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Interview with Imran Kanga, Director of Recruitment and Admissions at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management [Show Summary]
Toronto Rotman wants to see a “spike factor” in its applicants. What is a spike factor? What’s Toronto Rotman’s spike factor(s)? How can you show a spike factor. What else does Rotman offer? What are its 3 other criteria for acceptance? All questions covered and answered in this informative podcast interview with Toronto Rotman’s MBA admissions director, Imran Kanga. Pull up a chair!
All About Toronto Rotman and the Spike Factor They Seek in Applicants [Show Notes]
It gives me great pleasure to have for the first time on AST Imran Kanga, Director of Recruitment & Admissions for the Full-Time MBA Program at the Rotman School of Management, at the University of Toronto. Imran attended Ridley College for his bachelors and earned his International MBA from York University’s Schulich School of Business in 2010. But he wasn’t finished at Schulich when he got his MBA. Upon graduation he became the Assistant Director of Marketing and Recruitment for the Schulich School of Business in India and managed the Schulich MBA program there. In December 2018 he became Director of Recruitment and Admission for the University of Toronto’s Rotman School.
Can you give us an overview of the Rotman MBA program, focusing on its more distinctive features? [2:11]
It’s a two-year, fulltime MBA. The first part is the core component, where students learn the basic business fundamentals and foundations. The second part allows students to choose from 15 concentrations, and some are quite unique to Rotman in areas like investment banking, business design, and innovation. It’s not required, but students have opportunity to specialize if they like in the second year. In terms of other unique initiatives, we have the Creative Destruction Lab, Design Works Lab, and Self Development lab that allows students to develop their leadership presence. We also have a flexible internship program. Students are required to have an internship, but can choose to do so not just in the summer, but the fall and winter are options as well. Employers like the flexibility to get students on board when they have a requirement for it, not just over the summer.
In January Bloomberg Businessweek proclaimed “Canada Says, ‘Give Me Your MBAs, Your Entrepreneurs.” Not quite the Statue of Liberty, but the article points out that in three years Canada has experienced a 60% jump in international students studying in Canada. Furthermore, more than 65% of foreign-born adults in Canada in 2017 had a post-secondary degree. How does the Rotman MBA fit into this picture of Canada welcoming the talented, the educated, and yes the entrepreneurial yearning to breathe free opportunity? [6:14]
Canada has come to the forefront in terms of being a preferred destination for international students, which is very much in line with the government’s goal to recruit top talent from across the world to study and then live here. Rotman has experienced tremendous growth, consistently more than 30% year over year. This allows us to be much more selective but also adds a lot of diversity to the class because applicants are coming from countries that otherwise might traditionally apply to schools in the U.S. or U.K., so it is a tremendous opportunity for us, and enriches the experience for our students. Post-graduation students can live for three years in Canada on a work permit, which is also a great incentive.
Can you talk about the three labs you mentioned earlier? Can students do all three? [10:03]
The Self Development Lab is a space where students can go to develop their communication skills, leadership qualities, and presentation skills. It is a very high tech space that can detect things like nervousness, anxiety, how tired you are, or even how many times you say, “uh” in a conversation. It is available to students throughout the two years they are in the program.
The Creative Destruction Lab is a two-part course. Students have to take an elective in year one, followed by a year-long course in the second year. The lab itself is really a venture accelerator. We invite tech startups at seed stage and help them scale up. It is a partnership with the government (they provide grants), and there is some really great work coming out of this lab, in areas like space, quantum computing, AI, and fin tech. The lab provides mentorship to entrepreneurs and founders of these startups, funding, partners like VC firms, and access to management talent.
Business Design Lab is focused on business innovation and design. It has more to do with technology and how businesses are transformed with technology, and leans more toward the academic and research side. Students are selected to be a part of the lab in their second year.
In terms of what’s new in our lab space, TDBank is giving us $4M for Fin Hub, which is another lab focused on new and emerging areas of finance like fin tech, block chain, cryptocurrencies, and AI. Our faculty are thought leaders in this area, and we are really excited about this new opportunity.
Let’s turn to the application. Your site says that you are looking for four qualities: Intellectual Horsepower, Experience and Impact, Communication and Presence, and the Spike Factor. I’d like to focus on the last element, because I think the first three are easily understood. What does the Spike Factor mean to you? How would you describe it? [17:31]
The Spike Factor was initially developed by McKinsey to differentiate their candidates, and we were very excited to incorporate it into our assessment. It gives applicants the opportunity to share why they stand out – what makes them unique and really shine. It could be that they have participated in a lot of extracurricular activities, are part of community initiatives, are artists, musicians, have had cultural immersions – all of these factors could constitute a Spike Factor. For us it is important because it gives a different perspective on what the student brings to the class – what is something really unique or special about this candidate that would add a lot of value.
Rotman’s application includes a resume, a traditional essay, a short “reflection question,” a timed written reflection, and two videos before a by-invitation-only interview. What do you learn from these different elements? Why do you need each element to have a holistic picture? Why does Rotman include the following elements in its evaluation? [22:29]
Each element you mentioned links to one of the four components we were talking about. The resume speaks to experience and impact. The traditional essay goes to fit – why do you want an MBA and why Rotman. That shows us the student has done the research and knows what the program is about and what to expect. The reflection question asks students to list out 3-5 qualities that they see in themselves. This is for students to show their self-awareness, and that they can take a step back and assess their strengths and weaknesses, which is important to do before getting into the application. During the interview these qualities can be validated. The timed essay and video essay are meant to provide us with an authentic version of an applicant. The time-written essay gives a sense of who they are, and the answers don’t have to be lengthy. Can an applicant write a short paragraph and communicate ideas clearly? The video essay gives a sense of whether they can communicate ideas in a short period of time, think on the fly, and come up with clear and concise answers. We aren’t looking for perfection, but potential.
What distinguishes applicants who get interview invitations from those who don’t other than stats? [28:31]
We look at all the components of the application and one is not rated over the other – it is holistic. Applicants have to have done well overall in the application – someone with a 770 GMAT but lacking elsewhere is a red flag for us. We invite people who are strong across all the factors in the application, and stand out.
What can those invited to interview expect? [30:16]
Our interviews are done in person if possible. We do have admissions reps traveling around the world so that is our preference, but if not, we do Skype interviews. They are about 45 minutes and we are trying to dig a little deeper into the student profile – work experience, extracurricular activities, their entire application, and future aspirations.
What advice do you have for applicants sitting down to fill out their Rotman application and hoping to matriculate in Fall 2019? [31:17]
I would caution against international students applying in the final April round because it most likely isn’t enough time to get visas set and things like that.
What advice would you give to someone thinking ahead to a 2019-20 application? [32:36]
It is never too early to start thinking ahead. Start narrowing down the schools you want to apply to. If you have narrowed down to Rotman, do your research. Reach out to alumni, students, and faculty. We’d be happy to connect you with people who can tell you about their experiences and are available to answer any questions. Also take a step back and reflect on yourself, and then plan ahead by taking the GMAT or GRE and thinking about the application itself.
What do you see coming down the pike for the MBA program at Rotman? [35:24]
Given current trends I think we will see a lot more highly qualified applicants getting into the program. The MBA market is also shifting to a slightly older audience. Our dean was just reappointed for another five year term, so I expect to see a continued focus on relentless innovation. I can see a lot more labs and partnerships. I see a lot more diversity in the program as well.
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