CAT Strat
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Should I quit my job to prepare for 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 last year and others might be desperate to crack this year’s CAT.

  • 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 a degree 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 from a qualitative perspective — 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 left what is on paper a promising professional opportunity, they tend to look at him/her in an unfavorable 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 the absolute number of months such as 20, 22 or 24, others decide based on the average work-ex in the batch. Either way 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 to 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 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, the brand of the college you graduated from, 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 you 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 maybe the ideal amount of work experience to have to go into an Indian b-school.

If you already have 3 years of experience and a relatively weak resume it makes sense to quit your job, 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  8 to 10 hours a day, you will not need more than 3 months. So working backward, 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 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 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 tournament 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 favorites crash out.

I have tried to 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 tony@imsindia.com.

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152 Comments

  1. Bhargav Desai says

    Hello Sir,

    I am a 2016 Civil Engineering Graduate from a reputed College in Mumbai. I have worked for 2 years in Larsen & Toubro at a Thermal Power Plant construction project. I left my job in July 2018 after completing 24 months of service. I wanted to know from you if I should solely focus on cat now and the focus on NGO/online courses etc after my cat or start doing these things from this point itself. For your information, I am scoring roughly 85% in current mocks(this well help you understand my current level of preparation). Please give your valuable feedback based on my present condition.

    Profile
    GEM(X/XII/GRAD-85/88/82)

    Thanks in advance,

    Bhargav Desai

    Like

    • Hi Bhargav,

      Once the CAT results are out, all schools send out forms to be filled before the PI. Certifications and NGO work and anything else that you take up should be before the forms come out around late January. You will also be asked about the gap during the interview.

      So you need to have these ready by the last week of Jan.

      Hope this clarifies.

      All the best!

      Like

  2. anurag katara says

    Hello sir
    I am a mechanical engineering graduate of 2018 batch, I have done many of extracurricular and cocurricular activities during my college days but I don’t have certificates for most of these activities. Is it necessary to have certificates to prove your participation as in many activities only appreciation certificates are given to selected people.
    My 10/12/GRAD score are 92/93/64
    Does low graduation scores makes any difference if I am planning to take CAT after 24 months of work experience.

    Like

    • Hi Anurag,

      Given your grad marks calls from A and B will be tough but you can expect a call from C and from a few other old IIMs.

      Work-ex and Graduation Marks are separate categories, some colleges have marks for both and some, such as IIM-A, do not give any weight to work-ex.

      You can get a detailed analysis here — https://thecatwriter.com/2016/06/08/the-iim-selection-criteria-will-i-get-a-call-from-the-iims/

      For extracurriculars, you need to provide supporting documents at the time of interviews for schools such as IIM-A. On the whole, the marks given to extra-curricular activities is not very high. Even so when it comes to interviews, it helps if you have certificates. Else they will grill you enough to find out if you have genuinely done anything or are giving false information.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  3. shashank prasad says

    Hello sir
    I am a electronics & comm engineering graduate of 2016 batch, I have 2 years work experience in IT company and left my job in September 2018. I am looking forward to Cat 19 exam.
    I have joined Time with their 1 year program for cat preparation.
    Should i do NGO or other activities to strengthen my profile?
    My 10/12/GRAD score are 88/77/84
    Please give your valuable feedback based on my present condition.

    Like

    • Yeah, you should take up at least 3 different activities — Social Work, Online Certifications and any other area of interest.

      You cannot tell them that you have been only preparing for CAT for more than 12 months. Please go through my post on this blog, how you build your profile for an MBA to get more information.

      All the best!

      Like

  4. Abhishek Saha says

    Sir I had quit my job in August after working for 6 months in BYJUS where I had a significant package of Rs 12 lakhs. Following that, I prepared solely for cat and xat in the subsequent 3-4 months but had taken up a part-time teaching role in an academy for aptitude. The academy is a startup by a friend and they don’t give salary slips though I have an appointment letter for my joining. Do I put this on my work experience too or leave it? Also would leaving a job with good package and opportunities put me in an unfavorable light with the panel?

    Like

    • Hi Abhishek,

      You can mention the work-ex as part-time.

      As I mentioned in the post, you will be asked why you quit your job and you should be able to convince them that at that stage of your career that was the best long-term decision. There is no unfavorable light, they will put you on the spot.

      All the best!

      Like

  5. Vivek S says

    Hi Tony,

    I have to say, your blog has been of great help to resolve many of my queries. I would like to ask you for a bit of advice. I have quit my job in October last year and have attempted CAT 2018. I can see that there is a high chance that I will have to give CAT 2019. I am interested in pursuing HR Management and am already pursuing a 4-Course specialization on Coursera. Could you please tell me how else I could strengthen the gap, as it is, unfortunately, a few months greater than what you have recommended.

    Kind Regards,
    Vivek

    Like

    • Hi Vivek,
      I think another gap might become too long. Cracking TISS this coming Sunday should be your first priority if HR is what you want to specialise in.

      I think you should take up a job, if not a regular one then one with a non-profit or NGO, if you want to take CAT 2019.

      Also if HR is what you want to target don’t even bother with CAT, focus on SNAP, XAT and TISS.

      All the best!

      Like

      • ANSHUMALI says

        Hi Tony,
        At the outset I would really like to say thank you for your blogs.
        I have a 34 months experience, I quit my job on 5 Oct 2018 and appeared for CAT 2018 and other mba entrances. What if I go for CAT 2019? Will that be a too big to justify?
        When you say “gap” does this refer to gap after graduation or any gap during your entire education .e.g. school ?

        Thanks again.

        Regards,
        Anshu

        Like

      • Hi Anshu,

        When I refer to the gap, I mean the gap after graduation.

        If you continue on to prepare for CAT 2019 then by the time of the interview you will have a gap of 16 months.

        You need something really solid in terms of profile building to justify that.

        You have to position it as wanting a different life/work experience and hence taking up an assignment with an NGO or a not-for-profit or say achieving some specific skill such as mountaineering or picking up a CFA.

        All I am saying is that 16 months cannot be filled with minor stuff.

        All the best!

        Like

  6. Saloni Thakur says

    Hi Tony,
    Thanks a ton for posting such a wonderful article. I need a bit of advice: I became a CA in July 2018 and have been working since then under Treasury function of a bank, it’s been 6 months so far. I wish to pursue CAT 2019 for MBA in Finance. My profile is majorly academic oriented and i do not have any co-curricular or any other thing.
    I was thinking whether i should quit my job and diversify a bit since this job is monotonous and I am worried about my CV as well.
    Please help.

    Like

    • Hi Saloni,

      I wouldn’t advise you to quit your job for the following reasons. Your profile is unique in that you have gender diversity, educational diversity, and a professional degree. If you add your work-ex as well it will be pretty formidable.

      You could have quit if you had 18 plus months of work-ex but at 6 months you will be shooting yourself in the foot by not maximizing your work-ex.

      Continue working, join CAT classroom prep, take up courses on Coursera, and work for an NGO part-time on the weekends, during the first half of the year. During the second-half, you can focus more on CAT Prep and cut down on other things.

      A boring job can be a blessing since it leaves your mind free for other pursuits.

      All the best!

      Like

  7. Harit Agarwal says

    Hi Tony,

    I quit my job in mid of August 2018, after working there for 21 months, as a market research associate, to prepare solely for CAT 2018.
    I have secured decent percentiles in various exams and secured multiple calls from top 25 colleges. Now I am worried about how to justify the gap. In the meantime I have started volunteering with an NGO from first week of December 2018, during weekends. Additionally I am even interning with a startup by working at home starting from October 2018.
    Can you please help me out. what is the best answer I can pitch when they ask me why you left your job? What are the things I should include in my answer to make it convincing for them ?

    Regards,
    Harit Agarwal

    Like

    • Hi Harit,

      You have to make a case that given your background the logical career progression for you was to get into Marketing or General Management and for that an MBA was a must. So to ensure that you got into a good b-school and gain some different experiences you quit your job and worked with a start-up and an NGO.

      Before they are convinced you should be convinced that the way you spent your last 6 months have taken you much closer to your dream than if you had continued to work. If you are convinced then no one can convince you otherwise.

      All the best!

      Like

    • Hi Fenny,

      I think we had corresponded on mail and I had told you that I if I were you, I would leave the quitting for the next year.

      It is okay if you haven’t got calls this year, I would suggest that you take up the CFA and prepare for CAT if you want to get into Finance or take up a job and prepare again if you want to get into Marketing.

      I hope you have applied to enough colleges for there to be some hope left this year.

      All the best!

      Like

  8. Safal Baradiya says

    At the very outset, thank you for sharing the above info.
    I’m a civil engg and working in a reputed firm, I’m planning to quit my job since I can’t find time for study. I have 18 months of ex till Jan 2019. Ideally as discussed above, I complete 24 months of work ex by 31st of July 2019. I’m working in a city where I can easily join a classroom program but we have uncertainity with transfer at any time and coaching institute has got super long batch till exam. So, what shall I do ?
    Other que is whether it is better to have classroom program or online ?

    Like

    • Hi Safal,

      I suggest you join a coaching program if it is your first attempt (unless you feel that you are really solid in all three areas). You can look at the IMS Program in your city and you can always take a transfer to a new city and continue with the IMS center in that city. The program will only end once the whole GD-PI process ends and you make it to a b-school.

      You can quit post-July and move to whichever city is convenient for you and continue your classroom in that city.

      Online programs are better for repeat-takers or test-takers with a very high aptitude, first-timers will benefit from having a good mentor. Let me know which city you are in and I can connect you to the right mentor.

      Also, once you quit you have to ensure that you take up some work with an NGO and do a certification with Coursera or Udemy; you just can’t go into a PI without having done anything.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

      • Safal Baradiya says

        I appeared for CAT2018 and scored 75%ile. I didn’t take any class or coaching material. Just gave a few mocks that too 2 months ahead of exam and just appeared for the exam.
        I currently stay in hyderabad. I would like to join a course wherein I ll have to take coaching from Feb to July and latter prepare from home by quitting the job. By the time I ll have work ex of 24 months.

        Like

      • Okay. The jump from 75 to 85 can happen with more self-prep but from there to a 95 -plus will not be that easy, so I suggest you meet one of our mentors at IMS Hyderabad, Durga Sankar Sir with my reference. You can write to him at durga.sankar@imsindia.com to fix up an appointment.

        Hope this helps,

        All the best!

        Like

  9. Pingback: To re-take or not to re-take the CAT | The CAT Writer

  10. shubham kumar sah says

    it was great reading your blog
    I am a civil engineer graduated from IIT Kharagpur. currently working in shapoorji pallonji as a management engineering trainee. currently, my project is situated in a village in Punjab where I don’t have facilities to prepare for CAT. Should I leave my job before 3 months of CAT.
    I joined in july 18 and appearing for CAT 19

    Like

    • Hi Shubham, As I wrote, it depends on the area you want to work in post your MBA. If it is operations then definitely get 2 years of work-ex, else you can go ahead and quit as you have planned.
      All the best!

      Like

  11. Ashi Khanna says

    Hi ,
    I am really impressed by the way you have addressed all the relevant issues.I’m glad someone could put it up in an effective way.
    Coming to the point, I am a female engineer graduated in 2018 working for one of the IT sector companies in Hyderabad with 11 months of work experience now. I am planning to quit my job and solely prepare for CAT 2019 with all the extra circular activities which you have mentioned of course. My 10/12/GRAD scores are 92/83/83 respectively.
    Can you please guide me if quitting is the right choice I am making because with my current job it is not possible for me to prepare.

    Thanks in advance 🙂

    Like

    • Hi Ashi,
      As I write, if you want to build a career in tech then you should complete 24 months of work-ex. Else you can quit as you have planned. Also, female students have it a tad easier at b-schools since firms do not dissect profiles as much as they do for male candidates; the firms have diversity targets as well.
      Hope this clarifies,
      All the best!

      Like

  12. Kasturi Joglekar says

    Hi,
    I cleared my CA final in January 2019 and did my other ICAI mandatory trainings till Feb mid. Now I am preparing for CAT since some time. I did my articleship of 3 years (out of which 1 year was post graduation) with a big 4 in audit. I was wondering if should join somewhere for a job or should I prepare for CAT along with CFA level 2 in June 2019 and German Maxmueller course considering post IIM I want a good consulting or investment banking role or private equity role.

    Like

    • Hi Kasturi,

      Since you want to get into I-banking a CA should more than suffice, a CFA L-2 will be the icing on the cake. Look at working if it is high-quality work-ex that will be very relevant to an i-banking profile in the future. Else you are better off getting more diversity into your profile and personality.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  13. Hello Sir,
    I attended your last mile session in Hyderabad for CAT18. I am working since January 2018 at Infosys. By July 2019 i will complete 18 months of work ex and i am thinking to quit and want to dedicate completely to CAT19 from 1st Aug onward. As you mentioned the things like toastmaster, online courses, if i will start from August off course i will not be able to do all these. Will it affect my interviews or there are ways i can still manage interviews?
    10th: 95%, 12th:62%, Btech:67%, CAT18: 78 percentile. Categ: OBC. Suggest me is it wise decision for me to quit in July because i really don’t want to leave any stone unturned and want to get into a top bschool next year at any cost. For CAT18 also i decided the same but because of job timing i couldn’t give my best. Please advice me!
    Thank you

    Like

    • Hi Mayank,

      Firstly, with 78 percentile, you will only get colleges at the lower end of the spectrum. So there is no option but to give it another shot.

      Quitting is not a bad option if you want to ensure that you get into a good b-school.

      Where I don’t agree with you is that you will need 12-14 hours every day for 3 months to prepare for CAT.

      Even if you do not do all the profile building activities I feel you should take up at least the odd course on Coursera and some NGO work for a few hours a week.

      They will ask you why you quit and if say CAT prep then you have to come up with a compelling reason why you needed so much time.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Nitesh says

    Sir,I am a mechanical engineer 2014 pass out,Having 3 years experience with MNC and a total of 4 years+ experience.I am planning to take a break from my job and start preparing for CAT meanwhile i will be taking a pipe designing course and Six sigma certification course in order to add on to my profile will it be helpful ?
    Please help me..in deciding if it is the right time for Doing so ?

    Like

    • Hi Nitesh,
      Given your work-ex, you can definitely take a break. Doing a 6-Sigma certification will help from an MBA perspective but not pipe design.

      I suggest you take online certification courses related to business management. The activities taken during your break should signal an interest to learn and move towards management.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best.

      Like

  15. Swetha Chodavarpu says

    Hi!

    Thank you for the well-worded and articulate article. I quit my job in October 2018 and have one-year work experience in the field of healthcare. I am also a freelance writer that I have been doing for over 4 years (still do). In addition, I am going for an internship abroad for 2 months and will be going for a digital marketing job (given my experience in content writing) after I return in August. I am a female graduate in BSc with 90/84/77 in academics. Should I be doing more?

    Thank you!
    Swetha

    Like

    • Hi Shwetha,

      Your profile is quite diverse both in terms of work-ex and your content writing experience. Given that you will be taking up a Digital Marketing job it should make your profile pretty competitive. The only additional thing I can think of is some NGO work if time permits.

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Ashish Punjabi says

    Hi sir ,
    My profile is as below:
    Xth- 83.40(gseb)
    XIIth- 65.33% (gseb)
    B.Tech – 71.2
    I am currently working in supply chain department and will complete 2 years of work experience on 31st may,2019.In this 2 years of work experience consist of 0.5 year of maintenance(mechanical) department and 1.5 year of supply chain. In cat 2018, i got 75.92 overall percentile and in varc 28,Dilr 94.5, quant 88.77. So i am planning to take a drop. But i have a few queries.
    My Specific queries are :
    1) Should i quit my job since 1st july,2019 ?
    2.) do i stand a chance to IIM-A/B/C? If yes then how many percentile require for it and same for new iims and baby iims.
    3) do i stand a chance to top colleges other than iims like FMS/MDI despite of average academic?
    4) i have not any achievement and extra curricular activity are also less.so how much these things will impact on my chances to get admission ? and what should i do at this stage for it?
    My first preference will be of marketing and second will be of operation.
    Please share your thoughts and help me.

    Like

    • Hi Ashish,

      Given your poor academic record, an old IIM is definitely out of the question even if you score a percentile in excess of 99.

      You can take a shot at the other tests such as IIFT, SNAP, XAT, and NMAT so that you have a shot at other good schools.

      Marketing might be a tough ask since you have core Ops work-ex.

      So you can quit your job after you finish 24 months and prepare for all of these tests. You can view the post on how to build your profile to learn about the things you can take up during your break.

      All the best!

      Like

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