Sunday, February 23, 2014

STEP 2 - Profile Preparation

Profile Preparation is one of the most important phase while applying for an MBA college. A well balanced profile, which captures and displays your important achievements, goals, learnings etc. ensures that you get an interview call from the college. But before that, your GMAT score should be above than the minimum score set by the college. Also, the matter you write in your application is discussed/questioned in the interview and the interview panel tries to gauge your strength and weakness based upon that.

What is this 'Profile' all about?
The profile of a candidate consists of 4 basic parts:
1. GMAT Score
2. Application form - your marks/ degrees / job profile / SOP / Essays etc
3. Letters of Recommendation
4. Social Service / Extra curricular activities - Awards/Recognitions 

Once you have short-listed the colleges you want to apply for based upon your GMAT score, there is usually a web portal, where the college would ask you to create your account and fill in the application form (available on the same website). These details you fill in, are addressed as your profile and if all goes well, then based upon the profile or application details and GMAT score, the college will call you for interview.

Lets discuss the parts of the profile (excluding GMAT score)

1. Application Form

What does it consist of?
The application form usually consists a list of questions, some objective while others, subjective.
The good news is that the application forms are 80-90% similar for most colleges.

The information asked is usually as follows:
a. Some basic personal details like your name/address etc.
b. Your educational details and marks in HSE/SSE/College
c. Your job profile - roles/responsibilities etc
d. Social service / Extra curricular talents
e. Awards / Recognitions (be it in school/college/job/sports etc)

And then there are 3-4 questions which need serious thinking and patience:
a. Statement of Purpose - As the name suggests, the college wants to know what all happened in your life which lead you to this phase, why do you want to do an MBA, why should the college select you? -
Here, structure the SOP in such a way that following data is presented in a logical and connected manner - your initial school/college life, job profile, achievements, what drove you to go for an MBA, your goals post MBA, why this particular college etc.
b. A description of any activities you performed in your workplace which would help the college to assess your abilities and strengths -
Try to mention about a challenge you faced at the workplace or an initiative you took which not only helped the organization/ your juniors etc but also allowed you to display your leadership/management qualities.
c. Narrate an important/unusual incident of your life when you had to face a very demanding/challenging situation. How did you overcome the situation? What lessons did you learn from this incident? -
The first part is self explanatory. Regarding lessons learnt, show how this incident helped you evolve into a better, matured human being, or helped you work upon your shortcomings like communication skills etc.
d. Anything else you would like to highlight in support of your application -
Any beyond work achievement like a social welfare initiative etc.
e. What are your goals - both short term and long term? -
This depends upon personal interests but try to keep the goals realistic. Also, colleges appreciate that you work in the same field post MBA, so present your goals with this fact in mind. 
f. Why do you want to do an MBA and why now? -
This should be in sync with what you write in the SOP. You can put your case forward by saying that you want growth which would not be easy to get in the current profile, or how you met someone who did an MBA and got a role where you want to see yourself in a year or two etc.

Please pay a lot of attention while filling the latter questions. These are the ones which act as the deciding factor and at the same time, any false information can lead to a lot of grilling during interviews.

There are many small firms (mentors) which help a candidate with writing these questions. This is a good option for candidates who find it difficult to express their thoughts in writing. However, make sure that even if you have hired the services of a mentor, try to write the essays on your own and then share the same with the mentors for changes/modifications. This is necessary to give a unique and genuine look to your application which the college staff is very good at analysing.

2. Letter of Recommendation

Before going to the details of LOR, lets discuss what is it all about. The colleges want to know a bit more about the candidate and also as to how is he perceived by the people around him.
Colleges prefer to have a LOR from candidate’s reporting manager, client or even colleagues. This helps college assess the candidate from both personal and professional parameters and this also gives them an insight into the kind of work the individual does, challenges faced, innovations created etc.

So who should recommend?
Usually, two LORs are needed in the application.
Your best bet would be to choose your reporting manager as one of them and client or colleague as the other one. This is because the kind of information needed in the LOR is something which your RM or client or colleague can answer wisely and also site necessary examples.

And what should be the content of LOR?
Letter of Recommendation is a 1-2 page document which the candidate has to get prepared from the recommender. The content of the LOR is something which is based upon the requirements mentioned by the college. Some colleges just ask the recommender to mention the general details of the candidate, others are more specific in what they need. Some common questions asked are: Under what circumstances and for how long have you known the applicant, describe situations where the applicant displayed signs of leadership abilities and team skills, indicate two areas where the applicant has shown learning and improvement which would add value to his application to the college, Provide any additional information that may aid the admission committee in the selection process, describe the particular talents, strengths, and weaknesses of the applicant, performance evaluation, favourable or unfavourable indications of the applicant’s leadership potential and his ability to do work independently, strength, weakness etc.

How to go about it?
Well, to be honest, the recommender wont enjoy filling up 1-2 pages boasting about you. There is a great possibility that the recommender will ask you to fill the form and sent it to him for review etc. Just make sure that when you do so, try to get the matter written by a third person. You can provide the answers to the questions, but let a third person pen it down using his own linguistics. This is important because the interview panel can match the SOP etc with LORs and they will not appreciate the fact that you have reviewed yourself.

Mode of LOR delivery?
LORs can be sent as hardcopies, they can also be scanned and mailed to the college (from the recommender’s official email id) or as in the case of IIM-B, there will be another web portal, where the recommender can login and provide the details (login details are provided to the recommender by the college)

Any special notes?
Try to have the LORs constructed in such a way that they represent all your strengths aptly and at the same time, show as to how you have worked upon your weakness for self improvement. Leadership and management qualities should be bought out and other important attributes like team building, conflict handling, pressure situation handling should be highlighted.


3. Social Service / Extra curricular activities

Well, this has always been a "Oh boy, its too late for this now" kind of a section. 
When one is collecting all the information for profile preparation before applying to colleges, this usually turns out to be the weakest link. 
Most of us always have a desire to indulge into social work activities, but couldn't get the right opportunity (or honestly, may be the motivation was never that strong). 

But this isn't as bad as it seems. First of all, this section is not a deciding factor when it comes down to final selections. Its more like a 'Good to have' feature. Secondly, most of the candidates are at the same level with respect to social welfare or extra-curricular activities. And lastly, a candidate usually has a SW/ECs past which if capitalized and presented appropriately, suffices for the requirement.

Social Welfare Activities
In Social welfare activities, B schools try to assess what you have given back to the society. It is a good forum to show your 'Beyond Work' initiatives and adds a lot of substance to your overall application. Some relevant examples are work related to educational classes, vocational training, cleaning drives, employment generation for the less privileged and similar activities.

If you had some experience with SW activities, try to get a documented proof of your attachment with the organisation or the NGO. Certificates of 'Appreciation', ''Recognition', 'Association' with the NGO, participation in the camps etc are very useful. If you cannot produce the documents, there is still no need to worry. Do mention about your activities in the profile while applying for the college and if the interview panel asks about your role, use the opportunity to present the details in an effective manner.

And now, for the usual bunch, who don't have any experience in this field, it might be a bit late but not too late to start. Look around for opportunities where you can provide help to a social campaign. Usually, the firm for which one works, has a "Corporate Social Responsibility", CSR wing which organises such SW activities regularly. This can be a good starting point. Another option is to contact various local NGOs which can be located over the internet. Meet them, talk to them and participate in their events. 

Extra-Curricular Activities
Are you good at sports? Or have a creative side like Arts, Drama, Music, Dance? Or you have an oratory talent like Debates etc? 
Well, this is the forum to present your hobbies, interests, talents so as to show your multi-dimensional personality. This is many ways is similar to SW section above and adds value to your application.

If you are equipped with this tool, then as was the case with SW, try to produce certificates. Also, in either case, be well-prepared with some instances, achievements to support your claims. I, for instance, am a good swimmer and have been a member of the Indian Aquatic Academy for almost 5 years. Even though, I had no certificates to substantiate this, I did talk about it in my interview for a minute or so.

And again for the majority or the usual bunch, who do participate in sports but at a smaller level or who have a guitar in their house which is buried in 5 mm of dust (like me), try to start with a sport, activity which genuinely interests you. Certificates are not necessary, but you can have a one line mention about the activity in "Introduce Yourself" questions during interview..

All said and done, do not get demotivated if you are a late starter, but what is more important, that you have to be a 'starter'. You will have more to say in your interviews and you can also strengthen your case in front of the interviewers who expect a candidate to contribute back to the college or the class.

And why just for GMAT? These activities, be it SWAs or ECs, help one to develop as a social and matured individual. So what say, joining a guitar class today?

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