HEC Paris & Oxford Saïd MBA Admits: Neeraj’s Success Journey

By Arvind Kumar

[Intro by Arvind Kumar]

On a rainy evening in December, Neeraj reached out to me via Whatsapp. He had seen my posts and answers to candidates’ queries on GMATClub, and wanted to have a chat about his MBA plans.

He hadn’t taken the GMAT then, but I found his profile intriguing: a good mix of operations and HR Consulting across India and the UAE. We decided to connect after he had the score. And a few weeks later, we did.

During the past 6 months of our interactions, I’ve appreciated Neeraj’s ambition, hard-work and clarity of thought. With nearly eight years of diverse industry experience, he is keen to pivot into Strategy Consulting through an MBA. His MBA admissions journey, which I had the pleasure to guide him on, led to successful admissions at two of the world’s top business schools: HEC Paris and Oxford Saïd.

This success story delves into Neeraj’s motivations, preparation strategies, application process, and how I (and admitStreet) helped him achieve his MBA admits.

Over to Neeraj!

Background and Motivation for an MBA

I have ~8 years of experience spread across 2 industries, i.e., Commodities Trading and HR Consulting in India and UAE. I worked with Trafigura managing their EMEA Oil trading operations for 2.5 years before moving to HR Consulting with Michael Page in India, and subsequently Cooper Fitch in the UAE.

Due to my varied industry and geographical experience, I had the opportunity to hone my skills across finance, operations, sales and consulting functions. After spending nearly 4.5 years in HR Consulting, I wanted to level up my professional journey.

After evaluating all possible outcomes, I came to the conclusion that Strategy Consulting would be the ideal sector that would let me use my skills cohesively. After evaluating how consulting firms recruit, I decided to pursue an MBA to better understand business strategy & data functions, and develop a network of professionals at a global level as well as facilitate my transition into the industry. 

Self GMAT Preparation

I took a self-study approach, where I mainly used official resources, both online and offline. I used the question banks from GMAT Club to supplement these, and brushed up my concepts using youtube channels like GMAT Ninja and Manhattan prep.

I took about 3 months to fully prepare for the test, spending about 2-3 hours over weekdays and 5-6 hours daily on weekends, and spent a lot of time giving mock exams once I completed the preparation.

I used the official mock exams to identify my areas of weakness and spent more time on those topics in the last 1 month while practicing hard questions for topics I was comfortable with. With my consistent efforts, I achieved a 94th Percentile (665 GFE).

MBA Application Process

I was very clear about pursuing an MBA in Europe, and there were 3 primary criteria that I considered when evaluating a B-school.

Firstly, the duration of the course needed to be 1.5 years or less, secondly, I looked for schools with the best outcomes in consulting recruitment and thirdly, I evaluated their alumni network in UAE as I plan to come back to the region.

During the application process, Arvind supported me in crafting the best story for my application. This involved formatting my resume into a B-school friendly format, brainstorming and curating a list of anecdotes that address the essay questions for each college, and precisely crafting essays that best communicate my professional and personal journey, and highlight the strengths, achievements, weaknesses, failures and learnings in each stage.

My undergrad scores were average, and it was a potential cause of concern and most B-schools place significant importance on the academic prowess of the candidates they select. While there were reasons such as me attempting to start a business and my focus being divided that led to this, I used the GMAT exam to highlight my quantitative and logical reasoning ability.

I believe that scoring well on the GMAT and achieving a 94th Percentile (665 GFE) alleviated this concern for the admissions committees and helped me secure an admit from HEC & Oxford SBS.

Differentiating Factors

I think my experience in 2 very different industries with a strong record of success definitely helped my profile stand out. I had achieved fairly quick promotions/elevations in both Trafigura and Michael Page in India and this demonstrated my ability to adapt quickly as well as be a leader when I was given additional responsibilities.

Additionally, having spent a significant time abroad growing up, and professionally was a USP. Working on large scale projects in UAE and Saudi Arabia also highlighted my ability to interact and work cohesively in a multicultural environment. As an Indian male, I believe this created a significant differentiation between my profiles amongst a large pool.

Interview Experience

The interview with Oxford was with an external consultant that Oxford used to evaluate potential candidates. It was a very cordial, yet formal conversation that revolved around my work experience, successes and failures and also discussed various instances that demonstrated leadership, problem solving, critical thinking and stakeholder management. It was a free-flowing conversation and the topics and questions came into discussion organically.

For HEC, it was a very casual discussion with both my interviewers who were alumni themselves. The presentation was covered in about 15 minutes and the remaining time was spent discussing my career and aspirations, as well as the “Why HEC” aspect. Both alumni wanted to really understand my reasons for joining the school and ensure that there was an alignment between my personality, goals and HEC’s culture and proposition. It was an informative session where they shared their experience, MBA journey and insights on do’s and don’ts at the program.

Working with Arvind / admitStreet

I had an excellent experience with Arvind. Our first interaction was a conversation around my goals for pursuing the MBA, as well as discussing my career’s trajectory. 

Arvind helped me shortlist the colleges that were best suited to my career goals, ideal duration and target geography. We finalized the timelines and rounds for the 4 schools I had shortlisted and then went ahead with the applications and essay writing.

For me, getting guidance from an alumni for my target school, as well as someone who had gone through the journey of working in consulting in my target geo was an ideal fit. Arvind’s structured approach towards writing the essays, as well as college specific insights on what aspects to focus on helped me align my journey to what each college values. 

Arvind connected me with several alumni as well as helped me with resources that facilitated my decision of joining HEC once I had secured admits from HEC and Oxford SBS.

Working with Arvind was effortless and easy. His knowledge about B-schools in Europe was amazing and his understanding of how to go about targeting each school made my life so much easier.

Arvind helped me right from selecting the right B-schools, to defining the application strategy and application rounds, and eventually writing the essays and preparing for the interviews. His approach was very structured and well thought-out which helped me plan my timelines. Arvind’s inputs on my essays improved their quality significantly, and he was always available to address any questions I had, as silly as they may be.

I highly recommend admitStreet for anyone planning to go for an MBA, and can personally vouch that Arvind and the team will help you present the best version of yourself to the B-schools 🙂

Advice for Prospective Students

It is important to be very clear about why you are pursuing an MBA from an international B-school. It is a significant decision and having clarity on the Why and Where will help you decide on a plan of action for the application and minimize a lot of external noise.

To me, it was also critical to have a small number of target schools and ensure that all my energy is focused on preparing the best application for these schools rather than spreading myself too thin and applying to too many schools.

For HEC, I found that the alumni were very warm and welcoming and happy to connect and share insights on how to go ahead with my application, as well as what I can do to maximize success post-MBA at HEC. I found it very useful to speak with a lot of alumni and gather data points that helped me write my essays.

For Oxford, there are many essays and it takes a while to write them as it is an iterative process. It is important to decide the target round of application and get a jump on the essays to have them fully ready by that time.

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