Former MER student Dinesh, a software engineer by degree, worked with the hospitality industry for three years before joining the financial services industry. After working at the Union Bank of India for seven years, he partnered with MER for his business school application. He pursued an MBA at Schulich at age thirty-three. Dinesh has recently graduated and is all set to join ‘Knowledge First Financial’ as Consultant, Strategy and Business Transformation in June 2021.
In his first conversation with us in 2019, Dinesh had shared his background, application experience, the challenges he faced, and his advice for the prospective applicants and reapplicants regarding the application process and GMAT prep.
Today, he has kindly agreed to share with us his MBA experiences at Schulich in India and Canada, virtual instruction, recruitment, networking, the challenges he faced in getting his desired job with his decade-long experience, and much more.
Talking Points of our Conversation with Dinesh:
- Background 01:30
- MBA Experience in India 03:50
- MBA experience in Canada 06:20
- Virtual Learning Experience 08:16
- Favorite thing about Schulich 11:05
- Schulich’s role in helping him get post MBA Job 12:25
- Insights into networking 14:12
- What he would like to change about the program 16:30
- Thoughts on MBA as an older candidate 18:40
Now presenting Dinesh in conversation with Poonam:
Poonam: Welcome back, Dinesh. Good to see you after two years. Last time we talked when you had just received an admission offer from Schulich. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Congratulations on graduating from Schulich.
Dinesh: Thanks for having me here, Poonam. I am glad that I am speaking with you today after two and a half years. My MBA journey started with your first edit of my resume in 2018. The world is entirely different now from what I had imagined when I started my MBA in September 2019. But I am happy that I completed my MBA with my name on the Dean’s Honor list and landing a job under such challenging circumstances.
Poonam: Congratulations on graduating with your name on the Dean’s honor list and on landing a job soon after graduation. That is an achievement. I am so happy for you. I am looking forward to having a good conversation.
Dinesh, for those who have not seen/ read your first interview, can you tell us a little about your academic and professional background?
Dinesh: I did my undergrad in Information Technology from 2005 to 2009. I had a job offer from Cognizant Technology Solutions as a software developer. However, for personal reasons, I could not join since that required me to relocate to a different city. So instead, I took up a job in the hospitality industry. I worked as a business development consultant with Hotel Heritage Residency in my hometown for three years. Then in 2011, I passed the Institute for Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS) Probationary Officers exam in 2011 and joined the Union Bank of India in 2012. For two to 2 1/2 years, I served as the Deputy Branch Manager at one of the retail branches in Delhi. Later, I was promoted to Assistant Manager and transferred to the regional office, where I headed the Government Business Department. I oversaw monitoring and implementing the schemes conceived by the Government of India to promote entrepreneurship. In December 2016, I was promoted as Manager, Regional Office, Chennai, where I headed Retail Deposits and Fraud Risk. After two years of my tenure at the regional office Chennai, I had a sense of inner feeling that my learning in the bank has come to a halt. And that is when this idea of an MBA came up to me.
Poonam: You followed a unique path. With a degree in software engineering, you worked for the hotel industry, and then, after three years, you switched to banking. As an Indian student for Schulich, you completed your first year of MBA in India and the second year in Canada. Can you tell us about your first year of MBA experience in India?
Dinesh: Schulich has two campuses: Toronto, Canada, and Hyderabad, India. Indian students have the advantage in choosing their campus for the first year. As I am married and my family is in India, I decided to start at the India campus. Both the programs are the same in every aspect, and the same professors that teach in Toronto teach in India. The final MBA degree does not mention anything about the campus you were on.
Starting the program in India has some advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of choosing the first year in India is that the students have a lot of time to have one-to-one conversations with the professors who travel to India. They come to India for 15 weeks to teach students without any other commitments and are generally free after the classes. So, you get an opportunity to interact one-on-one with the professors without any constraint on time or with the thought that other students might be, you know, requiring their time.
On the other hand, the biggest disadvantage is that the Indian cohort students will miss the opportunities to actively participate in the club events and networking events on the Toronto campus. We did not have an equal opportunity to take part in all the events. Events that happened in Toronto were in person, and we were staying in India. I feel the situation has changed now as everything has gone online. Presently Indian campus students are taking part in all the events that are happening here in Toronto.
Poonam: You moved to Canada last year for your second year. By then, COVID -19 had gripped the world. How was your second year different from your first year? How did the pandemic impact your MBA experience?
Dinesh: I came to Canada in September 2020. I have graduated without attending an in-person class at my Toronto campus. I do not think virtual classes have significantly affected the academic side of my MBA experience. But the virtual world has undoubtedly impacted my interaction and networking experience. The class of 2021 at Schulich has approximately 400 students, and I hardly know half of the students. I missed the post-class interaction with fellow students. On the networking front, the industry participants could not join one of the key networking events for students specializing in finance because of technical difficulties. The firewall restricted them from participating in those events from their office systems.
There are many participants in the job information sessions, and even if you keep your hand raised, you get very little visibility, opportunity, and time to speak with the presenters. However, I think the situation has improved compared to how it was a year before because people have slowly identified the fallouts and improved this new way of organizing events.
Poonam: Can you tell us in detail how did the virtual mode of learning panned out for you?
Dinesh: Ever since I came to Canada, my entire second term was completely online, and I only took my classes through zoom. A couple of minor disadvantages. First, I learned my presentation skills course sitting and presenting before the computer screen instead of a group of audience in an auditorium. During regular times, candidates prepare the case and present their findings and recommendations in a massive auditorium full of audiences. In the virtual format, sitting in front of a computer and presenting before the computer screen naturally affects the process. Second, I missed an opportunity to visit the headquarters of various banks as a part of my Risk Management course. So those are some of the minor disadvantages that I had.
In terms of academics, I did not find any significant negative impact. I also took specific measures to ensure that the experience was equally enriching. I generally logged into my virtual zoom chat room 10 to 15 minutes before starting the class. Most of the students logged in almost at the time the class started. The professors generally open the room 10 to 15 minutes before the start of the class, which allowed me to interact with my professors one on one.
Apart from this, I also made sure that I switched on my camera during every class I attended. My observation was that more than half of the class did not prefer to switch on the camera during the classes. In my opinion, regularly interacting during the classes and having the camera on are two essential aspects of virtual learning. Subsequently, when I was looking for job opportunities, I reached out to a couple of my professors for a referral. They immediately recognized my name and contributions to class and happily agreed to write for me to the hiring managers. This would not have been possible if they could not recognize my face or contribution to the class.
Poonam: I am glad you leveraged the virtual platform to your advantage. It seems very insignificant, but this is a valuable tip that when you are attending an online class, you should keep your video on so they can see you. What is your favorite thing about the program?
Dinesh: I will say two things. I have two favorite things about the program. The first one is the program's flexibility, especially for students from India. They have the option to start their first year either in Toronto or in Hyderabad. And the second important aspect of the Schulich MBA program is the professors' quality—another important strength of the Schulich MBA. Most of the Professors are well connected to the industry and are updated with the current trends. They work in top positions, and they take out time to come and teach the students. So you get good exposure to what is happening in the industry. Each professor acts as a mentor and part of the Career Development Center rather than just teaching you academics. So it ends up not at what the Professors can teach their students but at how much the students are willing to take from the Professors.
Poonam: True. Is there anything that you wish you had known earlier before you started your journey at Schulich?
Dinesh: I did not know the importance of networking and the Canadian work experience when I started my MBA. I spent most of my time concentrating on academics (the mistake most Indian students make) and scoring good grades. As a result, I failed to spend adequate time networking with people and understanding the Canadian market. When students interview with hiring managers in Canada, they should be prepared to the extent that they sound like an insider already. Understanding the Canadian market and speaking in the local business language are the two most important things.
Poonam: Good point. You are going to join your post-MBA job in a few days. Do you think your MBA helped you get your desired post-MBA job?
Dinesh: I will be joining as a Consultant- Strategy and Business transformation of the financial services company in Canada. When I started my MBA, I intended to get into corporate banking. I was working in a commercial banking segment in India. The path towards their goal could be straightforward for some candidates, but it could be convoluted for the most. In my case, corporate banking rules and investment banking rules are some of the coveted rules in the financial services industry. And without the local market knowledge or previous work experience in that segment, it was difficult for me to break into that segment. I do not have any past work experience in corporate banking; however, I have gained entry into financial services. MBA has helped me achieve where I wanted to reach. But the process, in my case, is not that straightforward. MBA has given me relevant connections, and I am trying to understand the industry and the requirements for the corporate banking rules here. And once I enter the industry, these connections will really help me switch over to that corporate banking segment.
Poonam: So that brings me to networking. What are your thoughts about networking in the current unusual circumstances?
Dinesh: The mistake that students from India make is that they concentrate too much on academics and miss out on other things. India is an academics and grade-obsessed country. Networking is equally important as academics. In usual times, the general practice is to invite the connection for a coffee chat and initiate the conversation. In the virtual setting, initiating a conversation could be difficult. The positive side of that is that you have a lot of time, so you can avoid wasting time traveling. When you try to initiate that conversation with your connection, we must properly start that.
The mistake that most MBA students make is to send a straight text or an SMS to their connection asking if they could refer them for this role. Generally, that does not resonate well with the recruiters. They expect that a student reaching out to them is enthusiastic to know about the role and the industry, and more importantly, they expect the students to ask about the career path they have traveled. So, you must build trust upfront and share the profile with the connections before discussing potential job opportunities. If we do that, I do not think networking is complicated, even under the virtual setting. From my virtual networking experience, I can say that the response rate is higher if the connection is an alumnus and works in a role the candidate is interested in.
Poonam: Is there anything you would like to change about the program?
Dinesh: Schulich cohort has a large concentration of Indian students (~40%). The diversity of the cohort can be improved by having a greater proportion of students from other countries. However, my understanding is that there is a vast Indian community in Canada and almost all universities in Canada have many Indian students. So, I am not sure whether this can change quickly for any university in Canada. Another critical aspect that could be improved is the Career Development Center's role in helping students find a job. I have seen the career development center from close quarters only in the last 12 to 18 months. This period has been unusual. Despite that, I still believe the Career Development Center could play a much more active role in helping students establish that right connection instead of just reviewing the resume and helping with the cover letter. Finding a job is something beyond that. However, the last two years have been like never before; the priorities are continuously changing for everyone around.
Poonam: People often think that if they are 30+ MBA is no longer an option for them. But you started your MBA after ten years of work experience. Do you think it was worth investing in MBA with such extensive experience? What advice you have for applicants who have more experience than average MBA applicants?
Dinesh: If a candidate decides to do MBA after 30, that is a very brave decision. They should feel proud of that. However, if you are over 30 while starting the MBA, there is a greater chance that you could be among the outliers in your cohort. For example, in my India cohorts’ batch with 55 students when we started, only four students were above 30, and I was one among those four. The biggest fallout of having a very high work experience before an MBA is that the candidates are likely to have limited options post their MBA. The new country or the new market will not readily take their ten years of work experience at face value. The candidates cannot take up entry-level roles that require only two years of work experience (obviously overqualified) or mid-senior roles (5-7 years of experience), for which they expect the candidates to have local work experience.
However, there is a positive side to it. Candidates with approximately ten years of work experience will have to convince a recruiter for a role that requires 3 to 5 years of experience that understanding the new market and learning the local business will be the priority. Fortunately, though companies may give entry-level or moderate experience (3-5 years) roles, the compensation could be likely higher than other candidates working at the same role with a lesser work experience. So, the compensation will not be a problem, but the first role and the designation could be a problem.
My final thought about 30+ candidates is that they should be prepared for a little longer struggle. Thirty years is not the end of the road or the end of the dream. There is always a way open for them, and once they have one or two years of local work experience, their previous nine or ten years of work experience will become more valuable. MBA is an education that could help them reap benefits for the next 30 years
Poonam: Wonderful. This is precious advice for more experienced candidates or experienced MBAs seeking to start their post MBA careers in a foreign country.
Dinesh: In fact, when I joined my program, I had the same fear at the back of my mind. And after I started my first year, there was too much emphasis on the work experience. So at one point in time, I felt like finding a job would be a cakewalk, but my assumption was wrong.
Poonam: You learned from experience, and people will learn from your experience. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Is there anything you think I should have asked?
Dinesh: I would also like to stress another important thing- pursuing additional interests outside of academics. The companies are looking for a well-rounded personality, not just a candidate who has a 7.5 GPA out of nine and has been meritorious in economics. They do not want that kind of people because when we enter a new job role or a new organization, recruiters know that we fulfill only 30 to 40% of the job requirements. So, they expect you to have the enthusiasm to learn. They want you to be a quick learner to train you after you enter the organization. So the candidates should provide them with a glimpse of their diversified activities in their profile. For example, if a question comes up on leadership skills, the candidates will have the flexibility to answer that question with their experiences outside of work, but 80 to 90% of the candidates would explain leadership skills through their professional experience. And more importantly, your additional interest, such as cycling (which I was doing in India) or taking part in Environmental Protection campaigns, will also provide candidates an opportunity to build their professional network.
Poonam: I remember you were an avid cyclist back in India. Were you able to pursue your interest in cycling here in Canada?
Dinesh: In the last year, most of the country is under lockdown, and more importantly, I have been looking to purchase a road bike for the past two or three months. But because of Covid, the entire supply chain is disrupted, and the entire country is out of stock. So the two or three models I have been looking for in the past two-three months, I cannot find them anywhere in Canada.
Poonam: You will find it eventually. Alright, Dinesh, thank you so much for your time sharing your MBA experience and insights. I really appreciate it. It was wonderful chatting with you after two years. Your insights on online learning, networking, post-MBA prospects for experienced candidates will be helpful resources for prospective applicants. I wish you good luck with all your personal and professional endeavors. Good luck, have a great time. Thanks again.
Dinesh: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking to you as well. I am glad that I could be of help to the students. If anyone needs any help regarding their education, they could reach out to me anytime through my LinkedIn profile.
Poonam: Of course. Thanks for offering it. I will provide your LinkedIn address. Thank you so much, Dinesh. Have a good day.
Dinesh: You too. Thanks.
You can connect with Dinesh via LinkedIn.
You may find below the MBA experience of other MER students:
For questions, email Poonam at firstname.lastname@example.org