A lot’s written about the love relationship between investment bankers and MBA. But what does it take to get into a top international MBA after working in a retail banking job?
Banking professional, Manish Jha, recapitulates his admissions experience that helped him get into several reputed MBA programs abroad with scholarship after working in a top international bank.
Top MBA after banking experience
by Manish Jha
I grew up believing in my father’s motto:
You have a healthy mind and healthy body and this is so much more than a lot of people are blessed with. There is nothing else you need to realize your dreams. Believing in actions not excuses.
I have always been a man of action. I am a highly perseverant and diligent individual. When set upon a task, I have never stopped till I have finished it.
On one instance I ploughed a quarter acre of land, alone in a day simply because everybody else was too afraid of the task.
In another instance, in my first job, I walked close to 5 miles in Mumbai summer heat for new business acquisition and eventually onboarded the highest number of new accounts in the region in a month because of our newly formed team desperately needed some recognition.
To introduce myself professionally, I would like to use the much clichéd introductory tag – Indian, Male, Engineer and not IT, but a banker. For the sake of further diversity to the finance genre, I am a financial sales professional – a Relationship Manager or a RM.
I work with Citibank as a Citi Gold RM, managing the bank’s High Net Worth Individuals (HNI) and Ultra-High Net Worth Individuals (UHNI) wealth management and commercial banking relationships.
I am the face of the bank to the clients – cross-selling and upselling bank’s / third party financial products to the customers, ensure excellent service delivery and acquire new clients for the bank.
All this to achieve a fixed revenue target that I am assigned with at the beginning of the year. I then design and implement general and specific account wise strategy to achieve my target and maintain my profitability for the bank.
I like to think of my work as that of a small business, managing my revenues and expenditures to stay profitable and ensuring effective delegation/segregation of work to the resources at my disposal while maintaining supervision & relations across channels to keep my business running.
Although represented by a big brand – Citi – I still have to make clients trust me and give them enough reasons to give me their money to manage.
Without much scope for product innovation or differentiation (every other competitor in retail banking sells similar banking products, mutual funds etc.), my communication and presentation skills, people management skills, relevant knowledge along with ability to transfer knowledge effectively are a few things that would help me win the customer’s interest in favor of my bank.
People have different cognitive biases in investing and it is particularly challenging to understand how to handle these biases. Every new and different customer interaction is a new challenge, to be handled delicately and with much sensibility.
On the plus side, I have acquired amazing networking skills and people skills. Effective listening is a very difficult skill to acquire and my sales role has helped me immensely in developing this.
I have held close relationship with multiple SME’s and CXO’s of various organizations and have gained valuable understanding of different sectors and business types.
In the last 7 years of my working experience, I have witnessed a tectonic shift in customer needs and in the bank’s approach to solving the problems of tomorrow. The digital push is much more than before and the turn-around time (TAT) that customers expect is shrinking terribly.
Banking used to be a moat business and it can continue to be so if it evolves just right and fast enough.
After working extensively in retail banking, I now plan to work in business and growth strategy as a Strategy Consultant and eventually be the CEO of a global financial institution like Citi.
However, I clearly lack the much-needed formal business knowledge and how one decision can impact other aspects of the business.
Considering my professional requirements, an MBA will give me the business education I need and the network I can leverage upon to steer towards my career goal.
How I built my profile
Being an Indian, for a very long time, an MBA only meant appearing for CAT/XAT and hoping to secure a place in the IIMs for me.
I did appear for CAT and XAT in 2014 and secured 96%ile and 97.5%ile respectively. Each of these scores were not good enough for a top tier MBA in India (IIMs / FMS / XLRI were the only options I had in mind).
MBA outside India was never really an option for me up until 2016. I did my own research on various schools, the admission process, read student profiles etc. But could not analyze satisfactorily where would I stand in the competition and how relatively strong would my application be.
In 2019, when I finally made up my mind for MBA outside India, I knew I needed an expert opinion on my profile to understand the strengths and weaknesses in my application. There was not a lot I could have done to change my profile but I needed to know how to bring out the stories in best possible way.
I was impressed by the clarity of thoughts and relevance of the process. I signed up with MCB for a MBA Profile Building service in Feb 2019 for two reasons:
- Test the waters with MCB.
- Get an idea if my story would appeal to international b-schools.
Also, if outcome is positive, I would have 6-7 months to develop my story and work on my weaknesses before I submit my applications in Fall’2019.
Profile Builder experience certainly solidified my trust on MCB and gave me a fair idea about the application strategy I would use.
I knew what aspects I needed to pay special attention to, read GMAT, and what schools I should focus on. The wrap up call with Manish Gupta (MG) was very helpful in breaking myths that I had about international MBA.
I remember that before the call with MG was about to happen, I had prepared a list of questions that I wanted to clarify. MG literally read my mind and explained each and every doubt I had without me bringing up those questions.
It was a solid testament that MG and MCB certainly know their work very well and I am headed in the right direction because of their guidance.
My biggest concerns in my application were my modest GMAT score and lack of experience outside of work.
For GMAT, I knew I am comparing against a highly competitive applicant pool whose biggest strength is high GMAT scores. But I hoped my higher than average and unique experience would compensate for this.
For almost no experience outside work, I had no strategy and I believe this has been a huge setback in my applications.
GMAT score was one aspect of my application I was never happy about. I gave my first GMAT in Nov 2017 and scored a 700. Though I was satisfied but felt I can do better. So I quickly re-appeared for the exam in Dec 2017 and against all my expectations, got 700.
After Profile Builder, MG asked me to attempt once again and aim for 740. I did re-appear a third time in Jul 2019 and alas, 700 again.
Nonetheless, I did contact MG again and decided to go ahead with my applications with a score of 700 only. I mostly self studied for GMAT.
I only purchased official GMAC prep material from MBA.com – OG’s and Mock exams 1-6.
While the score was not poor in the general sense, I knew I will have to sacrifice my application to some of the schools I always wanted to go to – Yale, Kellogg, Haas, Darden and Fuqua.
I decided to apply to schools that could still land me where I aspire to be, may be 3-4 years late.
Bad experience with another consultant
I had applied for ISB in 2018 and was dinged. I had hired a consultant back then who was himself an ISB alum. My experience with the consultant was traumatic at the least.
The ISB rejection was in itself heart breaking and to make it worse, the old consultant told me my profile isn’t good enough for any top 50 global MBA program.
I learned my lesson that hiring a cheaper consultant and save a few bucks was just not worth it. Simply being a top MBA alum doesn’t automatically make them a good mentor.
After the Profile Builder experience, I was sure of working with MCB.
I did not plan to work with friends already in schools because I thought their experiences may be too school specific and given the unique work experience I had.
I wanted to work with a consultant with a proven track record of working with a diverse pool of candidates.
For my applications I signed up for MBA MAP + 5 school package.
Given some constraints at my end, I had made some weird requests to MG and he happily and patiently kept up with me, accommodating my requests and giving his suggestions all along.
Crystal Ball to the rescue
My interaction with MG after Profile Builder and in-person interview with Sameer Kamat were the two most important milestones in my journey with MCB.
While MG gave a pretty good directional sense, the interview with Sameer helped me break my bubble that I am fantastically prepared for personal interview.
His feedback on my personal communication and body language came in handy during my interviews with school Adcom members.
For my applications, I worked with Shantanu. It has been absolutely fantastic working with him and he was always available with a patient ear to listen to me and my doubts. Ever since our first interaction, I felt very comfortable with Shantanu.
One of the essays in the Goizueta MBA application directly asked for leadership experience. I had no experience in managing teams and clouded by feedback of previous consultant, I panicked slightly on seeing the leadership question.
Also, during that time we were working on 3 very close application deadlines, 8 days to be precise. I was feeling terribly lost because of the enormity of the task.
Shantanu calmly listened to all my stories and helped me realize the leadership aspects in one of my stories. He also reassured me that we will make all the submissions with proper time in hand.
He worked tirelessly with me over the 8 days for making all the submissions and was available for call even at 2 in the night. This was truly an “Aha” moment for me.
Also, in last 7-8 months of our interaction, I never had any shocking “Oho” moments and it is a testament on consistency of Shantanu’s efforts.
Although I did face 2 rejections and one of those was from a dream school, I had complete faith in Shantanu and his direction. He was always candid in his feedback and was always a morale booster and comforting friend in testing times.
MBA Application planning
I had applied to a total of 7 schools(5 with MCB and 2 independently).
The most important factors I had in mind before shortlisting of schools were:
- Strength or uniqueness of Academic model.
- Percentage of class heading towards consulting, internal or external.
- Does Citi hire from these colleges.
- Strong brand name, recognition and alumni network
I talked extensively to the school alums and I believe this is the best way to know about a school.
For a 2-year MBA program:
- First year students help understand the specific reasons why they chose a particular school, and if the euphoria sustain after 2-3 months into the program.
- Second year students help one understand the realistic job scenario at the school, efficiency of career services team etc.
- Alumni 5-7 years out of school help understand the true market value of the brand.
With this in mind, I ensured that I talk with at-least 7-8 people in each school spread across three brackets. My exhaustive outreach also helped me get references of people schools where I was not applying but who were working in my specific area of interest.
My MBA interview experience
Out of 7 schools that I applied to, I got admits from 3 (McDonough, Kelley and Simon), rejects from 3 (Said, Goizueta and ISB) and waitlisted by 1 (Johnson Business school).
I interviewed with McDonough Business school, Kelley Business School and Simon Business School.
McDonough was my first interview and first MBA admission interview experience as well. It was conducted by a current student of the school’s part-time MBA program.
Despite much advisory, I did not plan my travel to interview location by including sufficient time buffer. I reached interview location 10 minutes late!
My interview went for around 20 minutes and questions were mostly behavioral (tell me about yourself, strengths, weaknesses, why MBA, why Georgetown etc).
Because of the delay, I did not get time to build a rapport with the interviewer – the most important part of a sales pitch and it did cost me dearly. I was waitlisted in R1, only to be admitted later in R2 decision.
My second interview was with Kelley and I was sure to not repeat my mistake. I reached venue 45 minutes earlier and it sure helped me. My interview was with the Executive Director of the Adcom.
Since I was early, she asked me if I was okay to start the interview before the scheduled time. I cashed in on the opportunity to build a strong rapport and my interview went on for almost 1.25 hours.
It was a very casual interview with lot of behavioral questions, general discussion about Indian culture, culture of my home state – Bihar, my initiatives at work and how can I extrapolate similar campaigns at Kelley etc.
My third interview was with Simon and was virtual, over Skype. It went on pretty well and on similar lines with the experience I had at Kelley. It again went on for about 35-40 minutes.
Each school released the admission decision 3-4 weeks after the interview dates. The first admission decision that I got was that of a waitlist from McDonough.
During the same time, I was dinged by Goizueta and Oxford Said. I was losing hope as almost all the applications I had put in R1 were not working out for me.
Shantanu helped me pick myself up and prepare a strong application for Kelley in R2.
When I got the admit email from Kelley, I was elated and satisfied of the outcome of hard work of almost an year. Eventually I got admits from McDonough and Simon as well, with decent scholarship from Simon.
I had three admits, from McDonough, Kelley and Simon. I also had $25,000 merit fellowship from Kelley and 60% scholarship from Simon.
Kelley Business School is one of the oldest b-schools, has a small cohort of 200-odd people, great brand recognition and a strong alumni base working in Corporate Strategy and was giving significant savings on tuition cost.
Also, cost of living in Bloomington would be sufficiently low as compared to a metro city like Washington D.C.
Kelley has a flagship MeInc. which is a workshop to groom your personal story and present yourself with much more suave to the employers.
Kelley has a unique academy model which helps tailor MBA in the particular area of interest and Kelley’s career services are ranked 3rd in the country by FT in 2020 ranking.
Because of the strength and rigor of its program, I am confident and positive that the Kelley MBA will help me realize my short term and long term career goal.
Lessons from my application journey
I strongly believe that my sales profile and Shantanu’s assistance in grilling my story thoroughly helped me stand out among the applicants.
My work has an easily measurable output and Shantanu was very supportive in helping me realize the strengths in my application.
After a traumatic experience with another consultant for the ISB’18 application, working with MBA Crystal Ball was a positive change for me and surely has an impact on me, much bigger than just an MBA admit.
If given a chance, I will redesign my GMAT strategy and increase/quantify my involvements outside of work. I would have utilized a lot more resources available (study groups, prep-courses etc.) to post a better GMAT score.
Outside of work, I did take a lot of initiatives but never carried them to the completion and because of that I could not portray myself in better light apart from professional achievements.
Also, I only realized this after the admit that a lot of my target consulting firms hold pre-MBA networking events and top firms like McKinsey and BCG have a specific list of schools.
Apart from the top 15 programs, there are a lot of unique names in the list (e.g. Olin in McKinsey and Rice & Rotman in BCG). Had I known about this, I would have submitted applications to these schools as well, since these events are at least a foot in the door.
Despite this, looking back at the overall journey, I feel happy and satisfied by the outcome of collective effort put in by me, my family and very importantly, Shantanu. I am more than thankful and grateful to him for his extended support and assistance.
I am currently enjoying my time with my wife and my 2 year old son. I know I would be gone for a good amount of time and the crazy schedule that lies ahead will not give me enough opportunities to spend time with them, so my only priority is to make memories with them,
I would advice future applicants to give sufficient time to each and every aspect of the application. It may sound a bit clichéd but it is actually very important for an applicant to be cognizant of his personal and professional goals, how well a school fits in with them and what type of firms is one targeting.
This information will help the applicant throughout the MBA journey, from applications to interview to joining specific school clubs and connecting with alums.
MBA outside India is a very different ball game and it requires a lot more introspection than a typical Indian MBA.
Anybody with a 2-3 years horizon for MBA should try the Profile Builder as it will give a good direction on specific aspects of the application one needs to strengthen. Given a choice I would have subscribed to Profile Builder in early 2017 for Fall’19 applications.