This is a question that I get asked often by students and a very important one at that — How do I build my MBA profile? So before we get on to the answer, let us evaluate what elements of a profile are.
Your profile is the impression that various elements in your resume create as a whole.
- Academic Performance
- Your marks in X, XII, Graduation
- Work Experience
- Number of months
- Academic Pedigree
- The brand of the institution from which you have graduated or will graduate
- Academic Achievements
- Ranks secured at school (X & XII), college and university level and/or performance in national or state-level entrance tests
- Co-Curricular Achievements
- Ranks in Olympiads, NTSE, Paper Presentations, Journal Publications and any other academics-related contests outside of regular school and college work
- Extra-Curricular Achievements (ECAs)
- Achievements in non-academic pursuits singing, dancing, sports, games, NCC, martial arts etc, Model UN etcetera
- Positions of Responsibilities (PoRs)
- Official posts held at a school, college, and university-level, or bodies such as AIESEC, Rotract etcetera
- Pursuits of Special Interests
- Any extra-curricular interest pursued out of passion but with or without achievements — reading, writing, sports, games, singing, dancing, painting, trekking, photography, short-film making
Most of the things that would go on to a resume can be fitted into one of the above labels.
- What is a “good profile”?
- Does your profile impact your MBA aspirations?
- How to build your profile?
- Take up certification courses aligned to your career aspirations
- Take up positions of responsibility
- Take up social impact activities
- Take part in contests, events, and cultural festivals
- Take an interest in the Entrepreneurship Cell of your college
- Take your interests to the next level
- Improve your public speaking skills by joining Toastmasters
What is a “good profile”?
A good profile is one which would rate as “average” or “above-average” on most of the elements listed above and have a spike on at least one of elements.
A spike is a level of achievement on a parameter or attribute that indicates that you are really better at it than most of the other people in the fray.
A few examples of what spikes are:
Academic Spike — Someone who has above 90% in X, XII, and Graduation will be considered to have a huge spike in academics. The key is the 90 in graduation since most aspirants (at least in this part of the world) tend to have 90s in X and XII, it is the 90 in your graduation that will put you in the outlier category.
Sports Spike — Those who have participated in individual or team sports or games at a district, state, and national level will be viewed as having a spike since most aspirants will have played but not professionally. A student I met recently told me that the moment he put forward his national-level badminton at the under-13 level in front of the NMIMS panel the interview changed (he made it despite the fact that he had just cleared the cut-off). Even running the marathon or cycling if done seriously with achievements to speak about can be a major spike.
So similarly you can have a spike in any one area it can be leadership spike if you have always held positions of responsibility. It can be an extra-curricular spike if you have participated in a lot of dramatics, singing or dancing at college-level. It can be a special interest spike if you have formally taken up dancing, singing, painting, languages or any other interest and are pursuing it seriously.
Does your profile impact your MBA aspirations?
Your profile plays a major role in three things:
- The probability of you getting a call from premier institutions
- The conversation you are going to have in your PI
- The shortlists you are going to get during your summer & final placements
But all of the elements listed in the profile factors do not equally influence all the three things mentioned above.
Getting a call from premier business schools
Each b-school has a different set of criteria based on which it shortlists applicants for the second stage. The usual elements that come into play are
- CAT Score, Academic Profile & Work Experience
Each b-school gives each of the three components a different weightage and in some cases no weightage at all to calculate a Composite Score (they might use a different name)
IIM-B gives weightage to work experience, IIM-I gives more weightage to XII marks etc.
Freshers need not worry since most b-schools take in a healthy percentage of freshers (about 30-40 per cent). The weightage for work experience will make it easier for working professionals to get a call — they can get in with a lower percentile when compared to freshers. Also, for the first call, it is only the quantity of work experience that will play a role and not the brand of the firm that you are working with.
What is important to note is that these criteria might change from year to year.
Do not worry about what you cannot change — your marks in the past — let the IIMs decide their weightage and give out calls based on their calculation, focus on what you can change.
Those who have graduated and have poor graduation marks need not worry since IIM-C gives a very low weightage to the same; get a good CAT score and you are in!
Also please note that Academic Pedigree — IIT, NIT, Stephen’s etc. — plays no part in this stage of the process since there are no marks allocated to the brand of college you have graduated from. The whole process is purely mathematical. If a college has X seats and it calls 5X candidates for the second stage, the top 5X candidates as per Composite Scores will be given calls for the second stage.
The conversation you are going to have in your PI
Most top colleges send out a form to be filled out along with the call the next round. This form will ask you to fill out not just details about your academic profile and work experience but will also ask you to
- list achievements — co-curricular, extra-curricular and work-related (if applicable) and
- write answers to questions such as
- why do you want to do an MBA
- what are your career plans
- what are your strengths and weakness
- what is the biggest challenge you have faced in your life so far
- what is your biggest failure and what have you learned from it
- what are your hobbies and interests
The panel will have your filled-up form when you go into the interview and you will be asked questions based on what you have filled up. This is where the achievements and interests elements of your profile come into the picture. You can have a look at a sample form, that of S.P.Jain last year,
Even if a college does not have a form and starts off with a tell me about yourself, the interview will be based on the things to tell about yourself that are not captured in the CAT application.
The two elements — brand value of the college where you pursued (or are pursuing) your bachelor’s degree and the brand value of the firm that you are working for are not evaluated objectively, which means that there are no marks allotted to the same separately based on any criteria.
The panel will make it a part of the overall marks it awards to you in your PI, based on how you perform in the PI. So a good college brand by itself does nothing unless you do a good job in the PI.
Getting interview shortlists for summer internships & final placements
You will be having your summer placements 3 to 4 months into your MBA. This means that your resume will not have changed at all. So the profile you have before getting into the b-school is what you will have while applying for summer training.
It is at this stage that the brand value of the college where you pursued your bachelor’s degree and the brand value of the firm that you worked for become important.
Firms will have loads of resumes from all b-schools and they tend to make their jobs easier by giving out shortlists to those with big brand names on their resumes. So this is where the real value of the IIT-tag kicks in! Also, all firms do not do this, only the big consulting firms tend to do this.
How to build your profile?
As mentioned earlier, you need to focus on what you can change in your present and hence your future and not your past. The objective of this post is to give you a realistic idea of the selection process and help you chart out your future course of action. So do not get deflated but start looking at the ways below to improve your profile.
Take up certification courses aligned to your career aspirations
I am an engineer and I want to get into finance! Well, to do this you have to show what steps you have already taken towards your goal.
A lot of engineers who are dead serious about getting into Finance are taking up the CFA exams. A student of mine at IIM-C, the mecca in India as far as Finance aspirants are concerned, said that there are now on average about 70 students who have cleared at least Level 1 (out of 3) of the CFA! This number is bound to go up. The CFA is neither an easy nor a cheap exam to prepare for and take. But if you are really, really serious you need to take it up.
Other options for those keen on pursuing Finance are taking up NSE certification courses about which you can learn here
A great option for those looking at any specialization be it Marketing, Finance, Analytics or Operations are the certification courses from premier international schools such as Wharton on Coursera.
You can choose courses by specialization and college (just ensure that you choose top-rung colleges).
Freshers can really benefit by taking up a few courses especially in Marketing and Analytics since they will give you an introduction to the world of business as well as ammunition for the PI.
Take up positions of responsibility
This is one thing that freshers should really go after in the next semester. Forget publishing a paper as part of the symposium, organize the symposium! There are loads of committees and clubs on campus, you need to get into at least one of them, actively organize things/events as part of the committee/club and ensure that you a certificate for the same.
While both freshers and working professionals can take this up, it is easier for the latter to become an active contributor to the CSR initiatives in your organization. You can also sign up to do volunteering work for an NGO working in the field of your interest — education, health care, environment etc.
One specific thing that freshers can look at is applying to and joining student organizations such as AIESEC (they have city-wise chapters) or take part in their initiatives.
Take part in contests, events, and cultural festivals
If you are not interested in organizing then take part in inter-college events based on your interest be it — case study contests, b-plan contests, singing, dancing, acting, sports whatever you are passionate about. The idea is that you should come across as someone who does more than just going to college and back.
Take an interest in the Entrepreneurship Cell of your college
A lot of people keep saying that they want to become entrepreneurs some years down the line when asked about career plans or Why MBA. But mostly the line is similar to — any they lived happily ever; nobody knows how we are expected to take it at face-value. So show some interest and become a part of the E-Cell if your college has one!
Take your interests to the next level
Your IIM interview can revolve entirely around your passion or interest. So take whatever interest you have and explore it seriously. If you like languages then take up learning a language and clear at least a level. A student of mine liked to read Manga (Japanese comics) and she ended up learning Japanese and clearing a few levels.
If you like outdoor activities such as trekking or cycling join the Chennai Trekking Club. If you have always wanted to train for a marathon then train to at least do a fraction of it.
Improve your public speaking skills by joining Toastmasters
Those of you who want to really improve your communication skills with a view to doing well in the interviews should join Toastmasters — it is a not a training institute but a club for people to improve their spoken English. Once you become a member you can also take up positions of responsibility within the local chapter that you attend.