Monday, June 7, 2010

A chat with ClearAdmit

Last week I attended the virtual MBA wired event. Though was not able to chat with multiple adcoms present because of my ditchy internet connection, I managed to get some valuable insights from ClearAdmit experts (Graham Richmond, co-founder of clearAdmit and Kevin Chen). I'd love to share that with you.

A: What are your views on US schools, INSEAD, and ISB?

Graham Richmond: INSEAD has a very different student body than the ISB (more international) - and a better global brand (for the time being at least). If you want to work in Singapore or SE Asia, INSEAD's Singapore-based campus is going to be stronger when it comes to placement in that region...There is a strong geographical pull associated with placement stats from even the most highly ranked MBA programs...As such, if you know you want to work in the US, you are likely best off targeting US programs. Some of this depends on what sort of job you want post-MBA. For example, if you want to work at McKinsey, you might be better off at INSEAD than you would be at a second-tier program in the US...

Kevin Chen: The ISB is a good choice if you want to stay in India - and, to a certain extent, its reputation is growing in the rest of Asia. But if you want to work in the US or Europe, you may want to consider programs that are perceived as being more global.

Graham Richmond: Just wanted to introduce Kevin Chen from Clear Admit, who will be here to take your questions for the next 1.5 hours. Kevin is a former McKinsey consultant and has degrees from Princeton (ugrad), Harvard (Kennedy School) and Stanford (Management). Kevin Chen is based in Taiwan. He is also fluent in Mandarin and has extensive experience helping Asia-based applicants target top business schools.

A: Thanks Graham for your time. Kevin, I am in IT from last 6 years in India. To move into IT consulting or Technology management, shall I target 1 year course or 2 years?

Kevin Chen: I would recommend 2-year programs, so that you would have more time to make the transition. It especially would be beneficial to have the summer internship between the first and second years to crack your way into the consulting world. INSEAD is doable because it does have a summer internship, even though it's a 1-year program. But in general, consulting firms tend to prefer candidates from two-year programs, unless the applicant already had consulting experience before b-school. Also, if you are going from IT to IT consulting then could target 1 year. If you were more interested in other types of consulting an internship or 2 year programme would help.

A: IT consulting and management consulting are different. So shall I specifically target for school with IT consulting?

Kevin Chen: They certainly are different, but the recruiting is actually fairly similar, and the line is blurring - many IT consulting firms are now doing strategy consulting work. But yes, certain schools are better known for IT consulting.

A: And, will consulting companies will be interested in students who don’t have any consulting exp?

Kevin Chen: FYI I got into McKinsey without any prior consulting experience, so it definitely can be done. I know you're talking about IT consulting, but the recruitment is similar, and the fact that you've already had IT experience should help.

A: That’s why I want to consider IT consulting, since my cousin working in McKinsey told me that your career will grow with double speed in IT consulting than in IT industry. Am I thinking in right direction?

Kevin Chen: Yeah, that's generally correct. If you don't mind working insane hours and sometimes dealing with over-demanding clients, yes, IT consulting can be much more lucrative.

A: Wow Kevin. That’s a motivation :) And after few years, I could join back the IT corporate at senior management level, right?

Kevin Chen: Yes that's a fairly typical career path.

A: Great, can you just let me know 2-3 top schools for IT consulting?

Kevin Chen: MIT, Tepper and McCombs are all excellent for IT consulting

A: Is this silly to ask how to decide between technology management and IT consulting?

Kevin Chen: No it's not silly at all, but I would say the answer really has more to do with what you ultimately want to do with your career. No one choice is objectively better than the other.

A: Last year I was in waitlist for 3 top US MBA schools. One reason was I applied in later rounds. But major reason was my overrepresented group. Kevin, as you have worked with many Asian applicants, could you let me know how an IT Indian guy could make himself competitive?

Kevin Chen: From working with my Indian/Asian clients, I definitely know how frustrating it can be to be from such an over-represented and talented group. The way to differentiate yourself from this competitive group is to demonstrate as much leadership and management experiences/skills as possible in your applications. The US adcoms tend to have a stereotype that Asian applicants are very intelligent and analytically savvy, but they may not possess much leadership experience or community service/extracurricular activities. The more you can beat this stereotype, the more attractive your profile will be, when compared to other applicants in this group.

A: That’s a great insight. I am targeting for Harvard, Kellogg, and UCLA

Kevin Chen: Of those three schools, Harvard is especially keen on seeing leadership experiences.

A: But I always have second thoughts applying to Harvard. Frankly tell me, is it really possible for an IT guy from India to get into Harvard or shall I focus my efforts to some other school?

Kevin Chen: If you look at the HBS essay questions, the very first (and most important) one asks you directly to list your three most substantial accomplishments. This is an indication that the adcom really wants to know what you have actually done in the leadership arena.

A: What are the major aspects of the GSB (Stanford) I should know?

Kevin Chen: The GSB adcom is looking for what they consider "natural leaders", so it's critical that you demonstrate leadership and management skills, either at work or in your community service/extracurricular activities. It's definitely true that the GSB has a soft spot for applicants who want to "save the world". They attract a good number of the "do-gooders".

A: Hmm, that’s valuable. I'm asking this question through my blog and posted to clearAdmit as well. How important is job designation or title for an adcom?

Kevin Chen: Ah I see. Yes, designation is important, especially when it's easily understood by the adcom. For example, with McKinsey, if someone received direct promotion from Business Analyst to Associate, the adcoms know that only the top few % of analysts receive that designation, so these will be viewed as a cut above the other analysts. On the other hand, it's problematic if someone stays at the same company for many years but does not have a promotion in title to show for - this, again, is a problem for a lot of IT applicants because many technology firms tend to have a very "flat" structure

A: Yes, that’s exactly the challenge in my case. My role has increased significantly but just one promotion. How to overcome this challenge?

Kevin Chen: The way to overcome that is by being very specific in your essays about how your responsibilities have increased (e.g., no. of people you managed, $ of budget under your charge; no. of clients you're responsible for; etc.)

A: Yes, I'll mention all the quantitative data about my role but do adcom know about the flat IT companies’ structure and take that into consideration?

Kevin Chen: As I was saying, without job title promotions, what you should do is focus on presenting tangible, increasing achievements and responsibilities at work in your application essays. Also, it would be important for your recommenders to support your claim that your responsibilities and leadership have increased despite the lack of job title change.

A: In Resume, to show the progress shall I mention my role with my title e.g.
Software Engineer, Team Lead (2008 - Present)
Software Engineer, Technical Analysts (2007 - 2008)

Kevin Chen: Yes, it's important in your resume to show all your job title changes, so the reader can readily see how you've progressed at the same company. Any role change should be noted even if it does not come with a higher salary/title/promotion etc... esp. if you are a younger candidate

A: Any important tips on Resume writing?

Kevin Chen: You should not expect the admissions officer who's reading your resume to be automatically familiar with all the terminologies of your industry, and therefore you should write your resume in a way that a non-industry person can appreciate. Furthermore, all the adcom officers are very "impact-focused", meaning they want to hear specific details on what you've actually accomplished, not general and vague claims of achievement.

A: How important are the quantitative achievements?

Kevin Chen: Remember that business schools care much more about how good you are at managing/leading people, and much less about how good you are analytically and technically.

A: Thanks a lot Kevin for your valuable comments :)

Kevin Chen: Ok I'm off too - thanks for your kind words.



  1. Thanks for sharing this A...very good insights in there. And as Kevin mentioned i too would suggest you to explore Tepper if you are keen on IT consulting.You can contact Madalgoue who would be starting this year at Tepper

  2. Thanks sh00nya :) I am already waitlisted in Tepper. Applied late. Awaiting result anytime. Most probably a ding at this stage. And ya i'll surely contact her.

  3. Thanks for sharing this A. Great post and immensely helpful!

  4. I think this is important in MBA,i like this article is helpful...

  5. Useful article, These articles are important for people that is looking for MBA programs.


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