Why go for an MBA after 8 years experience when you have a good job?
A frank and transparent discussion with her supportive boss, helped product manager Manureet take the big step. She walks us through her journey as an applicant first and then as an international student in one of the oldest and most respected universities in the world.
Prior to MBA, I have a B.Tech in computer sciences and engineering, and eight years of work experience in Product Development with a FTSE 500 company, working on their insurance technology product.
Post my B.Tech degree, I was extremely excited to start my job as a Software Developer. I grew professionally over the years to lead Product Development teams.
While leading these teams, I closely worked with cross functional teams, which included Program Managers and Product Managers.
These experiences helped me realise how much I love working on the business aspects of Product Development.
In order to grow in this direction, I had an honest discussion with my manager about my career goals. She advised me that at present I have a skills gap to perform as a Product Manager.
In order to fill that skills gap, I decided to pursue an MBA to take a leap into the next phase of my career.
An MBA prepares you to head the overall organisation, giving you knowledge about each functional unit within the organisation. In the shorter term, it equips you with the skillset to become a cross functional, or general manager.
I saw this education as something that can prepare me for my career goals.
I wanted to pursue MBA from one of the top universities in the world. To achieve that, it was essential that I had a good GMAT score.
My first GMAT attempt resulted in a score of 670, which is generally a good score.
However, since an Indian software product developer falls in a competitive GMAT score bracket, and you are inevitably compared with people having similar backgrounds, I decided to retake the GMAT.
My GMAT preparation was mostly self-motivated, with inputs from friends who had previously taken this exam.
One of the major challenges during this preparation was to stick to the daily GMAT preparation plan that I had created while managing a demanding job.
Other than that, I feel that GMAT is quite a logical exam and I enjoyed preparing and attempting it. I scored a 720 in my second GMAT attempt.
While GMAT was not too difficult, writing applications for some of the biggest international universities seemed like a very difficult challenge.
The key challenge that I faced in this process was understanding the perspective of the admissions teams of the universities.
While there is a lot of content available on online forums, you do need a guide to steer you through this process.
The essays need to come from you, but I struggled with analysing what needs to be highlighted in the application and how to structure the essays.
To find a guide, I did my research and found that MBA Crystal Ball is one of the best admission consulting companies. When I first contacted them, I talked to Manish Gupta (MG) and felt encouraged that I can benefit from their services.
I signed up for their Basic + Brainstorming package for one college since it felt like it will tick most of the issues that I was facing.
MG introduced me to one of their MBA consultants, Rohit who helped me with one of my applications.
I was looking for one-year MBA courses which had good entrepreneurial programs, either in India or UK. My initial business school research was mostly online research and it helped me narrow down to three business schools: Oxford, Cambridge and ISB.
I took help from MBA Crystal Ball on my Cambridge application since I was applying to that college first, followed by the rest of the applications.
During my brainstorming sessions with MBA Crystal Ball, Rohit helped me see the importance of a primary research for the business school applications.
As such, I started getting in touch with the MBA cohort of each of the business schools that I was applying to via LinkedIn (which is one of the best online professional networking tools).
Talking to current students of the business schools gives a deeper perspective on what the school has to offer and helps in tailoring the essays to each school.
These conversations also helped me critique each school and judge them on information beyond the marketing information which is available on their website.
For the content of each essay, I strongly recommend to take advice from people in your inner circle, who know you, your strengths and weaknesses.
I took some help from my close friends who had either appeared for GMAT or had done MBA in the past. They helped me in self-reflection and creating the stories which I wanted to tell in the applications.
MBA Crystal Ball interactions helped in validating that I was thinking in the right direction. I was looking to understand how the business schools admission teams think.
Rohit, who had already gone through the MBA admissions process and had seen many applications before mine, helped me refine those stories and helped me with what part of the stories should be highlighted, what is missing and what is not worth mentioning.
For example, in most of my first draft of essays, I had explained the situation a lot, while I had taken a conservative approach on mentioning what all actions I took and why.
Rohit helped me correct this and create more balanced essays. He also helped me in structuring the essays.
These tips helped me in all my applications. In fact, I use many of these suggestions even today when I write cover letters for job applications.
While my Cambridge application was rejected, I got offers from both ISB and Oxford.
I eventually decided to go with Oxford which has a bigger, completely international cohort with much more diversity than that in ISB.
The Oxford experience was a dream. The tall spires, elaborate dinner halls, the many traditions gave an experience of being in one of the Harry Potter movies, but instead of magic we had modern classrooms, WIFI and coffee/tea.
However, the highlight of the program is its very diverse and ambitious cohort. Every nationality, and professional background is a minority in Oxford.
In addition to this, access to the wider university network helped us get in contact with experts in many diverse backgrounds.
For example, in my accommodation cluster, I had a person doing masters in public policy, a person doing masters in environmental sciences, and a person doing PhD studying how nervous system works in living organisms.
This diverse mix made for very interesting dinner/kitchen conversations. I made good friends with them and learnt a lot during these conversations.
This leads to an eclectic mix and has definitely helped me grow at an accelerated rate over the year on the personal front.
Academically, there are very few other places that can challenge the academia available in Oxford. The only thing a student needs to make sure in Oxford is that he/she is open to new ideas, debate and learning.
While each professor has his/her own style and preferences, generally the professors in Oxford are experts in their fields, open to questions, and willing to help any student who needs support.
Unlike business schools in India, career development in most schools outside India is self-driven to a large part.
This is true for Oxford as well. There are some structured recruitment under which companies come to the college for placements, but they are spread over the year. Some consulting firms come for hiring right at the start of the year.
Each individual has his/her own job-hunting journey. Some people start in the very beginning, while some start after completing the course.
The Oxford Said Career Development Centre provides support in developing your personal story and interview preparation both during and after the MBA term.
They also connect you with industry experts, which mostly are the Oxford alumni, to help you prepare for the interviews.
In my cohort, people also formed work groups to review each others’ CV and provide feedback. The entire job hunt is very supportive.
The Oxford brand opens many doors and helps in many introductions. However, there is no ready-made package for anything. It takes time and can be a frustrating process.
You need a work permit if you want to work in any country outside your nationality.
For that, you need to find a job with an employer who can sponsor you. There are a lot of changes happening (some positive) in the visa process and you need to do your research and be ok with the worst-case scenario in case you have to return back to your home country for work post MBA.
I really enjoyed my time at Oxford. The people, the teachers, the network, the new opportunities are just unbelievable. I would redo it in a blink if given another chance.