Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Type-casted ?

Do MBA Admissions committees really type-cast the swarm of applicants into pools?

What got me thinking was when I looked at the optional essay in my list of essays to write. Do I write something in this? Are there some 'extenuating' circumstances in my background that could be perceived as weaknesses or raise questions? Or is there some facet of my personality that can add value to my application, that has not been revealed in the other essays? Tricky question.

I've been attending a lot of webinars and the recent one, which was hosted by Linda Abraham (Accepted.com), helped applicants learn more about the Haas full time program. With a show of hands (virtually) the number of people who thought that their level experience (either low or high) was a reason for concern as far as how well their applications would be received was over 30%. Another post by Linda on the popular applicant group, 'The Indian IT male' shows how stressed these applicants are, they nearly want to change continents just to be different!

When asked how any admissions committee decides on the academic strength of students from various parts of the world, the answer is they are rated with their peers from their part of the world, which means their country. So, are these worries good to have? I would think its good to know and be aware of what you are competing with and who you are going to be compared against.

 I wouldn't blame the admissions committees for doing what they do. When I want to create a team for a project, I have to define a lot of factors which would bring us success. One of them would be to organise a good mix of people in the team. I would have to decide what each person brings to the group and so categorization comes naturally, albeit I don't really have to bring religion, race, gender into the foray when I do that. But the Adcoms have a bigger goal to achieve. To find the next batch of future leaders is no easy balancing act.

So there is no running away from the type-casting that is going to be tried out when your essays are read. What's important is that you are aware of it and decide to show something different from the pool you could be type casted in. How do you do that? Lets just say, I'll let you on my thoughts in a post maybe 6 months from now, when I have an admit in my mailbox. But feel free to post your thoughts ;)

Apart from that cheeky aside, just to let you know my type cast. I'm an Indian IT applicant, a female (didn't have to change genders to get that (assumed) brownie point!), deemed 'older' applicant, who is done fretting about this mould, who knows what she wants this year and is going all out to get it!

PS: A very interesting find on this subject was the Veritas prep app, MBA Admissions predictor. It couldn't predict anything for me, so I guess I'm not type-casted after all?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Getting done with a chore : TOEFL

Giving the TOEFL exam is a chore. Sitting for 4 hours craning in a cramped cubicle may seem like a small deal, considering you don't really need to study for it, right?. Spending $165 for a test to prove my skills on a language which I think in, spent my entire education using as my language of instruction and to top it having worked in the UK a couple of times, is really ridiculous.

Most of the top schools really dont ask you for a TOEFL test. Darden for example says that it believes Indian students speak very coherently and are high calibre (albeit need to slow down) and does not ask Indian students to give TOEFL scores. As you go to schools a little lower in the rankings, but still very good schools, they definitely expect you to report scores. No waivers please.

Another interesting thing is that the score is valid only for 2 years. I mean does one suddenly forget how to speak,read, write a language after 2 years? Ludicrous.

PS : After all this rant, I hope I get a good score (whatever that is !)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How do I translate what I like to what I want to do

Now that I had spent some time understanding myself, I wanted to open up to my audience about how I think I can take it to the next level. Key Takeaways from this post

My example..
When I think about my transferable skills, the one big aspect was my attention to detail and clarity in thought. I remember a time when I had planned my movement out of a project and into another project in a entirely different technology. This was 5 years into my career and I had the good fortune to be selected for a 20 member evening class to study this new technology in my company. I was later at a cross road at the point of my departure when a senior architect, on the basis of having worked for him while I was in a separate team, requested that I join his team instead of moving into a place in a new project. My boss at the time remarked to the senior architect that he was sure I wouldn't change my mind from trying out the new technology, simply because "she knows what she wants".

My love for software design was cultivated further when I was chosen to design 2 significant chunks in a software platform that was built from scratch. This was within 6 months of joining my new project in this new technology. The interaction with a multitude of people from delivery heads, solution architects, product line members, apart from internal teams of coders and testers brought out my collaboration skills. The learnings from that experience were experiential and exposed me to a wider net of teams. It also earned me a promotion and this was within a year of joining the new project.

My exposure to operations teams, who work the back offices with spreadsheets of failed orders or faults stuck in limbo, during my earlier project helped me too. It set the context of what was going on. Who was I designing for? The users of the system. What if something goes wrong, who would look into it? The operations and support teams. What would they need to help resolve the problem and answer a user's queries? Well presented data on screens, audit trails with relevant messages, milestones achieved with timestamps. Are there any other user groups of the system? Higher management and marketing/business heads who would want to understand the volumes of transactions and understand revenue generated and sources for improvement. So when one designs, they are designing not for one, the natural tendency is to think only for the customer, but several user groups.

What does that mean...
Taking this as an example, progress further to trail through your career. The key facts to notice is your transitions to newer different roles, hopefully they were ones you asked for and not pushed to take. No matter what the reason for the transition, if you stuck with it for a significant time, its most likely you liked something about it.

Just incase you were miserable doing it, even that would speak for what you stand for. If you felt strongly for or against it, qualify why with action verbs and conversely what would you do improve or what did you do to change it.

It is necessary to understand what you have done till now, what you enjoy doing, before you move to understanding how can you take this further.

How to take it further...

  • Finding role models in your company or customers who you have worked with plays a big influence on your future goals. 
  • Sometimes people we meet evoke aspirations too. These days for example, I read the news on government actions and I keep trying to put in the context of a large organisation that is run and really study ministers and secretaries of state as CEOs of business units. Whatever sources of inspirations, to really enjoy your future career, try not to focus on the monetary benefits except as a subsidiary advantage to a pivotal admirable career path.
  • Reading autobiographies about leaders from the industry/sector you aspire for, is great way to understand the  what are the challenges they faced and the steps that took to reach where they did. Do these match up with your qualities in anyway?
  • Reading articles about what people do in their jobs can bring insight. Useful resources are Business week online, Interviews of business leaders, Forte Foundaton articles and Student blogs.
  • Setting up informational interviews through contacts with people already in these positions is a very useful way to know more about what their typical day is like and what qualities are needed most in their kind of jobs.
The above methods will most likely help you understand what you would be passionate about doing post an MBA, if that is a path you ultimately feel backons you.

Takeaways to understanding your future goals

  • What are our transferable skiils ?
  • Dig into the transitions in your career, what had evoked that transition?
  • Analyse your career positions and keep searching for action verbs that come up describing what you liked
  • Connect the dots.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Setting Goals

Giving yourself a goal is to eventually see yourself somewhere doing something you feel will make you happy. But most of the time, we let ourselves be the victims of the external influences and situations that take us out for a ride. Many of us choose to think that is our life and we grow to dislike how it has slowly ridden us of our dreams or what we thought we'd become by a certain age.

Rather than be whisked away for a ride, its more fulfilling to create that destination for yourself. Once that's created very often we find the path is created. Have you felt this happen when you tried goals for the short term? Arranging your wedding, preparing for a important meeting with your top bosses, etc.? The thing here was that an external situation - your fiance/parents, your boss gave you these goals. What would happen if you set one for yourself?

 To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing.  ~Eva Young

The most important reason why we get lost after a while in the corporate world is we were so used to the structured world for school work, courses to take, instructors and counsellors to guide us that once we arrived, after the initial euphoria of a few years, gaining those promotions that seemed exciting to get, we find we have been so busy making money for our shareholders & directors and measuring up to the goals that they have set for us, we have forgotten if we had to make any for ourselves long term.

It is never too late to be who you might have been.  ~George Eliot

When I chose the book by Donald Trump 'Think Big and Kick ass', I just picked it up since the title was such a spunky one. Ofcourse I had seen Donald Trump in the reality TV board room and he is someone who would be easily intimidating. What he elaborated in the book with apt examples from his and his friend's/peer's lives was that the most important thing was to keep thinking BIG. That meant you had to have a bigger goal as you move on in life. The bigger you make it in some achievable quantums, the more engaging your interest in your life, the more time you would learn to live stress free. How stress free?

We always forget the time when we do something we love. How can we be stressed moving to a goal that we set for ourselves ? Think about the time you enrolled for a university course or for a job hunt, when you set out to do something that you wanted and achieved. Didn't you find it stress free and fulfilling ?

And like Donald Trump says in his book.

"I like thinking big. If you're going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big."

The serious question of what I want to do

Self introspection is the key to understanding yourself and building your aspirations for a career change or changing gear.

Wild imaginations of being a writer, interests in travel and photograph immerged in my thoughts when I introspected. Albeit only to confuse me initially, they also led me to understand what I liked about those interests. They also moved me to an understanding of what motivated me.

The writer in me likes to observe people and their situations and experiences, how they overcome their obstacles and these days why they do what they do. It also makes me analyse and critique, since writing is a evolution. My first attempt at fiction was a story on how people from different backgrounds go back to their roots to find themselves clash in a single scene.

Travel interests are largely a projection of my curiosity in different cultures, their sense of identity, history, apart from plain old exciting vacation time. Photography, a recent serious interest was rooted from the fact that I love to observe what goes on in the mind of a photographer when he or she captures the image. Why that composition, why that perspective, how was the light and shadow used, what are the layers in his thoughts, how did it arouse curiosity and be interesting.

A personal project that I undertook for my granddad's 100th birth anniversary celebrations, was a photobook that I wanted to publish as a takeaway for everyone in the large extended family that participated in the day's celebrations of the wonderful self-made man that my grandfather was. It got me digging through loads of photo-albums across several houses of relatives. The more I dug in, the more it showed me how widespread his impact in not only his own, but his siblings families. Every picture has a story. I believed it when I heard them from my relatives. At that time I wondered on my 100th birth anniversary who would remember me and what would they remember me with. Food for thought.

All this led me to believe that I have pursued what I inherently liked. I love to be curious, analyse, collaborate, try different things, design and critique. I like to work on details and over the years understood that I need to put a stop to going indepth, once it starts being irrelevant in terms of the big picture. These talents have led me down the path of software design, something I've truly enjoyed. Software design exactly covers all these aspects of human attribute, apart from a desire to create.

So that's about where I came from and after that I had to continue to understand what I wanted to do, now that what my nascent qualities were revealed to me. The result would now be a exploration of into my future career path.

Serious about self-introspection?

  • What activities do you love doing?
  • Why do you love it? What does it bring out in you?
  • Do you use those qualities at your work place and does it bring out the best in you?
  • Analyse your career path and responsibilities shouldered. Reflect if you see your best traits shine in them.