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From Sales & Trading to a top M7 MBA (Chicago Booth): Admissions consulting review

M7 MBA Admissions consulting review

In the investment banking field, Sales and Trading (S&T) is a highly lucrative career option for many graduates, including engineers who don’t have any finance background.

Mechanical engineer, Anshuman Anand, managed to move into sales and trading at a top investment bank. And he did that without an MBA.

But he felt the need to get a formal management degree with a specialised focus on finance. He felt, an M7 MBA would be an excellent way to bridge the qualifications and skills gap. From his undergrad admissions experience, he knew he’d also need the support of a good M7 MBA admissions consultant.

From Engineering to Sales & Trading to an elite M7 MBA

by Anshuman Anand

You can take the Indian out of India but you can’t take India out of the Indian. I moved to Singapore when I was twelve and completed my secondary and higher secondary schooling in the red dot.

At that stage, I didn’t know that the world of Trading and Finance would captivate me and decided to make the conventional Indian choice to pursue Engineering. I was comfortable with numbers and I enjoyed reading science; it seemed like the logical choice.

I started at NTU Singapore as a Mechanical Engineering student in 2013; little did I know what lay ahead!

During undergrad, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to experience life in different functions. Through a marketing internship and two student consulting programs, I gained exposure in two non-engineering disciplines.

I even ran a F&B business with some classmates and got a taste of old-school entrepreneurship. Subsequently, I was introduced to the world of Banking through a spring program organized by Deutsche Bank.

While we learnt about several functions within investment banking, Sales and Trading intrigued me the most. It was perhaps the buzz of the dealing floor that drew my interest and I decided to seek an internship that allowed me to experience S&T further.

However, being an engineering undergrad with no finance experience, I hardly got a look-in for any Sales or Trading roles.

I ended up with a Trade Capture Utility role (a Sales and Trading assistant) at Barclays for my summer internship during my penultimate year of undergrad. The role introduced me to the world of financial products and derivatives AND allowed me to sit on the dealing floor and get acquainted with the salespeople and traders.

While this may sound crazy, I reckon my interest in football played a pivotal role in earning me a return offer from Barclays.

My internship during the summer of 2016 coincided with The European Championship and this helped me build rapport with colleagues who shared the same passion for the sport. By the end of the summer, I wanted to return to the same setup because I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with these people.

However, upon returning as a graduate, I was bound to my desk with BAU tasks and I could no longer walk the floor to shadow people and have coffee chats.

I soon realized that in order to truly understand Macro markets and rekindle my desire to work with colleagues whom I shared common interests with, I had to be in a team that did not merely assist with Trading but ideate and sell Trades instead.

The journey into Sales was arduous; I spent several early mornings and late nights shadowing salespeople, writing macroeconomic updates and generating trade ideas to showcase my interest.

It took me nearly 18 months but my rapport with some salespeople coupled with the initiative I showcased landed me a role in Corporate FX and Rates Sales through an international Secondment to Mumbai.

While I had visited Mumbai each year since relocating, I underestimated the difficulty of moving back alone. I was taken aback by how different the corporate environment in Mumbai was compared to Singapore.

I would not get replies from clients on chats and I could not get down to business without building a personal connection (which had its own difficulties given that most clients belonged to a different generation).

I soon learnt that the way to do business in India is not over chats – it’s through phone calls that lead to meetings that lead to recreational events.

It’s only when you can discuss weekend plans, movies and cricket with your clients, can you then discuss views on the Market more candidly.

While honing these soft skills, the secondment helped me gain hard skills such as pricing derivatives, calculating different risks involved in trades and learning how to mitigate these effectively.

Post a successful secondment, I joined the Institutional Sales Desk in Mumbai covering banks, asset managers and insurance companies on FX and Rates products and solutions.

Over a year into the role and having rubbed shoulders with top Indian and overseas MBA graduates, I thought about pursuing an MBA for the first time. The thought stemmed from filling the gaps in my self-taught knowledge through formal Finance education.

You could argue that a CFA would suffice for this! But the deeper I thought, I realized that I wanted to try something that allowed me to build industry-specific knowledge.

By working on a few Credit trades, I had a chance to interact with colleagues in Mergers & Acquisitons (M&A) and I felt that gaining experience relevant to a specific industry, as they did, would allow me to subsequently work in a proper investing role – whether that is in Investment Management to begin with or Private Equity/Venture Capital later on.

I wanted to plug the gaps in my understanding of finance, accounting and economics and groom myself to be a specialist and not a generalist.

Which field specifically? I wasn’t sure, I still don’t know – I am just hoping I have the chance to explore further once I begin the course.

The search for a top M7 MBA admissions consultant begins

As a next step, I decided to take a stab at the GMAT in July, just two months away from Round 1 deadlines!

I knew that I had to work in parallel on my application and essays which was going to be a challenge.

I decided to work with a top MBA consultant with a proven track record in M7 admits, primarily to get an objective opinion on my story and goals – one that I felt my family and friends would not be able to provide.

Also, I recalled my struggle of writing essays for undergrad applications and I decided that it was prudent to seek help.

After a couple of calls with other consultants who delved too hard on getting the right GMAT score prior to getting started, I had a call with Manish Gupta (MG) from MBA Crystal Ball.

I remember MG’s questions and comments were specifically on my journey and we hardly talked about any numbers or scores during the first call.

Through the qualitative nature of our calls, I found working with Manish to be the right choice in crafting the best application possible.

He asked me to fill out an informational document which to my surprise contained questions starting from pre-school all the way to present day.

I found these to be “just for fun” at the time but as we went through drafts on my first essay, I was amazed at how we were able to weave in my pre-teen years into my present day personality.

For example, I had been home-schooled till I was six owing to my father’s job in the maritime industry and I gravitated towards encyclopedia to fulfil my reading thirst.

I subsequently caught the trivia bug which led to starting quiz clubs at school and initiated my zest for entrepreneurship – something I practised at university and at my current role in the form of intrapreneurship.

While I did have my undergrad and professional experience going for me, I certainly lacked jaw dropping extracurriculars.

I had been a part of sports clubs, football teams and led quizzing initiatives, but I knew that these weren’t as impressive to an AdCom who would review some of the most inspiring individuals globally.

Despite this, I had zeroed in on applying to Harvard (as a reach), Wharton (due to its Finance reputation), Columbia and Booth (due to their locations and Finance reputation).

I had sent a lot of LinkedIn messages to current students and alumni at these schools to understand the program, specific courses for my career path and student life prior to drafting my essays.

It was all going great until I faltered at my GMAT attempt and ended up 20 points below my target score.

While I liked my story, I was fully aware that belonging to an over-represented demographic meant that this score would be a deal-breaker at my target schools.

A re-attempt was 21 days away and that meant that the applications for Booth (complete), Wharton (complete) and Harvard (nearly complete) were all for nothing and had to be submitted in Round 2.

Columbia had a Rolling Early Decision admission and with each passing day, I felt that my odds were reducing.

On my second attempt, after a tense 21 days, I was relieved when the screen flashed 760 at the test centre.

I have to credit Target Test Prep for their amazing online course and Manhattan Prep for a lot of Sentence Correction strategies.

However, owing to this unaccounted delay, I could only submit my Columbia application on the last day of Early Decision.

While I knew that I may be late in the process, I still believed that I was a good fit at Columbia owing to my experience and I was showing commitment by applying in Early Decision.

But guess what? Six weeks of constantly refreshing that CBS portal eventually ended in rejection!

I was distraught because I knew that some of my other choices of schools were perhaps harder to break into.

At this point, I remember discussing with Manish on the next steps. While the advisable approach would be to effectively hedge your bets, I decided to only add Kellogg and NYU Stern to the list of schools that I would apply to.

After submitting my Round 2 applications in Early January for 5 schools, it was an anxious wait.

Kellogg, as many would know, interviews most of its applicants as part of their initial screening. I completed my interview in February with a current student at Kellogg and the questions were largely situational.

I felt that I did alright but I subconsciously benchmarked my applications to the effort that I had spent crafting the CBS application. I knew that of all my schools, I had probably slacked a bit on my Kellogg application and thus, I wasn’t too hopeful despite the self-admittedly positive interview.

Decision week in February started like a Boxing match – Harvard (Ding), Wharton (Ding), Kellogg (waitlisted, to my surprise) and then came Booth (invited to interview!).

I had one shot!

Booth was on my initial roster of schools and I spent the next three weeks leading into the interview to speak with a lot of current students and alumni.

I had an undergrad friend who was already at Booth and her advice and intricate details about Booth’s clubs and student life really helped me prepare for the interview.

Furthermore, I did a couple of mock interviews with Manish which really set the tone for D-Day.

His feedback allowed me to not only prepare answers to situational questions but just generally improve my on-screen demeanour through posture and body language.

I was interviewed by a second year student from Hong Kong with a very similar background to mine (something I gather Booth tries to actively do).

I felt that I was effectively able to communicate my goals and reasons for joining Booth. He was rather impressed with how much I knew about Booth’s events and clubs – something I had spent a lot of time understanding through chats with current students.

The next month could not go by any slower. Each day at work I would think over my answers and wonder if I could have said something different. I hoped that my accent was clear given that we came from different demographics and you get the gist – overthinking at its finest!

Finally on 24th March, as I kept refreshing the page post work, the status page turned into video which flashed “Congratulations! You are a Boothie!

I have to be honest, my initial feeling was relief more than happiness given how long and turbulent the process had been.

Nevertheless, in hindsight, all’s well that ends well! Although, this isn’t the end, it’s just a means to explore further and hopefully build a more robust network and skill set.

M7 MBA Application tips

My advice to MBA applicants aiming for the skies would be threefold:

1. Really understand your journey and goals

While these may change with time, the only qualitative portion of your application are your essays. This is your chance to tell the AdCom about how you reached your current position and how you will leverage their school and course to reach high and beyond.

2. Find a fit within the school

A famous quote in football is that you follow a football club not for the players but because you have found yourself somewhere inside its community. Similarly, the importance of a good fit cannot be understated – whether that is through the importance of the school’s location, a specific club, course or professor that drew your attention or its general culture. This is best understood by talking to as many students and alumni as possible.

3. Manage your time

Don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Don’t try to do your GMAT and essays together. While it is possible to do it, the disappointment of having to skip a round because of a lacklustre essay or a below par GMAT score can often be tough to overcome.
Most importantly, enjoy this journey! We rarely introspect and look back upon our journey.

While everyone does ask us to learn from our past, we don’t appreciate the different events in our past enough that made us the people we are.

I learnt a lot about myself through these applications and I am sure you will too!

Also read:
Profile building for second MBA after IIM: M7 (Kellogg) admit with scholarship
M7 Business Schools: All you need to know
How I got into the Chicago Booth Executive MBA program
Compare two of the M7 B-Schools: Kellogg vs Booth

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Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Linkedin, Facebook or Email: mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

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