Posted on July 10, 2021

Maritime Advisor from New Zealand Shares his Admission Journey to INSEAD with Dual Scholarship

Shailesh Success Story


Shailesh Sinha has excellent academic credentials (Master's in mechanical engineering from New Zealand and a diploma in Marine engineering from Singapore) and 16 years of rich international experience in the maritime industry. Currently working as a Principal advisor in Maritime New Zealand, Shailesh aspired to pursue executive MBA education from the top global EMBA program- INSEAD. He partnered with MER for his application and received admission into INSEAD's prestigious GEMBA program with dual scholarship– diversity and non-traditional.

In a conversation with Poonam, Shailesh shares his academic and professional journey leading up to INSEAD with dual scholarship.

Talking Points of the Conversation

  • His academic and professional background 00:55
  • Why EMBA 02:59
  • Career Goals 04:58
  • Why INSEAD 07:03
  • Application strategy, planning, preparation 11:55
  • Challenges during the application process 18:44
  • Assessment Day Experience 29:27
  • Interest and Hobbies 40:30
  • Thoughts on impact of Covid-19 on MBA experience 44:20
  • Insights into MBA Resume 51:08


Poonam: Hello Shailesh, how are you doing?

Shailesh: Hi Poonam. How are you? I am very well, thank you.

Poonam: Thank you for taking the time for this conversation. I appreciate it.

Shailesh: Thank you so much for your time. I know you are very busy.

Poonam: Not busier than you. Congratulations on receiving an admit from INSEAD's Global EMBA program with dual scholarship- diversity and traditional.

Shailesh: Thank you and same to you. Congratulations to you because I was your candidate representing you.

Poonam: Thank you. It was a pleasure assisting you. Shailesh, could you please tell our viewers about your academic and professional background?

Shailesh: Yes. I graduated as a mechanical engineer from India, and after that, I studied marine engineering from Singapore. Later, I did my Master's in mechanical engineering from New Zealand. I started my career by working on ships as a marine engineer officer. After that, I developed an interest in the design side of engineering. So I moved into a marine, oil, and gas design and manufacturing company in Singapore and Sweden. Later, an opportunity to work in New Zealand came up, and I moved to New Zealand and started working for Maritime New Zealand. Currently, I am working as a Principal Advisor to Maritime New Zealand. It is a government organization, a regulatory body that makes laws, policies as per the international laws within the maritime sector, including all the international shipping and domestic ships. That is overall about my career thus far.

Poonam: Thank you. You have had a successful career in the maritime industry. What motivated you to go for the executive MBA program? Why now?

Shailesh: Very interesting question.  Initially, when I started my career, I was more sort of an engineering-oriented professional. That is why I was in doing engineering roles. Later, I thought of moving to a managerial role, so I pursued Master's in mechanical engineering. But gradually, I realized I do not have business acumen, and I am making all the decisions related to the technical side of things. I was planning to move to the business side of things to make more strategic decisions at a senior management level. And that is what inspired me. Some candidates are fortunate enough to grow in the organization straight away as it is easy for them. But  I was facing challenges in reaching the senior management level. I realized that I lack the knowledge for such decisions, so I need to train myself up. Once I have acquired that knowledge, I can apply it to my current organization or future organization, which will help me reach the senior management position. That is why I decided to pursue my executive MBA.

Poonam: It makes sense. Can you please talk about your career aspirations in detail?

Shailesh: INSEAD EMBA is a program that is not like you study, get a certificate, and you are done. It is more about how we apply the knowledge step-by-step, module by module. Whatever we are learning, we need to apply at our workplaces. And based on that, we further grow in our experience, knowledge, and career, while studying at the INSEAD Global Executive MBA program. So, by the end of the program, we are in a good position to take up a management role and make more managerial decisions. After completing my INSEAD MBA, my plan is to move to the senior management role position within the organization or maybe, look for opportunities outside the organization. After that, I am interested in moving into consulting. Eventually, I want to start up my own consulting business, mostly in the maritime sector as well as in the data science and I.T. sector. That is why I am very much looking forward to this program, and I will specifically choose those modules that will help me achieve my goals or ambitions.

Poonam: You applied only to INSEAD. How is INSEAD  the best school for you?

Shailesh: The first thing I considered was that I am in a government job in New Zealand in my current role. So, considering the location of New Zealand, I started exploring the best business schools. I think all the business schools are good. It is up to the individual's needs. So first, I started with Business Schools within New Zealand. There were certain challenges for me. I realized that I would not get significant exposure from the business schools in New Zealand because we have got limited industry. Then I started exploring Australia, eyeing Melbourne Business School. I also looked at other neighboring countries like Singapore.  I am very familiar with Singapore because I studied marine engineering from Singapore and even worked there for a few years. I considered the U.S. business school Kellogg, HKUST in Hongkong, and INSEAD. But after filtering all the criteria, I realized that I want to get into a Business School that will give me international exposure. I want to work in a cohort that has a multinational and diverse background. Considering all those things, I was looking for a platform where I can freely express my thoughts and learn from those multinational and diverse background professionals. After considering all those things, the INSEAD EMBA program seemed like the best. Also, executive MBAs are generally working as well as studying. So INSEAD is the one best suited for me.

Poonam: Yeah, of course. It is the Business School of the world.

Shailesh: Yes, and when I went to Singapore a few years ago, the purpose of my visit was to visit all the business schools in Singapore. And when I was in Melbourne, I even explored that Business School. I did some homework before taking the first step toward the admission process.  I spoke with some of the alumni from INSEAD, and they were prompt in getting back to me. These are my honest personal thoughts. I would like to express to you and our viewers that the others business schools are also great, but it is all about what suits you the best.

Poonam: Exactly, it is all about your 'fit' with the program, and you found your best 'fit' in INSEAD.

Shailesh: Another reason for me choosing INSEAD was because of my current work culture. In my current organization, all my colleagues are from different countries, different backgrounds. I enjoy working in such an environment, and I can connect with everyone very quickly. I do not have any sort of challenges in connecting with people, so I thought I would go with INSEAD because of international exposure.

Poonam: This makes complete sense. You have such extensive international experience, and you will get that in INSEAD. Shailesh, can you share your application strategy, planning, and preparation?

Shailesh: Before starting to apply to any Business School, we need to put some time into thinking. And when I began the process of applying to only INSEAD Business School, I first looked at the application form and realized that I have to write six essays with a word limit of only 300 words. The questions were very much open-type of questions. And it is up to the candidate how much you want to write. But it has to be sound, clear, concise, and compelling. Further, INSEAD also needs a GMAT or E.A. or INSEAD assessment scores. Thus, preparing for those exams was another challenge, and it gets very challenging when one is in a full-time job, and one must juggle through work time, family time, and time for writing essays and preparing for GMAT.

All this made me think of an action plan, I need to explore where I am wasting my time and where I can gain more time to put towards essay writing and the GMAT preparation. So, considering all these things in my mind, I started with GMAT preparation. I used to wake up at 4:00 a.m. The last time when I went to INSEAD Business School, I bought a handbag with the INSEAD logo, and I just stick that on the wall in front of my bed. So, morning whenever the alarm ring that wakes me up, I look at that INSEAD bag, and I would say "oh yes, I need to do this. I must get there." To be honest, it is a good feeling. So, in the morning, I started studying for GMAT, and in the evening, I also spent some time studying. Then the next challenge was looking for someone to help me with those essays, someone to coach me. So, I joined the GMAT club, where I found several MBA consultants. But gradually looking at the ratings and every feedback I came across you, Poonam, MER (myEssayReview). I read the feedback, and I thought I would approach you and no one else the moment I get the score.

Poonam: Thank you, Shailesh.

Shailesh: And I will not lie. I went to Fortuna Admissions and Applicant Lab. There are so many recommendations on the GMAT club that can confuse anyone. But I wanted someone more experienced, more recognized, and someone who understands me at a personal level to coach me. So after considering all those facts, I wanted to work with Poonam from MER. And I approached you. We had our first meeting for one and a half hour. And I was pretty amazed that whatever I was saying, you just took notes in our first meeting. After that, you explained everything very clearly and encouraged me to reflect on my experiences in my essays. I remember I was worried and expressed my concerns that there is a word limit of 300 words. You said, "Shailesh, you just write your stories without fretting about the word limit. I will guide you through the process and coach you." That gave me a lot of confidence, and we started working together.

Poonam: I had confidence in you. I knew you have everything that the school is looking for, and you only had to put it down on paper. Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the school admission process, and how did you approach that challenge and overcome it?

Shailesh: First, the biggest challenge with INSEAD Business School is that the application process is very lengthy. Writing those six essays compared to any other Business School is enormous. The other aspects are crafting a perfect resume that matches the essays and getting a perfect recommendation letter. These three aspects are very challenging and tiring. Filling the application form and understanding what the essays are all about was tough. Honestly, thanks to you, the way you guided me helped me greatly in this challenging process.

The other challenge was getting the right score because INSEAD does not say what is the right score. They do not make a call or a decision, only on the score. You could have a full score, but if your experience is not great, and if you do not have international exposure or leadership skills, you may not get accepted. You need to have strong recommendation letters and a resume where your results are more sort of quantified. Of course, quality is there, but the results should be quantified and crisp as well.

International exposure is significant for INSEAD because the school's motto is- 'Business School for the world .' They take pride in providing that international exposure. I understand now better because recently we had a virtual event of all the candidates who have been admitted and I was amazed to see that everyone from a different nationality, different country. And I was a little concerned if I crack a joke, it should not upset someone else. So I realized that to get through this admission process, I need the right MBA consultant. So again, thank you, Poonam, otherwise, it was a challenging journey for me, and to be honest, if not for you, I might not be having the offer from INSEAD.

Poonam: It is very kind of you to say so, but you had the potential, and you worked hard. It was a collaborative process- teamwork. We worked together, and we were a good 'fit' for each other.

Shailesh: But the thing is, we may have all the talent and potential, but it is up to the consultant to help you showcase that. And that is what you did amazingly well. So that is why I am thankful to you, and I will never forget it all my life.

Poonam: Thank you, Shailesh. I am glad to be part of your success. I was just a mentor for you. That is how I look at it.

Shailesh: A mentor plus a coach as well. That is what I will say.

Poonam: Shailesh, you come from a nontraditional background- the maritime industry. Do you think your industry and your vast international experience gave you a competitive edge in getting admission to this prestigious global program?

Shailesh: Yes, indeed, I can say that confidently now. As I said earlier, INSEAD always looks for the candidate with different and diverse background plus organizational background.  Previously, I worked in the private sector, and now I am working in the public sector. I have mixed experience working in both sectors.  I am working in the maritime industry in a regulatory role where we make laws, regulations, and policies. This helps generate the economy of the country, in this case, N.Z., through efficient shipping lines. So it was kind of a nontraditional and unique background.

The other thing that contributed to my success was that I represented New Zealand at the United Nations. Attending the United Nations International Maritime organization meeting, especially in the role of a head of the delegation, I raised concerns on behalf of New Zealand and made those decisions at the international stage in the presence of 174 countries. I spoke about the real challenges New Zealand was facing, so most countries understand that. Making all those decisions, lobbying the people, understanding other countries' perspectives, and finding a middle ground was a unique experience for me, which I believe I crafted in my essays. And with your help, I managed to reflect on that in the essays, making me a unique, nontraditional candidate.

Poonam: And you got two scholarships- nontraditional as well as diversity scholarship, which is a feat.

Shailesh: Thanks for that also because you helped me draft two essays for that. I just want to tell the viewers that if I appreciate Poonam's support, help, and guidance, it does not mean that she will write an essay for us. She will always encourage us, show us the right direction, and let us know what is missing in our stories, but we have to draft the essays. We are getting into a Business School, and after studying MBA, we should be able to make the decisions and make those calls at that stage, and Poonam is not going to come and help us.

We can also look at the application for  INSEAD Business School in a positive way.  The moment we start filling out the application, we are already on board with the program. These essays are a sort of executive summary. The senior management does not have time to read a 5-6 page long story. They want a very crisp account of our story. And Poonam, working with you has been a learning experience for me. I have now learned how to write a two-page memo; I am writing so many memos now. Thanks to you for that.

Poonam: It is difficult to write a brief story than a detailed story. The schools want us to be very, very crisp, concise, and succinct. That is why they impose these stringent word limits.

Shailesh: You are correct, Poonam. That is why I now understand why GMAT is important. There are certain aspects- passage reading and critical thinking. So, we write specific memos and papers. But, we do not write the whole story, and we write many things based on assumptions. So, we need to understand and pick the assumptions on what basis the author is recommending these options.

Poonam: I agree. INSEAD's GMBA application process is a comprehensive and exhausting process, and you found it very challenging because it is a very time-consuming process. After the preselection stage, candidates must follow either of the two routes. Route 1 is the executive assessment or GMAT and then the admission interview. Route 2 is INSEAD assessment and interview. You followed the second route. Would you please share your assessment day experience? It was also a unique experience, and I would want our viewers to know about that.

Shailesh: I would like to thank and appreciate INSEAD's admission officers who are involved. Since the day I submitted my application, and even before submitting the application, an admission officer was assigned and fully dedicated to looking after me. They make you feel special; if you have any queries or questions, you can connect through email, phone calls, and even WhatsApp. I submitted my application in December, during the Christmas holiday. In January, I got an email informing me that I have been selected for the first round. After that, the second round was more about an assessment and for that, they got in touch with me. I had to select the date and time more suited to sit for the INSEAD assessment, an online test.

An admission officer constantly monitors us on a zoom call when we are taking the INSEAD assessment. Before that, we must fill some forms or declarations that there will be no cheating or illegal activities. It was a challenge for me because it was nine o'clock New Zealand time and I had to match up with Singapore time. I went to the office again at 9:00 pm after my office hours and then had to have a dedicated meeting room, I was required to show them around to ascertain that no one is there to help. We are allowed only to have a glass of water, a pen, and a few A4-size blank papers or a notebook. They provide instructions about the process.

INSEAD assessment format covers four areas. The assessment starts with the case presentation. It is like a business case, and we have got 30 minutes to read those three or four pages of the case, while we are on a video call, and everyone is observing us. In 30 minutes, we must read and make a presentation online. They just give us control for making the presentation. We cannot download or do anything beforehand. We must do everything in front of them. So, we created that presentation, four or five slides depending on how many questions they asked. The 5-minute presentation was followed by 15 minutes interview round on the business case. This round is more to see whether the candidate can understand a business case or not, think about what the business case is all about, and its challenges? This gives them an indication that this person understands business and is good enough for a Business School.

After that, I had 20 minutes of personal interview round, and I remember there were three interview members in the panel and one admission officer. Three of them were from different backgrounds and different countries. One of them was a CEO, the second was an entrepreneur, and the third one was a CFO. So, with such diverse backgrounds of people, they asked all sorts of questions. The unique thing about  INSEAD is the alumni of the Business School conduct the interview because they know which candidate is best suited for this role. So, the candidate needs to fit in that international exposure, multinational cohort, and diverse background. And yes, it is a sort of a grilling round.

Poonam: So overall, the assessment was two hours?

Shailesh: This part was one hour 20 minutes, and after, we need to take the written test. The written test covers 4 areas- one is communication analysis, the analysis of passages, gauging the main themes, relevant points, and logical inferences. The second one is critical thinking- managing the components of a logic problem to either deliver a definite answer to a question or simply determine its solubility. Then there is another one for data interpretation. They give us data significance testing through both standard mathematical logical questions and multiple linked mini-case questions where arithmetic and algebra are tested in the context of a business scenario. And the last section is data analysis, fluency, and efficiency in the use of business-relevant mathematics. Overall, INSEAD Assessment is a two-hour test. We do get 2 minutes break, and a 10-minute break after two sections are over. INSEAD assessment preparation is like preparing for the GMAT. But INSEAD assessment is tailored for EMBA candidates.

The level of the test is all the different levels. I can give you one example, I started with the passage, and the first passage was like a tough guy. So, it took me a while to understand what the passage is talking about because looking at my background (and they know the background) the passage is very different. It was more sort of history and architecture related. I do not have any interest in those areas, so reading through that passage was a good challenge. Otherwise, for preparation, I will suggest that GMAT books are the best. Just pick a GMAT book, go through all the assignments, exercises, and questions. I am such a big fan of the GMAT that even in my free time, I go through those critical thinking questions because that really helped me at my current workplace.

Poonam: Really? That is an interesting thing to know. So that brings me to your interests and hobbies. Would you like to share your interests and hobbies outside of work?

Shailesh: Yes. I am a traveler. I love traveling. I am very fond of exploring different cultures and different food. I enjoy reading- Leadership and Management books. Also, I read articles from Harvard Business Review.

My other area of interest is wine tasting. Living in New Zealand, I enjoy wine tasting also. Other than that, I enjoy cooking. I try different cuisines- not only Indian cooking but Continental and Chinese as well. And for that I do watch shows- Jamie Oliver shows. I refer to YouTube videos. Their cookbooks are also available, but I think YouTube videos are handier.

Poonam: Yes, YouTube videos are a great resource for learning cooking, or trying different dishes.

Shailesh: Yes, it is indeed. Because of COVID, currently, I cannot travel internationally, but I do travel domestically for work. I take some time out after my work trip. Within the country, there are so many places to visit. Also, I am interested in learning new languages.

Poonam: I remember you know three or four languages.

Shailesh: Yes, apart from Hindi and English, I know Mandarin and Russian. Recently, I am picking up Korean.  I got friends from all over the world, so I try to pick a few sentences from them. For me, the best way of learning these languages is by watching those T.V. channels. When I was in Singapore and was struggling with Mandarin with subtitles, that helped me to learn (I shared this in one of my essays as well.) I am following the same process with the Korean series. I watched Japanese series because of my work and my exposure. I have to deal with delegates from all the different countries, which helps me connect with them.

Poonam: That is true. Finally, we have been living in the Covid world since last year. How do you think the pandemic might impact your EMBA experience?

Shailesh: It is all up to the individual with what perspective one looks at it. To me, this global executive MBA program is more about studying and attending modules at different campuses. And because of these travel restrictions, we cannot do that. At the same time, INSEAD has got such amazing technology that we can connect with my peers and other candidates, even though they are in different parts of the world. That is why it is more sort of a tricky question to answer. COVID has also created an opportunity if we look at it in a positive way. We can just stay in a safe place, our home in this case, and still, get that international level of education and interaction with peers. It is challenging, but it is very interesting. And I do feel for those previous batches when the situation was worse. They had plans to go visit a country and meet those people, but that did not happen. We should not also forget that we are enrolled in a program that delivers an international level of knowledge. The faculty are from the top business schools and universities. INSEAD, in its unique way, has figured out using their technology and they have done their best to pass that knowledge to us in virtual format. I think I am fortunate that now the vaccinations are out there in the market, and everyone is vaccinated, and gradually the borders are opening. Hopefully, things will get normal by the time I am into this program.

We need to be positive in such a situation because let us not forget that we were looking for an international world-class business study. We are not only looking for traveling, so we need to inspire ourselves.

Poonam: And the program is preparing us to meet the challenges of the world. The purpose of the program is to prepare leaders to meet the challenges of the world. Shailesh, is there anything you think I should have asked?

Shailesh: Oh yes. Overall, I would like to recommend you as my best MBA consultant to all other future candidates and viewers. You have shown the kind gesture of connecting with candidates at a personal level. This helps and encourages the candidates to reflect their thoughts, feelings, and whatever is there in mind on a piece of paper for the essays. And the other thing is the encouragement I received from you and the way you reduced one of my essays from 1200 words to 299 words. That was an amazing experience for me. You ticked all the boxes for me. The cost that was involved in getting an MBA consultant on board to help with is too good. Other consultancies are charging exorbitant fees. But your fee was just perfect, neither high nor very low. I think everyone can afford that one. Plus, the fee is nothing compared to the time and personal involvement you have with every candidate. I remember in some meetings, you spent two hours explaining to me the things that were missing in my essays. You spend quality time with us and the money we are paying for your services is nothing compared to the time and the interest you are showing in every candidate like me and helping/ giving us such a great future. It is a lifetime achievement.

Poonam: It is my passion. It is my pleasure to be a part of your success, a part of your MBA journey. So, it is mutual. The pleasure is all mine.

Shailesh: Yes, other than that, I am not sure if you have forgotten to ask me anything. Yes, resume. I want to reflect on that. The resume that you helped me with. The amazing thing about this entire journey was the number of templates you gave me to draft a resume. You also made it clear that the resume I am preparing is for admission and not applying to a job. Initially, my resume was more sort of a job resume. How nicely you helped me transform that resume into an MBA admission resume by quantifying those things, bringing the achievements to the surface of the resume. We think like an employee for any organization or as an engineer, we just go, do our job, and think this is our achievement. I ran that project, but I never thought about what I achieved that one day. We do not feel if we have inspired someone, mentored a new employee in the organization, increased the revenue for the organization, or connected with a new supplier. All these things need to be covered in a resume in a very crisp way.

Poonam: The job resume is different from the MBA resume. You must highlight the impact you made and the achievement you had.

Shailesh: My resume was more about what I was doing instead of what I achieved by doing that. So, thanks for that one, too, and that really helped me. It will help me when I go for a job interview, and they ask about what I did in previous roles. So, then I will just refer to this MBA resume and tell them that these are my achievements.

Poonam: That's very true. Sometimes we undermine our achievements and focus more on the job description. MBA resume is all about the accomplishments, leadership, teamwork skills, analytical skills, and mainly the results you achieved.

Shailesh: Yes, if I am missing anything, I would like to request the viewers to go to the GMAT Club or to the MER website where I have given my feedback putting all my observations and my experience concisely. Here I might be talking in random directions whatever is coming to my mind. So, read those articles and the feedback because it is an exciting journey, just not for me, but for the other candidates who have reflected themselves in their feedback.

Poonam: Yes, you left your excellent feedback on the GMAT Club and LinkedIn. Thank you for that. It was my pleasure assisting you with your application. Thank you so much for your time, sharing your story with us. I wish you good luck with your EMBA experience at INSEAD and continued success in your personal and professional journey. Stay in touch. I would like to know about your INSEAD experience as well, and maybe, we will record another interview like this after you graduate from INSEAD.

Shailesh: Thank you, Poonam, for all your best wishes. And I will be more than happy to share my experience in the future. And this is what I call a lifetime connection with you, not only for working with you on a business school application.

Poonam: I totally agree with you. We also make lifelong friends through this journey.

Shailesh: Yes, exactly. Thank you so much. I am more than happy to interact with you.

Poonam: Thank you so much, Shailesh. Good luck.

You can connect with Shailesh via Linkedin.

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