By Satyaki Dhar
The YLP Programme is offered by the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad to provide guaranteed admission to its one year MBA Programme contingent on the applicants securing 21 months of work experience post earning their under-graduate degree. In case you aren’t aware of the programme, you can always find information about it at – http://www.isb.edu/young-leaders-programme
The application process for the ISB YLP Programme consists of three stages. The first stage begins towards the end of the pre-final year of your undergraduate degree. The deadline ISB sets for this stage is around the first week of March. The second stage will require you to take the GMAT, obtain two recommendations and write a few essays. This stage usually has a deadline of around the first week of August. The third stage is the interview and this is held face-to-face at the ISB Campus at Hyderabad. Interview slots range from mid-August to mid-September.
The application itself, considered as a whole consists of the following parts –
2) Curriculum Vitae (CV)
5) GMAT score
6) Written case-study
Essays: Essays seek to find out your perspective on how your life has been. In my application year, the essay topics were “Describe your two most significant achievements”, “What is your career aspiration immediately after graduating from the ISB?”, “Describe a past experience that has shaped who you are today” and “Please provide additional information that will significantly affect the consideration of your application to the ISB”.
The last one is pretty standard. You need to look through your application and see if there is any other important point that you’ve missed out on due to the constrictions of the online application.
The achievements essay appeared again in the following year I believe. If it does appear again, my opinion is that in addition to telling them what the achievement was and how you went about doing things, you should also touch on why you chose this over your other achievements.
Other topics have kept changing.
CV: ISB traditionally asks for the one page CV. The difficulty in this isn’t how to compress everything into a page, but I feel its picking the right points to put on that page.
The best advice that I ever got in this area, and I’ll pass it onto you – make a complete list of all the achievements that you feel are worth mentioning. More recent achievements are to be given greater weightage and as the time elapsed since the achievement increases, the impact of the achievement needs to be that much greater in order for it to feature on your list. Then prune that list according to the scale of the effort and impact of the achievement. Try to strike a balance in order to show consistency and diversity.
Speaking about diversity - I’ve heard is greatly valued for the ISB process. How much diversity should you represent on the CV? That’s a difficult question, but even if you’ve done a lot of things you’ll be able to represent only 2-3 adequately well on a one page CV. So you would end up talking about only your most important ones while the rest would have to be accommodated through other parts of your application.
So once you’re done selecting the achievements you want to put on your CV, get down to making it. There’s only that much structuring you can do for a one page CV, but the standard sections that most of us who applied kept it to were – Academic Qualifications (Including academic awards, scholarships), Internships/Projects/Research, Extra-curricular achievements, Awards (Other ECA awards) and a Miscellaneous section if required. Some of us created special sections in order to highlight certain special skills acquired (Such as Writing or Web-design) and that works as well.
Video: Now this the fun part of the YLP Application. Atleast I had fun shooting my video. You’ll need to don your formals (Well, I did) and speak about the topic that they’ve provided for 90 seconds. In my application year ISB wanted to know if they were to admit one more student to the YLP Batch, why should it be me. Take some time and plan out the answer. I personally took around a week and wrote down the whole answer and thought I’d memorize it, but that didn’t work too well.
My tip, if you aren’t an exceptionally good speaker, make the extra effort to write down the whole thing. Since its only 90 seconds you’ll need to optimize on every word if you want to pack in the maximum number of points. Even if you are a good speaker, write it down once and say it to yourself to see how much time it takes. Editing can also become a lot easier if you write it down.
Recommendations: Recommendations provide the only third-person perspective to your application and hence the process of choosing your recommenders must be carefully thought through. Recommendations can be both professional (Internships, work-experience), academic ( Teachers, academic instructors/counsellors) or extra-curricular (Related to any sport, society activity that you participate in. The single most important point that you should consider before approaching a recommender is that person’s position (NOT post) to comment on your life. Choose people that you think know you well and would be in the best position to comment on your life.
Once you make a list based on that criterion, you could start boiling it down using the kind of information that you might want to represent to the school. For example, it can be expected that an ECA Staff-Advisor will primarily talk about your enthusiasm and work in a certain activity or a teacher will talk mostly about your performance in class.
Another factor you should consider is the credibility of the person providing the recommendation. If the Principal of your college would roughly write the same things on your recommendations as a Professor would, the person in the higher post (Professor) would be the better choice.
Talking about expectations, my conjecture is that since you’re applying straight out of your undergraduate degree and aren’t expected to have much prior work experience one recommendation should be from an academic viewpoint. Since you’re still a student and your profession is studying , someone should be willing to talk about how you perform there. Most of the people who were accepted that I know of had submitted two academic recommendations.
GMAT score: I believe this plays quite an important role in your application. Getting a 700 in GMAT isn’t really rocket science. From what I have noticed, your GMAT score is usually a function of how many questions you’ve practiced. There are exceptions ofcourse. The concepts are fairly simple and easy to grasp but practice does make a difference. It helps improve your speed and accuracy, both of which are well-tested during the exam.
It takes a bare minimum of 6 weeks to prepare for the GMAT. Around 2-3 hours of practice every day during that period should be enough for a 700. Do plan your study period and continuously assess your progress.
There is enough material and advice on the GMAT available on online forums. Lastly, in my opinion, coaching for the GMAT is really not required. Self-study as long as you’re willing to stick to a schedule should be fine. I know people who ended up getting as much as 780 with self-study, so it’s possible.
Written case-study: Don’t be scared if you haven’t solved a case before. The cases are very basic and require nothing than a little common sense. Knowledge of class 11-12 Economics might be considered an advantage, but is not a necessity. If you’re planning to study though, you might want to pick up any Beginners Economics textbook (G.Mankiw, may be) and learn about demand-supply, revenue-cost etc. The first 2-3 chapters should suffice.
Lastly, the case-study is a an hour long written one so while on one hand it gives you more time to think, ISB naturally also expects you to be more precise in your answers. Examples of cases: I don’t remember the prompts I heard word to word, but they were something to this effect –
1) Discuss the viability of a radio cab service in a metro. How would you go about pricing such a service?
2) European mobile phone company wants to enter the US mobile phone market. What factors would you consider?
3) Credit Card company is facing intense competition in the industry. What would you recommend for it to survive.
Interview: The average duration of an interview is between 10-15 minutes. The Written-Case Study and the Interview process are held on the same day.
The interview began with the generic question “Tell me a little bit about yourself…”. This is a standard question for most interviews (I realised that only later) and you can go ahead and prepare an answer for this. Be ready to talk for a good 2-3 minutes. You could give a short summary of your CV or alternately talk about things you can’t mention on your CV (For example: Personality traits). You could talk about how your life has progressed and how you have become the person you are today. Personally I mentioned a combination of all of these and how it has led me to apply for a deferred MBA program. You need to justify why you want to pursue an MBA, and why you want to take the YLP route.
Post that they tend to quiz you on the material you’ve already submitted (CV, essays, recommendations) and try to iron out the inconsistencies. Remember, they’ve got enough experience and have given enough time to your application before shortlisting you so lying would be a humungous risk. Be prepared to talk in detail about any activity, any point you’ve mentioned in other parts of your application. For this you might need some time for contemplation. Be clear on what your goals are, how you’ve gone about trying to achieve them and how the MBA & YLP fits into the picture.
All-in-all I felt that the interview process was meant to be a cross-check. I felt that they were trying to evaluate if I was capable of being the person that I had represented myself as on paper. There might be a few subject related questions
Lastly, again looking at the whole application - in my opinion, try to avoid over-laps. Don’t go to recommenders who will talk about something you’ve already written about in an essay. Don’t write about the same activity in more than one essay. Try to represent as much information as possible through the options available. It gives them a better all-round picture and helps them understand if you’re the kind of person they’d like in their class. Best of luck!
Satyaki Dhar graduated from St. Stephen's College (Mathematics Honors, Batch of 2013). He was the President of Finance and Investment Cell and perhaps one of the most active members of college. He got admission to ISB - YLP programme. Currently, he is pursuing Finance at London School of Economics.
If you have not heard about it already – ISB has a Young Leaders Program for students in their pre-final or final year of college. (You could graduate by 2020!)
Details of the course can be found here.
As part of the screening process, you will be required to submit an online application that includes an Essay and your personal and educational details in Stage-1. Once short-listed, you will be required to submit your GMAT or GRE scores in Stage-2, and appear for an on-campus selection process in Stage-3.
In this blog we will focus on how to answer 2016’s essay topics for the Young Leadership Program – ISB.
How to Tackle Essay 1
Write about an incident or set of incidents in your life that had the most profound influence on you. While writing this essay briefly mention the incident and the impact it has had on your life.
Remember that you have a maximum of 300 words to write this essay.
If you follow the structure given below, you should be on your way to getting to the next round.
This structure (or framework) is called START. It stands for:
Let us take an example so it is easier for us to work through this framework. Let us say you want to talk about your experience of organizing your college cultural event.
Give the reader a background so he/she can better understand the scale involved, how many people were going to turn up, how big were the stakes, what was the reputation of the event, and what impact it was going to have.
“As part of the core organizing committee at Vibrant 2013, our annual college fest that attracts over 5000 students from over 50 colleges in the region, I knew I had a very important role to play. However, in the days that followed, little did I realize that I would be taught lessons of leadership and management that changed my perspective completely.”
Now you have given them a strong introduction. There are other ways to make a similar impact such as starting with a quote, or with a line someone said to you, or with a situation. However, the important point is that the introduction should give the reader the context.
This is where you need to explain what specific role you had to play in the larger objective. Don’t try to play “Rambo” by saying you did everything single-handedly. Instead, focus on your role within the larger context of things.
“It was decided that I would be in charge of the all-important function of getting corporate sponsorship worth Rs. 10 lakhs. This was partly because of my communication skills, and partly due to my enterprising nature. I knew this was a big role and was thinking how to ensure we meet our budget through sponsorships. I knew the market was not very cheerful and on top of that our college fest was the last in the season, so perhaps they had exhausted their sponsorship quote.”
You have given a good idea about the challenges you faced. This should be the point that should whet their appetite for more. As mentioned earlier, try to be as specific as possible, including putting out figures, numbers, etc.
Here is where you need to say WHAT you did and also WHY you did so. The idea is to show how you executed the task assigned. Focus on the details that show how you handled challenges. This is where you showcase your leadership abilities.
“I did an analysis of the companies that had sponsored similar fests in the city and found that most of them were traditional companies with fixed (and now depleted) budgets. So I decided to approach the startups through a list of the 50-fastest growing startups I found in XYZ publication. I made an email (followed by a telephone) pitch for our college fest which focused on how they could benefit from participating. I showed how they could attract good talent (programmers, marketers, etc.), how they could benefit from brand recognition and lead generation, and how they could also get early adopters for their apps/services.”
If you notice, the above paragraph touches upon both the points (a) said WHAT was done, and (b) HOW it was done. A mistake here is to get into the details. Since there are only 300 words overall try to keep it as short as possible. More details can be given, if asked, at the interview stage.
Here, focus on the result of the action performed above. You should focus on the success (or even the failure) of the action. What is important is you give a very clear idea of outcome through data rather than any perceived reasons for success/failure.
“By trying to talk in their language, i.e., how they could succeed in partnering, I was able to engage 20+ initial prospects for sponsorship. Post our meeting, I was able to convince 14 such startups to take up one of the various sponsorship options that ranged from Rs.25,000 to Rs.1,00,000. Not only had I exceeded the quota by 30% but we also had a new set of companies that we could approach the next year.”
In the paragraph above, there is a clear success story but it is articulated using numbers, as well as intangibles, i.e., new set of companies. This is the important point that many people miss out when writing such essays.
The difference between a good and a great essay is how you are able to show your own learnings. If you don’t mention this, you have not answered the initial question. It is time to get personal by reflecting on self-growth.
“This experience has had a profound effect on my confidence level. I can say that I am a different person from who I was three years ago. When faced with a challenge, I tell myself “I have done this before, I can do it again“. This perhaps is the same feeling an Indian batsman feels when he hits a century on foreign soil. More than the accomplishment itself, it is the sense of confidence it gives him. I think the human mind works best when we are in a positive and happy state of mind. Whenever I feel stress, I go back to this time and I suddenly feel a gush of energy and a sense of accomplishment. In no time I feel renewed.
The second way it has helped me is by underscoring the belief to think out of the box. As the famous line by Shiv Khera goes, “Winners don’t do different things, they do things differently”. I have realised that we need to think through any problem to its logical conclusion. There is no challenge so unsurmountable that the human brain cannot think of finding a solution. If admitted to the ISB Class of 2019 through the ISB Young Leaders Program then this is the self-belief and unconventional approach that I would bring to the class”
If you notice, this is the longest of the 5 points in our structure/framework. That is because this essay merits more focus and attention to the learnings. The biggest mistake that candidates make is not focusing on their PERSONAL journey. It is YOUR story, so make sure YOU are the hero in it! 🙂
How to Tackle Essay 2
How would you describe yourself as a person and what are the two qualities / skills / attributes that you wish to further develop in yourself through the ISB Young Leaders Programme? (300 words)
If you’re comfortable talking about yourself and have a moderate level of self-awareness, this is an essay prompt you’ll find very easy to answer!
On the other hand, if introspection is not really your thing, you could be losing sleep over this essay. Don’t worry if you belong to this lot – once you get past your initial block and get into the groove, this can be a very enjoyable essay to write!
Read on to structure your thoughts before you tackle this essay!
Your answer to this essay should broadly contain the below sections –
1. A catchy intro (less than 50 words)
2. A description of who you are (about 120-150 words)
3. A description of who you wish to become post-YLP (about 100 – 130 words)
Remember that what they say about first impressions being the best impressions applies to the written word as well. Make sure you start your essay with a few sentences that can ‘hook in’ your reader. For example –
‘I was 12 when I first stood in front of a large audience and delivered an impromptu debate. I felt exhilaration course through my body as I spoke with gusto and passion and felt the audience respond. When I look back, I think that this was when I realised how much I loved influencing people through communication’.
‘The first time I sat down to seriously introspect my strengths and weaknesses was when I took a ‘StrengthsFinder’ test last year.’
‘I’ve always been curious about people, and the motivations and experiences that drive different people. This curiosity is directed inwards too – I have often wondered about what makes me tick!’
2. Who you are:
Before you begin writing this section, list down five to ten characteristics you’d like to communicate about yourself to the ISB AdCom. These traits could be a mix of personal qualities (for example, diligence, ambition, resourcefulness) and interpersonal behaviour (for example, empathy and the ability to influence others).
Next, carefully examine the list and narrow it down to the top three things you wish to say. Why three traits? Because you have roughly 120-150 words at your disposal – if you write about too many things, you may end up saying too little about individual traits. If you write too few, you may come across as someone who doesn’t have much to say about himself/herself.
Three sounds just about right. 🙂
Now, substantiate these three traits with corresponding actions you have undertaken. If you have stated persistence as one of your key traits, this would be the place to talk about how you got better at martial arts in spite of being sickly and low on stamina for many years. If a strongly developed civic and social consciousness is a key trait of yours, here is where you talk about your involvement with a local NGO or civic body.
Get the drift?
Here’s a neat way to round off this section – explain how these traits have led you to your career goals (if you do not have a very decisive goal yet, a general career direction) and thereby your decision of pursuing the ISB YLP program.
3. Who you wish to become:
Now, here is where you display your awareness of your current limitations, and your game-plan to overcome them!
Ask yourself these questions –
Who do you wish to become in the next 3-4 years? What is stopping you from already being that person?
What skills do you think you will need to develop in order to succeed?
What personal attributes do you feel are holding you back?
Again, make a list, and taper it down to two traits/skills. When you narrow it down, keep in mind that these ought to be specific traits that you can realistically learn from the ISB YLP program.
For example, if you want to learn how to build a professional network… this is a good skill to put down, because it is something the YLP can actually teach you through a variety of experiences.
However, if you’re looking for life lessons on how to become a happier person or a more focused person, even the best MBA program in the world won’t teach you that. Be optimistic, but realistic!
Once you have fixed on the traits that you wish to develop, it is important that you tell the AdCom how you think you will learn each of these lessons. What experiences does the YLP offer that could possibly shape you? Think about all aspects of the program… the people you will get to meet and share experiences with, the professors you will learn from, the clubs and initiatives you will participate in and the seminars you will gain insights from.
Once you’ve written this, conclude your essay with a powerful sentence summing up the impact the ISB YLP will have on your life and career… and you’re good to go to the next round! 🙂
Hear From CrackVerbal’s Successful Students
Rijul Jain, batch of 2014-15
“Do NOT bluff on your essays. Also, do NOT exaggerate either. Remember that the people reading your essays are veterans and can easily see through these things”, says Rijul Jain, who graduated from the ISB YLP program last year. Click here to know more about how he got his admit.
Darshana Sivakumar, batch of 2016-17
Darshana Sivakumar says, “After taking up the GMAT, I penned down my essays. That’s when I decided to approach CrackVerbal, to see if I was moving in the right direction. It’s very important to be original in the essays and not let other people influence what you have to say in them. However, it is also important to get feedback on what you are missing and how to improve. The CrackVerbal team did a great job at that!” Read more about Darshana’s journey here.
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