Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Solving the B-school admission process conundrum

I wanted to write something for the future applicants who might be reading this blog.
Here is my attempt at solving the admission riddle that has baffled many (including me) and will continue to baffle scores of applicants for a long time to come. At the outset I feel that we have made the entire process of trying to understand the success factors for an admit very complex through over analysis and exaggerated notions across forums, discussions which have left me both amused and bemused. At the end of the day, B-school is just trying to select a group from a super set of extremely talented people that it feels will make for good decision makers

Any decision making is done in 3 layers: Strategy, Planning & Execution
Strategic decision making is long term. Decisions taken here give long term direction to the company and set its competitive strategy. These cannot be reversed easily if taken once and generally require huge capital outflow. Hence they are risky and require serious insight into industry, envrironment, operating procedures and internal & external constraints with experience, strong analytical framework and the ability to think laterally to support it. All of us post our MBA will enter this layer sooner or later irrespective of our job functions or industries. A management institute's objective is, therefore, to make its students ready to take this responsibility by imbibing the necessary rigour (analytical or otherwise) required and will therefore try & zero down on those specific qualities among its prospective admits that will make the dissemination of this rigour both supportive & sustainable. So what are these qualities?

1. Analytical skills: This is the first and foremost requirement that any B-school will have from its students. Needless to say, business studies have become very analytical in nature with the increasing use of mathematical & statistical models to aid decision making. How can you prove your analytical skills to the school? Contrary to the popular opinion, it is not just your academic background or GMAT scores that can prove your analytical skills. It can also be proved through the work experience or any initiatives that you might have taken which required you to work with numbers.
2. Understanding business & the operating environment: This tests the extent to which you have moved up from the daily execution of your responsibilities. How well have you understood the business, its critical drivers and tests your foray into planning. Planning could be in terms of internal resources - men, material, or money or external - competitors, service providers, vendors, customers, banks, financial institutions and other intangibles such as patents, branding etc. Another factor here is the innovation - both commercial or technical. Business problems and situations can be very unique in nature and working on the basis of templates or standard solutions can seriously impede the thought process.
3. Energy level: A good decision maker is also a leader and vice versa. And a leader should have energy level that is not only infectious but also sets pace and motivates his followers. This is tested through the initiatives that you might have taken at work place or in your social life (which we popularly call Extra-curriculars). This also shows your commitment towards acheiveing your targets and objectives.
4. Communication: Effective communication is extremely important. It is simply how well can you understand others and can make others understand your point of view. In my personal opinion, ability to listen and understand others is a greater challenge and difficult to cultivate. This is effectively tested through your essays and the interview.

Now something on essays
An adcom member has to read around 100 applications every day. Do you think he is not fatigued? Ofcourse he is reading day in and day out the examples of passion, hardwork, leadership skills and other generic traits that we all tend to mention inadventently in our essays . If yours is the 95th application that he is reading in a day, how do you make sure that he suddenly sits up and takes notice? Get rid of all generic language in your essays and move into the specifics. If you are a financial analyst, tell him how a particular pharmaceutical company that you had researched had behaved. Use numbers and arouse his interest.

There is a fifth factor also and the most critical one. Its called LUCK :). If this is not on your side, none of others factors will work.

Disclaimer: This post is entirely my personal opinion and how I view the admission process as.


  1. Very informative post buddy...takes a lot many things into perspective...

  2. good one! i'm sure loads of ppl will find this useful! :)

  3. i think you're missing out "fit" - another crucial ingredient that will get only more critical as the years go by!

  4. Thanks guys...

    The idea is to communicate to the applicants to not to fall into the trap of trying to please a B-school but rather prepare themselves for the life beyond their mbas. If they reflect those attributes, a B-school will only be too glad to accept them.