How this CA got a fully funded MBA scholarship in Switzerland.
This CA bagged a fully funded scholarship for an MBA program in Switzerland and got a job in other European countries. Here's all the details on timeline of application process to cost of living.
- Many Chartered Accountants opt for an MBA degree to master soft skills, which they usually lack.
- What if you could pursue it at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, without paying any fees?
- CA Shrihari Venkateshwaran shares how he got a fully funded scholarship to study MBA in Switzerland, and how it helped him get jobs in Europe.
Deciding to do an MBA to strengthen my soft skills
Once I qualified as a CA in 2012, I felt that I needed to do some sort of additional courses.
At one point I went to write the entrance exams for company secretary, actuary and even the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants - CIMA.
When I went from Infosys to Intel to work as a treasury analyst, it was a good move for me.
Most of my peers at Intel were from elite B Schools like Harvard, Stanford etc, and in front of them I realized an important truth; as CAs we were technically super strong when it comes to understanding accounting concepts, the financial implications, what is business partnering and so on.
But we lag behind a lot when it comes to soft skills, putting forth our ideas, or managing our stakeholders. That's what pushed me to do an MBA.
I was also contemplating stepping out of India as I wanted to experience the work culture of Europe, which is quite different when compared to India.
Getting a fully-funded MBA scholarship in Switzerland
I was mainly looking at Canada to pursue my MBA program.
While researching the Universities and their programs, I got an email from the University of St. Gallen, that read, ‘We are doing an MBA Event Scholarship wherein if you have 4+ years of work experience, all you have to do is write the essay, and based on that you’d be shortlisted for a couple of interviews. No GMAT required. And if you're selected you would get a 100% Scholarship Admission to the MBA program.’
I started doing more research on the University of St. Gallen and found out that it is an elite public research university located in Switzerland.
Getting INR 40 lacs (Approx. 50,000 USD), the actual fee of the program at that time completely waived off was a big thing for someone coming from a middle-class family like me.
When it came to essay writing luckily they gave a topic which I loved to read and research; macroeconomic aspects. They wanted me to do research and write an essay on challenges faced by the Swiss manufacturing sector.
I started digging a lot into that topic and wrote a 12 to 15-page essay. The challenge was to condense that into three pages. Then after completing it, I gave it to my peers and my friends, to understand what they felt about the essay and to get it to proofread.
Once I felt comfortable, I submitted the essay and got short-listed for the next 2 interviews. It was a virtual call over Skype.
The first interview was more or less stressful. They wanted to see how I would perform when placed outside my comfort zone, what are my future options post-MBA, and questions along those lines.
The second interview was quite a difficult one as it was with the Dean of the business school. I did some background research on the Dean to understand whom I was going to talk to. It gave me some good conversation starters. The interview was mostly focused on the essay that I wrote.
That day finally came and I got a call from the university notifying me, that I cracked all the interviews and they found my paper good enough. That's how I ended up in Switzerland.
In terms of documentation, in the beginning they only asked me for the certificates of my CA Degree, and my work experience. But once my admission was confirmed, I had to submit a lot of documents, such as my education loan approval letter and my visa.
Opting for a 1 year MBA Program: My experience at the University of St. Gallen
Back in 2016, I had a mortgage loan in India to take care of, so I wanted to quickly finish the one-year program and get a job.
Now coming to the program, in my opinion, the first six, or seven months make a big difference for a St. Gallen MBA candidate. During that period they have to go through multiple exams, case studies, presentations etc. and a lot of pressure-filled situations.
Overall it's about getting a hold of the holistic part of management. In the core phase, you’d get exposed to all the parts of management such as financial strategy, operational etc.
When it comes to electives, you can pick those five or six papers where you want to specialize in. It depends on where you want to get into after your MBA.
I picked all the finance-focused courses since I wanted to get a job in the finance field.
We had around 13 core courses of which four or five were about accounting and finance. I was able to ace them, because, you’ve guessed it, I’d already mastered these in my CA curriculum.
As a part of the MBA program, we had three options; do a corporate internship, or business project or a research project. I chose the corporate internship because I felt it would be a good shot at getting a job offer, rather than doing a business project.
I joined a pharmaceutical company called Lonza as an intern.
In 2017 I completed my MBA from St. Gallen, feel proud to be an alumnus of the university.
Cost of living in Switzerland
When it comes to the cost of living, Google helped me a lot. That's an advice I would give to everyone; before you talk to people, search it up on Google.
Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. It would burn a big hole in your pocket if you don't manage your finance.
If you are solo, then living in good conditions would cost you between 2200 – 2500 Swiss Francs a month, which is approximately INR One lac. That’s because real estate alone would eat up almost 30% to 40% of your monthly expenses. I know it's quite expensive, but it's also important that you pick the right accommodation.
When it gets cold, (It can go down to -10 to -15 degrees Celsius) you cannot afford to stay in a place which is not well insulated or doesn't have proper heating.
I had taken an education loan, as my savings from previous jobs were taking care of the mortgage back home.
When it comes to food and grocery expenses, it depends on if you can cook or would like to eat out.
I used to eat at home but once in a while opted for eating out. Even then I don’t think I have spent more than 1000 – 2000 Swiss Francs a month.
How I got a job in Sweden post-MBA
Before embarking on this journey, I had asked myself, “What sort of challenges would one face as an ex-pat, or as a non-EU citizen, in getting a job in those countries?”
As I was not going to look for jobs through campus placements, I started looking at LinkedIn and created job alerts; putting in five or six countries as my preferred job location such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Belgium, France, and Ireland.
I started sending emails to the hiring managers of companies and constantly followed up with them. That's the best way to make your presence felt. I used to ask my connections for referrals, by sending them my background information.
Then some suggested, “Switzerland is difficult for an ex-pat, why don't you try Scandinavian countries?”
It opened a lot of doors of opportunities for me.
The job roles that I received post-MBA were definitely not entry-level, it was definitely a progression from what I was doing in India.
In Scandinavian countries, companies would want to know if are a good cultural fit for them, apart from looking at your merit, and work experience,
If you are just a "finance person" then finding a job in foreign countries would be difficult.
Many people with similar qualifications as yours are trying to apply for a job in Denmark, Sweden or Netherlands or any other country for that matter. Even people from the respective country are applying. So why would a company overlook them and come and hire you?
I'm not discouraging you but there has to be something that stands out in your application.
If you are into AI, Machine learning then lots of opportunities exist Worldwide. People hire left right and centre if you have these skill sets. I would say, think about doing a qualification in these areas, as it would get you a foot in the door.