Sunday, 29 November 2015


So after the disappointing email from INSEAD on Thursday, I woke up early on Friday morning to do more research around dealing with being waitlisted. Then I noticed on the Clearadmit MBA update feed that some Round 1 results for LBS were out even though they weren't due for a week . Unlike INSEAD who calls accepted applicants, LBS conveys results to everyone via email. So with held breath I checked my emails and...

Yes! I was accepted!!!

That email totally made my day. I went from upset to ecstatic in less than 12 hours - what an emotional rollercoaster. It certainly made the waitlisted outcome from INSEAD much less of a disappointment. It is such a relief to know that no matter what, I'm going to get to do my MBA come August 2016, which is what I set out to do. Even better - no need to do more applications! Wheee!!! It would be nice to get accepted to INSEAD as well before the deposit for LBS is due in January, but at this stage I'm planning my actions as if I'm heading to LBS.

Note: You are most welcome to skip the following paragraph.
Indulging my conspiracy theory delusions here: I wonder if LBS planned this early release to time it with INSEAD's announcement? LBS and INSEAD often compete for the same candidates. By releasing their results at almost the same time, it cleverly steals some of the limelight from INSEAD. Those who got accepted to both would potentially face the tough decision of decided which to pick diminishing maximum happiness somewhat. Those who get accepted to INSEAD but not LBS would be happy they're going to INSEAD but still think about LBS (since it would've been the later news). Those who were waitlisted at INSEAD but admitted to LBS would be happier than they would've been if they had been accepted to both due to the additional happiness from the relief after the prior disappointment. Plus if INSEAD later decides it would like to accept a waitlisted candidate after all, it might be too late and the candidate might have decided to go with LBS. Ok yes I'm rambling!

In any case I've an acceptance pack on it's way to me soon. So excited! Scholarship offers are due to come out in the next couple of weeks. I'm really hoping I do get a scholarship given the astronomical cost of both the tuition and living in London. Sadly, the NZ dollar doesn't stack up so well against the British Pound. Next thing to tackle - financing!

Friday, 27 November 2015

And the INSEAD Results Are...

INSEAD Round 1 announcements started coming out a day before the deadline. During this time I kept willing my phone to ring. Unfortunately, that never happened. Instead, I received an email in the evening informing me that I had been waitlisted. Bummer! Ok I was really really gutted.

Yes, being waitlisted means that I wasn't rejected so there's still hope. But it also means that you're left in limbo. According to the email from INSEAD, the offer could come anytime between "now and right before the program starts in August 2016". That's an 8 month window! For someone like me who is a hardcore "planner", this is pure torture. Plus, those who have researched INSEAD would know that INSEAD generally discourages reapplying if you are rejected unless your situation changes dramatically, which is rather unlikely in my case.

After receiving the announcement email, I had a minor panic that if LBS waitlisted or rejected me, I would end up in the horrible position of having nowhere to go. Luckily, because I'd applied in Round 1 it meant that I still had the chance to do another round of applications for Round 2 in January to other schools. I dreaded this though because applications take so much time and energy and not just on my part, but on the part of my recommenders as well. On hindsight, it probably would have been more prudent to have prepared my Round 2 applications when I was doing Round 1 while I was in the "application zone".

I accepted my place on the waitlist and proceeded to then spend a few hours calculating the likelihood of getting accepted from the waitlist based on the previous year's intake (ok yes it was a pointless exercise, but I really couldn't help myself). I also looked up advice for being waitlisted, of which there's plenty online. The most useful ones I've found are from and Poets and Quants.

One thing I've been actively checking myself on is to resist the impulse to dash off an update letter immediately. As mentioned in Poets and Quants, it's best to wait till a bit closer to the Round 2 announcement deadline, which isn't actually all that far away. Fingers crossed I'll get an acceptance notification really soon!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

INSEAD Interview #2

After the relaxing atmosphere of my first INSEAD interview, I was not too nervous about the second, since it would make the third MBA interview I was doing. This interview however was unexpectedly far more intense than even the LBS one.

In fact, my interviewer, a partner at an investment banking firm, covered so much we had to do it in two parts because we ran out of time the first round. So I wound up having a one hour face-to-face and then a follow up 45 min phone interview with him and never got to ask my prepared questions!

He was very very thorough and covered practically everything that you expect from an MBA/job interview and then some. Aside from the usual walk through CV, why MBA, why INSEAD, he also questioned almost all the steps I took in my CV. Many of the questions he asked was around thought processes and what I was feeling when I made various decisions which was a bit different. A few curve balls he threw me were questions about what I was feeling towards getting an MBA, any reservations I had, and what my greatest fears in doing the MBA would be.

Interestingly he asked specifically for me to describe an entrepreneurial situation and clarified that it could be within the workplace. Thankfully I actually have a hobby side business, but I think I would have struggled if I didn't have an "obvious" experience. He also asked for specific examples of when I made a good judgement and when I made a bad judgement, which was a bit different from strengths and weaknesses (he asked about those too). I basically used up every single story I had pre-prepared in this interview and had to come up with some on the spot.

The good thing about the intensity and all-rounded questioning was that it did give him a good sense of who I was. In spite of the intense and detailed questioning, I never felt like he was asking the challenging questions to "catch me out", but rather because he genuinely wanted to get to know me.
So I'm positive he'd have given me a good recommendation because at the end he summed up all my strengths and said that he thought I'd fit very well at INSEAD. Plus he mentioned that he hoped I would pick INSEAD over LBS if I got accepted to both.

My advice to INSEAD applicants is to be "real" and show your interviewers who you are as a person. Understanding your thoughts and feelings helps them connect with you and become one of your "supporters". Also, even if you don't end up going to INSEAD, if they like you and connect with you then that's another person you can add to your network.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

London Business School Interview

LBS only required one interview. The adcom however sends specific instructions to interviewers on what areas to focus on and questions to ask. As such, I was prepared for an intense "grilling" from my interviewer - an alumni who was a partner at a PE firm who had a very different background to mine.

The interview went for 1.5 hours instead of the 2 hours or so I expected. He was very nice, but like what I found with most of the LBS people I interacted with, there is a certain air of formality and conservativeness. LBS people are also a bit harder to read it seems so I wasn't too sure how I did.

The interview started off with the usual walk through CV/why an MBA/why LBS and also some questions about the career choices I made. He then focused quite a bit on leadership and teamwork experiences. He also asked what my leadership development goals were. I was asked quite a few questions on what international business experience I had as he said that this didn't come through very clearly on my CV since my career consisted of working only in NZ. LBS definitely wanted him to ask about it. The hint I got was that I needed to rewrite my CV.

LBS interviews require an impromptu presentation on a topic chosen by your interviewer - 5 mins to think and 5 mins to present. I found the presentation part a bit of a challenge because there were two parts to it. It was a case about leading change management - managing restructuring and the fact that people were not happy about it. I was asked to present a) how I would approach this with my team and how much I would share my personal feelings b) Pick one of 3 questions and also talk about that - I picked one that said to describe how to overcome resistance to change. I didn't feel like I had a good conclusion to round off the presentation because the presentation was in 2 parts though I tried to relate them. Did I mention, on-the-spot presentations are really not my strong suit?

The third part of the interview was where I got to ask questions and he gave me a lot of advice on what I should do to prep and what electives I should take. Interestingly, he suggested that I major in finance given my long term goal, although I have zero knowledge of finance. It definitely gave me something to think about post-interview.

He also advised that to get the most out of LBS's career services, you needed to try and fit within the mould and that you would struggle if they couldn't put you in a box, which happened with him. Fortunately for me, since I want to move into consulting, I'm easy for career services to put into a box.

He also said that if I got admitted, to get in touch with him and he would provide me with prep resources for finance given my lack of finance knowledge, and resources for consulting since that was what I wanted to move into. I was definitely wowed by his helpful offer and left the interview with more pre-MBA tasks to add to my to-do list.

INSEAD Interview #1

Following the email invitation to interview from INSEAD, I was sent the contact details of the two INSEAD alumni and instructed to arrange interviews with them.

My first interview was an alumni working as a Relationship Manager at a bank. Surprisingly, I was invited to his home for the interview as he lived not too far from me. Most of the reports I read about INSEAD interviews was that it was conversational. This was true of my first interview. It was really casual - so much so my interviewer told me he was just about to vacuum when I arrived! 

Contrary to what I expected, there weren't a whole lot of questions asked. He started of telling a bit about himself as his background was entirely different to mine and then got me to talk through my CV, why I wanted to do an MBA and why INSEAD - questions that were entirely expected. Then he asked about my goals and about team work and what my leadership style was. There was also some discussion about whether I'd dealt with conflict and what sort of cultural diversity was in my workplace. 

All the questions were easy to answer and we got along well. He also asked me at the end if there was anything he hadn't asked about that I really wanted to talk about which gave me the chance to throw in a few things about my charity work. The last part of the interview was him answering my questions for him and giving me advice on how to get the most out of the programme.

Unfortunately as he had graduated quite some time ago, there was not a whole lot of specifics he could provide that were still very relevant. Quite a few of the questions I had pre-prepared thus had to be thrown out. However, I felt I still got quite a bit of useful advice and insight into the MBA program at INSEAD in general.  Out of all the business schools, I would say I've had the most positive interactions with INSEADers and my interview with him definitely reinforced this perception.

Read how my second INSEAD interview went on here.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Interview Wait

The wait after submitting an application is excruciating. You will most likely find yourself experiencing the following:

  1. Chronic email checking and refreshing
  2. Worry that your application was not good enough and whether or not you should have said something differently
  3. Chronic checking of forums to see if others have received any results. This is done in conjunction with #1 above
  4. Anxiety and deep down some jealousy (if you're being honest) when people start announcing on forums that they have received interview invitations and you haven't. This leads to more experiencing of #1 and #2
  5. Worry that no news means a ding...then more of #2
  6. Decline in productivity at work due to all of the above.
Well, unless the school releases invitations to everyone at about the same time like in the case of LBS. In which case the above applies for a much shorter period of time.

At the end of the long wait, I received invitations to interview from INSEAD and LBS - half the battle won! It was a ding from Yale. I wasn't too gutted about that though, as looking back Yale didn't really fit my key post-MBA objectives very well anyway.

Friday, 20 November 2015

School Applications Part 2: Writing Essays and Branding

As a marketer, I know that communicating a consistent brand image is key to good marketing. This applies to business school applications - the essay component in particular. Figuring out the answers to the key questions I mentioned in my previous post helps with this. However, as the essays generally have word limits, you do need to make sure your application as a whole "brands" you the way you want to come across to the admissions committee.

I must admit that I struggled with trying to figure out my "brand image" (marketing products is much easier!). So I did end up enlisting the paid aid of Admissionado with an exploratory package to clarify how I should "market" myself. In doing so, it also helped me work out what strengths and accomplishments I should focus on and bring out in my application.

Some things that I learnt in the process:

  1. Comparing your profile to others who have been admitted is really not useful.
    You are compared against the people who are applying in the same intake so what might be an outstanding candidate profile for a previous intake is not necessarily true for your intake.
  2. Posting your profile in forums and blogs and asking if your profile is ok to apply to school A, B or C is not the most effective use of your time.
    As there's not a lot of detail or personality that you can show in those posts, consultants can only offer the more obvious advice. Plus even if your profile is great for a school, how you write your essays and present yourself will be the deal-breaker.
  3. Be confident in your accomplishments and achievements - especially for those who fall in the humble category, myself included.
    Everyone applying to the top business schools who post their profiles always seem so much more fantastic. However, if you actually start thinking and writing down your accomplishments, big and small, you'll discover you're actually great too. It's all about how you present it.
  4. Start with the application with the most number of and most thought-provoking essays first.
    This was the INSEAD application in my case - 4 job essays and 5 motivational essays. Planning and writing those essays helped me solidify what I wanted to do, my thought processes, and gave me the material that I could then tweak to suit applications for other schools.
  5. Enlisting the aid of someone who knows you (and preferably is good at writing and understands business) to help proof-read your essays is extremely helpful.
    For me, this was my brother, who was subject to reading many essay drafts (9 application drafts just for INSEAD!), and whose feedback I could not have done without. If you haven't already noticed, I like writing long sentences and I certainly struggled with word counts. My brother helped me cut to the chase and get my point across in a more succinct manner. I was also able to view my "stories" from his different perspective, and uncovered some strengths and weaknesses I was previously unaware of.
What I can say about the essay writing process is that it's labour intensive and highly reflective. I definitely obtained a better sense of myself at the end of it and gained more self-confidence too!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

School Applications Part 1: Picking Schools

MBA applications take a lot of work and each application carries a cost (especially with the exchange rates) so to work out which ones are worth investing in, I found you really needed to have a clear idea of the following:
  • Your short term and long term goals
  • Why you are really doing an MBA and what you want out of it
  • Where you want to work post-MBA
  • Your strengths and your weaknesses
  • Your personality and learning style
  • Your priorities
  • How you'd like people to perceive you 
By understanding yourself and what you want, selecting which schools to apply to becomes much easier too.

I started off my journey thinking an MBA would be a great way to get a boost into the next career level. Tons of research, discussion and reflection later, I finally came to the conclusion that
  • I wanted to move into consulting and somewhere in future I wanted to start my own company
  • I wanted to work in a new country - New Zealand was starting to feel too small, but not work in the US
  • I wanted a really international business school that was good at developing soft skills not just hard skills
From there I found myself leaning towards the European schools - INSEAD and London Business School in particular. INSEAD because it was a 10-month program; is a well-known top school in both Europe and Asia; and is famous for placing graduates in consulting. Plus, as an added bonus, since I have family in Singapore, I could save on accommodation costs for the time that I spend on INSEAD's Singapore campus. LBS was attractive because it offered Global Business Experiences; is a well-known top school in Europe; and is located in London where I do eventually think I'll end up working.

I also considered HEC Paris and IMD but ended up planning to apply to HEC Paris as an option if I didn't get into INSEAD or LBS. IE was attractive, but the Jan 2016 intake would've been too soon for me and the Jan 2017 intake was later than I wanted to start. Thus IMD, like HEC Paris wound up as an alternative for if I didn't get into INSEAD or LBS in Round 1.

As for US schools, I did consider applying to Harvard initially just because it is the top business school in the world. I didn't in the end though because Harvard uses predominantly the case study method of teaching, which makes it more challenging for my less outspoken personality. Also, other than its name, there wasn't really anything in particular that jumped out at me. The only US school that caught my attention was Yale and that was due to its integrated curriculum. I liked that its thinking was quite different from other business schools. So I applied to Yale even though it is known as a predominantly NGO school, whereas I have a preference for working in for-profit organisations.

Perhaps I would have chosen schools differently if I had the opportunity to visit various business schools. However, being located in NZ made travelling a major challenge. On hindsight, if I started looking into doing the MBA 2-3 years ago I would have had the luxury of time to plan a visit to 1-2 schools each year. As it is I ended up basing my decisions on school sites, videos, webminars (mostly middle of the night/extremely early mornings in NZ), MBA student blogs and speaking to current students and alumni where I could.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Studying for the GMAT Part 3: A Note on Free Diagnostic Tests

I have probably taken all the free GMAT diagnostic tests (a.k.a CAT) there are out there while I was preparing. I did almost one every week. The important thing to note about CATs is that they're designed to allow you to practice under "real" test conditions so don't get too caught up in your final score and focus more on the thought processes for solving questions and your test-taking strategy.

The best diagnostic test is of course the one from GMAT itself since nothing can beat the real thing after all. Problem is that you only have 2 free ones so you want to save at least 1 for closer to your actual test date. Manhattan Prep and Veritas both offer 1 free test which are probably the closest to the actual GMAT.

That being said, I found it useful to train on harder CATs too, though I took the scores with a grain of salt. The Kaplan free CAT and Economist Tutor CAT are good for verbal training. The options presented are quite close so you shouldn't be disheartened if you don't score well.

GMAT Pill also offers 5 free tests that are quite challenging. Again, don't be surprised if you don't score well. You however need a paid membership to access more than 10 free solutions. However if you are able to figure out why you went wrong and how you should get the right answer, the 10 free solutions should cover the ones where you're really stuck.

I also found the GMAT Club tests really useful and they had explanations too. They simulate the GMAT environment the best but the questions are tougher than the actual GMAT.
You can find a list of diagnostic tests here on the GMAT Club forum.

And that's all I'm going to say on GMAT as there's lots of material about the GMAT out there already.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Studying for the GMAT Part 2: 6 Tips for Tackling the GMAT

There's a ton of information out there on how to study for the GMAT, just check out the GMAT Club forums. I'm not going into details, but thought I'd offer a few tips for what worked for me.

Let me just start by saying that the Official GMAT Guide (a.k.a. OG) is essential so make sure you borrow/buy a copy. I worked off the 2013 version (OG 2013). I started by doing the diagnostic problems in the guide to get a feel for what GMAT questions were like. I noticed straight off that they were very different from the kinds of tests I'd taken previously. The questions are more about strategic problem solving (especially for quant) that doing Math problems. I call it "doing Math without really doing Math". Basically unless you're a human calculator, if you solved the quant problems like you would do at high school, you're stuffed.

Tip #1: There's more than one way to skin the cat when it comes to quant. Focus on learning these different methods.
How I did it was to do a problem in the OG, then look up how other people solved the same problem. My go-tos were GMAT Quantum, GMAT Pill and the GMAT Club Forums. For critical reasoning, I found the Powerscore CR Bible immensely helpful.

This way I found out other ways and alternative strategies for solving the problem and if one of those ways resulted in reduced time spent on the problem, I adopted that strategy for any similar problems going forward. Spend the most amount of time reviewing your answers and always ask yourself: "Was there a better/faster way to get the answer?"

Tip #2: Time Management is key. You can skip questions and still get a high score.
The GMAT does actually penalise you quite a bit for not finishing all the questions so make sure you do, even if you have to skip one or two in the middle or towards the end. For perfectionists like me, this was a tough obstacle to overcome. I'm persistent when it comes to problems and this meant I had a hard time letting go and would end up spending far too much time on a particular problem. Initially I would do poorly on the quant part of GMAT because I'd run out of time and miss answering 1 or 2 questions. I had to learn to be strict with myself - any problem that I was still somewhat far from solving after 2mins 15 secs I skipped. In business you need to know when to cut your losses and move on after all. The GMAT forum has some other great tips on timing here.

Tip #3: Time yourself when doing practice questions.
Once you have a decent level of accuracy, make sure you do this every time, even if you're doing short "runs" which gives you practice problem-solving under pressure. I'd do say 10 questions at a time and give myself 20 mins to do all 10. I focused on doing the questions in the OG from back to front. The best tool I came across was the GMAT timer created by GMAT Club's walker. I would run through a set of questions and mark my answers on the timer. Then at the end of the practice run, the timer lets you copy and paste your answers along with the time of how long you took to finish the question. I then marked my practice and noted down which questions I had taken longer than ideal for and also the ones that I potentially could've cut down time on. Then apply Tip #1 :)

Tip #4: Practice practice practice.
GMAT thinking is not natural. So it needs to become a habit. For any questions that you've gotten wrong answers for, guessed or aren't too sure of, after analysing the best way to solve them, do them again on the spot (timed!) and once more the next day before you do new questions. It's about practicing the same methods over and over and making them a habit. You should then find that when you tackle a new problem, you can automatically think of more ways of solving it and can pick the quickest one.

Tip #5: Use a process of elimination to work out answers for the verbal section.
Often there should be 1 or 2 options that are obvious "outs". Especially for sentence correction, it helps to eliminate the obvious incorrects first so that you can then focus on the answers that are quite close. Then work out the differences between the two and what they're actually saying. Tip #1 and Tip #4 are definitely key for verbal - after all exposure to lots of questions and strategies will train your eye to spot the incorrects,

Tip #6: For Reading Comprehensive, skim read when you first get the passage.
Don't bother spending time reading in detail because when you read the question you usually have to go back and read in detail anyway. What you want to do initially is to work out what the passage is about and get the gist of what each paragraph is covering so that you can quickly navigate to the right part to answer the question. Practice speed reading a lot and with everything you read.

What I've written above might be slightly skewed towards improving quant rather than verbal since this was the section I found a bit more challenging with my background. However, Tip #1 and Tip #4 are definitely key for all sections.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Studying for the GMAT Part 1: When to Start

If you've read my previous post, then you've probably seen that to get a good score i.e. 700+ out of 800, you'll want to put in at least 100 hours of study time. Of course this is if you're the average person and not a super genius. I started out with a 720 GMAT score in mind since that was within the 80% range of the schools I was looking at applying to.

I initially started studying in March, with the view to take the GMAT sometime in early July so I would have time to do a re-take or two in case I needed to (at the time the wait between re-takes was 31 days, but GMAC changed the rules in July, reducing this to 16 - read about it here). For me personally, I started too enthusiastic and too early, which led to a GMAT study burnout some 2 months down the road after doing silly study hours on top of very long hours at work with no down-time. This led to me doing zero study the whole of May and a slow start in June when I picked up the books again. Plus, I ended up pushing out my planned first take by a week (luckily I hadn't booked it in yet due to not being sure when I would be able to take 4 hours off work).

So on hindsight, if I had started a bit later and paced myself, it would have been more efficient. I also had to re-review the material I had studied previously since I had that 1 month break in between. In any case, when I was looking up study resources for the GMAT, I came across this 2-3 month study plan by GMAT Pill which was very helpful as a base for my own study plan.

If you're looking for study plans for the GMAT, there are tons out there - the GMATClub forum offers several variations depending on what your objectives are. My advice? Don't waste too much time hunting for "the perfect" study plan. Pick one and adapt it to suit you.

The GMAT: Some Initial Advice

One of the first things I did when starting my MBA journey was to investigate the GMAT because I knew that would be one test I would have to do. I also knew that if I put money into doing the GMAT, then I would truly commit myself since cheapskate that I am, I hate wasting cash.

Some useful facts and advice for prospective GMAT takers in no particular order of importance
  1. Your results are valid for 5 years.
    If you're planning to do an MBA in the next 5 years, it might be a good idea to get it over and done with early, especially if you've graduated not that long ago from varsity and your high school math isn't as rusty. It also means that you have time when you are submitting applications to make sure that the schools you are applying to do receive your scores from GMAT.
  2. It costs USD$250.
    If paying in another currency it's good to plan to take it during a period when the exchange rate is favourable! I was kicking myself a bit for not doing it last year when the exchange rate was fanastic. :(
  3. If you want to get a high score, plan to spend about 100 hours studying.
    Given the high amount of commitment, you really want to do the GMAT as early in your MBA application process as possible because trying the juggle GMAT study while working on your b-school applications AND a full-time job is really not fun.
  4. The test takes about 4 hours so plan to take a half day off if you're working.
    In NZ, the test centres unfortunately don't run tests on weekends, which means you do need to plan ahead and let work know.
  5. The test is offered only at selected places at set times so be sure to check test centres and timings beforehand
    Again planning ahead is required especially if you need to make travel arrangements to get to a test centre.
  6. You can re-take the test if you don't like your score but it'll cost you the test fee again and you'll have to wait 16 days between re-takes.
    It's useful to plan at least 1 re-take and it's common to re-take it at least once! Most people stuff up the first take due to nerves and it being a somewhat unfamiliar system and improve on the second take.
  7. GMAT lets you send your scores to up to 5 schools for free. Subsequently it'll cost you USD$25 per official report sent.
    You have the opportunity to indicate which schools to send the report to at the test centre right before you start the actual exam. To make the most of this, you should do your school research beforehand so you know where you are definitely going to apply to.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Thinking Back to The Beginning

I've flirted with the idea of doing an MBA for years, but each time I've put it off with excuses - too expensive, not the right time, too busy, buying a house, getting married...until earlier this year when faced with the fact that I'm reeeally not getting any younger even if I feel 21! So I decided that if I was ever going to do it, it would have to be now.

After reading lots of blogs and getting through partway of the application process, I thought it would add some value if I started a blog to document my MBA pursuit and hopefully my MBA experience. Especially because I come from NZ - a definite minority in the MBA space especially in the top schools. It would be nice if some fellow Kiwis stumbled upon this blog and end up deciding to add to the Kiwi MBA numbers :)

So the next few posts are going to be back-posts on what I've been doing up to my present application status. Hopefully my learning during the process and from hours spent trawling forums and various blogs will be useful to a future MBA applicant.

A little about my background...
I was born in NZ, grew up in Singapore, moved back to NZ and presently live and work in Auckland. I am a marketer with an aptitude for digital and have been working in the retail sector for 7.5 years, but in very varied industries. I have eclectic interests - figure skating and aerial silks to name a few.