Should I quit my job to prepare for CAT?

comments 26
B-School Selection / CAT

It’s been a while since I wrote a post, so I thought I will take up a question(s) that I am often asked and is most relevant at this point in time given that some of you might be looking at re-taking the CAT after an underwhelming CAT 2016 and others might be desperate to crack CAT 2017.

  • is it wise to quit my job to prepare for the CAT?
  • will quitting my job have a negative impact on my profile?
  • how can I prepare if I am working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week?

These are questions that many aspirants ask themselves since there is a huge premium on acquiring an education from a prestigious college and an MBA is for most the last big shot that they can take to get a big brand name on to their resume.

There are other reasons as well ranging from a mind-numbingly monotonous IT job to a horrible boss, to the existential dread — what will become of me and my life if I am stuck in my current situation forever.

Also, there are many who have faced this situation this before as well when they had set their eyes for the first time on getting two more Is than what God brought them into the world with — the IITs.

For most of my colleagues the answer is a simple NO. But I think under certain circumstances quitting your job might be the best option in front of you with the proviso that you quit at the right time and do more than just prep for the CAT.

If you quit, be prepared to face the music in every single interview

Before anything else please understand that if you quit, in every single interview that you face you will have to answer the question — Why did you quit your job?

This question is bound to be followed by others such as

  • surely you did it just to prepare for the CAT!
  • so it means you are not good at multi-tasking?
  • more than half of our students have work-ex, do you mean to say that all of them had jobs that allowed them to put their feet up?

Forget at the interview stage, some institutes such as IIM-A ask this question in the FORM they send out to candidates they shortlist for the WAT-PI round — Do you have any breaks in your professional career? If YES, then please explain?

But you can rest assured that these questions have been successfully tackled by aspirants in the past and in IIM interviews at that.

But what is important is that you quit at the right time, plan your break to take up activities that enhance your profile and achieve things that will help you make a great pitch in the interview.

How will quitting affect your profile in terms of getting into an IIM?

First, let us look at the effect of quitting your job on your chances of getting a shortlist from a quantitative perspective.

There are colleges such as IIM-B and many others that give a weightage to work experience in the shortlisting process. In such cases you will lose out on valuable points and will hence have to score higher on the test to get the shortlist than if you had stuck on in your job. So yes, there is a clear quantitative effect.

If you have two or more years of work-ex and the rest of your profile — X, XII, Grad Marks — is good you can on average score 0.5 – 0.75 percentile points lower than someone with no or low work-ex. But remember that this is only in the case of institutes that give a weightage to work-ex.

This quantitative effect as you will see will be negligible in the case of people with more than 30-36 months years of work experience since the points for work-ex are not directly proportional to the amount of work-ex in that they are capped after a point. To know more about IIM selection criteria you can read this post — The IIM Selection Criteria: Will I get a call from the IIMs?

The other way of looking at this question is qualitatively — in terms of how panelists will view you in the interview. Panelists more often than not feel that all MBA aspirants hate engineering and run after an MBA to make more money. So when they see candidates who have quit what is on paper a promising professional opportunity, they tend to look at the him/her in an unfavourable light and will expect them to justify the same.

How will quitting affect your profile in terms of the roles offered at top b-schools?

IIMs and other top-schools slot candidates into two categories for placements — regular and lateral.

Lateral placements are for people with a certain amount of work experience for roles that are above entry-level management roles. What is that certain amount of work experience?

It differs from college to college. Some base it on absolute number of months such as 20, 22 or 24, others decide based on the average work-ex in the batch. Either ways it usually falls into the 20-24 range.

Also it is important to note that for some domains and firms having work-ex is a must-have and hence recruiters look purely at lateral candidates. What are the domains where relevant work-experience is a pre-requisite?

OPERATIONS roles for example most definitely go to people who have experience in shop-floor, product design, logistics, supply chain management etc. So engineers working in operations will do well to finish working for two years before entertaining thoughts of quitting.

IT CONSULTING roles for example again typically go to those with 2 plus years of experience in software.

Recruiters from new sectors such as e-commerce from firms such as Amazon also tend look at candidates with a certain amount of work experience, usually IT or Analytics or technology.

General management firms such as Tata Administrative Services(TAS) and the Aditya Birla Group (ABG) also prefer people with work experience but they also take in freshers.

Roles in Marketing do not need a work experience, with Marketing recruiters having a very strong preference for freshers or only those with very relevant work experience sales, marketing analytics, the same applies to HR as well.

For Finance your graduation discipline, brand of graduation college and professional certifications such as CA, CFA, FRM matter way more than work experience. So if you are a Commerce Grad from a top-tier graduation college looking to build a career in Finance, work experience is not a must unless it is relevant.

For Consulting roles, the brand names on your resume matter more than anything else. It is not whether you have work-ex or not but firstly the brand value of the organization your worked with that matters more. IITian and NITian freshers with a strong academic profile stand a very high chance of getting shortlisted. Those from other colleges of national repute with stellar resumes in terms of academic and extra-curricular achievements also get shortlists.

Overall just to put things in perspective, about 30-40 percent of students in top b-schools are freshers.

How many months of work-ex makes it safe to quit?

So by now it will be clear that quitting will not affect your chances if you do it after finishing 2 years of working, I would say around 24 months is may be the ideal amount of work experience to have going into an Indian b-school.

If you already have 3 years of experience and a relatively weak resume is makes to quit prepare for CAT and build your profile.

In what cases does quitting before 24 months make sense?

The only reason to quit before 24 months is if you are very clear that you want an industry and domain shift. So if you are an engineer from one of the core departments working in IT and you want to do an MBA to get away from not just IT services but also technology then it makes sense to quit your job before 24 months of experience.

The more work experience you accumulate in your industry the more likely you are to get roles within than industry or domain.

What is the best time to quit to prepare for CAT?

The simple answer is that if all you want to do is quit and prepare for the CAT 8 to 10 hours a day, you will not need more than 3 months. So working backwards, your break should not start before 1-August.

It might seem as if I am speaking about aspirants who are already at a particular level, say 85 percentile. It might seem that if you are someone who is very out of touch with Math, you will need a more time. But these arguments assume that you will have done no prep till August, which is not the case. Even if we consider these concerns legitimate since you know yourself better than I ever will, given that I know the CAT better than you ever will, your break should not start earlier than 1-June.

So at the most your break will need to start 6 months before the CAT, not before that.

What you should be doing if you quit before August

If after going through the post so far, you have made up your mind to start your break for CAT prep by June this year then you should do more than just prepare for the CAT. Else as discussed above, interviewers will have a great time turning you over on both sides on a red-hot grill.

In all the cases where my students have successfully made it to a top b-school despite a break of 8 to 10 months by the time they faced their interviews, the students had taken up things to improve their skills and profile.

What are the things they took up?

  • Those who wanted to improve their communication & public speaking skills joined Toastmasters, cleared a few levels and got to hold a few positions of responsibility at Toastmasters.
  • Those who wanted to get some diversity into their profile worked with start-ups for Teach For India or a while.
  • Those who wanted to add some academic weight to their resume took up certification programs in their area of interest on Coursera.
  • Those who lacked any social work related activities on their resume took up working with an NGO

You need not limit yourself to this; you can take up anything that you have a strong interest in — learning a dance form or languages or singing or photography — as long as you invest quality time and have something to show for it.

For a more detailed insight on how you can improve your profile to align it to your chosen domain post-MBA you should read — How to build your profile

Too much of anything, even CAT Prep can be harmful

Apart from resume building these activities also ensure that you do not become obsessed with the CAT and pile up the pressure on yourself leading to test-day.

They offer a good break from CAT Prep in terms of taking your mind off the test and also helping you peak at the right time.

Peaking at the right time is very important because if you are doing nothing but doing CAT prep for 8 or more hours a day, you will peak in about 3 months time and come test-day you will have exhausted yourself.

This is the reason why sometimes teams that do not start off well in a tournaments such as World Cups manage to get their act together over a period of time and peak in the final (Australia in the 1999 Cricket World Cup) whereas teams that seem to be hot favourites crash out.

I have tried be as extensive as possible in terms of covering all the things that you need to consider before taking a call to quit. Even so, I am sure that each one of you might have unique backgrounds and aspirations making it tough for you to take a call. Feel free to post your queries regarding quitting in the comments section and I will answer them or drop me a mail at



  1. Hello Tony,
    I am currently working as a software engineer in an IT firm, I have an experience of 12 months now. I am planning to quit my job by September half and start preparing for the coming CAT exam.I have been going for the coaching classes from February itself. Will that be a good decision if I quit my job by September and start intensive preparation.?


    • Hi,

      As I mentioned it you want to build a career on the business side of the tech. industry then having a couple of years of work ex will come in handy, during b-school placements.

      If you want to move away from IT/Tech then you can put in your papers by September.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  2. Hi Tony

    My profile: X-92%, XII- 84%, Bcom- 61%, CA Finalist (result awaited) and has around 12 months of post Graduation experience apart from Articleship.

    I have started my preparation of CAT 17 from May17 and working simultaneously.

    Do i need to quit job for preparation in the near future ? Also, do i wait for my CA to complete then plan CA? and Will my CA Finalist tag will be a hindrance in college selections?

    Please guide.!!


    • I suppose your CA result will be out soon. If it is out before the last of submission of CAT applications, it will be good. Otherwise it will not pose any hindrance.

      So as of now do not bother about the CA and just focus on the CAT.

      Whether you need to quit your job or not depends on the amount of time you have to execute your CAT Prep. By the way articleship is not considered work ex.


  3. raviraj says

    Hi Tony,
    I am currently working as a software engineer in an MNC and having an experience of 33 months.
    I have scored 91%ile in CAT 2016 (flunked Verbal Ability section).My profile: X-89, XII-84.9,
    I am planning to quit by end of august for CAT as I am not able to concentrate and devote more time for my CAT preparation. I don’t want to wait another year for an MBA.
    Will it effect me during interview stages and also during campus placements in B-School ?


  4. Kaustav says

    Hi Tony,
    I am currently working as a software engineer in an MNC and having an experience of 33 months.
    I have been going through the courses in coursera, but a lot of them are there where you don’t need to have a prior knowledge. Could you please list down 5-10 important courses(marketing/finance/analytics…etc) which would create a positive image and help me ace through the interview process.

    Thanks and regards,


    • Hi Kaustav,

      Most of the courses, especially the management ones do not need prior knowledge.

      Which courses you should take up depends on the specialisation you wish to pursue during your MBA and the domain you want to work in.

      If it is Finance or Marketing then the courses that Wharton offer will be handy.

      If it is IT/Tech then courses in big data and analytics will be helpful.

      Hope this clarifies.

      All the best!


  5. sangamshayideep says


    I have just finished my B.Tech in Computer Science Field in July 2017. Should I take up a job and prepare for CAT or just prepare for CAT?

    Can we cover this 3 months gap with anything else? What are all the alternatives?

    This is worrying me for past few days. Please help me out, sir.

    Thanking You,

    Good Regards


    • Hi Venkat,

      If you find a job that is really good job in say Data Analytics or product development go for it, else prepare for the CAT.

      Take up volunteering work, say teaching, with NGOs such as Bhumi and certification programs on coursera that should suffice.

      Hope this clarifies.

      All the best!


  6. Hi,
    Need your advice. This is my profile
    10th-93.53 12th- 91.38 Btech Mech- 8.26 cgpa.
    I have a total of 18 months of experience in core industry till today. I want to pursue MBA in operations. I appeared for CAT’17 but feel like i wont be able to score good percentile this year as I wasn’t able to dedicate time for preparation. I’m contemplating leaving my job in December or Jan next year with notice period of 3 months.


    • Hi Prasad,
      You have a very good profile, so finish 24 months before you quit. Some firms such as Aditya Birla Group or TASNor Amazon, recruit people for 2 levels, freshers at a lower level and those with 2 plus at a higher level.

      So put in the notice at a point when you can get 24 months in all. Do not in any circumstance quit without finishing that, you don’t want to lose shortlists just for a few months.

      And anyways even if you want to quit, CAT doesn’t need more than 6 months of full time prep.

      All the best!


  7. kalaivani says

    I want to get MBA from IIM A -that’s my ambition. I have 92% in X and 94% inXII and engg 8.25 cgpa. I am working in Organization X from July 2016. As of now, I have 18 months experience.But the organization where I am working demands all of my time for work and am working 12-14 hours daily. and even on weekends am working. They have projected huge targets than last year. I am planning to quit my job on feb end with 20 months exp. I do need a domain change from this technical work. Will it work if I join in any short-term courses and get certifications, teach in some NGOs, while studying for cat with coaching in parallel after quit my job in feb?.


  8. Hi Tony,

    I have been working with a leading IT services company in the field of Application Security. Like most engineers I am not happy with the work here and want to switch into a different domain. I have 20 months of work ex till date and have an overall career 80 percent. I have a keen interest in the media and communication sector and have been doing food and movie reviews for some time. I have given a couple of exams this year but my CAT score isnt good enough to apply in MICA. I will probably get calls from some of the Symbi colleges including SIMC along with other okayish colleges. So what would you suggest, should I take up the MBA in media in SIMC if I manage to get through or should complete 24 months of job ex and probably leave and study post it again for CAT next year. Will I be able to avail roles in different domains other than IT post a 24-26 month experience? Please suggest and advice



  9. Hi Tony,

    I have been working with an IT firm for the last 20 months. I want a change in domain or sector of work I am presently in. I am very keen on a MBA in Media and Communication management like the ones institutions like MICA, SIMC provide. I did give most exams this time but my performance in most of them have not been very convincing. I am planning to take a break post May and leaving the job after completion of 24 months of work ex. Will I be eligible for a domain or industry shift post 24-26 months of work ex? Please suggest.



    • While disunity shift after 2 years is tough it’s certainly possible if you get into a specialised Institute such as SIMC or MICA, so you need not worry on that count.

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi! i have a job experiance of 6 months till now. I am in a dilemma to quit in june or not. Moreover, i am currently working in human resource though i was recruited for engineering post. I don’t want to take up operations and neither i see myself working as HR after MBA . So, should i continue working in human resourse or take up something that is related to my field (engineering , Just for the sake of experiance) or quit my job at this moment?


    • Hi,

      What are you interested in within Management. For example, if it’s Marketing, then continuing in HR will not necessarily hurt.

      Taking up an engineering job is only going to help if you are looking at Operations or General Management roles later but not if the work ex is less than 2 years.

      If it’s Finance, then quitting and doing certification programs relevant to Finance while prepping for CAT will help.

      All the best!


  11. Pranav says

    Hello Tony,

    Your post cleared a lot of doubts that I had, but it would be really great if you could guide me as per my profile?
    Work Ex- 37 months till Jan 2018 and counting (Infosys)

    I am targeting CAT 2018 and planning to quit my job as I am afraid more months of work-ex is going to dim my chances of converting any good b-school next year.?

    Can you please guide the correct time to quit?
    And how can I improve my profile?

    Will joining NGO help?
    Or what other options can be explored?

    Thanks In Advance.



    • Hi Pranav,
      Since you already have 37 months of work ex, quitting won’t harm your profile. More than three years is not a strict no but it does not give you any advantage either.

      Work with an NGO for a good period of time.

      Most importantly take up certification courses in the areas you want to specialise in.

      Courses in Big Data and Analytics will be helpful, so will those in Marketing.

      If you can take up one extra-curricular interest as well – fitness or languages or anything that you always wanted to learn- it will really help.

      You can justify the break,saying that you took up three things.

      All the best!

      All the best.


  12. Yash Agrawal says

    Hello Tony,
    I have been pursuing CA cleared CPT but unfortunately was not able to clear IPCC.I have completed my graduation in May 17. Alongside preparing for CA I have given CAT17 (got 77 percentile) and NMAT17(got calls from NMIMS Bangalore and Hyderabad).I already have a gap year now.
    So should I prepare for CAT18 which will lead to two gap years or join the NMIMS? If I prepare for CAT18 will the two years of gap affect my selection chances? Please suggest.
    My Profile
    10th-8.6/10 (CGPA)
    No Work Ex

    Yash Agrawal


    • Hi Yash,

      Unless you plan to take up work, a two year gap will be tough to explain.

      So if you are planning to work and prepare, give it another shot. Else join this year.

      All the best!


  13. Hi!
    I am a Hotel Management graduate who quit his first job as a Chef in August 2017, prepared for CAT 2017 for 2.5 months and scored an overall of 80 percentile. So I took up yet another job, but this time I am in a content creation role with a start-up which works with MBA aspirants.
    10th- 84.4%
    12th- 88.6%
    Graduation: 72%
    And I will have had 1-year work of experience by the time AWT calls come in.
    So, I have three questions:
    1. As you can see, my graduation marks are no great shakes. However, I come under AC5 of IIM-A’s criteria for different streams, and I have a score of 8 with respect to all three phases of my academic background. What percentile would I need to score to get a call from IIM A, B or C?
    2. Currently, I am able to devote 3-4 hours on weekdays and 9+ hours on weekends. My weak areas are Quantitative Ability(48 percentile in CAT 2017) and to some extent, DI-LR (85 percentile in CAT 2017’s DI-LR). VA-RC is above average(95 Percentile in CAT 2017).
    Should I leave my job around September? Or shall I continue the way I am preparing?
    3. What material do you suggest that I use for DI-LR? I want to leave no scope for mistakes, considering that this section is getting more difficult by the year.

    P.S.: You have a great blog. Any way that I can get in touch with you?



    • Hi Chirag,

      With a less than 80 in Grad, it’s almost impossible to get a call from A even if score well in excess of 99.5.

      Since B gives weightage to work ex, you can get a call around 98.75.

      For C, CAT score has a high weightage and Grad marks are irrelevant so, you would need around 99.6.

      If you stock your current plan, quitting the job will not be necessary. Even so a two-week leave around sep-oct will always help.

      Honestly, if there was specific material for DI-LR that I could suggest I would have. The major test prep brands do the best they can, do nothing apart from that.

      The sets are tough because they are unique, which means they cannot be replicated and even if you solve 10 unique sets the 11th one will be unique.

      You will be better off sharpening your LR skills by solving Sudoku daily and measuring your times to crash them progressively.

      Glad you liked the blog, you can write to me at

      All the best!


  14. Are you sure about the IIM-A thing?
    Because I personally know people with 70-75% in their engineering graduation who have got a call with 99.67 percentile in CAT 2017.
    I also have the diversity factor which works in my favour.
    Would that help?


    • Hi Chirag,

      Over the years I have personally not known students who have got an A call in the engineering category without an 80 above in Engg since they lose two marks there if they are below 85 but greater than 75, if they are between 70-75 they get only 5 out of 10. So technically unless the person is from a different educational background or is from a category, it’s impossible to make up for this drop. So you might need to check up on that information, I will too from my data on this year’s call-getters.

      You will get fall into the AC-3 academic category and get 8 out of 10 for grad, 8 out of 10 for X, and 10 out of 10 for XII only if you from and arts background in XII, else even that will be 8.

      So will you need to make up for a drop of 4 or 6 with the CAT percentile.

      AC-3 while less competitive than the engineering discipline is still not very easy since all the non-science streams, Commerce, Economics, BBA and there including HM are clubbed into this category.

      Hence I don’t want to make a comment that you will definitely get.

      At this point all you should focus on is on the things you can control. Let the IIMs have whatever criteria they want, You need to look at the best score you can get on the CAT and crack the best schools you can get.

      Am sure one year from now you will be more likely to be happy and ecstatic at having gotten into an old IIM than to be moping around thinking IIM-A did not give me a call.

      Control what you can, ignore the rest, do your best!


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