As an Indian engineer, this client was in one of the most competitive pools in which a b-school candidate can find themselves. In addition, she had a career goal that many Indian engineers share: to work in product management at a tech company, so she risked just blending in even more. To make matters worse, she had been on academic probation.
One option could have been to encourage her to shift her career goals to something more unique among this Indian engineer cohort as a strategy to help her stand out. We also could have played up the fact that she was a woman since that did differentiate her from most Indian engineers, but the truth was she had meatier stuff to leverage in her essays that trumped the fact that she was a woman in a male-dominated field. When it came to academic probation, we could have focused on the “reasons why” to try to explain our way out of something that the adcom never wants to see.
On the surface, the logical approach might have been to encourage her to switch career goals as a way to differentiate her application. But the truth was, she was a star engineer with some big name companies on her resume (e.g. Cisco, Motorola), so we chose to position her as the best of the best. In addition she had some things other engineers do not, namely stellar people skills with client-facing experience and experience co-founding a start up that had real market potential. Although there was some risk to sticking to a career goal that was common among this very competitive cohort, I knew from experience that she had what it took to be “the one” that the adcom wanted., even with a Round 3 application.
For the academic probation, we could have just kept the explanation short and sweet and tried to keep the attention off of it, but the truth was that it was a turning point for her so we leveraged this story to highlight what she had learned from this failure and the ways in which she had grown from it. In other words, turn this failure into a moment in which some of her biggest strengths were born.
Acceptance to Haas (her dream school & the only one we worked on together) with a Round 3 application!
I look to you to start a killer tech start up one day, Sarita! I want to be able to say I knew you when!