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IIT Engineer Working at Startups goes to Top MBA with Low Experience

Updated: May 26

Indian, male, engineers (IME) face an uphill task while applying to top business schools worldwide. One of the major reasons for that is the immense competition that they are subject to. While you would never find any top B-Schools admit this openly, but it is a well-accepted thumb rule to assume that the average GMAT/GRE scores for IME candidates are always a few points above the published class average for the school.

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the international MBA admissions processes are highly unfamiliar territory for Indian candidates. Accustomed to believing that high test scores would be more than sufficient to land them at the best schools, many candidates simply are ill-prepared for the meandering journey of global MBA admissions!

Berkeley Haas is among the best business schools in the world - regularly featuring among the Top 10 US B-Schools, and well known for its proclivity towards the tech sector. It is also an extremely difficult school to get into, with a small class size of ~300, average work experience of 5.5 years, 726 average GMAT, and 323 average GRE. Haas is constantly featured among the Top 15 best MBA programs worldwide.

We caught up with Ananjan Bhattacharyya, who worked with us for his MBA applications. At the time of application, Ananjan had 3 years of work experience, an IME profile, and was working with a growth-stage US-based startup. While his above-average GRE score did give him some relief, he knew that getting into a top mba with low experience was not going to be easy.

Below is Ananjan's story, in his own words.

berkeley haas business school campus in background with photo of admitted candidate and text sharing his profile's details

Could you give a brief background about yourself?

Born and raised in Kolkata, I am an engineer by education from IIT Kharagpur who started off my career as an analytics consultant at PwC DIAC based out of Mumbai and Bangalore. After a brief stint there, I took a leap into the exciting world of tech startups and joined the Sequoia, Accel and YC-backed FinTech startup Drip Capital as its first analytics hire. I had a transformative journey over the next 3.5 years growing Drip, working across various functions like Strategy, Capital Markets and Product Management out of both Mumbai & Palo Alto. Currently, I'm exploring the world of venture capital as a pre-MBA intern at an early-stage venture studio called Meraki Labs. Outside of work, you can find me writing for a poetry blog I run, spending time with our family pets and planning last-minute trips to far-off places.

What prompted you to apply for MBA programs?

After spending a few years in the workforce, I reached a point where I realized that in the short term I wanted to explore switching industries and locations while paving the way to becoming an entrepreneur in the long term. A post-experience management degree like the MBA with strong offerings both inside and outside the classroom fit the bill perfectly.

Why did you choose GRE over GMAT? How did you prepare for GRE? Also any tips for aspirants on how they can ace GRE?

I had taken the GRE back in 2019 and had a decent score of 330 which was valid when I was applying for MBA programs. I wanted to spend time on the rest of my application instead of test preparation again and thus decided to not write the GMAT but instead use my existing GRE score since most MBA programs accepted both.

The first thing I had done while preparing for the GRE was to take a few mock tests and see where my baseline score was. I saw that my Quantitative scores were good but my Verbal needed work and so I decided to exclusively focus my energy on the Verbal section during my preparation. The GRE Verbal section is very vocabulary driven and so a lion's share of my preparation was on expanding my vocabulary by reading word lists, applying them to sample GRE questions and repeating. A few days before the actual exam, I spent some time improving test-taking skills by increasing speed and accuracy.

My advice for any standardized test is two-fold. One, to figure out your strengths and weaknesses early and personalize preparation accordingly. Two, to familiarize yourself with taking the test and get into the test-taking mindset. With the GRE, I would suggest aspirants figure out which one out of Verbal or Quant they need to work more on and to take many samples or diagnostic tests before the actual exam.

How did you select your schools? Why did you apply to Haas?

Though it may sound cliche, school selection is a very important part of the MBA application journey. There are many varying parameters to selecting schools & all of them are correct in their own way. What matters during school selection is choosing the parameters that fit the applicant's personality and that can help the applicant achieve their own goals. For me, this meant identifying MBA programs that were strong in technology and entrepreneurship, appreciated diverse backgrounds and bold goals, stressed camaraderie over competition and had an international brand recall.

Berkeley Haas - a top business school at an internationally renowned parent university UC Berkeley and located in the Bay Area satisfied many of my parameters. My choice solidified further when Haas's Defining Leadership Principles resonated with me and I spoke to current students and alumni to realise how humble and helpful Haasies were as individuals.

Why did you feel the need for working with a consultant? Why did you choose to work with Management Masters?

There are mainly two reasons why I wanted to work with a consultant during my application. One, I knew it would help add structure to the process and give me the needed nudges to go over the finish line multiple times. Second, since the application is deeply personal, it would've been hard for me to have an objective viewpoint on my application material without having someone else to review and give feedback along the way.

Management Masters appealed to me because I could sense that they were genuinely focused on bringing out authentic stories, actively busting the many myths and going against common wisdom if needed.

Being a boutique house, I was confident I would get personalized help and someone alongside me who would be invested in the outcome.

How did you approach your application and essays? How did working with us help you in the essay-building process?

Before starting with the applications, I took some time to think through my personal and professional life to find out the characteristics that defined me, what my strengths and weaknesses were and what drove my decisions.

Though time-consuming, this step was the most enjoyable for me as it forced me to take a break from day-to-day life and figure myself out. Piyush's initial workshops complimented this very well where he dug deep to surface my true self without worrying about MBA applications at this point.

This phase of self-discovery laid the base for all of the application journeys ahead and helped me apply on my own to several schools as well. While I worked with Piyush directly on some schools, Berkeley Haas was my own application and these initial workshops proved extremely useful in applying to Haas. After figuring out the past and present, I thought hard about the future and then searched for programs that could bridge the gap by researching the schools well. Post this, I prepared my resume, selected my recommenders and worked on my essays in that order. Piyush's availability over multiple channels outside of scheduled sessions, his quick feedback and encouragement to be authentic was a big positive for me throughout this phase of the application process. I chose recommenders who I had worked with closely and who knew me really well. I prepared my resume in a way that brought out my career without technical industry-specific jargon while for the essays, I ensured that I answered the questions being asked, included actual examples from my life and did not simply recycle material.

How did you prepare for your interview?

I did a mock interview with Piyush for one of the schools and got feedback on subtle things beyond content that we usually miss like delivery and tone. I researched commonly asked interview questions from various online resources & tried my best to go into each interview without nerves. One important thing to note with interviews is that the mode of interview often varies from one school to another, ranging from live zoom calls to pre-recorded video questions and it is important to be ready for the specific mode to not be caught by surprise during the actual interview.

What would you advise candidates applying for MBA programs?

The international MBA application process is uniquely holistic and very different from the objective numbers-oriented approach we are used to in India. It is a marathon instead of a sprint and there are no right answers or patterns to match. I would advise aspirants to accept this, be open to the uncertainties that come with such a new process, and look at it as an opportunity to tell their story instead of a one-dimensional race. Being resilient is critical to reaching the finish line here. Also, given the high interest in such programs, there is a plethora of online resources and opinions available. While some of those are helpful, some are not, and everything should be considered with a grain of salt. Getting trapped in the herd mentality and becoming demotivated is very easy. While being informed is good, aspirants should actively try to silence the noise and be themselves as much as possible throughout the process to get the best outcomes for themselves in the end.


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