We got an opportunity to speak with Vijay Ayyar, a recent graduate from INSEAD’s MBA program and currently working in Sales Strategy & Operations at Google’s Singapore office.

Following are the highlights of our conversation.

MBAfusion: How did you prepare for your GMAT?

Vijay: From day one of my preparation, my focus was on taking as many tests as I can. I used to take a test daily and three-four tests in the weekends during my one month preparation. In total I took around 20 tests. This amounted to a total of about 25 hours every week. Studying can take you only so far. Taking tests is the most effective way to improve your scores.

GMATPrep, Crack GMAT, 800 score test, 4 test and Power Prep tests were the tests I took.

Official Guide, Kaplan (mainly for Maths) and Princeton Review were my standard reference material. Apart from these I also got a set of 1000 questions for Verbal and Quant section from the internet. Those were extremely helpful, more than the standard reference material.

I scored 730.

MBAfusion: Was INSEAD the only school you applied to?

Vijay: My plan was to apply to one dream school and one or two back-up schools, both in round 1 and round 2. I finally applied to INSEAD (which was my top school), Cornell and Tuck in the first round. I got admission offers from INSEAD and Cornell.

MBAfusion: How did you choose these schools?

Vijay: I browsed through the rankings although I would say they matter but only to an extent. I referred to Financial Times, The Economist, US News (only for US Business Schools) and Business Week. Browsing through the schools’ websites gave me a lot of information and understanding of the spirit of the schools. I then identified individuals from my network who belonged to these schools. I then picked up the phone and started talking to them. Talking to an alum is the best way to learn about a school.

Consulting was a major career option preference for me in the short term. These schools are big on consulting. INSEAD was my dream school because it saved me one year and was an intense program. It also brings together students from over 70 nationalities thus enabling me to have a much wider exposure and build a robust network. Since, I was not looking for an industry change but a jumpstart towards a fast-track career in a consulting firm, INSEAD made sense based on all the factors I was considering.

I also attended the presentations and admission meetings of these schools whenever it happened in Mumbai.

MBAfusion: How did you go about starting with your application – building your story, reviewing your essays etc?

Vijay: The deadline was 1 October and I started writing my essays in June. During March, April and May, I did a thorough research and finalized the schools. I built my story around my consulting experience – my passion for it, my inclination towards problem solving in team, my progression from IT Consulting to Strategy Consulting, plans to develop new skills to be more successful as a consultant, my desire to broaden my horizons further by opting for an International career, etc. A great all-round application including GMAT scores, my work experience, well written essays, and great recommendations were the highlights of my application.

An important aspect of a candidate’s story is his long-term and short-term goals. B-schools would prefer a candidate with a safe-story and strong backups of that story rather than a person who claims to do unconventional things but has no background to back the story up.

MBAfusion: What role did your friends play in building your story?

Vijay: I definitely thought really hard on my story before approaching my friends. Then I realized that I need to build a strong mentoring relationship with somebody who has completed his/her MBA preferably an INSEAD student/alumnus. I started discussing my ideas with a friend and a recent graduate from INSEAD. Both provided great support. They helped me in polishing my essays, in developing an understanding of INSEAD and what the school is looking for in an applicant.

MBAfusion: And what strategy did you follow for writing your essays?

Vijay: There were five essays in total. I completed the first draft by myself. So, I would read the essays afresh daily. The idea was to provide my reviewers with something which is not too raw and hence demonstrate my seriousness towards the application. After preparing the fourth draft, I sent it out to a very close friend who knows me well. I asked him for an honest feedback on whether the essays portray my personality in an effective manner. After a few iterations, I sent out my essays to 5 people in my network who were pursing or completed their MBA from a top global business school and knew me very well. They were not specifically from INSEAD.

I believe, the final essays that I submitted were around the twentieth version of my initial drafts.

MBAfusion: Oh wow. And what was the greatest difficulty that you faced while writing your essays?

Vijay: I would say that understanding the question was the biggest challenge. Even after reading the question twenty times, there were one or two aspects that I wouldn’t have thought about. This made the initial phase of writing my essays quite a daunting task.

There was this instance where I had written my essay on “Have you ever experienced culture shock? What did it mean to you?” and sent it out for reviews. One of the reviewers came back to me and told me to address it from a completely different perspective. I realized that the new approach was much better compared to the earlier one.

MBAfusion: Whom did you take your recommendations from? How did you manage the recommendation process?

Vijay: I chose my supervisors from my then company and a manager from my previous company. Despite having an option of reaching out to a Senior Partner in the company, I stuck to my Manager for my recommendation. I strongly believe that the passion of your recommender for your MBA matters much more than his/her title in the company. Your recommender should definitely be somebody who has spent time with you professionally, who knows you well and would recommend you very strongly.

I gave my recommenders a 2-page note comprising points to highlight and examples. That made it quite easy for them since these are people who will be pressed for time.

When we come back next, we would speak about Vijay’s interview experience.

About Vijay

Vijay Ayyar completed his MBA from INSEAD and B. Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

He scored 730 in his GMAT and got admitted to INSEAD for the Class of 2010. He spent a lot of time on his essays and planned the application process effectively to build a convincing case to the admission committee. He had admission offers from INSEAD and Cornell.

Vijay is currently involved in Sales Strategy & Operations at Google. Prior to his MBA, he was working with Synovate Business Consulting where he advised clients on market entry strategies, market opportunity analysis, expansion strategy, market segmentation, competitive intelligence and value chain strategies. He began his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers and worked as a consultant to state governments and major private institutions advising them on their Network and Information Security related issues.


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