Interview with a New MBA Recruit at Graduate School of Business, Columbia University

 | August 13,2010 06:24 pm IST

1. Give us a brief background about yourself.

Age: 28 years.


Years of experience prior to commencement of MBA: 5 years.


Industry in which pre-MBA experience gained: Consulting, Corporate Finance.


Prior educational background: Physics & Philosophy B.Sc., Nottingham.


Any extra-curricular activities / community service: I provide strategic and operational advice to a young international development charity, with a focus on education.



2. What was your GMAT score?



3. Did you take any preparatory classes for the GMAT?



4. What would you recommend to candidates preparing for the GMAT? (Online courses / mock-tests, material used, time for preparation, etc.)

Everyone focuses on the Maths side of the GMAT, and rightly so, because it's a serious headache! However, the biggest tip I have (especially for native English-speakers) is to nail the verbal. An outstanding verbal score brings the total up to stratospheric levels with relative ease. Maths is important too, but a good Maths score can be translated into an exceptional GMAT with a good verbal score.


My second tip is to allow enough time to screw-up the GMAT and retake it. There is a large standard error on the GMAT scores. So you're playing with fire if you bet on only having to take it once.


Allow a LOT of time to get your GMAT technique up to scratch. Anyone with secondary school Maths can solve any question on the GMAT, so knowing the Maths isn't the complete picture. To get a good score, you need to cut down the steps taken to answerthe question, which means knowing all the short-cuts so you can use to manipulate the numbers rapidly.


To get it sorted, use all the available resources to get you up to speed. The GMAC books are a good source of questions, but they don't give many tough examples, and you need to be able to process the tough ones time after time due to the CAT system. I used the complete Premier Kaplan book first - it had a fantastic course book for the whole GMAT and extra online tests, too. The questions are also pretty tough. However, for issues with specific types of problems you find hard, invest in the Manhattan GMAT books for exemplary technique. They will give you the short-cuts and manipulations you need to overcome your short-comings.


They also give you the hardest online tests of all. After reading the Manhattan GMAT book on numbers, I wished I'd been taught Maths differently at high school. It's kind of nerdy, but I actually understand elementary Maths better as a result!


Once you think you're up to scratch, start to work through the GMAC books. Also use the website - it will teach you to perfect the timing. Finally, once you've done everything else and you think you can answer any question in 1 minute 45 seconds, get the Kaplan 800 book for advanced students. That will give you the hardest questions and round out your approach.


Finally, it's worth saying again - allow yourself time to screw-up and retake.


Application Process 

5. Name three schools you applied to, and which round did you apply?

a. School: Columbia - Round: Rolling - I applied in December
b. School: Harvard - Round: 2
c. School: Wharton - Round: 2


6. Who did you seek your recommendations from? Did you face any issues when informing your superiors about your decision to pursue the MBA?

I had three. One from the lead partner at my current firm; one from a partner at my previous firm; one from the director of the charity that I mentor.
My former colleague and the charity director were enormously supportive. My current boss, less so. It turns out that he just needed to understand the detail of the why.


Make sure you have that straight in your head before you speak with your recommenders. Prepare a little information pack for them detailing what, where, why, and when. Make sure they really understand what each school offers, why their recommendation is so important, and what role it plays in the application as a whole. Provide plenty of guidance and refresh their memory with examples they can use.


Some useful advice I received was to ask my boss for a recommendation, if it is at all possible. Most people will feel honoured if you ask them to help with something so personal and important. If you don't ask your boss to help, when you tell them you're leaving their most likely response will be, "Why didn't you ask me?"