A collection of articles from The Red Pen team
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MBA Success

by Originally published in Hindustan Times Education Supplement

Every year I am contacted by MBA applicants who have no good reason and no real chance of being accepted into top global programs, yet they want to ‘try’ despite my strong discouragement. MBA admissions are not a lottery. You don’t just buy a ticket and hope for the best. Top global MBA programs (e.g. Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Chicago, INSEAD, LBS, Kellogg, etc.) have serious requirements against which applicants are evaluated.

If you haven’t even met the minimum requirements either stated or as compared with the current class profile, you are wasting precious time and money that could be better spent toward other activities such as enhancing your profile outside work, applying yourself more diligently at work or simply getting more valuable experience under your belt so that you actually understand why you need an MBA.

The first rule of thumb is that you should not apply to MBA programs if you have less than 4 years of work experience when you will enter the program. This is the rule everyone wants to break (especially women around the age of 24 who fear if they wait another year they will be pushed into marriage). It is a fact that some MBA programs take some applicants with less than 3 years of work experience, but these are rarely Indian applicants. The reasons are twofold: 1) Indian applicants usually have only 3 years of undergraduate education and are therefore younger when they graduate from college and complete their work experiences. And 2) Indian organizations tend to be more hierarchical and with slower learning curves.  So in India 3 years of work experience constitutes somewhat less professional responsibility than the global equivalent.

The opposite of this rule is the person who wakes up after more than 6 years of work experience and wants to apply for an MBA. It’s usually too late by this point to make a strong case that you actually need the degree.  Outside of former military applicants, I have seen very few applicants who have had success with this much work experience. If you are more than 6 years out of undergrad, you should have an MSc, MA or PGDM that has taken up a few years of that time.

But let’s say you are in the sweet spot – 4 to 5 years of work experience but you really have no clue why you should get an MBA or what it will do for your career. Other people in your organization have left at the same stage to pursue an MBA, so you feel maybe you should too. This ‘default’ applicant situation also rarely works, even for the most ‘tracked’ professionals. The most successful candidates are those who can make the case that the only next logical step is an MBA – they have a compelling career goal that needs this direction and they cannot move forward without it. Note that this means something very concrete which you have demonstrated the ability to actually achieve as opposed to a vague desire to start your own investment bank or fund.

Beyond these guidelines, the most successful applicants are those who have graduated with very high marks from a brand name college (in India, usually an IIT or a DU or MU college with top class honors) and have solid, consistent professionally-focused work experience at a blue chip firm and a significant NGO or public sector role thrown in, either on the side or in the final year before applying. And a minimum GMAT score of 730 with something above 750 perferred, especially if you have a technical or quantitative degree.

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