Success Stories: How this Indian male engineer got admits to INSEAD and Cambridge Judge MBA
Last year, Harsh was unsuccessful at applying to business schools. This year, he received admits to two of the most prestigious MBA programs globally: INSEAD (with a €15,000 scholarship) and Cambridge Judge Business School.
In this interview, Harsh tells his story, describing what he did differently and sharing his tips for applicants to replicate his success.
Harsh reached out to me shortly after an unhappy year of applications from working with another MBA admissions consultant. He explained how his previous applications were cookie-cutter, eleventh-hour efforts, and he wasn’t happy with the prescriptive style assigned by his previous consultant. He knew that, as an Indian male engineer, he was in an overrepresented demographic when it came to MBA applications and needed more original essays.
As we reflected on how his application had changed since last year, Harsh highlighted the key elements in his application that helped him secure the admits:
AREA 1: STORYTELLING STRATEGY
One advantage that Harsh faced was that he had lots of stories. But, in a way, this was a disadvantage as he couldn’t decide which ones to focus on!
“I told every story to Sam and he was the best judge of which story to pick up when.” he explains.
As part of his role as an ERP consultant, Harsh had the advantage of having worked in many countries, including Italy, Singapore, and the UK, and had loads of interesting stories to tell from each. But this also put him all over the place, not just literally.
“You can either tell your story in a succinct, well-structured manner, or you can blabber. Sadly, I was the latter!”, he grins as we chat. Harsh needed the independence and direction to write his own story, and I agreed entirely. We kept a two-way line of communication open at all times and ideated on how to create a central narrative for his barrage of stories.
We created a master document with all his ideas - almost like a snapshot of his life. But Harsh only learned English at college, so we weeded structure to translate his verbal aptitude into powerful, relevant essays. We refined his experiences, and excluded stories that didn’t fit the university's culture and vision.
The INSEAD MBA places emphasis on applicants with a global mindset. This suited him well with the geographic diversity he had worked with. During his INSEAD interview, Harsh found that his Italian interviewer had worked next to his office in Florence. They bonded over traffic woes (don’t we all!). His second interviewer worked at his target organization, and was so impressed that he agreed to connect Harsh with the decision-makers during the interview.
At Cambridge, Harsh's plan to transition to healthcare technology from his supply chain role was well aligned with the school's core values of impact through entrepreneurship. We tailored his applications to focus on these key areas, and it paid off.
Harsh smilingly recounts his Cambridge interviewer’s comments, “It does feel human, and thank you for writing so honestly”.
AREA 2: TEST PREP
Harsh had started by taking the GMAT, scoring a 690 in 2020. One of the first things I told him was that he’d need a higher score to be competitive, so he would have to resit the dreaded exam. Scoring 10 points above the already-exceptional average of his demographic would be a game-changer.
However, Harsh struggled with the adaptive nature of the GMAT. That's when I suggested that he try the GRE instead. This turned out to be a game-changer. He sat the GRE and scored a 331.
While he studied, we were careful to separate his essay work from his test prep, dedicating specific days to work on each. In my experience, it’s difficult to study for 3 hours and then switch over and think about essays.
AREA 3: RECOMMENDATIONS
“If you don’t know yourself or your boss doesn’t know you, it’s bad news in both cases.” Harsh recalled.
Previously, Harsh had chosen a client as a recommender, which was a problem because of the perceived conflict of interest. We changed his recommender, using a previous manager instead.
We also worked with recommenders earlier in the process. Previously, he had contacted his recommender well in advance, but they had written it in a hurry on the last day before submissions. No surprises then that it was rushed and generic.
To better guide the recommender, we created a set of pointed and impact-driven questions to help Harsh ask for specific pointers from his references. Reminding his recommenders of his strengths and accomplishments and specific instances where he demonstrated these worked wonders.
Finally, he urged his references to write the recommendation themselves, even though they weren’t native English speakers. Minor imperfections aside, we can be confident the recommendations looked honest, real, and from the heart.
AREA 4: ACCOUNTABILITY
Harsh was a brilliant candidate, but his work schedule was hectic. This led to a lack of structure during his previous applications, which negatively affected the quality of his work. He describes how knowing we had a meeting scheduled the next day gave him the extra push he needed to carve out time for his application essays.
On my side, it meant that I had to be more flexible with Harsh than usual. I even re-arranged other client meetings to rush his interview prep at the last minute! During our meetings, I offered him structures and frameworks to get started, and he ran with these. Then, we would check in regularly to discuss and edit the content. It worked wonders.
“I couldn't have done it without you”, he smiles, as we share a virtual high-five. I couldn't be prouder.
UPDATE: In the end, Harsh chose INSEAD. It was a difficult decision, as both schools have their merits, but he was ultimately compelled by the €15,000 scholarship funding offered by INSEAD.