At the start of this post, I must totally admit that this blog entry is inspired by MBAJackAss's blog
This is was the deal...HBS was my number one choice (tied with Stanford, I thought Id make the choice when I had to cross that bridge, fortunately the decision was made easier when I got my ding from HBS).
On a personal note, I am sorta glad that I got dinged for two reasons
1) Personally I am better off being in the bay area, as my wife is from there. So as I immerse myself into a lot of course work (though I have a feeling that she will be helping me with my cases too), she has her own network of friends and family and does not have to start from scratch.
2) I will not deny that not getting into HBS hurt my ego more, than hopefully my future career prospects and personal aspirations. Everytime in my life when I get too comfortable or cocky, such events happen, and they have a remarkable effect on cooling down my temprament and helping me focus more.
So, going back to profile analysis and why I did not get into HBS !
1) M/28/India (live in The Netherlands)
- lots of applicants from this category, infact being of indian ethnicity and this age bracket hurts a little
2) GMAT 720, Undergrad - ChemEng (Bombay) top 5%, Masters - Petroleum Eng (Stanford)GPA:4.0
- I would consider this as a strong part of my app, as I am Indian but not from the traditional IT background, my GMAT percentiles were also reasonably balanced (86 percentile verbal and 90 percentile quant, 6.0 AWA).
3) 4.5 year work experience in the oil business working projects on 4 continents and 9 countries
- at the outset, one could take this as a very strong point. However, perhaps the biggest frustration is (and I realised this as I had my mgmt consultant and I banking friends comment on my essays), is that most people dont understand this business, its critical issues (besides gas going to $4/gal) and whats cool here. For example, when I described some "cool" things which I did , most of my friends went...well thats not a big deal. But given that we work in a business with 4-5 other partners (competing oil firms), governments and NGOs, even simple things like agreeing on the route of a pipeline, takes one year and is a significant achievement. Also, trying to communicate the challenges faced by our business, I noticed that a lot of people could not relate to things, as they were "normal" in other businesses.
At the same time, not many people from this business apply for MBA degrees and it should have put me in the category of "novel" candidates (unless they bunched me with the "manufacturing" group)
[To understand this business better, I recommend reading a book called THE PRIZE]
: reasonably solid. Though I was told by some of my recommenders that they had to talk to some of their counterparts who had mba degrees (as they told me later), because it turns out that:
a) the European style of writing recommendations is very different from the American style
b)European recommendations tend to be more generic
However, I think that my recommenders must have put in EXTREMELY solid recommendations, as I did get into Wharton and Stanford
5) Leadership skills
: HBS has a strng focus on this. Since my early days as a student in school to my college days, to my current position, I have held leadership positions and hence was very confident. However in my leadership essay, I described a leadership situation in the oil business, and in retrospect I feel that though it was a really good example of leadership, people unfamiliar with the business could not relate to it (ofcourse the failing is mine, for not being able to understand my audience and cater my essay)
6) The essays
: I think this was the most important
part of the app for me. And I was always a little uneasy with 1 essay. I think, I nailed all the essays but for the most important one "THREE SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS". The biggest mistake I made (or so I think), is that I chose three generic achievements. eg. my time at Stanford and how I evolved then from a student who had just lived in India, not travelled anywhere in the world to a person with a broad view, working and leading different student societies etc. But I get it generic. I put in too many details of what all I did as a student. Similarly for my other achievements, instead on focusing on something specific like ,say delivering reserves numbers for company X in country Y to the SEC, with solid detail of the challenges and what the achievement was); instead I spoke about the achievement over a protracted period of time, with too many examples, and was not able to communicate clearly, what the challenge was in each case and why it was an achievement.
Perhaps that is the reason why, I was not even invited for an interview at HBS. So my advice for essays would be:
1) Understand your audience. When you know that they might not relate to your job/line of work, dont be in denial about it. Tailor your essays so that even a high school student with zero business skills understands what you are tryin to say.
2) Focus your essay topics on specific examples and cases. The problem with being generic is that you may not be able to specify in detail what the problems were and how the solutions made sense
3) Dont shy away from hard metrics. Put in those numbers, eg. as a result of this, company X saved $50 million for the next 3 years