You’ve read a lot about ISB placements. But what’s the truth about international placements at ISB? How does it work? Does the ISB exchange program experience help in getting a job abroad after PGP?
ISB PGP grad, Ritesh Jaiswal, would be the best person to answer these questions. He not only attended an exchange program at an ivy league university in USA, but also went on to take up an international job in corporate strategy after graduating.
But it didn’t fall in place as you’re probably thinking.
This one’s a long read. But it’s packed with useful tips and details on how you can improve your chances of getting placed overseas after graduating from ISB, or any top Indian MBA program for that matter.
My ISB international placement and exchange program experience
by Ritesh Jaiswal
I am a happy-go-lucky and enthusiastically chatty person who never says no to an extra-foamed cup of coffee. If you are on a lookout for a mountain-travelling and food-hogging buddy, you’ve earned yourself my company.
Composing borderline-grim poems on Marine Drive, experimenting with mushrooms in my kitchen, and pretending to be a singer in my lonesome are some of my favourite activities.
Prior to pursuing my PGP at the Indian School of Business, I worked as a Project Manager and a CSR Consultant. Graduating in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from BITS Pilani, I’d developed a sharp analytical acumen and an eye for granularity, skills that proved indispensable to my work.
Scaling PAN-India IT projects that improved retail efficiencies and driving grass-level impact through shared-value initiatives stimulated my drive to evolve into a strategist. I dreamt of designing sustainable strategies and conceptualizing impactful projects, dreams that could be materialized through an MBA program.
A natural bottom-up thinker, I faced no issues in untangling ground-level implementation challenges.
However, the realization that a skilled strategist must also be adept at a top-down view of things sensitized me on the reliance of my plans on a well-crafted MBA program.
I wanted to pursue a top MBA from India with an experienced cohort base. I also preferred a one-year program over a two-year one.
ISB, having ticked all the boxes, was a natural first choice. In fact, ISB was also my only choice as I had not applied to any other B-school.
While diversifying your options and applying to more than one school is the most pragmatic choice, I was confident that ISB was the place where I wanted to be.
My interaction with several ISB alumni made it quite clear that the school, with its world-renowned resident and visiting faculty base and noteworthy tie-ups with some of the best B-schools all over the world, was probably the only Indian B-school that had such a strong global brand and outlook.
The fact that ISB was my only target school motivated me to work harder. The first step, of course, was taking the GMAT. When I started my GMAT prep, I could sense no rhyme or reason to arriving at the correct answers, especially in the verbal section.
However, once I adhered to a self-made structured program to understand the underlying concepts, I became convinced that GMAT was the most logical exam I’d ever encountered.
Learning through solving questions rather than just focusing on theories and spending more time to understand why three of the four answer choices were incorrect were my prep mantras.
With nearly three months of disciplined preparation, I was able to score a 760 in my first attempt. However, with two self-introspecting essays left to complete my ISB application, I still had a long path to tread.
I reached out to several ISB alumni to seek their guidance on penning down my thoughts and was surprised to discover how bonded and welcoming was the ISB network. Till this date, my impression of ISB’s network remains unaltered.
ISB’s 10,000 strong alumni base is easily one of the most enviable B-school networks all over the globe. I could sense the renowned camaraderie among ISBians even during my interview when my panel of three interviewers, all from different ISB batches and industries, shared the same contagious passion for their alma mater.
My interview, which lasted for 45 mins, was centered more on my work experience and achievements than on my academics, something that I find highly relevant for any MBA aspirant.
In fact, I was surprised to know that the interviewers had no idea about my GMAT score, a fact that underscores the selection process’ holistic and comprehensive outlook rather than a unilateral focus on a candidate’s academic prowess.
Roughly two months down the line, I received my admit from ISB. I was beyond elated to find out that my MBA learning would be enriched by the diverse experience of close to 700 super-achievers.
I shared my excitement with other admits at frequent meetups, avenues that helped me know my batch, connect with ISB alumni, and better prepare myself for the roller-coaster ride that I’d signed up for.
An MBA program can be overwhelming is certainly not an understatement. ISB’s super-compact curriculum, focusing on covering an elaborate breadth of topics, stretched me beyond my expectation and pushed me outside my comfort zone.
Managing varied expectations of diverse study group members and aligning every individual’s goal towards a common team aspiration proved no easy feat.
The pressure of participating in a class that you shared with folks who had consistently delivered excellence throughout their academic and professional tenures only added to my troubles.
Amidst the turbulence, the one realization that bolstered our courage was that we were not alone. The quandaries faced by me were unequivocally shared by most. It took us some time to figure out that teamwork and prioritization were the only enablers to move forward.
The very nature of the program taught us networking, not just with our batchmates but also with our professors and alumni. The very design of the curriculum made us appreciate the vastness of the knowledge pool that was the experience of our batch.
Gradually, I started liking the chaos, and I formed some lifelong bonds in between innumerable deadlines, late-night conversations, and in-class intellectual debates with my peers.
What made the whole experience unique was the sense of being together as a family and also pushing each other as mentors, an idiosyncrasy that embodies the cohort that is ISB.
Magnificent is the word that describes that moment when I discovered that I was enrolled in the class of a world-renowned Marketing Guru whose book is a must for all management students.
The deep insights, both personal and professional, that I gained through my interactions with an Ivy league’s student base, hailing from all over the world, deserve more than just words. Amidst all this, I also stumbled upon a revelation, one that made me even more grateful to be a part of the ISB family.
The pedigree of professors and instructors that ISB enrols is very much similar to that of the teachers of some of the world’s biggest B-schools.
My ISB international exchange experience was filled with learning, and I recommend that every management student go on an exchange program as doing so could be helpful in more ways than one thinks.
Some people might rightfully be scared of the possibility of missing the chance to sit for recruitment if they choose to go on an exchange. My suggestion to them is that they choose their exchange school in such a way that their exchange terms/semesters don’t coincide with their home school’s recruitment season.
ISB has noteworthy tie-ups with schools across the world, and the duration and time of the exchange program vary from school to school. When I chose Tuck, I was particular about selecting a program that commenced after ISB’s placement season.
Many have often asked me if going on an exchange program can help one secure an international job in the exchange country. In my experience, doing so can be quite difficult.
While some schools such as the Tuck School of Business do allow incoming exchange students to use the school’s recruitment portal, access placement-related material, and attend some networking events, other constraints such as VISA related issues (quite troublesome in the US), the recruiting firms’ policies, the timing of the exchange terms can be likely deterrents.
However, one can certainly work on building a strong network in the exchange country and leverage one’s connects to explore career prospects there. International exposure and experience at a reputed school also add value to one’s personal brand.
Some companies also attach importance to a candidate’s international exposure, be it in the form of exchange programs during under-graduate and post-graduate days, internships, or full-time jobs.
When it comes to recruitment, the one thing that distinguishes ISB from other reputed B-schools in India is that at ISB, recruitment is mostly handled by designated professionals appointed by the school. To support these professionals, there is a student careers body, but its role focuses more on preparing the cohort for placements.
Having such a clear division of roles relieves the students from the additional responsibilities of reaching out to companies and managing the school’s interactions with them. This arrangement, in my opinion, gives the students more time to concentrate on their preparation and makes the entire placement process very smooth and well-managed.
On the day of placements, a student can receive multiple offers and can choose any one of them given his/her preference. In my case, I had offers from Amazon, Colgate, and Swiggy.
However, I was looking for a role different from the ones offered by any of the three firms.
I was determined to find the profile of my liking, roles related to corporate strategy and planning, and thus, chose to look for relevant jobs on my own. I was also inclined to exploring a geography other than India as I felt that doing so would add value to my profile.
My first realization while searching for roles off-campus was that it is relatively easier to secure a job during the on-campus recruitment process.
While situations can vary significantly from individual to individual given his/her experience, network, efforts etc, I think on-campus placements are more streamlined, lending incredible support and guidance to jobseekers.
Another thing to note is that international placements through on-campus hiring are fairly limited in numbers on B-school campuses in India.
A total of 4-5 companies, from industries such as consulting and consumer goods, participated in on-campus recruitment of my batch at ISB, and most of them took 1-3 students each.
I started networking with alumni from ISB and from BITS to explore firms that offered corporate strategy and planning roles to fresh MBA graduates.
Determined to secure an international job, I also started evaluating countries outside India based on a few parameters such as the presence of an alumni base, the work culture typical to the geography, the pay scale and tax structure, the process of securing visa and work permit, and the ease of commuting to India.
The evaluation favoured the GCC market over other regions. Having been to Dubai before, I knew that I was comfortable with the region as well.
As the next step, I made a list of prospective employers based out of Dubai and heavily depended on LinkedIn to find relevant connects.
Ultimately, I got in touch with a batchmate from my undergrad days who was working for the Corporate Strategy team of one of GCC’s biggest retail conglomerates. With his referral, I was able to get myself an interview slot.
I had three rounds of interview, each with an ex-consultant, on guesstimates and case studies. I was also asked to prepare a presentation on my recommendations to grow one of the firm’s biggest brands in the GCC market.
Since free VoIP services such as Whatsapp, Google Hangouts etc. are blocked in several GCC countries including the UAE, all my interviews were conducted on the phone.
The one thing that I felt was different about this interview experience than from my experience on-campus was that I was given live cases to work on and ongoing problems to solve.
The cases given to me were also specific to the retail industry, on which I had conducted some research before my interviews. Knowing about some important retail metrics and the market dynamics of the region certainly added more context and value to my answers.
After a final one-on-one with the HR partner, I was extended an offer that I gladly accepted.
Upon joining the firm, I heard something quite unexpected from one of my interviewers. He had somehow missed reading my GMAT score on my resume, information that he later came across on my LinkedIn profile.
Highlighting an achievement or a strength on a resume is crucial in a way that it easily catches the attention of the interviewer. That was when I realized the importance of having a ‘highly readable’ resume.
The majority of the resumes that I have come across are super packed with details, something that can make it difficult for the interviewer to find the right information.
I recommend using a lot of white spaces, selective bolding, and proper indentation to make resumes look more professional and make them easier on the eyes.
The process also made me recognize the importance of keeping one’s LinkedIn profile updated as doing so can certainly help improve the reach and visibility of one’s profile.
Forming a network of well-connected people is quite crucial when it comes to international hiring. In my experience, getting the recruiting team to even consider one’s resume becomes a challenge without a referral. Simply applying on a company’s job portal didn’t prove much helpful for me on my lookout for internal jobs.
In fact, from what I’ve gathered during my stay in the UAE, several firms look at direct applications on their job portals only after they’ve thoroughly considered and exhausted the pool of applications received through employee referrals.
Leveraging one’s alumni connects is probably the best shot that one has at securing an interview at a firm in a foreign country.
ISB’s brand certainly helped me secure the job of my liking as international recruiters often look for well-known college brands to assess a candidate’s application.
I was surprised to learn that ISB’s Middle East Alumni Chapter is one of its biggest active alumni groups. The support of several members from the group, in terms of sharing important information about VISA, rent etc., certainly eased the process of my settling in Dubai.
My job, as a member of the Corporate Strategy team of a retail conglomerate, entails driving both group-level initiatives and brand-specific projects for the firm.
Being a part of the group’s internal consulting arm made me realize the importance of several aspects of my MBA learning including the significance of story-lining, top-down thinking, and communicating through infographics.
Additionally, the so-called ‘dreaded class participation’ exercise certainly helps me contribute to meetings and brainstorming sessions more meaningfully and proactively.
While Dubai offers a higher standard of living to its residents, UAE’s work culture is more challenging than India’s, demanding much more to be done by an individual in a short period.
ISB’s rigorous 1-year program prepared me well for handling the responsibilities and challenges of my corporate job.
Looking back at the decisions that I made, probably the most important one impacting my career was my choice to pursue an MBA program.
While the fees, the opportunity cost of forgoing a year or two’s salary, and the fear of sleepless nights might deter many from going the MBA route, I earnestly feel that the experience during the program and the rewards post it more than makeup for one’s investments.
One of the most important lessons that I learned during my MBA was the importance of being open and welcoming to others. Every person that you get to know contributes meaningfully to your network and offers something or the other to learn.
To those aspiring for an international job after ISB or any other bschool, I cannot emphasize enough the merit in being proactive in building your network.
To re-iterate my entire journey, I would just say that for me, all the hustle was worth it, and it can certainly be so for you too.
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