The typical approach for many MBA aspirants is to jump right into the application process, without getting the foundation in place first.
This includes addressing questions related to the need/relevance of an MBA degree as well as career planning after graduating.
Very few MBA aspirants, such as Sanjeet Kathuria, see the value in taking up career counselling for MBA admissions.
After getting a rejection from her dream MBA program, the experienced product manager was objective and mature in her analysis of where she needed professional help.
She knew the application step came much later. So she didn’t chase admission consultants for a rejection analysis, which tends to be superficial in nature anyway.
She aimed at the root of the problem – her long-term career plan.
Here’s how the contemporary dancer effectively used career guidance for MBA admissions before taking a second shot at her dream school – with the same GMAT score (which was lower than the class average), but a significantly high level of clarity on her career plans.
Career counselling for MBA admissions
by Sanjeet Kathuria
I am Sanjeet, a Product Marketing Manager. I have 8 years of experience in the SaaS and Semiconductor Industries. I will be joining ISB PGP Class of 2022, and I was a reapplicant with a GMAT score of 690. Here’s my story.
At the end of the 7th semester of engineering, I learned about the full-time Masters in Engineering (ME) program at Manipal University, Udupi. I found the curriculum to be very application-based and industry-focused. So I enrolled in their Embedded Systems specialization.
In hindsight, it was a great career decision, fueled by my desire to learn the best practices in the software industry. The knowledge I gained from my Master’s degree has been very useful throughout my career.
I started my career as a software engineer in 2012. In Dec 2017, I took a sabbatical, to explore other possible career avenues and pursue my passion for dance.
During this time, I completed professional certification in contemporary dance and joined Vyuti, a Bharatnatyam Dance troupe as the Production Manager.
Here, I could satisfy both my passion for dance and my inherent flair for a business role and I effectuated Vyuti’s first profitable production. This encouraged me to look for business roles at startups.
I joined a Series B startup in Sep 2018 as a Program Manager in the CTO’s office. Amid the chaos of a fast-growing company, I worked on varied problems across Marketing, Sales, and Product.
The heterogeneity of my experience encouraged me to pursue an MBA. I decided to apply to ISB, because of its emphasis on diversity.
First MBA Application
My biggest concern about my ISB application was my GMAT score. In my first GMAT attempt in Sep 2018, I scored a 590. In the second GMAT attempt in Aug 2019, I scored a 690.
I submitted my first application to ISB in Sep 2019 and was shortlisted for the interview.
In the interview, to my surprise, the interviewers didn’t ask me any questions about my experience at Vyuti.
The questions only revolved around my current role and my 5/10-year goals. Towards the end, they asked, “How would your professional career look right after ISB?”
I got stumped. I couldn’t come up with a convincing answer. The results came out in Nov 2019, and I wasn’t selected.
The ISB rejection was disappointing. I developed doubts about pursuing an MBA. I wanted an external perspective on my possible career options.
I had been following Sameer Kamat and MBA Crystal Ball (MCB) for over 1.5 – 2 years. After much thought, I decided to try out the profile evaluation service at MCB.
I had several concerns about career counseling:
- Do I need an MBA?
- Is ISB the right B-school for me?
- Would the career counselor be able to understand my dilemma?
- Would we be able to arrive at a concrete action plan to define the direction of my career over the next 10 years?
Speaking to Manish, the Chief Consulting Officer at MCB, put all my fears at rest. He went through my profile details, my essays, my interview description, and shared his honest feedback.
Chatting with him helped me develop more confidence in MCB, and hence I decided to opt for the Career MAP – MCBs online career counselling service.
Manish’s approach towards Career Counselling was very systematic.
We first started with a personality and behavior analysis.
Then we had several calls to discuss the 5-6 possible career paths.
We concluded the discussion with two plans:
- Retake GMAT, re-apply to ISB and some international B-schools next year, emphasizing Product Management / Marketing roles.
- Look for relevant assignments within my organization in Product Management / Marketing, and build my profile in that direction. I could then decide to either go for an MBA or EMBA.
I told Manish that I would stick to Plan 2.
After my discussion with Manish, I moved to Marketing in my organization. I researched about B-schools like Judge, IMD, NUS, and HKUST for an MBA in the future.
When the pandemic hit, my organization pivoted to a new product. I got the opportunity to head the Product Marketing for it.
I decided to re-apply to ISB with the same score of 690. I didn’t apply to foreign B-schools, since I wasn’t sure how the travel guidelines would evolve in the future.
Second time’s a charm!
This time, I was a re-applicant to ISB. I knew it was harder for re-applicants, given the baggage of the earlier rejection.
I worked extra hard on my application, making sure the essays sounded crisp, realistic, and effective.
I requested two of my colleagues, who were ISB alumni, to conduct a mock ISB interview. This helped me calm my nerves and polished my story further.
My interview experience this time was quite different. The 3 panelists were from Marketing, Consulting, and Product Management backgrounds.
They asked me insightful questions about my profile, particularly my experience at Vyuti, and my career goals with respect to Marketing. The interview went very well.
My ISB results came via email at the end of Nov 2020, and I learned that I made it this time! Since I haven’t received any scholarships, I will be applying for an education loan to pay for fees.
Career MAP had a profound impact not just on my ISB admit, but also on the direction of my career. Working in a startup meant that I worked on several cross-functional projects, and I was confused about what to specialize in.
Through Career MAP, I was able to identify my key skills. I was able to know for sure if an MBA from ISB was the right choice for me.
I recommend anyone contemplating an MBA, to first undergo Career Counseling at MCB. It’s a small price to pay when you are taking such a big career decision.
This is particularly important if you have a significant amount of experience and are still evaluating if MBA will help in your career.
I wish the MCB team all the very best, and will always be grateful to them for guidance when I needed it the most.