAD. The school has an insane number of essays (by far the maximum that any other school will ask for). Although these essays were about me, I found them so difficult to write. Business schools (and that’s true for a most leadership positions across different firms as well) need some who stops to reflect on their decisions and outcomes and learn from them. Most of this happens subconsciously in our brains – and I think what an MBA (& also a consulting career) trains you to do is to bring it to a conscious level.
A lady was helping me with my essays and while it was excruciating to take the time over the weekends to reflect back and make those edits, I had a lot of fun. The process and outcome solidified my decision to pursue an MBA thinking that if the admissions process is so much fun, I wonder how much more fun would the actual program be!
INSEAD was everything I hoped for, very diverse crowd (our class of 500 students had more than 50 nationalities – everyone was a minority there), very structured, very inclusive and very intense. Since its a super short program, compressed into 10 months, everyone was expected to hit the ground running.
Everyone was focused on something called Networking – I was pathetic at it. I tried to mingle a lot, but I am sure people could tell that I wasn’t the most comfortable with that. Most amazing part was people understood it, provided me feedback and helped me overcome that over the course of the program.
Another part I found very difficult was giving time to my family – my wife and our kid. Again, the INSEAD community which is super inclusive came for the rescue – my wife and kid were as much a part of the campus as I am – everyone including the faculty was super supportive of partners and their involvement in the school.
MBA is all about career choices and more often than not, those choices revolve around changing industries, locations or roles (or all three). Having such a diverse class helps a lot. Your first level (and by far the most important) of career counselling is done with your classmates. It’s amazing how many insights you can draw about a job or a location just by talking to someone who has worked there.
Quite a lot of my friends were sponsored by the big consulting firms – and that’s when I got exposed to the world of consulting. What attracted me towards it was the nature of work which is ever changing, the exposure and future career options that consulting can unlock for you. Another consideration that I had was to work in South East Asia because with my previous employer I did not work in this part of the world and is one of the most promising regions in terms of growth.
INSEAD has a great reputation with all big names in consulting – the so called MBB (McKinsey, BCG & Bain) recruit heavily from there. As soon as you enter the program, the schmoozing starts with your pigeon holes filled with goodies from these firms. The consulting firms are very well plugged into the school and you can be sure that your CV is with each one of them as soon as you enter the program.
Apart from that, there is a continuous intel being fed by the sponsored students to the recruiters of their individual firms. There have been cases where people were invited by offices of these firms to coffee chats or presentations. Just to avoid giving you any wrong ideas – none of this means that it’s any easier for the students at INSEAD to get into these firms – their criteria and selection standards are as stringent as any other place.
There were case interview preps within the classmates. While many used to focus on only cases, I would practice both the case interview and the fit interview (where the interviewer would ask about your experiences, and learnings from those experiences). Both are equally important and relevant for the recruiter interviewing you.
How many mock interviews one does is purely a function of your needs, but my experience is that number is not as important as it is to reflect upon each one of them, appreciate the learnings and actually fix them going forward. I probably did about 8 mock interviews and felt pretty confident with those.
Consulting firms are on a contact talent scout – since their only product is the human resource and most of it is fast moving (promotions, transfers, people leaving, sabbatical for studies, etc.) – they would hire you if you meet their requirements. I don’t think there is a hard quota of positions that they have in mind when they come to interview on the campus.
I interviewed with McKinsey (Energy practice) and Boston Consulting Group (Generalist) – both the firms have similar interview structure – fit and business case interview. With both of them, I had 2 interviews in round 1 followed by 3 interviews in round 2 (the final round). The overall process with these firms is fairly structured and quick. I got an offer from both McKinsey and BCG, based in their South East Asia offices – and decided to join BCG purely because I was offered a generalist role and I had more flexibility in pivoting my career towards other industries as well. I was equally impressed by the people that I met from both the firms during my interview process.
BCG was a hell of a ride. One of the most astonishing feature of the organization was the openness in communication. What was considered as a major taboo in my last organization was very normal here. I saw people talking to the partners about job interviews that they had gone for, with no worries of how they might be perceived!
Being in the South East Asia office meant that even though I am based out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – I can be staffed in projects across the region. Staffing was a very comprehensive process and tried to keep your personal and professional aspirations into account. My first case was based out of Indonesia and I got exposed to the travel in consulting life. Not the best aspect of the job, but can be managed.
What was most exciting about the job was the level of independence and flexibility that was provided to me. Most of the learning was on the job with my project leader providing general guidance. I learnt a lot about my work planning and time management – how to be more efficient and prioritize my work so I can get my 6 hours of sleep every night.
In many ways, being in consulting is like being back in business school. You work in small teams, who are mostly fun to work with. You work very long and very hard while solving tough business problems and above all, having fun while doing all this.