Assistant Vice President of Citibank Japan Ltd. Treasury Department (2 years)
Project Manager at Citibank Jaqan Ltd. (4 years)
Project Manager at a British Marketing Company (1 year)
Project Manager at an English language school chain in Tokyo (2 years)
To be honest, this was the single, highest hurdle for me. Having been homeschooled for most of my life, tests, especially in the genre of math, were a daunting challenge. I had been a trader in Citibank’s Treasury Department for two years, managing a portfolio of $20 million, but my trades were based mostly on economic analysis rather than on technical analysis.
There is only one way to master the GMAT, I believe; there are no shortcuts. Buy good GMAT practice material (texts, CDs, online resources, etc.) and tackle as many questions as you can. Don’t spend too much time on reading about hints, tips, etc. and don’t spend too much money on Veritas, etc. There is no magical way in which someone else can help you or in which you will suddenly be able to answer the questions. You need to just DO them … lots of them!
Another tip that worked well for me was I got a B5 notebook (big enough to take a lot of notes and small enough to always carry with you) and just wrote down every single question I got wrong, and then wrote my explanation as to why I got it wrong and what the best way is to get it right.
I wrote it by hand because I personally find that I remember better that way, I can explain in a graphically flexible way, and I do not need a laptop to see my notes (in the crowded train, in the toilet, or 5 minutes before I walk into the test center on test day). By two months, I had more than two full
notebooks. These notes helped me, not only by letting me review my mistakes, but also to realize which questions I got right or wrong most, or which questions I should probably just “wing” on test day without wasting time trying to solve (for me, those were probability questions!).
Write from your heart. Write about your passion. Write about your dreams. And then back them up with a defendable and feasible action plan. Finally, close your essay dramatically and energetically. My experience was that Cambridge, unlike Oxford (which I also interviewed for), likes to evaluate you as a person. For Cambridge, you actually can compensate for a less-than-average GMAT score by submitting and interesting, realistic essay that has emotional depth.
My GMAT was 640. But my essays got me through. I know this as a fact because admissions clearly told me that my GMAT was below average, but that they wanted to meet me because my essays showed that I was a very interesting, passionate person with an extremely diverse background.
In fact, my interview was almost entirely about my essay. My interviewer had read my essays thoroughly. This means that the essay, though passionate, must also be logical, consistent, and defendable even when put to the test of a face-to-face interview. Also note that the essay must be easily memorable, so that you can refer to its details through memory even during a near-nervous breakdown when your interviewer starts picking at the details.
I have heard from other applicants that grammatical mistakes are a big “no-no”! One of them had an interview that basically started out with “So, we counted 8 grammatical errors in your essays … can you please explain?”
Unlike what I have heard for some US MBAs, Cambridge is not looking for referrals from people with impressive ranks and titles. They are looking for referrals from people who really know you well. This again reflects the unique fact about Cambridge that it prefers to get to know you as a unique individual person and places emphasis on your personality just as much as on your past academic and professional achievements or how impressive a person might agree to write you a referral.
Therefore, find someone who will write you a referral that is colorful, deep, as well as impressive. This would naturally mean someone who truly knows you well as a person, which in turn also would mean someone you know very well because, remember, usually you will NOT get to see the referral. You will need to know and trust the person well enough to be sure that, not only will he write good things about you, he will also have the ability to make it colorful and deep. This means writing skills as well as in-depth knowledge of you as an individual.
In my case, I could have asked the CEO of Citibank Japan Ltd. to write my referral because I have had the privilege of working closely with him multiple times and he knew me. However, I decided to ask my immediate supervisor instead because he knew more about what my day-to-day tasks were, and also knew me as a friend at a very personal level.
For my peer referral, I had several colleagues whom I have worked with for nearly 5 years. We were all best friends by now. I know their wives, parents, etc. and have even traveled globally for some of their weddings. I ended up chosing the one who I knew was best with words and prose.
Confidence. Honesty. Courtesy. These would be the three keys to a successful Cambridge interview (also look at what I have written above regarding the important overlap between interview and essay).
In order to boost confidence, I paid 20,000 yen per hour twice for mock-interview sessions with a specialist named Stephen Greene, who operates in Tokyo. He was extremely professional and helpful. I sent him my essays and CV first before we met, from which he created a list of 30-some questions that were most likely to be asked based on the material I had submitted. During the mock interview, he would take notes about all my weaknesses and strengths and submit them to me as we closed.
During the official interview, I have asked around and the general consensus is that the interviewers are all extremely nice and polite. But they will ask questions that are intended to fluster you, so that they can see how you respond (see above example of my friend with the 8 grammar mistakes).
In my case, the question was, “So, I think you business plan in your essay is very interest. But I don’t believe it will work!”. Instead of trying desperately to explain why I think it will work, I basically looked him confidently in the eye, smiled, and said “I would love to invite you to Japan. There you will see … IT WILL WORK!”.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the interview. The man was kind, showed genuine interest in me, and had clearly read my essays very carefully. It was a pleasant chat; and you should try to think of it as simply a pleasant chat …on the day of the interview anyway! Until that day, practice, plan, and memorize your essays diligently and prepare for the worst! And, whatever happens, SMILE!
The Cambridge Judge Business School’s admissions process is interested in finding out about the person YOU. Try to impress the admissions team with your academic background, professional background, but also your depth of personality, your passion, your values, and make them want to ask you about your character. Good luck!!