Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Perfect Start for a Perfect Goal

Sick of your stagnant career? Doing the same monotonous work for zillions of years now? Your juniors taking over better roles now? Tired of earning much less than what you think you actually deserve? Do you feed like your boss is nothing but a moron and won't let you grow? Tired (frustrated) seeing your much less deserving colleagues/batch-mates making it big in life (at least on Linkedin)? Hate moments when you hear any and everyone making in to IIMs while you missed?

Well, look no further as you have reached just the place where you will get guidance to kick-ass above situations...
Ok, Ok, Ok, this was just to pump you up, now the actual stuff :

Yes, that was my reaction when I got admission offers from IIMC, ISB etc for batch 2013-2014.
My past efforts, from preparing for GMAT, to adjusting my lifestyle, to getting a mentor, to filling forms, to appearing for interviews, all flashed in front of me. To say that it was an emotional moment would be a serious understatement.

So, what is this blog all about?
My plan is to get you on the right track and guide you regarding the entire admission life cycle.

Who is it for?
This blog is for aspirants who want to prepare for GMAT and apply for the 1 year full-time MBA for experienced executives in India (and abroad as well). There are some top class management institutes in India which prefer to take experienced candidates and provide them with the management tools which can not only help the candidates with better future prospects but also help them in growing into a multi dimensional role. Needless to say, in this current competitive environment, being RELEVANT holds the key and this course keeps you one step ahead of the requirements.

The list boasts of Indian colleges such as - IIM-A (min 5 years), IIM-B (now 5 yrs), IIM-C (5), ISB (any), IIM-L (6), XLRI (5), SPJAIN(5) etc.

I will share my thoughts in various steps for simplicity and modularity.
So here it begins:
1. GMAT - its structure, preparation, practice etc
2. Profile Preparation - Extra curriculars, Letters of Recommendations etc
3. Applying for Colleges
4. Interview
5. Choosing the right college

My next update will take care of point#1.
But most importantly - "ALL OF LIFE IS LEARNING; THEREFORE EDUCATION CAN NEVER END". So. try to break the mould of comfort which is usually formed around people like you and me who have been working for 3-10 years and find it difficult to motivate oneself to commit for this 'adventure'. The basic rule is that you have to just sacrifice 2-3 months and that can have an unimaginable positive impact in your life.

All the best COMRADES, the battle is about to begin.

(IIM-C PGPEX 2013-14)

Monday, February 24, 2014

STEP 1 : GMAT - Command and Conquer

GMAT - The first step towards preparing for GMAT is to prepare oneself for a 3-5 month of regular dedication. And before this makes you nervous, let me tell you that NO, its not that difficult. So below are the steps which can help in breaking down the process of getting a 700+ GMAT in approximately 5 months:

1. Prepare Yourself to Prepare for GMAT - Believe me, this is the toughest part in the entire application and admission cycle. Usually, one has a 3 to 10+ years of work experience and the person succumbs to the 'Comfort Zone' around himself (ladies, kindly allow me to use 'himself' to make the content simpler; no offences meant :) ). The Comfort Zone is your worst enemy and it will keep infusing your brain, or your thought process for that matter, with ideas which will discourage you to pick this task. Some instances are - "I may have to go abroad; I might lose interest; I have a personal commitment; I don't have that much time; My current job is not that bad, I can grow here too" etc etc etc...
But remember, the only reason you want to do this course, the only reason you want to break the mould, the only reason you are reading this blog, is because you want to bring a CHANGE in your life. This very feeling of "Lets Do It" indicates that you are a fighter and you won't surrender to any counter thoughts, discouragements from colleagues, lethargy or any other deterrent. You have to believe in yourself and go ahead with this like all serious and successful candidates did at some stage.

2. Great! I am all Pumped Up, How to Start now -  There are two ways to prepare for GMAT. Either join a coaching class or do it yourself. In my personal opinion, I would advice a coaching institute but if you are highly motivated and have a good idea about how to study/practice, then the latter is more suited for you.
Coaching Institute (recommended) - There are many such institutes which guide an individual in preparing for GMAT as well as conduct practice tests. I opted for one such institute. The reason was that I had started with GMAT self-preparations 2-3 times in the past but lost the interest in a month or so. What to study, how to design the schedule etc constantly made me change my plans and eventually I had to quit.
The coaching institutes divide the entire syllabus into modules and then teach the modules as per a 3 months plan. (Yes, you read it right - only 3 months for covering the entire GMAT syllabus).
So if you are very serious about GMAT but a bit unsure about the syllabus or your motivation, do get enrolled for coaching. This costs around Rs. 25,000 for classes and 5-10 tests.
*Disclaimer - I have no intention of making any reader shell out money to any coaching institute. I would suggest you to take a trial class with 2-3 such institutes and then choose the best yourself.
Self Preparation - The best thing about GMAT is that it involves only English and Class X Mathematics. You can buy GMAT preparation books, religiously follow the chapters, do the practice and thats it. There is no rocket science involved, so be it Maths or English  you will not face challenges which only a tutor/mentor can address. But I repeat it, the most important factor is your self-motivation. Before starting Self-Prep, be sure that you are 100% serious and committed to this adventure.

3. The Testing Patterns - These are the fantastic four -
Analytical Writing Assessment – An argument will be provided and in 30 mins, you will have to analyze the argument. Basically, you have to point out the flaws in the argument. You can think of reasons on your own but it should be in context to that is written in the argument.
This section has a separate rating and doesn’t affect the GMAT 800 score.

Integrated Reasoning – There will be around 12 questions related to Graphs, Two-part Analysis, Table analysis etc. Again 30 mins.
This section has a separate rating and doesn’t affect the GMAT 800 score.
Quantitative Section -
The Quantitative section consists of 37 questions which have to be attended in 75 minutes.
Topics such as Algebra, Inequalities, Ratios, Proportions, Simple/Compound Interests, Probability, Permutation Combinations, Time Speed Distance, Work, Geometry etc are covered.
This section, along with Verbal Section, decides the GMAT 800 score

Verbal Section -
The Verbal section consists of 41 questions which have to be attended in 75 minutes.
Basically these questions are classified into
a.       Passages – there are approx 4 passages each with 3-4 questions. So the total # of such questions is 14-16
b.      Critical Reasoning – these are around 12-14 in number.
c.       Sentence Correction – these are 12-14 in number as well.
Out of these, Passages and Critical Reasoning can be IMPROVED only by practice and there is no other way to approach these questions.
Sentence Correction questions, on the other hand, are something that can be worked upon, understood and improved. Such questions are solved at three levels – Grammar, Meaning and Preference (in decreasing order of importance).
This section, along with Quant Section, decides the GMAT 800 score

So yes, the test is 30 +30 + 75 + 75  = 210 minutes = 03:30 Hours + Two breaks of 8 mins each

Material for Preparation – Well, the Official Guide is a must to have. There isn’t any theory shared in this book but the questions mentioned give a very good idea of the kind of questions one can face in GMAT.
For theory, there are 2-3 well known brands like Manhattan, Kaplan, Princeton etc. I used Manhattan but  I would recommend it only for Verbal. For Quant, one can refer Kaplan or Princeton.

4. Schedule Designing – Welcome to the World of Management
Designing an efficient schedule for GMAT preparation is a MUST else you would lose the interest in 2-3 weeks.
Here is what I recommend –
3 months of theory, understanding concepts, practicing questions as per the topic +
1 month of Question solving +
1 month of attending full practice tests

The 3 months period:
For Quant – There are about 11-12 main topics, so in 3 months (1 topic per week), this should be ready.
For Verbal –
a.       Passages – One should try to solve 2-3 Passages on a daily basis to get the speed
b.      Critical Reasoning – 10 Critical Reasoning questions, 2-3 times a week to get the speed and know-how.
c.       Sentence Correction – Most of the 3 months for theory/concepts understanding must be focused towards SC. There are 10-11 concepts like Subject-Verb Agreement, Tenses, Parallelism etc which one should understand and learn to implement. 11 concepts, one concept per week (with ample practice) – so in 11 weeks, this should be completely prepared.
Try to devote 2 hours every day and plan Quant and Verbal on alternate days.

Questions Solving – This one month should be used to solve each and every question of your study material (provided by the Coaching Institute or self purchased). Initially, try to focus on the mistakes you did while solving questions, note them down and work upon them to understand the concept. In the latter part of the month, try to solve questions on a times scaled – for Quant, try to solve 30 Qs in 60 mins while for Verbal, try to solve 35 Qs in the same time. Make sure that you cover all topics in Quant during this month. For Verbal, make sure that you mix Qs.

Practice Test – It might happen that after 4 months, you might feel that you have forgotten some topic and might want to devote more time for it. Well, get ready to be surprised – DON’T DO IT.
The reason I am saying this is because you will never have that feeling of complete satisfaction. Spending more time on anything else except practice tests at this stage will reap no fruits.
Rather regular practice will help you come across more questions and also increase your speed, leading to better scores.
There are about 15 free tests available on the net. Make sure to give them in one sitting (at least the Quant and Verbal part).
Also, it is very important to learn and improvise upon the wrong answers without which, this exercise won’t be of much relevance.
Aim for scores above 700 as IIMs/ISB etc prefer students in 700+ range.
So GMAT is done... Wow THAT WAS EASY!!!
Hmmm, we will move to next step now - "Profile Preparation - Extra curriculars, Letters of Recommendations etc" but give me some time y'all :)

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?