Singapore MBA Straight Talk: MBA Salaries in Singapore

In our “Straight Talk” series, we go beyond schools’ marketing campaigns and give straight answers to MBA applicants’ most pressing questions.

One of the most popular posts on this site is What’s the Average Salary for Singapore MBA Graduates. A MBA is a huge investment, with tuitions ranging from $55,000 SGD (Nanyang MBA) to $96,000 SGD (INSEAD). Naturally, those seeking MBAs in Singapore want to know what starting average salaries are to figure out their possible return on investment.

In this Straight Talk post, I want to focus on what average salaries are for MBA graduates from NUS, Nanyang and SMU, and help you cut through the often conflicting salary information you see on school web sites, ranking publications, and salary sites (INSEAD has a very detailed employment statistics report which is pretty much self-explanatory).

The short answer? Look at NUS MBA’s graduate employment report which gives mean and median salaries by function, by industry, and by location.  Keep in mind that these figures are in Singapore dollars, and based on 90 students (that $110,000 SGD mean salary for those few graduates in real estate may not be entirely representative). Better yet, you can also see the range of  salaries by function, industry, experience, and location on Bloomberg Businessweek’s NUS MBA profile (screen shot below). NUS MBAs, Nanyang MBAs and SMU MBAs are regarded similarly by employers in Singapore, so those figures will be quite representative for the other programs, especially for those entering consulting, finance, and sales & marketing roles.

 

Now let’s tackle the single biggest misperception about average salary data: you are not guaranteed the average salary just by going to these programs. Your starting salary post-MBA will range substantially based on your prior work experience, and the industry, function and geography of your job.  As you can see above, the range at NUS was $36K to $164K! Generally, you’ll earn a higher starting salary than average if a) you have more years of work experience b) you are working in a more mature economy.  Conversely, your starting salary will be lower than average if a) you have only a few years of work experience and b) you are working in a less developed economy. It’s important to factor this into your ROI calculations.

Unlike the elite MBA programs in the US and Europe, the local Singaporean MBA programs are not feeders to big name consulting and finance firms.  For example, INSEAD sent 40% of its 1,000 graduates into consulting, with more than 100 graduates going to McKinsey alone.  NUS probably sent one graduate to McKinsey, with the rest going to consulting firms like Deloitte, DHL, Frost and Sullivan, and KPMG, and more boutique outfits like Double Effect, Linkage Asia, DEGW.  This is why starting salaries for NUS MBAs in consulting and finance aren’t necessarily higher than in other industries.

If you were to look at the “average” starting salaries for NUS MBAs ($79,000 SGD) and Nanyang MBAs ($73,000 SGD), you wouldn’t get the whole picture. And that’s why I’m mentioning these figures last.

Singapore MBA Straight Talk: How to Get Shortlisted for an Interview

In our “Straight Talk” series, we go beyond schools’ marketing campaigns and give straight answers to MBA applicants’ most pressing questions.

As a MBA admissions officer, I read hundreds of applications. I also regularly discussed candidates with other admissions officers and faculty before shortlisting candidates for an interview.

Generally, admissions officers sort applications into 3 piles: no, maybe, and probably yes. Another translation for these 3 piles would be “no chance,” “not sure,” and “get him or her in quick!” Candidates in the latter 2 piles make it to the next screening round, which is usually an interview.

So what are admissions officers looking for when reading your application? Make sure you address the following 3 questions convincingly to get past the first round of screening.

1. Can the applicant get through the program academically?

The easiest proxy for this is your GMAT score. Scoring below or around 600 will raise doubts over whether you can get through an intensive full-time or part-time MBA program.

Think about it this way: if you have a poor GMAT score and/or poor grades, admissions officers have to work much harder to convince faculty members on the admissions committee to accept you. This is for 2 reasons. First, faculty are concerned about their classroom learning environment, a struggling student could slow the class down. From the program perspective, struggling students are administrative burdens. Second, most business school professors scored well on standardized tests, went to top-ranked business schools, and spent many years getting their PhDs. They want the average class GMAT score to be high (and elite) as possible.

So think of admissions officers as being on your side. Are you giving them enough proof – whether that be a high GMAT score or a stellar academic background – to convince faculty that you are academically strong?

This is why your GMAT score is important. If you’re close to or above the class average, you’ll make it into the “maybe” or “probably yes” pile.

A second proxy is the quality of your English. Poorly written essays, bad grammar, and mispelled words will raise alarm bells, especially if English is not your native language; this is why schools require TOEFL or IELTS scores. Admissions officers want to make sure you will contribute to the program’s reputation inside and outside the classroom. Candidates with poor English make a bad impression.

2. What unique perspective will the candidate bring to the class?

This question is usually asked when reading through your personal statistics, resume and essays. The admissions officer is thinking about what you will add to the class. What’s unique about your personal, academic or professional background? Would you make the incoming class more diverse and dynamic?

Admissions officers don’t want disproportionate numbers of students with similar backgrounds, whether that be by nationality, industry or job function. And as a student you wouldn’t want that either!

I encourage many of my clients to boil the essence of their application down to one sentence – how would they describe themselves in 140 characters or less? Admissions officers read hundreds – if not thousands – of applications each year. Initially, we know each of you in a sentence or two. For example, “the Indian running his family’s construction business ” or “Singaporean who got her PhD from Cambridge, works for the Ministry of Defense”. Your application should strengthen your desired “tagline” in the admissions officers’ minds.

If you come from a common applicant pool (i.e. Indian male engineer), it is even more important to make sure your “tagline” sticks out through your essays, recommendations, and resume. How excited would your classmates be to have you as part of their network?

3. Will the candidate be able to get a job after graduation?

Although MBA programs encourage career exploration, they are most concerned about your employability. Admitting employable students impresses corporate recruitiers, raises school rankings and makes career services’ job easier. And graduating MBAs with jobs are much happier customers than those in debt and still without jobs; employable graduates are great ambassadors for the program.

What admissions officers are looking for here is professionalism and maturity.

Does the candidate have realistic post MBA goals and expectations?

Does the candidate show direction and initiative in his or her career?

Will the candidate represent the program well in the business community?

The quality and presentation of your resume will speak volumes about your professionalism. If your resume is immature or sloppy, how can admissions officers trust you to be professional and polished when dealing with corporate recruiters?

The career stories you tell in your essays are also critical. If you plan to change industries, job function and/or geography post MBA, do you have a well-conceived plan to do so? Does your story make sense given your background and career trajectory or is it unrealistic?

One last note of caution: definitely proof read your essays more than once. You would be surprised how many applicants apply to one school (i.e. SMU) but say they are applying to another school (i.e. NUS) in their essays! This is a dealbreaker because it shows you were too lazy to edit your quick cut and paste job. Professionalism counts!

In summary, make sure you prove that you can succeed academically, bring a valuable perspective inside and outside the classroom, and are likely to get a job after the program. Providing convincing evidence and telling compelling stories in these 3 areas will get you past the first round of screening.

Singapore MBA Straight Talk: The GMAT

In our “Straight Talk” series, we go beyond schools’ marketing campaigns and give straight answers to MBA applicants’ most pressing questions.

NUS MBA, Nanyang MBA and SMU MBA programs all require the GMAT – the standardized test used to measure an MBA applicant’s verbal, mathematical, analytical and writing skills.   Taking the GMAT is one of the most intimidating and misunderstood parts of the MBA application process.

Having managed admissions for the SMU MBA program for 3 years, I can give you an insider’s look into how MBA programs view and use your GMAT score.

How important is the GMAT score? 

The short answer? Very important.

Admissions officers use this score – along with your undergraduate academic performance – to ensure you can get through an intense graduate level course load.  Since the quality and rigor of universities and degrees awarded vary tremendously, the GMAT score gives admissions officers a universal reference to predict candidates’ academic performance.

Think of it this way: your GMAT score is critical to getting you IN the door.  The rest of your application gets you THROUGH the door.

If your score is significantly lower (> 60 points) than the program average, you must be exceptional in some other way (personal background, work and/or educational history) to get in.  The admissions committee is making an exception for you because your contribution to the program will outweigh any potential academic struggles.

What score must I get to gain admission?

In general, applicants should aim for scores higher than the program average.  As of December 2011, this was 665 for NUS, 670 for NTU and 660 for SMU.

NUS and NTU have openly said applicants should target above 600.  Although SMU says there is no minimum GMAT score, applicants should aim for at least a 600.

Unless you come from an extremely competitive applicant pool (i.e. Indian Male in IT), Singapore MBA programs will have to look at your application if you score close to the programs’ average GMAT scores.  The higher your score – especially relative to the class average – the better.

For those with weak undergraduate GPAs, a high GMAT score can help bolster your academic credentials.

Is it important for me to score high on the verbal section?  Quantitative section?  Analytical writing section?

Admission officers will also be looking for balance throughout your scores, preferably that you scored higher than the 70th percentile in your verbal, quantitative and writing sections.  They want to make sure you have the reading and writing skills necessary for graduate level coursework, and the quantitative skills to get through computationally heavy courses such as statistics, accounting and finance.

If English is not your first language and/or the English in your application appears suspect, your verbal and writing scores will be more carefully scrutinized.

If you majored in the humanities, arts or social sciences, performed poorly in math / quantitative classes in university, or have limited professional exposure to finance and accounting, your quantitative score will be more closely scrutinized.

When should I take the GMAT?

First, when you are prepared.  Second, as soon as possible.

The earlier you take the GMAT the more time you give yourself to take it again, should you need to.  Taking the GMAT for a second or third time impresses admissions officers because it shows your willingness to work hard to improve your score.  Of course, your math or verbal scores dropping precipitously will sound off alarm bells.  Be sure that you can come close to or improve upon your original score.

Should I retake the GMAT?

You should retake your GMAT if:

  • You know you can score better.
  • The admissions office asks you to retake the exam.
  • You’re a non-native English speaker and you score poorly on the verbal and writing sections.
  • You have little to no quantitative background academically or professionally, and score poorly on the math section.

Other GMAT points of interest:

  • Average GMAT scores tend to decline with age.   Younger candidates are expected to score higher on their GMAT scores.
  • Those looking to break into management consulting post-MBA should definitely shoot for GMAT scores above 700.
  • Admissions officers can see your entire GMAT testing history – how many times you have taken the test and a detailed breakdown of your scores.