This interview is the latest in an Accepted blog series featuring interviews with MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. And now for a chat with Aviv Shalgi…..
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?
Aviv: My name is Aviv Shalgi. I spent the last few years in Tel Aviv, but am originally from Givataim – a small suburb of Tel Aviv in the center of Israel. Before my undergraduate studies, I was a Captain in Israeli Intelligence, operating satellites. Afterwards, I studied Electrical Engineering and Electronics at Tel Aviv University, only to understand in my 3rd year that Engineering is not my real passion (after working part time as a Hardware Design Engineer at Intel)– which is business and innovation.
Accepted: What’s your favorite non-school book?
Aviv: Wow, that’s a tough one. I’ll probably go with “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Arieli. It’s a pretty short book, goes straight to the point, and tries to explain through numerous examples of research and experiments that Prof. Arieli performed during his time in the MIT Media Lab and Duke Fuqua School of Business – what we as people do totally irrationally, but keep doing persistently over and over again.
Accepted: If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?
Aviv: Innovator, ambitious and team-player.
Accepted: Where are you currently in b-school? What year?
Aviv: I’m currently a first-year student at the full-time program at University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Accepted: Why did you choose that program? How were you a good fit?
Aviv: I had a few reasons for choosing Booth over other schools, but the leading one was definitely the people. Before applying, I spoke with a dozen of Booth alumni and more than that with current students and was astonished by the cooperation and responsiveness that they all had. Everybody I reached to replied within a few days and suggested to schedule a call with me and help me figure out if Booth was the right place for me – this sense of collaboration and helping out each other, isn’t something you see every day with such busy people.
On top of that, Booth is one of the only schools where Tech recruiting has surpassed the recruiting for Consulting and Banking. The faculty are putting a huge emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, with many labs and competitions (especially the New Venture Challenge that is celebrating its 20th year this year). Even though many schools are trying to pursue this route as well, I was impressed by the fact that the faculty at Booth were able to bring in many practitioners to teach, rather than researchers and scientists. When trying to build creative, innovative and critical thinking, an experienced entrepreneur would outperform everybody else. It’s one thing to talk about entrepreneurship, it’s totally different to practice it with entrepreneurs who had actually done it successfully (and many of them were successful several times).
Accepted: You previously were an officer in Israel’s Defense Forces. How did your work in that sector prepare you for your past work in Business, and now with your MBA program?
Aviv: I believe that military service can first and foremost build your leadership skills at a very young age. As a 20-year-old officer, I was already commanding over 100 soldiers in my unit, acting not only as a commander and instructor, but also as a mentor, a psychologist and somewhat of a mom and dad for them. That’s an incredible experience that only military personnel have at such a young age.
In addition, in my second role in the military, I was able to build an innovation team (some sort of a startup incubator) within my unit – something that rarely happens in the military environment. It wasn’t an easy road, especially in a very strict and hierarchical environment, but it taught me a lot about negotiation, persuasion and how to take one thing and turn it around to create a new product. All of these skills were extremely important for me both during my transition to Business from Engineering (4 years ago) and especially now that I’ve started my MBA.
Accepted: Looking back at the application process, what would you say was your greatest challenge? How would you advise other international applicants who may be experiencing similar challenges?
Aviv: I had 3 main challenges during the application process.
1. Choosing which schools to apply to
2. Understanding how my background fits each of them
3. Communicating myself clearly in the application process
On point #1 and #2 I will elaborate in the next question, so to summarize – speak with lots of current students and recent graduates (from the last 10 years or so). After speaking with over 20 people, you’ll be able to instantly tell if you feel that you’ll fit in the school or not and what culture each school is nurturing.
Once you’ve identified the schools that you want to apply to and learned about the fit, there comes the biggest challenge of them all for an international applicant – figuring out how to translate your background to words on paper that would make you stand out in general, and more specifically stand out from your international peers.
I personally found that my way of answering this is similar to the question that is sometimes asked in recruiting (especially for Product Management roles) – “Think of me as your grandfather, explain to me how…” Using this method, I was able to articulate clearly to myself and then on paper what I had done in my background (especially with how tough it is to explain to non-veterans what you did in your day-to-day military service) and how my experiences have built me into the person I am today.
Remember that not all of the roles are the same in your target school and that titles change between geographies, industries and even functions. A Product Manager in Amazon isn’t the same role as it is at Google, let alone if you have a broader title like Business Analyst (which was my title when I worked at Consulting). So instead of assuming that the reader will know what you’re talking about – explain it in simple words! (And please, have your recommenders do the same – don’t over-complicate things – keep it short and simple to understand.)
Accepted: Lastly, do you have any pieces of advice for those looking at applying to MBA programs?
Aviv: As I mentioned before, speak with as many students and alumni as you can from every school. You’re more than welcome to reach out to me at my email firstname.lastname@example.org or on my Linkedin profile and I’ll do my best to respond quickly. Moreover, try to speak with both people from your own country, but also other internationals and locals to hear different perspectives on the school. Remember, not everybody thinks the same way. I’m sure all top schools are amazing, but at the end of the day, it’s all a matter of fit – which school would be amazing for YOU and you alone (not for other people).
If you can, try to visit the school to see it for yourself. I was unable to visit the schools that I’ve applied to before my application, so don’t stress over it if you can’t, but at least visit the schools after you’ve been admitted and understand where would be the best place for you, who would you connect best with and which school would help build the career you want for yourself (or better yet – you think you want).
Lastly, as anything in life, manage your risks. Pick a few MBA programs you think you want to apply to and that you find interesting and research all of them. If you find some that weren’t what you thought they were or don’t feel like you would fit in, put them aside, broaden your search and add a couple of other programs to your research.
Remember that even though we are all incredible people, the schools will get to know the real you just in the interview, and there is a big cut during the application process (through the essays, recommendations, etc.) – so keep an open mind and apply to several programs that you liked (don’t get locked up on just 1 or 2 programs, remember you don’t have all the details).
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