Friday, September 26, 2008

Must read for Business school applicants

Everyday I get some very common questions on MBA applications and admissions with not so easy answers. Obviously everyone wants the most returns with least amount of effort. However, when it comes to B-school applications it not easy to judge where your effort is best spent. There is lot of judgement exercised by the admission committee in making their decisions and hence there is no objective answer on whether you can make it to so and so school based on your profile. Nevertheless people still ask the questions and I still attempt to answer several every week. I felt it might help some applicants if I post some guidance based on my experience. So here goes -

Q1: Can I get into so and so Business school. Here is my profile GMAT:X, GPA:Y , Experience 5 years in Z, Extra curricular A and B?

If it were so easy to grant admissions based on just the above information, trust me the admission committee of every school would not be spending hours and hours reviewing and discussing every application. Adcoms are looking for everything from your academics, your analytical skills, communication skills, quality of your work experience, your achievements on and off work and thought and reflection on your decisions. Why you have done the things you have and why you want to do things you have set out to e.g. pursue MBA etc.

Having said that you can to some extent ballpark your chances based on how you compare to the average applicant on some dimensions. Look at incoming class profiles (you will find the on the school websites in information for prospective candidates) for every school to determine how you compare with mean/median GPA, GMAT and work experience. This is only an indicator and does not give any concrete answers. Only way you will know for sure is to apply and give it your best shot.

Q2 Which schools should I apply to?

Apply to schools that you are really really excited about. Maybe its the teaching method, faculty, culture or people. Make sure it meets your career objective and it provides an atmosphere you can do well in. Pay some attention to whether you can get into the school by looking at the incoming student profile (refer previous question) but don't let that dictate your answer. As I mentioned in previous question its not just about a few parameters. Refer to my previous post 2007 and 2008 for my thinking on school choices.

Q3 How do I find out more about the school? How do I know if I fit?

The best place to start is the school website. Look at the resources for prospective applicants. What does the school say about itself. What is the teaching method, curriculum, culture, profile etc. What is the school philosophy and how does the school position itself. Rankings help here but see whats behind the rankings. Go to other sites on the web explore what is being said about the school. Blogs are a good source of this information. Some books also provide an overview of the school. Next, look at the things that are important to you based on where you are now and where you want to be. Examine different dimensions, not just career. Your fit or lack of it will start to come out. This research will put you in good stead when it comes to writing the essays.

Q4 What should I write in my essays

Each school has its own set of questions and is trying to find different information. Write a interesting story but keep it crisp. Dig deep and find out what drives you. The essays are insightful when you write not just what you want to do but why you want to do it. Think of incidents that shaped you and make you the person you are. Before you get down to the essays you should have resolved in your mind why you are pursuing MBA, what set of skills you have and those you looking for, what environment best suits you, and where you are headed long term and why? One thing I found helps in this introspection is to ask yourself 'why?' repeatedly till you fight the root driver of your feelings or thoughts.

Here's Sara Neher, Darden's admission director's advice on applicant essays

Useful links

Where do I start

Thinking about career goals

More to follow....

I'll keep adding to this post. Leave a comment if you want generic questions answered

Friday, September 19, 2008

Time for US to follow the world?

For most part of the 20th century America has dominated the world scene be it Business, economy or its military might. It is still by far the largest economy in the world and also has the distinction of being the oldest democracy. However over the last several years it has faced with some challenging issues. What does the future hold for this nation?

Having lived in US for several years as an international I have seen some great and not so great aspects of the American society. On a per capita basis US is perhaps one the most wealthiest countries in the world. However GDP per capita hides more than it shows. The obvious one is the divide among the rich and the poor. US ranks lower amongst most developed nations. Of course there are other measurements such as 'gini coefficient' and 'HDI' that do reveal some insights into this. I do however question the validity of such measurement as indication of well-being or happiness. Some of the happiest and most content people I have met were farmers in rural India who by UN standards live under the poverty line of $1/day. Anyway my point is not to debate these measurements but to inquire of the philosophy the increase production/ consumption as the answer to all questions on well-being.

Communism and Socialism were invalidated as answers to societal and political problems in late 20th century. There is simple lack of long term incentive to individuals to perform well. However we have found of late the glaring gaps of blatant capitalism, free market and government non-intervention. I wouldn't say that this is a recent problem in US. Health care and discrepancy in benefits available to rich and poor have been issues for debate over the years. By intervening in the markets US has severely impacted its credibility to preach on many occasions coax countries on free market philosophy.

Coming back to the original question of leadership. It is quite obvious that India and China would grow at an exponential rate from here. Many other developing countries would also catch up. We would most likely see them stand up on the global stage and weigh in on issues. Sometimes leadership is all about bringing the best out in others and letting them blossom. In my opinion US may be best served by following this approach and working towards integration with the world on thoughts, policies and collaborative actions. "lets make world a better place rather than let me show you how to do things our way!"

Though Europeans have had their issues, they have shown leadership in some areas. Signing Kyoto protocol and agreeing to reduce carbon emissions do stand out. Another important aspect is the current political structures in the European countries. In most countries you either have Labor or Social-democrats who lean 'left' in political terms. Might it be time for US to take a cue and think in terms of Public infrastructure, health care etc rather than how to pump more oil and give more tax credits to let people spend more. Not just Europeans but countries around the world are standing up and taking lead on issues that face the world. I do not agree that sending troops into sovereign nation is a act of leadership. It could be, but sometimes its better to be persevere and work collaborative towards a solution.

I may have been little bit all over the shop discussing this but what I am trying to say is countries around the world are doing interesting things. It might be time for US to notice that and learn; it might be time to follow.
Added Sep 22
Some intersting articles on the topic.
Funny and cynical view on the same subject -
Fallout between US and Europe on how to tackle the latest financial crisis. Some quotes and link to the article

“There’s a view in Europe that this is a U.S.-made problem, and that it should be solved in the U.S.,” said Charles H. Dallara, the managing director of the Institute for International Finance, a group of 340 global banks"

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, criticized the United States and Britain for opposing German attempts to put greater regulation, or at least reviews, of the financial sector on the international agenda last year, when she was leading the Group of 7.

“Everyone who produces a real product knows what it looks like and what standards it is up to,” Mrs. Merkel said, while traveling in Austria. “One also needs to know with a financial product what’s involved. Otherwise, these sorts of things happen that we then all have to pay for.”

Christian de Boissieu, chairman of the French prime minister’s council of economic analysis, said: “The U.S. must take charge of the budgetary costs of the crisis. I’m all for trans-Atlantic solidarity, but this doesn’t include financing the bailout.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting the best out of case-method

“That’s amazing”,
“I didn’t know that”
“That’s just not right”,
"I don’t agree at at all”
“Whats going on here?”
“ I have no clue”
“How is that related?”
“This is not working!”
are just some of the thoughts that go through your head while sitting through a case discussions. We have all been there and can relate to it. Sometimes we are amazed, sometimes confused and at times frustrated. Case-method is a roller-coaster ride. It is meant to be one. Some first years came by asking for advice on how to deal with case-method and the classroom discussion. I will share my experience and attempt a brief assessment of how one can maximize learning experience through the case-method.
Look at the case method as a three stage process first ‘prepare’, second ‘participate and engage’ and third ‘reflect’.

How often have you not followed the discussion as you were trying to brush up areas of the case that you didn’t read prior? To knowledgeably contribute to the discussion at hand you must adequately prepare all material prior to the case discussion. A lack of basic understanding can jeopardize the process by taking discussion to either irrelevant or already stated and documented facts. This does not mean that one should have figured out the complete answer to the problem. As and when you encounter issues you should note them down and raise them at an appropriate time in the classroom.

Case-method will only be effective when one chooses to actively participate in the conversation. The most insightful comments are those that directly relate to the topic under discussion or are an elaboration, responses or clarification to a point made short while earlier. To contribute effectively one must be engaged and attentive. If not one merely states a position they held before coming to the class which may or may not add value. My best learning moment came in a case that asked us to decide whether a for-profit company should take up a loss making venture for the benefit of the society. I was adamantly in the “no” camp but changed my point of view when a third camp framed it as “How can it be done” rather than “yes” or “no” question. While I had my point of view for good reasons I was attentive and interested in other points of view and left the class feeling enlightened. The discussions are least constructive when students hold certain assumptions such as “I know the subject better than anyone else”, “I know the subject and this is not going to add much value”, “I know my point is right and must convince others”, “I don’t really know the subject and must not talk”. In these situations the prophecy fulfills itself as the person leaves with the same opinions they held prior to the meeting.

Another important part of case-method frequently overlooked is that of reflection. Quite frequently we leave the classroom with some new insights, questions or frustrations. On one hand we must seek answers and clarify concepts that were not completely resolved during the discussion and on the other we must examine the process. We should explore if we were able to effectively learn from others, understand their viewpoints and clearly communicate our own. At the same time ask the basic questions; was the discussion effective? Did we collectively meet the objectives we set out for the class? This examination is primary source of ongoing improvement and learning.

I believe in the roller coaster ride that is the case-method. It is truly a powerful way to learn and like all things powerful it must be used right. So prepare, participate and engage and reflect to make your case-method experience a great one!
Readers please feel free to add from your experience. Lets do this in true case-method style.

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