His two GMAT scores (490 and 620) threatened to shoot down his MBA dreams. But that’s the second part of this civil engineer’s story.
Years before he decided to get an MBA, Bijay Behera felt he was being held hostage by a common but troubling dilemma. What’s a better choice – an MBA or IAS after BTech? (Read this students account of why he chose an MBA after chemical engineering from IIT Bombay)
Getting into the Civil Services by becoming an IAS officer would allow him to work with other high-calibre officers on impactful nation-building projects.
On the flip side, he now had 7 years of work experience, which would mean he would be the odd one out in the competitive IAS race.
After a fair bit of introspection, he finally chose the MBA degree at the University of Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow (United Kingdom).
As destiny would have it, after graduation he is now doing pretty much what he’d have loved to do after becoming an IAS officer in the Indian Civil Services.
The story highlights another aspect. The GMAT isn’t a measure of b-school or business world potential. Despite the low scores, the NIT silver medalist (with a GPA of 9.41 out of 10) not only got 5 international MBA admits, he also completed his MBA with distinction.
MBA vs Civil Services (IAS) after B.tech
by Bijay Behera
It was the year 2004 when a young boy from a humble village of Odisha, who dreamt of becoming an engineer, entered the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Rourkela.
I completed my B.Tech in Civil Engineering in the year 2007 with a silver medal for securing 1st position in the Civil Engineering department and second in the university.
During the final year of college, many of my classmates were heading to the software industry through campus placements and higher studies (i.e. 2 years MBA from top management institutions in India). But my vision was distinct from them as I wanted to build my career in the civil engineering core industry.
In this endeavor, on 30th April 2007 (just after one day of my final semester examination), I got an opportunity to serve MECON Limited – one of the public sector units (PSU) of the Government of India – as Management Trainee (Technical).
In MECON Limited, I was posted in the civil engineering department. During the initial period of my professional career, I was into the design and detail engineering of civil engineering structures, reviewing drawings and design calculations, supervising construction site activities, etc.
After 4-5 years of experience in MECON Limited, I embarked on the next step of my career. I was entrusted with looking after project management and Consultancy (PMC) jobs, preparation of techno-economic feasibility reports, technical specifications, evaluation of tender documents etc.
But that was not enough to hold my interest in the organization as in the initial period of my career. I started dreaming of becoming a Civil Servant.
In the quest to fulfill that I started preparing for a few days while on the job.
However, after few days of preparation, I started reflecting on my decision;
- Why I am doing this?
- Why do I want to become an IAS officer when it is opposite to my core-engineering profile?
- How does this match my childhood ambition?
Ultimately, after realising that I did not have any satisfactory answers to my reflective questions, I dropped my plans.
By the time, I rejected my IAS aspirations, I was having around 7 years of work experience in MECON Limited.
My mind went berserk. I was unable to concentrate on my job due to the lack of career clarity.
Like all other PSUs, my ex-organization has an Executive Association called; MECON Executive Association (MEA). Its objective is to protect the interest of executives of the organization by helping them resolving their issues.
During that time, MEA was welcoming nominations for its next term (2014-16). To taste, how the MEA functions and to witness the experience of “perception vs reality”, I decided to fill the nomination for Joint Secretary Post in MEA and subsequently, I got elected to the said position.
At this time, a famous quote by J.R. Ward comes to mind;
Some things are destined to be. It just takes us a couple of tries to get there.
Accordingly, while in the MEA, I got opportunity to interact with the top management of my ex-organization to resolve the employee issues.
Further, I got the chance to address and interact with people, and make them aware of the latest developments of the organization which not only bolstered my confidence but also made me a public figure in the organization.
While negotiating this, I met with the then newly-appointed CMD of the Organization, who is an IIM Calcutta graduate who at a relatively young age was sworn-in to the top position of the organization by the Government of India.
My experience in this socio-cultural organization (MEA) and the inspiration from the head of the organization gave birth to my second aspiration, i.e. MBA.
The Pre-MBA Journey
After deciding to pursue an MBA, my next challenge was to decide between a domestic and international B-School.
Here, the Financial Times full-time MBA ranking which is published by the end of January every year served my purpose.
I took list of top 100 B-Schools of the world and compared them on the basis of how they were ranked i.e. the subjects they offered, value for money, percentage of international faculties, student-teacher ratio, class profile of students, post-MBA placement and salaries, etc.
Accordingly, I shortlisted few MBA programs in the United Kingdom and some European Business Schools.
The reason of choosing International MBA over Domestic one is that to get access to the world business community, get to know the culture of other countries through classmates/faculties, expand professional footprint and network and improve my entrepreneurial skills.
The next step involved getting a decent GMAT score, in line with the requirement of my shortlisted b-schools.
As an engineering graduate with an excellent academic performance in college Level and professional consultancy experience in a renowned PSU in India, my worry was not the academic GPA, quality and years of experience, recommendation or essays…but the GMAT score (above 600) to ensure the MBA application is holistic.
In my first attempt, I prepared for 4 months while in a full-time job. I took the GMAT test in November 2015. The score was a very meager and disappointing 490.
My next challenge was to figure out – how I can improve my GMAT score?
I did not lose hope!
I referred to a lot of inspirational articles published by MBA Crystal Ball through their blogs and stories of successful MBA students.
I focused on converting my weaknesses into strengths. Finally, in February 2016, I took the test 2nd time and scored a decent 620 score.
MBA Application experience
Nowadays many of the prospective candidates take the help of educational consultants in preparing essays and reviewing the overall application. I prepared my MBA applications and applied to 5 b-Schools in the UK (Alliance Manchester, Strathclyde, Cass, Lancaster, Henley Business Schools) and two in Europe (Vlerick Business School in Brussels and IE Business School in Spain).
Out of these 7 Business Schools, I got interview calls from all except one.
In the MBA interview, some of the typical questions which I encountered are;
- Why MBA?
- Why UK/Europe, not India?
- How will you utilize your MBA maximizing your career?
- What is your current industry and where do you see (Business Vertical) MBA can fit in your Organization?
- Post-MBA aspirations
After the interviews, I got selection calls from 5 B-Schools namely; Strathclyde, Vlerick, Lancaster, Cass, and Henley Business School.
Moreover, selecting a business school out of these 5 B-Schools was not an easy process. I looked at many permutations and combinations, help of alumni, post-MBA experience and value for money ranking of these Business Schools.
Ultimately, I selected Strathclyde Business School as my destination for MBA. The University of Strathclyde Business School was ranked 2nd for value for money and ranked 6th for Corporate Strategy Subject then in Financial Times (FT) MBA ranking.
Additionally, some of the questions which were put forward by Dr. Sean Ennis (Department of Marketing, University of Strathclyde), during the interview round touched my heart and mind so pleasantly that I could not dare to ignore Strathclyde.
Some of the questions from the Strathclyde MBA interview were;
- Why you want to do MBA and what’s your priority post-MBA?
- Is it money, Knowledge, respect or something else?
- What is your perception about Marketing?
- Have you ever utilized Marketing tools while performing in your current Organization?
My MBA Journey
Leaving my present organization with a lucrative salary, the PSU tag and one of my colleagues as my life partner was tough for me.
Nevertheless, keeping all these emotions aside and remembering the proverb; No Pain No Gain, I took the challenge and went to the United Kingdom to pursue a full-time MBA.
I got admitted to the MBA after 10 years of professional experience and the average experience of my cohort was around 8+ years.
The Strathclyde Business School (SBS) MBA program is triple-accredited (by AMBA, EQUIS, and AACSB). It has students from 19 nationalities including USA, Australia, China, Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, Malaysia, etc.
They have backgrounds in aviation, engineering, marketing, consulting, information technology, hospitality, FMCG/retail industries were studying with me.
When I started attending the MBA classes, the experience was quite exciting, except for a few hiccups pertaining to the communication (accent). It took me a few days to understand the words of some of my classmates/faculties and vice-versa.
The expectations of faculties from the cohort were unlike the domestic faculties here in India. I witnessed this after my 1st term examination in December 2017.
In one of the MBA subjects, “Managing People in the Organization (MPIO)”, I was expecting a very good score as I had written the answers as per my expectations, but the resulting grades were surprisingly low.
This happened not only with me but also with many of my classmates.
On asking, the professor replied that we do not need the exact answer – as written in the textbook – to the question, but how you are correlating the question with the real-life situation and writing the answer.
Further, it does not matter whether you are regurgitating the exact definition written in the textbook or not.
The feedback of professor changed my preparation style for the examination and in subsequent examination terms, I able to fetch good marks.
The course content of most of the UK and European full-time MBA programs are designed for experienced people, so does the Strathclyde Business School.
Although 3 years professional experience is minimum for triple-accredited B schools, I would recommend people to have at least 5 years of professional experience prior to MBA. This will not only help you correlate the subjects/topics with real business cases, but also enable you to participate in classroom discussions.
My 1-year MBA at SBS equivalent to many years of my professional journey. The program transformed me completely.
Some of the important takeaways from my MBA experience were:
- It enabled me to think and start a piece of work with zero information.
- It taught me how to deal with difficult situations both in professional as well as personal life,
- It gave me the skills to perceive any matter from different perspectives and decide the best solution out of many alternatives.
- It polished my communication and networking skills.
- It turned me into an information-hungry hawk.
- Above all, it made me 100% more confident than I was earlier.
The beauty of an international MBA is that one will get access to culture of other countries through classmates and faculties which would be a “distinctive asset” of an international MBA grad over his/her domestic counterpart in post-MBA career.
However, as far as learning and experiences are concerned, domestic MBA Program cannot beat international MBA; especially, UK but at a place where they are lagging vis-à-vis domestic MBA program is campus recruitment.
B-Schools in the United Kingdom do not have the conventional on-campus placement system like India (as in IIMs).
They will only help you prepare through networking events with other b-schools, top executives of various companies, etc. by their Career and Professional Development (CPD) program and you need to compete with open market job applicants to land a job.
Earlier, the UK allowed students to stay for only 4 months after studies.
But from 2020 onwards, the UK Government is contemplating to allow students to stay for up to 2 years after their graduation/post-graduation. This, I feel, will once again position the UK as a favorite destination for higher studies in the world.
After finishing the MBA, as planned earlier I immediately returned to India and started searching for jobs.
Finally, after spending 3-4 months, I got selected in KPMG as Management Consultant.
Currently, I am located in Ranchi, the capital of the state of Jharkhand and posted in the Jharkhand Secretariat, Ranchi with our client Ministry of Urban Development & Housing Department, Govt. of Jharkhand.
My roles and responsibilities include Advising Government (Mainly IAS Officers) pertaining to the Government implemented projects across the State of Jharkhand, monitoring the progress of the projects and helping Government for smooth implementation of the project, review of concessionaire/PMC/implementation agency bills, evaluation of tenders, legal documents, liaising with govt. of India, govt. of Jharkhand, urban local bodies, state PSUs, attending video conference of secretary, GOI and updating on the achievement of the state of Jharkhand in urban development etc.
The role is very challenging as well as exciting and needs patience and perseverance to deal with critical situations.
My MBA experience in an International B-School gives me confidence and recognition at workplace and helping me deliver the outcome in a most creative and innovative way.
Bijay Kumar Behera