ISB Admit Journey and MBA Application Tips During COVID-19 | Q&A with Manan Puri

At Stoodnt, we primarily started with MBA admissions consulting for foreign business schools. With time, we realized that there are a lot of folks who need help with MBA applications for Indian B-Schools like IIMs and ISB. In fact, in the last couple of years, we received tons of queries regarding ISB admission consultants. We have published a few articles on ISB admissions with Strategy4GMAT, one of the best ISB MBA admission consulting firms in India. In this post, we will try to understand more about pre-MBA careers, ISB admissions, life at ISB, post-MBA careers, MBA application tips during COVID-19, the impact of COVID-19 on the MBA job market in India, and more through Manan Puri, ISB alum (Class of 2013) and Co-founder of Strategy4GMAT (S4G).

ISB Admit Story & MBA Application Tips During COVID-19

Q&A with Manan Puri, Co-founder, Strategy4GMAT

Tanmoy: Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Manan: Sure.

My professional experience spans across strategy & business management domains within the financial services and HR consulting sectors.

I am an MBA from the Indian School of Business (ISB) and hold a Bachelor in Commerce (with Hons.) from the University of Delhi (DU). In addition, I am a certified Cost & Management Accountant from ICAI. Outside of work, you would find me glued to cricket or watching a movie (language no bar) for the nth time!

Tanmoy: What was your motivation behind starting S4G? How did you come up with the idea of getting into GMAT prep and MBA admissions consulting?

Manan: Even though both my Co-founder (Abhishek Chawla) and I applied to ISB 3 years apart, a consistent need for end-to-end admissions mentoring from someone who has ‘been there-done that’ was there.

In addition, we realized through our respective GMAT journeys that knowing the concepts is not enough; a sound strategy leads to a difference of ~30 points between mocks and the actual test!

Hence, the continued mission is to (a) help GMAT takers improve their score without additional prep with the help of a personalized strategy, (b) mentor MBA aspirants with first-hand knowledge of the MBA admissions process, and (c) make MBA admissions consulting more affordable.

Tanmoy: Could you please tell our readers how they can get into strategy / financial services roles after graduation (without an MBA degree)?

Manan: Starting your career in such roles is easier if you are from the top-tier undergraduate colleges in the country is possible. However, you are able to appreciate the nuances a lot more or have an easier bet to have a long-term career in the industry if you have an MBA.

Tanmoy: Why did you opt for an MBA? How did you come to the decision that an MBA would be the right step for you?

Manan: Prior to ISB, I worked for ~4 years in private equity research. An MBA from a top-tier b-school was always in my plans and the level of work-ex is usually apt to switch industries. From an employer’s point of view, it is easier for them to let you un-learn / re-learn skills and practices. In addition, you are not very invested in your current profile/industry which makes it difficult to move on to newer pastures post-MBA.

Tanmoy: Could you please share your MBA application journey – GMAT prep, school shortlisting, MBA essays, recommendations, interview, etc.?

Manan: My path towards GMAT was similar to a number of Indian applicants. That is, you embark on it only after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at CAT! 

For GMAT, I referred to the Official Guide and forums such as GMAT Club for practice. I consistently took mock tests to get into the habit of concentrating continuously for 3-4 hours. I also focused on the test-taking Strategy (focusing better on timing, speed-accuracy matrix, etc.).

Target list of schools was easy since I always wanted to stay and work in APAC. I applied to and got through ISB, NUS and NTU.

Guidance from alumni and industry veterans from these schools helped me zero-in on ISB for the diversity of its class, the alumni network, the faculty, and the structured placement process. The other two schools were equally good and it was a tough choice!

For the application, I engaged with one of the top-tier admissions consultants. While they provided good inputs, lack of personalized advice, and a cap on the number of essay reviews became a problem at the end. Using whatever I worked with them as a base, I had to build upon the application myself and got a couple of alumni friends to review.

My Line Manager in India and Head of the Function in the US agreed to provide the recommendation. In those days (2011!), ISB asked for two recommendations. For the interview practice, a couple of friends helped conduct mock interviews. The D-day wasn’t a breeze but I guess I did well J

Tanmoy: Could you please share a few tips on how students should prepare about getting into ISB?

Manan: The key is to start early- both building your profile and your application. Contrary to popular belief, there is no checklist-based approach to getting into ISB. ISB looks for a number of key traits such as leadership, ownership, diversity, entrepreneurial spirit, etc. These need to be demonstrated well through examples and stories in the essays.

You can either be slightly above a jack-of-all-trades or truly master a few. Hence, always try to focus on going the extra mile at work, consciously (but not for the sake of an admit!) develop hobbies/extra-curricular which add to the package.

For the application process, thorough research on the school is key and more importantly, how you would add value to your peers and Brand ISB. I cannot stress enough about the structure of the application. Your credentials alone will not help, you need to put them a coherent structure in the essays and the application.

Tanmoy: Your thoughts on the ISB MBA program? How was your experience studying at ISB?

Manan: At the start of the program during the O-week (orientation week), the alumni from the class of 2012 said this would be the ‘best year of your lives’. The year turned out to be nothing short of that. The learning through classroom teaching, working on various events and projects, interacting with world-renowned faculty was unparalleled. In addition, it was a humbling experience to work with a diverse set of peers.

For example, I had a doctor, an army veteran, a music composer & singer (who worked with A.R. Rahman), a state-level cricketer, etc. studying with engineers and commerce graduates such as me.

It was at ISB, where the seed of entrepreneurship and more so the education space was planted in my head which has now manifested into S4G! 

Related Articles:

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Tanmoy: When you look back, what do you think – how effective was the MBA and how the ISB experience shaped your post-MBA career journey?

Manan: Apart from the hard-skills and knowledge around areas such as strategy, marketing, sales, technology, etc., the experience at ISB has enabled me to look at problems differently. Only when you solve business challenges at work, you realize how the perspective and approach have changed pre and post-ISB. In addition, for at least the first 5 years, brand ISB enabled me to have a ‘foot-in-the-door’ at a number of professional opportunities – be it employment or entrepreneurship

Tanmoy: What would be your advice for the folks who are considering studying MBA?

Manan: Be clear on what you want out of the MBA and then the school you are targeting.

It is YOUR journey and YOU define the success factors. Good to take inspiration from others’ footsteps but focus on what’s right for YOU. This can be re-purposed to a piece of life advice as well!

Tanmoy: Any career advice for the folks on how to decide MBA in India vs MBA abroad and 1-year MBA vs 2-year MBA?

Manan: An important factor is the “location” where you want to live in the short and long-term. If you want to work in a particular country then an MBA from there adjacent favorable countries is a good option. For e.g. if you want to stay in London, then schools in Spain, France, Switzerland are good options apart from the UK.

1 vs 2-year MBA matters in the very short-term but not in the long-term, an extra year spent at school from a 25-year long career doesn’t matter much! Focus on the school, not the duration.

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Tanmoy: There are many other MBA admissions consultants in India. How do you plan to add more value to applicants and what makes S4G unique?

Manan: As I mentioned earlier, we want to bridge the gap we faced while applying to b-school – personalized, unlimited and relevant guidance for the applicants.

Our team has not only successfully gone through the admissions process of the top schools, but also been a part of the application review panels and interviewing pool. More importantly, they have first-hand exposure to the post-MBA opportunities so they are able to mentor the applicants in choosing the right schools and polishing their goals.

In addition, the unique model of “owning the application” by offering unlimited consulting hours and reviews for a fixed-fee helps us align our success to our clients’ success. This is also reflected in our results (94% interview calls and 86% final admits).

Tanmoy: Your thoughts on the COVID scenario? How is it going to impact MBA admissions and the job market for MBA graduates in India? 

Manan: These are clearly unprecedented times and there have been comparisons with the Great Depression of the 1920s. The vaccine is expected to come out by end of this year and the economies that have flattened the curve are already showing signs of recovery, faster than expected. I expect it to be an overall U-shaped recovery by the end of next year. The Indian economy is resilient and poised for growth as there would be a spike in offshoring and setup of global hubs.

Students graduating in 2021 will face challenges but not the 2022 graduates. Hence, it is a good time to ride the storm, come out of it with higher skills, and be better equipped for the new normal!

Getting into top b-schools could be tougher this year as a number of students have deferred their admissions. Also, the number of applicants is expected to increase!

Even the 2008-09 crises provides credible evidence to this effect. According to Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), more than 60% of MBA programs received more applications than previous year. Even in India, the Indian School of Business (ISB) witnessed a 20% increase in the applications for the 2009 intake. Placements since 2010 have seen a positive trend.

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