Monday, April 21, 2008

MiF interview

Congrats, you've made it through the application and were fortunate enough to get called for an interview. Here is my experience with the process.

- Who will interview you?
The program will ask an alumnus who lives/works in your area to sit down for a chat. In my case it was a 2006 graduate of the program.

- When and where will the interview take place?
That's up to the interviewer and you; you basically make whatever arrangements that suit both of you. I interviewed in a coffee shop after work, but a fellow classmate interviewed on a weekend. Coming from work I was dressed in standard work clothes, i.e. suit, but my classmate was specifically told to dress casually.

- What do you discuss?
The short answer is that every interview is different. It's my understanding that the program will send a list of questions or points they would like cleared up to the interviewer, but the interview structure is up to the interviewer.

My meeting was really a casual chat, where he occasionaly asked a question but most of the conversation seemed to flow naturally from topic to topic. We talked quite a bit about my motivation for the program, what I aim to get out of it and what I plan to do afterward. This was probably the most important part of my meeting and speaking to classmates and alumni everyone agrees that this is the interview's main focus. In that regard, be sure to know your story well. Be able to explain what you want to do, why, and how the program fits into your plan. In my case I discussed the job I wanted to do, what skills I lacked in doing it, and how the program will bring those skills.

On a related note, I was asked about which electives I would take to get those skills and what kind of company I aimed to work in post graduation. Look over the elective list and think hard about which companies you will target in your job search in case this comes up. Also think about your job search strategy, this was part of our discussion also.

Other than motivation, we talked mostly about his experiences in the program, which led to great discussion. We talked about everything from his job search experience, classes and the level of academic rigor, programs such as Taboo (a culture fair), and classmates. Note, the classmate discussion led to brief behavioral questions about my experience with teamwork as teamwork is key for many of the courses. The questions weren't out of the ordinary though.

Have questions to ask prepared of course, but in my meeting there really was no Q&A part. The questions I wanted to ask, about coursework, living in London, etc. seemed to naturally come up in our conversations.

All in all my meeting was perhaps an hour and a half. The main point is to know very well your motivation very well. Do that and you should be fine.

Best of luck

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

MiF application

It's late in the application season for this year (although the last deadline is still a few weeks away) but I wanted to write about the application process for posterity. The MiF 2010 season will start in only about 6 months!

Anyway, there are 3 core parts to the application: essay, GMAT, and recommendations/referees - just like most other business MSc and MBA programs. Here is my thoughts on each one.

Reading message boards such as Businessweek's MBA boards you will see that many people fret to no end about the GMAT. While the exam is important and you of course should work to make your score as high as possible, I think people worry far too much about it. Programs are being serious when they say that the GMAT is but one component of your application, and they look at your profile as a whole in their decision. Most programs make the average score and even a range for their admits available for all to see. For MiF 2009, the figures (so far) are a 705 average and a range of 620-790. If your score is within that range you are probably ok. A weaker score can be balanced against strong points. Note of course that every situation is different. If you have a quantitative background for example then you will be expected to score well on the quant section; falling to do so could cause problems. As another exmaple, scoring less than well on the verbal section will be more forgiven for a non-native speaker of English than for a native speaker.

Materials I liked:
- Princeton Review's Cracking the GMAT - nice explanations, techniques and tips throughout. Practice tests on the CD-ROM and online are good too.
- - online tutorials and good practice tests, low cost too.

There is debate about how much these really count, and my opinion (note that I've never sat on an adcom) is that they are less important. A bad recommendation will clearly hurt you, but who has a bad recommendation?? If you are not confident that the referee will write nice things about you then you don't ask that person to submit right? I think that in reality everyone finds referees that will make good comments, so a good recommendation is the norm, not something that will make you stand out. One thing to note about referees, said many times before I know but just to make it clear: the program doesn't care who the recommender is, that is his or her title. Most programs want at least one supervisor, but it doesn't matter if the referee is the company president or a rank & file employee. What's important is that the person knows you well enough to make insightful comments.

By far the most important part. MiF only requires 1 essay, the statement of purpose, so I'll comment on that. There are no hard rules for what a "good" statement is, but you need to address why you want to join the program, what your career goal is and how the program helps you, and what you will bring to the program. These things alone are not enough however. Your essay needs to be interesting and paint a story of you with a cohesiveness where one point naturally leads to the next. In my essay for instance, I wrote about my career to date, my rationale for the direction I've taken and how that led me to MiF. I then discussed why the program is right for me and how it fits into my goals. You want to give the impression that the program makes good sense for you and that you will bring the passion needed to be successful. On a technical note, it should go without saying but be sure to put the essay down after completing it and don't look at it for a day or so. Read it again with a fresh pair of eyes; you'll be shocked at all the mistakes you make in the first run!

Other helpful tips:
Show interest in the program! If the program has and information session near you, GO! The session will of course be informative and you'll have a great chance to ask questions to program officials and alumni, but it's a perfect chance to build some recognition. The session I went to had good food too - can't be beat! If no session is available to you, contact the program and ask about alumni in your area that you can chat with. There is a question on the application about contact you have had with the program and alumni, be sure to have a good answer!

There you have it. Best of luck with the application.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mobile Phones End Poverty!

I plan to write about my application and interview for MiF, but this is something I just couldn't pass up. This is a New York Times piece about mobile phones in the developing world and the HUGE impact they have on people's lives and economic well being. It's a long article - 8 pages - but absolutely wonderful. The article centers around a Nokia employee who's job is to track how mobile users in developing areas use phones, and what their 'ideal' phone would be. He then feeds this info to the Nokia design teams.

The article brings up a few amazing points. As income rises for a given person living in poverty, where is the largest increase in spending? Healthcare? Better housing? Better food? Nope, mobile phones. People who previously had basically no means of communication with people who are not close by can not be connected with everyone. Imaging the productivity gains when a poor farmer can call ahead to wholesalers or retailers, communicate what he has to sell before traveling all the way to market, and arrange for sales? The seller can plan and manage inventory much better and the farmer can get good information on what is in demand and what isn't. He can pre-arrange sales, eliminating some of his risk and perhaps getting better prices too. LBS published a study in 2005 that showed that for every 10 unit increase in mobile phones per 100 people GDP rose 0.5%, incredible!

The article goes on to discuss how phones are changing lives in other ways too, like for money transfer for people who don't typically have bank accounts. A city dweller for instance who want to send money to family in a village can buy a prepaid mobile phone card and instead of using it, he/she can call a 'phone lady' in the village, who hires her phone to villagers when they want to make a call, and give her the code of the prepaid card. The phone lady then gives the cash amount of the card to the family member, minus a commission. Ingenious!

The article wraps up with what Nokia and others are doing to sell phones to the poor. Can they make money selling to people who only earn $1-2 a day? Looks like they are working on ways to bring cost down low enough that they can sell to this segment. This must one of the greatest uptapped markets in the history of mankind.

Why is this so good? The more I read the more I believe that the solution to the poverty issue isn't more aid. Aid gets wasted or even stolen by the hands it passes though, and it doesn't seem to be effective in creating sustainable economic growth. Mobile phones however give people an asset that substantially improves their productivity. Higher productivity brings higher economic well being, and this is a self reinforcing cycle - high well being provides opportunities to further raise well being.

A big hats off to Nokia and the other phone makers for tackling this and The New York Times for writing about it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

First Post

London sojourn....

In just over 4 months I will be moving to London to attend the Masters in Finance program at London Business School. This blog will be about the my adventures, mishaps, and all of the wisedom I come across.

I want to give readers:
- Information about the MiF program, including application, preparation, course work, etc.
- Tales from that city on the Thames
- A front line view of the job market facing those aspiring for the financial markets

A brief bit about me, I'm an American who's spent the last 6 years stumbling about in Japan, first as a teacher on the JET program then in investor relations in Tokyo.

Ok, let's get started on this Sojourn...