My interview about MBA experience

I might risk sounding like an egotistical douche posting my own interview on this blog. But I think some parts of my conversation with might be helpful to other MBA applicants and those who are simply curious about MBA. Otherwise, just skip it.

A small caveat: I am not affiliated with any of MBA admissions consulting companies in any way, including Accepted which just found me a couple of months ago trough this blog. Even though some people might benefit from such help, I believe that it is absolutely possible to plan admissions and prepare independently. So, I am not endorsing the company in any way as I simply do not have any experience and cannot evaluate their services.  Anyway, for those who are interested in MBA journey, here is our conversation:

Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What year are you at UC Berkeley Haas? 

Max: My name is Max. I am currently getting my MBA at University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business, in the class graduating in 2015.

I am originally from Russia, Tyumen City. I graduated in International Economics and Business from one of the best regional universities and then moved to Moscow in 2008 for the next five years and then to the US in 2013 to start my MBA.

Accepted: What is your favorite thing about Haas so far? And if you could change one thing about the program, what would it be? 

Max: What I like most about Haas are the people. It is inspirational and fun to be around people who have so much in common with you but at the same time offer such diversity, coming from different backgrounds, career paths and countries. It really makes you reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and widen your perspective. Actually, I recently blogged about things I liked most about Haas, among them are the school’s focus on technology and entrepreneurship, its location close to the Silicon Valley and being a part of large top university.

If I could change one thing, I would probably increase the number of top companies recruiting on-campus.

Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming first year students, to help make their adjustment to b-school easier? What are some things you wish you had known before starting your studies?

Max: In a way, things that are important at business school are the same things that are important in life at large. If I had to boil it down to only one, I would say: FOCUS.

This goes both ways: in terms of how you focus your energy externally and how you frame a situation internally.

MBA experience is ironic in that it is the best time to be open-minded and try things you have not tried before, but also the most important time to focus on the most critical things. So, find the right balance and start with your vision coming to school. Which activities are critical for you making it a reality, which ones are nice to have, and which ones are detrimental? As David Allen said, you can do anything, but not everything.

Be grateful and have fun; do not forget that even though you might feel overwhelmed at a certain moment, that is what you worked hard for. Stay true to yourself. For example, if parties are not your thing, connect with classmates by doing sports together or by working on projects.

Accepted: Can you tell us about the independent studies you’re doing at Haas?

Max: Working with a team of three students and two UC Berkeley professors (John Danner and Mark Coopersmith), I have done an independent study on MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses, such as Coursera, EdX and Udacity) as EdTech is something I am interested in and believe that MOOCs have immense potential to disrupt the industry.

Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?

Max: The most difficult thing was to plan the whole process and stay motivated which is not easy for international candidates who are never sure about their chances to get admitted, get financial aid and get their visa. Sometimes, structured GMAT courses and admissions consultants help with this, but I personally decided to do it by myself as I had limited time and really valued flexibility of preparing on my own schedule.

For example, I did a part of my GMAT prep on a beach while having a vacation in Thailand. It made my wife quite amused. I later wrote a guide to studying for GMAT which hopefully some candidates will find helpful.

Accepted: What was your pre-MBA career? Do you plan on returning to that industry after you receive your MBA? Do you plan on heading back to Russia or relocating somewhere else?

Max: I wore different hats before. Most of my full-time job experience comes from working as a brand manager, marketing products for leading multinational consumer goods companies in Russia. I also launched several Internet startups, primarily targeting the Russian Web.

I am passionate about technology’s potential to make positive impact on people’s lives. So, one of the goals I had coming to Haas was to make a transition into the technology field, ideally Internet or software and consumer electronics. In terms of function, most likely I will keep doing marketing and strategy for now. I narrowed down my search to large multinational companies rather than small startups and going to intern at Hewlett-Packard this summer. Long-term I would like to plunge into entrepreneurship full-time as I have been often doing it part-time, and mid-term I would like to stay in the Valley.

Accepted: What role did Haas’ career management center or related clubs play in the helping you get your summer internship?

Max: The job offer I ended up accepting was received on campus – thanks career management group for this! Clubs can sometimes be helpful by providing some job postings and by organizing “career treks” – visits to companies’ headquarters.

Accepted: Do you have any admissions tips for our international readers?

Max: Keep in mind that schools are pragmatic in a sense that they want to minimize career and academic risks potentially associated with you. So you should clearly communicate that you will fit in. But they also want students with outstanding profiles. So you should standout as well, at least with one unusual thing.

Realistically speaking, I think that name-dropping is especially important for international applicants. Some of you might have much better local companies to work for in your given country than Procter & Gamble, McKinsey & Co and Goldman Sachs. But from the brand recognition perspective, I would argue that candidates from these have better odds, all other things being equal. So, this is something to keep in mind and adjust for in your essays, if needed.

Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? When did you start blogging? Who is your audience? What do you hope to gain from the blogging experience? 

Max: Sure! I blog about books, marketing, tech startups, wellbeing and travel. Recently, I have been writing more about my MBA. But really I view my blog as an experimentation lab where I might play with different cool things. It helps me meet like-minded people and to improve my English, as well as Internet technology, design and social media skills.

Accepted: What are your favorite non-school books?

Max: I mostly read non-fiction, listening to audiobooks when commuting. If I had to pick only few, I would settle for Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt (psychology, philosophy and science), Abundance by Peter Diamandis (future, economy and technology) and Your Brain at Work by David Rock (neuroscience, personal development and management). Oh, I need to add fiction. Let it be Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Sum by David Eagleman for pure fun. :)

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