It was 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday. The sun shone bright, tourists strolled past in pastel shorts, and we were all standing around the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, wearing our best interview clothes and trying to figure out where, exactly, The MBA Tour was holding its event.
By “we” I mean dedicated prospective MBAs (and me, a lurker). The MBA Tour hosts 60 events a year in 30 different countries to reach this audience. The goal is to get potential applicants to interact—in person, no less—with school representatives, alumni, admissions consultants, and other like-minded people.
The crowds provided a good snapshot of the admissions process. The early birds, the ones who showed up to register as soon as the conference opened, wore two-piece suits in dark blue or gray, conservative ties, pencil skirts, and heels. A sole person showed up in light blue jeans. As the day went on, though, the stragglers, who had perhaps decided to forgo brunch for this event at the last minute, started filtering in. This group was still mostly suited up, but I began seeing more and more people in denim. One woman in a ponytail, a sweatshirt, and red Converse sneakers looked like she truly did not give a damn about the business school song and dance.
GETTING “THAT 360-DEGREE FEEL”
The first person I spoke with was that first jeans-wearer. Praveen Haridas, an Indian guy in a striped polo shirt and wireframe glasses. He noted that he was surprised by the suits, because he figured this was just an informal event for determining whether you’re a good fit for the schools. He recalled that his brother showed up to his Michigan State interview in a t-shirt and still got in. (Don’t try this at home, kids.)
Haridas became more enthusiastic once he began talking about his reasons for getting an MBA. He graduated from Government Engineering College in India in 2006, and since then, he’s lived in New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Chicago, his current home base. He’s a consultant at Deloitte, and he deals mainly with healthcare analytics. But he’d like to understand the financial side of things better in order to get “that 360-degree feel.” “I struggle when we do balance sheet analysis,” he admits.
Having been out of school for a while, Haridas is mostly interested in one-year programs. He names two schools he’s got an eye on: INSEAD and MIT. By his reckoning, the former provides robust financial training. The latter only offers a two-year program, unfortunately, but it would allow him to delve deeply into both finance and healthcare. Plus, as a Deloitte employee, he has access to MIT alums who can review his application. He has no plans to hire an admissions consultant.
How good does he think his chances are? “I don’t know,” Haridas says. “I feel I should be okay because I have a good story.” But he notes that the GMAT and recommendations are still up in the air. He’s clear on one thing: He wants to become a more polished consultant. In 20 years, he sees himself becoming a Deloitte partner or a CIO.
“I’M STUCK IN A CORNER, BASICALLY”
Though Haridas is pretty satisfied with his career path, most people I spoke to weren’t—which is why they were at the Hyatt on a Saturday in the first place. That group included Tina Chabria, who works at IBM. It was her dream company during college, but the time has come to pick a new dream, she says.
In her current sales role, she describes herself as a “very specialized tool.” “I’m stuck in a corner, basically,” she says. She has few opportunities to learn—and she makes it clear that frankly, she’s too young to be in a position like that for long. Her dream title is Director of Marketing and Communications, but she’s open to exploring.
All her friends have told her to get the GMAT out of the way, so that’s what she’s working on now. She began studying in March, took the exam in July, and will be taking it again in September. The July one left her exhausted; you can hear it in her voice. Her starting point is 550—the math tripped her up—and she says she’s being realistic and aiming for 650. She already has 10 sessions with a tutor lined up.
Chabria will be applying to the part-time programs at the University of Southern California, UCLA, and UC Berkeley (Stanford doesn’t have one). Why not full-time? “I still need a paycheck,” she says. A UCLA recruiter expressed concern about how she’d do in finance-heavy classes, but Chabria knows she can handle the challenge. She just needs someone to give her a chance.