London Business School – My Journey
Jyoti Ramnath – a software engineer, a successful entrepreneur and a multi-faceted personality – shares experiences about her journey to the London Business School, ranked #4 globally.
Jyoti’s Profile at a glance!
– Founder of CraftMyGift, an e-commerce venture that specializes in developing personalized gifts for individuals and corporates
– Head of Bangalore Chapter at HeadStart Network Foundation
– User Interface Design Lead at Hewlett Packard for 6 years
– Management Program for Women Entrepreneurs (MPWE) at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, 2007
– Visvesvaraya Technological University, BE, Computer Science
On July 22nd 2012, Jyoti participated in a face-to-face session at our Koramangala center. We have collated the questions that were asked by our inquisitive participants during the session. We all learnt a lot from Jyoti’s journey to LBS !
All about her GMAT…
Would you please share your GMAT experiences with us?
I attempted my GMAT twice, once before joining CrackVerbal and another after joining it. My first score was 650 and the second one was 710!
After your first attempt, how did you change your GMAT preparation before the second one?
Both the times my Quant score remained almost the same but my Verbal improved a lot (from 33 to 40)! I felt that Sentence Correction was tricky, so I practiced those types of questions repeatedly.
What I changed most was my TIME MANAGEMENT because even if I had the knowledge previously, I took time to clearly understand the concept behind each problem and that meant spending more time than I could afford per question. Practicing with a timer (such as available at GMATClub.com) helped me immensely.
I also kept Googling for stuff, browsed through relevant threads on international forums and spent time on each question to understand the logic very precisely.
Though there are several flash cards available online, but I preferred making my own flash cards based on my weaknesses on the GMAT. Whenever I made an error, I used to pen it down in the form of a flash card.
Also, with regards to the GMAT books available, I mostly referred Official Guide, Verbal Review Guide, Advance Sets and GMAT Prep Questions provided by CrackVerbal.
My mantra had been: ‘Study and practice daily and be focused!’
What really helped you in Verbal to boost your score from 33 to 40?
With regards to Verbal, CrackVerbal was my real savior! As I am not a native English speaker, Verbal section was a real challenge for me. For my first attempt I referred several books on Verbal, which were not of great help.
Initially, I was finding it difficult to identify patterns in Verbal and it was at this point where the CrackVerbal classes helped me a lot. In the classes, I went through each SC concept, CR question type and RCs of different lengths of various difficulty levels. I was able to recall my concepts much easily after discussing problems in a group.
CrackVerbal classes were backed by ample amount of good teaching and open discussions which elucidated my doubts.
The instructors, most particularly Arun kept the classes energetic and engaging and also conducted multiple classes on advanced concepts. CrackVerbal team also offered advanced classes, all the advanced documents and practice questions which were of great significance in preparing for the real GMAT.
The best thing I appreciate about CrackVerbal is that it works with the students to crack the GMAT in their own unique ways!
MBA goals and B-Schools…
So Jyoti, how do you answer the basic question that probably comes up a lot – why MBA?
I have actually worked in a technical role for almost 6 years after which I started my own business without any formal training in the field. I was instinctively taking decisions and at a lot of places, did not really understand how businesses operate.
That is when I felt the need for formal education in this area. When attempting this question in my essays, I noted key goals that form a part of my business plan after the course.
So the real reasons may be the brand value that a school will add or something along those lines, but I answered in a school-specific way and said how the MBA at that particular school would fill the gaps in my understanding of running businesses.
Try to answer in specifics. So if you plan to enter the family business after your MBA, I see no harm in mentioning that as a strong motive – to take your family’s business to the next level!
How important is it to be a consistently good performer in your career?
If you try a number of different things in your life, you are bound to fail at some and succeed at others, but the point you should stress on is the number of new things you learnt along the way.
So, the more the number of things you try out, the more the number of stories you can show in your application.
For instance, in HP, I stressed on the original initiatives I personally took in the company and not just the technical work I did for all those years.
So you can very well write about activities outside the work place where you have excelled, as long as they were in roles requiring skills desirable in an MBA graduate. Specifically, don’t mention incidents that do not seem consistent with the rest of your application.
Add examples that give a strong basis to your stories, so your performance need not be judged quantitatively on marks and grades alone. So, your overall image should look like a progression instead of confusing the readers.
How should we decide between a 1-year and a 2-year course?
A 2-year course means more exposure, more learning and more studies as compared to a 1-year course. So if you are planning to change your field after the MBA and enter a new line of work like management or consulting, a 2-year MBA will be better.
Then you have the chance to do an internship where you can take up a role in the new area of interest and this will count a lot in your eventual placement. A 2-year program will be more wholesome always and really allow you to get a good feel of the new place and new work.
But if you are looking at the MBA as a boost to your career rather than as a means to make a career switch, then a 1-year MBA will be fine too.
It is said that every B-School has a domain forte – some are famous for finance, some for marketing and so on. How should we take that into account when applying?
You should thoroughly read what the schools have to say on their websites, but more importantly, go through discussion forums where alumni and experts actively discuss school-specific strengths.
Though all B-schools aim for diversity in classes, a lot of applicants with similar backgrounds apply to them because of the school’s image, location or any such factor. You can look for other pointers when judging a B-school, such as the kind of conferences it hosts or events it organizes regularly.
Most colleges have clubs for marketing or entrepreneurship but they are stronger and more active in certain schools, so you can use such information to differentiate between schools.
As you said different schools have different fortes, then how can I find out if I am the right fit for a particular school?
Instead of looking at school selection in this way, I think you should go the other way round, see what you want in a school and then see which school fits your requirements. For this, you should have clear goals and plans post your MBA.
See where you want to be, what industry you want to be in, what kind of profiles do you want to join, and accordingly see if the school can take you there. As long as your goals are aligned with the school’s mission, don’t worry about the ‘fit’ part. For instance, if you want to become a technical entrepreneur, try to aim for schools in the Silicon Valley.
The idea is that the school should smoothly become the next step in your career path and not be forcefully fit into the plans.
MBA application …
When applying to B-Schools with different strengths, should I rewrite my application or present the same thing to everyone?
It is better to customize your application every time. For instance, you have 5 points that you want to stress on, you may keep 3 common but 2 will have to be B-school specific. Bring out points like how you will contribute back to their community, how you have heard a lot about some society they have that you wish to join, or how you believe you can lead a particular club.
Be prepared with school-specific research, so that you are not equipped with just the names but also particulars and details about them. At the same time be cautious that though you have a mix of different stories for each school, the final output shouldn’t be like a jigsaw but still present a complete well rounded personality.
Someone reading your application shouldn’t get confused but should get a common thread between the various stories.
In our application process, should we be brutally exact in telling who we are or should we aim at keeping a check on writing about who we are not?
That’s again a matter of choosing the right words. Suppose you have problems prioritizing things in life, instead of being too frank or candid about it, try to put it in a more balanced way and add steps you are taking for improvement.
A lot a schools ask what you consider your weakness is. Here, try to put it in a way that shows you are not only aware about your own flaws but are actively working on them as well.
Again, don’t pick such a major flaw that the school thinks you are unfit to join, but pick something which can be changed and improved upon.
When writing about what you think you are weak at, write clear steps you are taking to get better on that particular front. Sometimes candidates try to be clever and say stuff like ‘I’m a workaholic’ or ‘I don’t think I have any weaknesses.’
Remember, the admissions committee has years and years of experience in sorting out such cases and these points will immediately prove to be red flags in your overall application. So write some point of weakness because no one is expected to be perfect and present a thorough action plan along with it.
After writing the essays and completing the application, are the reviews provided by the consultants important? Also, most consultants who do these reviews online are very expensive.
Consultants can help but then you should spend time with them so that they can judge whether your application matches your personality or not. I had a close friend who critically reviewed my work all through the process.
Pick a buddy who knows you and is equally serious about you getting into the B-school. I don’t know how helpful single reviews through online consultants are, but make sure your essays don’t sound too professional and have the personal touches.
There are books with sample essays you can buy from the market but all that didn’t work for me. So I can’t say there’s a particular way to nail the essays. Being vivid and very expressive helped when I applied in the second round. So the same content presented in a different way worked for me.
Should my future goals necessarily align with my past work experience?
Your previous work should ideally be all pointing towards a collective future goal, but that’s not always the case. Whatever you write, ensure that your reasons for doing an MBA do not look like you are uninterested or bored of your job and think of a B-school as a way out.
So don’t adopt an ‘away’ strategy that makes it look like you are escaping from an unwanted professional scene. Rather, go for a ‘towards’ plan of action that clearly portrays how the MBA will help you achieve your future goals.
In my R1 applications, I lacked clarity when stating why I was shifting my career now and there were elements that left gaps in my future planning.
When I applied for the second time, I made sure my applications showed a smooth progression of work and events in my professional life and made the MBA look like a part of my planning all along.
So write about things you are passionate about, write about experiences in your job that made you reconsider your career path or instances which motivated you to go forward. Writing about your passion can be gelled into your application by making the MBA aimed at ways to monetize it.
I have changed job fields a few times- IT, Research, Consulting. People who know me well are the ones with whom I worked 3 – 4 years back, but the ones I work with presently have known me only for a couple of years. Who should I approach for recommendations?
It is generally advised that you do not take recommendations from very old employers or colleagues because over the years your personality changes and you may today be very different from what they remember of you from years back.
The recommendation will be partly about your working abilities but will also be focused on your personality. So irrespective of whether you have a consulting job or a tech job, telling recent stories that bring out desirable traits of character should be encouraged.
For instance I was in a tech job for 6 years, but have put in only a chosen few instances from that time. I had initiated a few activities in office like starting brainstorming sessions and leading teams – such stories bring out an overall personality that does not necessarily look bounded by the technical work I was involved in.
Broadly speaking, keep your recommendations within 3 years as the admissions committee will be more interested in knowing how you are doing now. If you absolutely have to take recommendations from the past, try to include only those stories which happened near the end of your tenure in the previous company.
I am not telling my present employer that I am leaving them, so how should I ask for recommendations?
Some schools like Harvard directly ask you why you are planning to leave your present job. Thus to a certain extent, the schools themselves are aware of the fact that in a professional workplace you probably cannot be that forthcoming about your MBA plans.
In such cases you can take one recommendation from a person who knows you through extracurricular activities and not necessarily in a professional capacity.
Sometimes it may also happen that if both your recommenders are from the same workplace, they may end up giving the same examples or quoting the same instances. Trying to include people from different spheres of your life will add a broader perspective to your stories.
When I was asked why I am not giving any recommendation from my current supervisor, I had to explain that for the past couple of years I was my own boss. You should understand that everything aside, the school just wants to ensure that you were not a bad employee as such.
So try to get a recent professional recommendation, apart from that you can always have someone who knows you in any capacity outside work- say you’ve been working in an NGO for a long time now, or you lead some social organization on the sides.
Just ensure that such extracurricular involvement is not something generic like volunteering on weekends, but is instead a well defined role where you have shown leadership skills, taken initiatives or have been running teams. Just passive involvement from outside will not add anything to your application.
So phrase your wordings in such a way as to show different and unique facets of your character.
Is it like an unsaid rule that taking recommendations from alumni helps increase your chances for that school?
I too have heard this but none of my recommendations came from people who were associated with any of the schools I applied to. It’s always better to take it from people who know you and your work very well and can give instances and examples about you.
So the fact that they have worked with you closely is, I think, of more importance than their association with your target school.
Is it recommended to talk to alumni from the particular school before sitting for interviews?
I did try to get in touch with people who have recently been associated with all the schools I applied to, I had cousins in the US whose connections helped me, and then there is LinkedIn which I thoroughly explored.
Talking to alumni helps if they can shed some light on the school’s trend, but only if they are actually open to giving out details. Some merely repeat whatever is mentioned on the school’s website which you will already know.
Do our chances of getting a scholarship go down if we apply in the second round?
I applied in the second round and got an 80% scholarship. So it’s not necessarily true. I can’t say about all, but most schools keep the scholarship decision after the final round. Some schools also require you to write separate essays when applying for scholarships while others consider the ones you have already submitted to them.
So it’s different for different schools. But if you talk about R3, then chances are definitely low. The rest may depend on the scholarship source also. Some schools provide help, for instance, mine is an LBS scholarship itself.
Otherwise there are recruiters like Deutsch Bank who provide some scholarships and judge applicants on how well their views are matched with the company policies and vision. Then there are scholarships earmarked for specific applicant sections, like for women or candidates from developing countries.
Some scholarships may be strictly academic such as most of those at Stanford, but other schools look at the overall candidate profile and take into account, criteria like their extra-curricular activities, involvement in NGOs etc.
To clear the heavy student loans, what is the time period within which you have to find a job after your MBA abroad?
Most VISAs are issued for 2 months after course completion. So after graduating you can stay in that country for a couple of months while searching for job. LBS offers the option to complete the MBA in 15, 18 or 21 months. I am planning to finish within 18 months, so that it leaves me with five months after college to explore the job front.
Also, most colleges allow you to work part time in the second year with VISA limits of up to 20 hours per week. I know of an LBS alumnus who managed to clear his debt through the part time work itself by the time his degree completed.
With the recent changes in VISA rules and government policies, there is talk of major slowdown in placements, especially in UK. How do you factor that in?
First of all you should talk to as many current students and recent graduates from that school as possible. They can give you more ground details and will be more aware of the situation. The change of policies may damage the work possibilities but it is expected that top schools will not be affected much.
So for me this is not a concern when joining LBS. All across the globe the job scene is a bit dull right now, so the situation is unavoidable I guess. A lot of international recruiters may actually place you in the Asia Pacific region so that it is easier with the VISA and other formalities.
Most recruiters also want to maintain good relations with good schools, so they will come for hiring. And if they really like you, there are always possibilities to explore!
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