Getting admission in an Ivy-league class of B-school is a dream of many young professionals. The question is how? Professor B Bhattacharyya, Former Dean, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT) reveals the secrets. (Eg: Some of what applies to graduate and post-graduate students could well be relevant for those managers aspiring for mid-career executive education).

The first step is to try to answer a basic but fundamental question:
Why will the School select you over others?
And to answer this question, you have to find out what type of students it is looking for.

It is obvious that they are looking for talent but that talent is not restricted to only academic excellence. In fact, to find out whether a candidate is academically qualified is relatively easy. A consistent past academic record is a fair indicator. However, there is a caveat. If the teaching is rote-based, and the examination is designed to test the memory rather than finding out the analytical skills, the past records will be of limited value in the context of business education. A good School looks for a few additional attributes. These are: 

  • analytical abilities
  • the capacity of out-of-box thinking
  • leadership qualities 
  • team spirit 
  • ability to work under pressure, plus several more

No view can be formed on these based on academic scores. So other methods are also used. In the United States, UK and several European countries, a lot of importance is given to recommendations of the referees who are usually teachers of the candidates. Sometimes the candidates are also required to write a fairly detailed resume outlining strengths and weaknesses as well as expectations from the course. 

In India, this assessment is mostly done through personal interviews. A panel of experts which may also include industry professionals may try to make an assessment of the candidates on how suitable they will be for the course. The quality of interaction depends primarily on the expertise of the panel. Spotting talent is a tricky job, especially within a short time. However, there are some stock questions.
The usual ice-breaker is: Tell us something about yourself. Candidates would be well advised to remember that all the data personal and professional are already before the panel. Therefore one has to think really hard what new information may be given. For example, you may have a keen interest in sports or drama, activities which can add to the community life of the college. Remember you may have not more than two minutes to speak. So prepare hard to be precise and interesting. Never overhype. Panel members are seasoned and can easily spot the hype. Try to be honest, take your time to reflect and give an answer which you will be able to defend. 

Many seasoned experts avoid yes /no type of questions. They ask questions which are open-ended. Since these questions require thinking, it allows the panel to observe the body language. In addition, it provides an opportunity to get engaged in discussions. 
I personally prefer open-ended and slightly tricky questions. For example, I often ask this question: Will you obey the order of your superior which is within the borderline of legal but immoral. The answer may be either yes or no, and both can be cogently argued. The candidate is forced to think and then take a position. It may be only one minute, but if that is enough to study his face, body gesture and his comfort level with the question. In the Indian interview-based selection process, there is an element of luck. If the Panel comprises sensitive open-minded members, you are lucky. In the case of foreign universities, this problem is not there, because the decision is totally documents -based. 

Good luck and best wishes. 

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