Most aspiring MBA candidates are bound to face this question during the crucial second round of battle before gaining access to those hallowed campuses – Yup! The dreaded Personal Interview. At the outset, let me clarify that this article is NOT going to help you crack this almost-certain question. Quite the contrary – in fact, you would do better by not using any of the following reasons or arguments. The only purpose of this piece is to scratch beneath the surface of the usual reasons aspirants put forth and disperse some of the glamour pre-attached to the course.
Pose the question off-hand to any aspirant well before the entrance tests (just to catch him/her off guard to get an honest answer!). Replies will usually follow these lines:
- The matter-of-fact “higher remuneration or different/better job profile” (a.k.a “Placements... Period!”)
- The well-rehearsed “skill development and knowledge accumulation to enhance my managerial abilities” (a.k.a “I assume they teach something brilliant/different at B-School which will transform me”)
- The less frequent “developing/fine-tuning an entrepreneurial venture”
- The rarely heard, completely brazen, but often true “I’m bored of my job; I just wanna go back to college life for a while!”
Starting with the most frequent of the above – but of course, the “Placements” reason, especially achieving a higher remuneration. Almost every MBA aspirant has dollar signs in his/her eyes, and not without reason. Considering the much-publicised placement reports of every top B-School, ambitious young people are naturally attracted to this two-year path to better numbers. The pitfall lies in how much you take these “numbers” for granted.
Consider this: Average salary figures published are almost always the CTC (cost-to-company) – hidden adjustments ensure that the final cash actually credited to your bank account is altogether different. More popular than the average salary, is the highest salary number – do remember that it is only a handful of people (sometimes fewer, or maybe just one person) who actually manage to bag such good offers; the majority will be at or lower than the average mark. And don’t forget, getting that salary figure also burnt a huge hole in your pocket over two years of MBA (some might even consider the opportunity cost of not earning during the period).
You can argue that it is one of these several thousand aspirants who eventually gets that big number – it is not an impossible feat. True, it is not impossible. However, be informed that the lucky guy/girl worked EXTREMELY hard in those two years to be able to shine through 250+ very bright individuals. The basic economic maxim remains true – There is No Free Lunch. If your true objective is to be catapulted into the higher orbit of corporate remuneration, merely getting into one of the top B-Schools of the country is not going to be enough. Better gear up and work hard to make a distinct mark in the midst of your competent peers.
A similar argument holds true for those wishing to switch their fields or getting a better job profile. An MBA is a great way to venture into a new field – it allows you time to familiarise yourself with various disciplines (popularly categorised into Marketing, Finance, Operations, Human Resources) and career opportunities will be made available at the end of two years. However, just like the big numbers, a dream job profile is not yours for the asking. If one would like to make a career in marketing at an FMCG, or pursue I-banking at a multinational, it is often necessary to do something that could count as a serious “expression of interest” in that particular field. While it is almost certain that engineers will not need to continue on shop-floors or work as programmers after getting an MBA, one would not like to leave one’s career path to fate. There are many instances of marketing aspirants ending up in commercial banking profiles – it is better to consciously work towards and prove one’s worth in a particular field.
Those who enter B-Schools expecting the classroom learning to completely change their understanding of business, or to master secrets of successful management, might be in for a disappointment. Classroom learning will definitely help in getting acquainted with the terminology of the corporate world, or getting familiarised with the latest jargons in various fields. For those who have not had an exposure to the commercial side of things at all, the classroom will certainly equip them with the basics necessary to survive. Case studies might tell you a few interesting stories. And hopefully one gets to interact with at least a few professors who will convince you of a new perspective.
But most of the “learning” in a B-School happens outside of a classroom, in completely non-obvious ways. The “skills” that are developed are not necessarily those that you thought of acquiring when you joined (although they might be the ones which can truly help you make your way in the “real” world). Juggling several activities (non-academic more than academic!) in a limited time, meeting tight deadlines while not succumbing to pressure, understanding what motivates others and successfully leading them, working in uncertainty/ambiguity are just some of the things one might get a taste of.
This insight might come handy for those who feel their MBA experience is not going the way they expected – you feel too sleepy in the classrooms, the assignments/projects are uninspiring to say the least, and you have absolutely no clue how you will contribute to the hapless organization that you will eventually join. Don’t expect a step-by-step exercise which will inevitably transform you – the learning and change is entirely in your own hands.
Entrepreneurship is a focus which very few of us seriously have when joining a B-School (In my age bracket, I know only three people who went into B-School with entrepreneurial ambitions and absolute NO thought/intention about placements - one of them was in a school which did not have the concept of placements at all, while another is now placed with a very large multinational bank!) But if one has a serious entrepreneurial streak, a B-School is fertile ground to develop and work on the idea. The biggest advantage is the abundance of intellectual minds where you can bounce off your ideas and get honest feedback (for free!). One could also get access to interested faculty members and hence a more experienced opinion. Networking with like minds and finding eager business partners is a benefit, as is having free time to work on the idea. The only caution here is that mere interest is not enough. The entrepreneurship cell of your college or professors’ contacts will be accessible only when you have at least a basic idea in place.
All those who are brazen enough to admit that they are bored of the corporate life, and only want a slice of college life again, or that “networking” is their main objective in doing an MBA, will find that they are not disappointed. In spite of the rigour and punishing schedules prevalent in the top Indian B-Schools, campus life definitely means fun, it’s a good place to “network” and further, perhaps make great friends for life.
Finally, there is no right or wrong reason to do an MBA. All of us get into it amidst a myriad of reasons – sometimes the objectives get accomplished; it is equally likely that the reasons change along the way or don’t matter at all at the end of the course. But it is best to be honest and clear at least in one’s own mind before submitting to the grind of cracking various entrance tests, interviews, etc. Because one day, if you are still awake at 5 a.m., after a particularly gruelling night-out, doing a completely pointless (and end-less!) assignment by your least favourite professor, you might be disillusioned enough to question yourself, “Why am I doing this stupid course?” At that point, you will hopefully have an answer to soothe yourself, and stay awake a few more hours!
- Miti Vaidya
The author is an alumnus of XLRI School of Business & Human Resources (Class of 2011). Currently working as a TAS Manager, she has worked with Goldman Sachs (Global Investment Research) in the past. A graduate from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce & Economics (Batch of 2007) She is also a Chartered Accountant.