Mastering The Art Of Management: Deepak Kumar's ESSEC Business School Admit

Mastering The Art Of Management: Deepak Kumar's ESSEC Business School Admit

NIT Rourkela has always been the hub of hard-working and enthusiastic minds. Amidst the chaos caused by the dreaded pandemic, Deepak Kumar, hailing from the Chemical Engineering department, has managed to bag an offer from the prestigious ESSEC Business School of France (ranked 3rd by the Financial Times, 2020) with a perfect amalgamation of hard work, persistence and perseverance.

ESSEC (École Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales) is a graduate school with programs ranging from Bachelor to PhD and a wide range of Masters's programs, including the Grande Ecole Masters in Management and Global MBA programs. It also offers executive education programs. 

In a candid conversation with Monday Morning, Deepak Kumar shares his experience and preparation strategy behind this extraordinary achievement.

Monday Morning(MM): You didn't get into a higher education based on engineering. When and how did you manifest this choice of going into Management? 

Deepak Kumar (DK): I took up Chemical Engineering after my school days, thinking that it would be more related to chemistry, but ultimately, it was more about complex mathematics which didn't interest me. As a result, my grades started dropping right from my 2nd year. But at the same time, the extracurricular activities I participated in interested me a lot, in particular. being a part of Monday Morning, Clarion, and starting the Training committee helped me develop a personality as well as connect with a lot of different people, all with different perspectives. This offered a chance for me to look into different career choices post B.Tech and by the end of my second year, I had my heart set on taking up a career in either Strategy Consulting or Finance. 

Talking about his interest in finance and consulting since his college days, Deepak said- 

We had the concept of open electives where we could choose various courses across departments at our own will. So based on my interest, I chose a couple of finance based electives. And I still vividly remember, the professor who had checked my Money banking and finance paper marked my paper as the best paper he had ever checked. This motivation made me realise that I have a knack for this field and could pursue this in my future. 

MM: How did you come to know about the MIM (Masters in Management) course? How is it different from the MBA (Master of Business Administration) course offered by IIMs or other business schools?

DK: I came across this course at the end of my second year. At that time, the course was gaining a lot of popularity, particularly in Europe. For me, it boiled down to the choice between MBA or MIM as I had already decided to take up a management course after graduation. The course structure for both these courses is largely similar. However, there is no requirement of work experience for getting into MIM, whereas, for an international MBA, a minimum of two years of work experience is a must. 

Moreover, to get into top MBA programs, such as the ones offered by M7 schools in the US, with a typical Indian applicant profile needs a solid 4-5 years of work experience. Personally, I was intent on starting my management education as soon as I could, and thus MiM was a natural choice for me. In addition to that, I felt that GMAT exam suited my strengths more than the CAT exam. 

MM: Why did you choose ESSEC, France, as your destination for MIM? How did you come across it?

DK: The first parameter I looked at was college rankings, and ESSEC Business School’s Masters in Management program is recognised as third best in the world by Financial Times and QS Rankings. Two other factors made it into one of my target universities. One, the curriculum there offers enormous freedom to choose your courses. In a way, the students get to design their entire course structure. Second, they have a system called apprenticeship, which is a work-study program. Here one can study at the university for, say, 2 days a week and work for the remaining three days of the week with a company depending on the contract. The biggest benefit of the apprenticeship program is that the company would pay off the entire tuition fee and offer a healthy stipend on top of that.    

I had also thought of applying for London Bussiness school and SDA Bocconi School of Management in the second round had I not cleared the first round of HEC Paris and ESSEC Business School

MM: Could you tell us about the procedure for applying to ESSEC Business School, France? What was the eligibility?

DK: The procedure for applying is the same across all the B-Schools offering the Masters In Management (MIM) course. Firstly, you have to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), or Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The students who have done their graduation in any other language besides English have to appear for a separate TOEFL or IELTS test. Thankfully, I didn't have to do so as I got a certificate from NITR saying that the mode of communication throughout the course's entire duration was English.

The second step is to write a fitting application essay. The admission committee shortlists applicants for the interview process based on the same. After the interview, the committee decides on acceptance/rejection. The interview's acceptance rate is a meagre 6%.

MM: How difficult was the admission process amidst the Coronavirus pandemic?

DK: It was pretty much the same, and COVID didn't have much of an impact. The only difference was instead of giving the GMAT test at a test centre, I appeared for it online from my home. The rest of the procedure was normal and held online, as had been the case for the last few years as well. Probably the competition might have increased, but ultimately that didn't matter much.

MM: Enlighten us about your preparation strategy for GMAT. How did you strategize your preparation for every individual section?

DK: I appeared for the GMAT exam thrice, scoring 680, 700 and 730. There are two GMAT sections, namely Quantitative (Commonly referred to as Quant) and Verbal, whose scores contribute towards a total score out of 800. There's also a third section called the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section. This section, however, doesn't contribute to the final GMAT score but is always displayed alongside it. Finally, there is an Analytical Writing Section (AWA) in case someone is appearing for the test at a test centre. For the GMAT Online this section is excluded.

Quantitative section

The  Quantitative (Quant) section has two subsections, namely, Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. Problem Solving mainly consists of Aptitude based questions similar to those asked in CAT. Data Sufficiency is the section I found very challenging during my preparation. In Data Sufficiency, there are two options given to a question, and one has to assess the sufficiency of the given options. This section is challenging because one has to carefully check if the options' data is enough to solve it. The section consists of 31 questions with an allocated time of 62 minutes.

Verbal section

The Verbal has three subsections, namely, Reading Comprehension (RC), Critical Reasoning (CR), and Sentence Correction (SC). There are 36 questions in the Verbal Section, and the time allocated is 65 minutes. So, the time per question is less than the Quant section, so strategizing for this section is very important.

Reading Comprehension is pretty much self-explanatory. There is a text passage, and there are three to four questions based on the given passage. These passages broadly fall under the following categories: Business, Humanities, and Science. The number of questions varies according to the length of the given passage.

Critical Reasoning usually deals with questions about a given argument. There are questions like "What can strengthen/weaken this argument?", "What assumption does the argument make?" etc. It is a very cerebral section.

The third part is Sentence Correction. I found this to be the most objective part of the test.  This section's difficulty is that out of 5 given options, at least two to three options will be grammatically correct. Hence one has to eliminate based on specific rules GMAT tests and not purely based on intuition. This section fetches many marks if mastered because of how less time-consuming screening a problem and finding its solution is.  One can always invest the time saved in this subsection in performing better in time-consuming subsections like comprehension reading.

I improved on Sentence Correction by following the "GMAT Ninja'' Youtube Channel. As far as Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension go, my only advice would be to read more frequently. There is a very fundamental difference between reading and comprehending. We usually read things and do not make sense of them. In an exam like GMAT, where the time allocated is not much, one must read and understand simultaneously. I bought subscriptions to the Economist and Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazines to improve on this aspect. I timed myself while reading them. I tried to read stuff slowly and comprehend them faster, which worked wonders for me in my third attempt (a retake for my second attempt), and I was able to score 730.

For preparing, I used the GMATCLUB forum extensively, and I would recommend it to anyone who is preparing for this test. 

GMAT is an adaptive test meaning that the difficulty of the test tailors itself to the standard of the test taker. In simpler terms, if you keep getting questions correct, the algorithm will keep increasing the difficulty of the questions asked. On the other hand, getting easy questions wrong has a higher penalty than getting difficult questions wrong.

MM: What was your process for writing the application essays, and what points does one need to keep in mind while writing one?

DK: I wrote essays for two colleges: HEC and ESSEC. For ESSEC, the first essay was to write about one's motivation to study at ESSEC and the second one was about the one thing that matters the most to that applicant. The very crux of these application essays is that they act as a form of self-reflection. These essays need you to reflect on your past and think of the skills that would make you suitable for the B-School. I had 20 days after my final GMAT attempt to write these. So, I took a holiday of 6-7 days and thought about my strengths. 

It is important to be honest in these application essays. I mentioned that I was still undecided between Consulting and Finance and gave my reasons to back it up. 

These colleges consider both the GMAT Score and the application essay with no fixed weightage of either factor. I divided the entire process into Academic (Grades and GMAT Score) and Non-Academic (Work Experience and Extra-Curriculars). My grades were horrible, and I had no work experience. For both the academic and the non-academic, in a way had one thing going for me, and the other one was not really in my favour. I tried to sell the good stuff (chuckles!).

My story was that I was not a natural at GMAT, but I had worked hard and shown decent improvements with each attempt. I tried to tie that with my JEE story, in which I performed poorly the first time and did much better the second time around. That added up nicely. I also wrote about my specific experiences working for Monday Morning

My advice would be to approach the essays with a very calm state of mind. Be honest. Try to sell your strengths. If your skills and the college’s requirement don’t quite overlap, don’t get disheartened as there are other colleges which would value your set of skills.

The following flowchart can give a brief idea regarding Deepak’s strategy of bagging a prestigious seat in a B-school abroad.

MM: How do you think the interpersonal skills you developed in NITR have helped you achieve your dream?

DK: I consider myself to be a very confident speaker. I can put forth my ideas without much of a hassle. NITR helped me in this regard. I still remember stammering in my first year at NITR. Debating and being a part of Clarion bolstered me in this regard. Debating week in week out with some of the best speakers on campus obvious helped me have clarity of thought and expression. One of my friends once told me that everyone who joins NITR, irrespective of background, leaves the institute with a personality. I definitely concur. Let's face it, life at NITR is pretty hard. One has to balance all kinds of things.

The interview panel consisted of 2 professors and one alumnus from ESSEC. I was very confident throughout the interview due to my previous dealings with professors as part of Monday Morning, and it boded well for me.

MM: Often, a factor that concerns every GMAT aspirant who plans to pursue Management abroad is that they have to incur a huge sum of expenses for the entire course. What is your take on this?

DK: Yes, there are some chances of incurring a huge expense for the entire course. But we have some lucrative offers in France that allow us to stay back and look for work for a couple of years after completing the course, unlike various other countries. In my interaction with alumni, and through data found on the web, I found the Return on Investment for top MiM programs to be pretty good. 

Besides that, we can avail of the apprenticeship facility in France, i.e., the study work program. The company will not only provide you with the full tuition fees but will give a handsome stipend additionally. But such facilities can only be availed after the completion of the 1st year of the course. 

Bank Loans, Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFC) such as Prodigy Finance, and various other scholarship programs like the Eiffel Scholarship Program and the Charpak Scholarships are some financing options available to students. 

MM: What specialization would you be pursuing your Master's in?

DK: I am intrigued by the field of Finance, and I have been preparing for the CFA test, which I plan to appear for in the next year. 

During my placement preparations, I tried my hand in the field of consulting as well. I followed Victor Cheng's case videos and books. I actually even applied some real-life cases to my friends and made their life hell (chuckles). But to pursue my interest in consulting in the French market, I need to learn French, which I hope will be done by the time I reach France. Currently, both fields interest me a lot, and I hope to choose once I get a formal education regarding both.

MM: Where would you like to see yourself after completing your degree at ESSEC Business School, France?

DK: I am currently aiming for a job at the top 4 consulting firms in the world. If things don't go according to the plan, I will explore various other aspects of management.

MM: What other options might a student pursue in this career domain?

DK: Well, there are numerous options in which a student can pursue a career in. Management opens up many job opportunities in multiple sectors such as Consulting and Audit, Banking and Finance, Pharma, IT, even Real estate and luxury market. Specific job roles include General Management, Marketing and its variants, Sales, Supply Chain, Accounting and Finance, and Consulting. 

Deepak also cited an example to give the readers an idea of the versatility of the course. 

ESSEC has a system called ‘Chairs’, which is a set of courses taught by large corporations in conjunction with the faculty. For instance, there is a chair on Luxury hosted by LVMH group, and a chair on sports management hosted by Paris Saint Germain, the football club.

MM: What message would you like to give to the GMAT aspirants?

DK:

The process is quite long and taxing, and, at times it can take a toll on your mental. Its important to simply relax once in a while. Talking about the preparation phase, you need to be at your best when you are going to give the GMAT exams. To avoid distractions, I even took a break from my social media handles for around two months! You need to give your best in the exam and hope for the best to happen after that. Be honest in your application essays and interview. Quite often applicants get disheartened about not getting a good college CGPA. Although the college CGPA is important, it can always be compesated by other aspects of your profile, it simply doesn't define you 2-3 years down the line. Being cynical is easy, dare to be an optimist!

Team MM congratulates Deepak Kumar for his successful ventures and wishes him all the best for his future endeavours.

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