B-School Selection
Comments 51

Preparing for an MBA and not just the CAT

The results of quite a few top b-schools are out and even now I get a lot of queries about that revolve around specializations — which specializations should I choose, I do not have any idea what my area of interest and so and so forth.

This is not surprising since in India our strategy is simple — first crack the test, then see what is the best college your percentiles can get you and then finally start thinking about specializations! The funny part is that we do not seem to learn from our mistakes since this is the same policy we followed for our graduation as well and now want to do an MBA so that we can undo the mistakes of our graduation but without having changed our standard operating procedure!

There are only a handful of aspirants who know what they want to do and more importantly who also know what a career in that field entails (it is very easy to say with absolute conviction that I want to get into investment banking without having the slightest clue about the same).

What an MBA means?

One of the misconceptions is that MBA is equivalent to management. From this simplistic equivalence comes the notion that most people hold — doing an MBA will help them play manager-manager. The most important letter of the three in MBA is B — Business!

The difference between an MBA and other degrees such as MS or CA or CFA is that with those degrees the functional knowledge you pick up in the textbooks and master is very directly applicable in the jobs that you will take up.

An MBA on the other hand prepares you at a very broad-level by giving you a framework and direction to think through the real-life business problems you will face by using real-life business case studies.

Also, you might not be directly applying most of what you learnt in your first job post an MBA. It will be a few years before you reach a decision-making position that will demand you to draw on what you learnt in a b-school and find a way to apply it to the unique business problems you are confronted with.

It is not very different to learning swimming extensively in a swimming pool for two years before being thrown out into the sea.

So given this is it not ironic that very few CAT aspirants read the Business section of the newspaper?

Also, almost all the IIMs and other top b-schools have started doing pure GK and Current Affairs interviews over the last few years. Why do they do this? They know that most Indian applicants have been excellent students in class but few have little to show for in terms of their awareness of the larger world. They use the interview process to filter out those few who know more than what they learnt in the books.

The CAT results are usually out around mid-Jan and your first interview can be before the end of Jan and there is no way that you can mug up all the current affairs over the past year in the world in two weeks!

So, the first step towards really preparing for an MBA and not just the CAT is to start reading the sections in the newspaper apart from the sports section such as the business page, the international news page and the front page.

The IIMs call 4 people for 1 seat so technically even if you clear the CAT,  and you can’t leave the preparation for that part of the equation for way too late in the game.

A reading list to learn a bit more about the MBA

A question that I get asked very often, that typifies the middle-class Indian mindset and one that, to put it bluntly, I hate the most is — sir, kaun se field mein scope zyaada haiFin, Mark or HR?

Well, the daftness of this question can be understood by looking at an analogous question — sir kaun se field from scope zyaada hai  – Batting, Bowling or Wicket-Keeping?

From this, it should be very clear that the question itself is incorrect.

Your aim should be to find out about each specialization and analyze which one will you be good at. Any above-average person can be a 6 out of 10 on most things but a 6 out of 10 is not good enough for you to be really successful in the long run. You should try to find the area where you can be an 8 out of 10.

One small query will still be lurking somewhere but kaun se field mein paisa zyaada hai. There is enough money to give you great roti, great kapda, great makaan in every field. What you need to ask yourself is – why should someone pay you money?

The IIMs are under no obligation to ensure that you get placed. They only provide a platform for the best companies to visit their campuses and recruit their students. The 20-odd lakhs you will pay to an IIM is not a guarantee of a 20-odd lakh job because no one owes you a job!

Firms will pay top dollar to top talent. What you need to spend your time on is to find the area where you have the potential to become a top-drawer talent.

A good way to begin is to start learning a bit more about Finance (beyond Wolf of Wall Street), Marketing (beyond I-can-make-better-ads-than-these), Operations (beyond I-am-a-Mechanical Engineer) and Human Resource Management (beyond I-love-interacting-with-people).

The Finance List

Before one gets into Finance one needs to understand the basics of Economics and these are covered in an easy to understand manner in these two books — IIMA – Day to Day Economics and IIMA-Why I Am Paying More: Price Theory and Market Structures Made Simple  — by professor Satish Deodhar who teaches Economics at IIM-A.


While learning the technical aspects of Finance can be left for later, you can pick up a real-world flavour of the workings of Hedge Funds, Investors and Quantitative Finance by reading these two books The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine — and The Quants: The maths geniuses who brought down Wall Street — that narrate real-life events pertaining to the financial markets.


Both of the books above are very entertaining reads and the first one as some of you would know has also been made into a movie.

For anyone interested in trading The Intelligent Investor by Bill Graham is a must-read. For a less entertaining but more historical understanding of Finance, you can go through The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World


The Marketing List

Maybe seemingly the least bookish of all disciplines and yet posing the toughest challenge for all firms  — how do we sell what we make or should it be what should we make or should it rather be what do people want?

Not too many books that directly explain the nitty-gritty of marketing but these three should do the job —  Selling The Wheel: Choosing The Best Way To Sell For You Your Company Your Customers by Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout and Buyology: How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy is Wrong by Martin Lindstrom.

The Operations  & Project Management List

The bible for Operations and a part of the syllabus in most of the IIMs, The Goal uses a fictional story to help you understand the core concepts of operations and systems management. The author Eli Goldratt has used the same concepts to write a few more books to cover the entire domain of operations; the last book in the list below covers Project Management. Read him and you will not have imagined Operations can be taught in such an engaging and insightful manner — The Goal The Goal-2 and Critical Chain – A Business Novel

The HR List

Work Rules: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and lead by Laszlo Bock, Kingdomality: An Ingenious New Way to Triumph in Management by Sheldon Bowles and Richard & Susan Silvano and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky (if you really read this book well, you will understand why you tend to make silly mistakes on most problems and why more often than not you are unable to find unorthodox solutions that seem so obvious to a few others)


Read to get better, read with a target

The first thing to do is to approach these books with the right mindset. Do not read to

  • use information from these to build answers in your interviews; that can be the most stupid thing you can do since you will be showing the panel that you are doing what the Indian system has taught you to do — memorize & regurgitate
  • show off that reading is your hobby; if it is you should already have a list of favorite authors and books (that hopefully does include a certain Mr.Bhagat and his creations)

Treat these books as stepping-stones to learning more about the vast world of business management.

Do not look only at books that deal with your specialization because if you want to be a business leader you can’t just be Finance guy or a Marketing guy, you need to be curious to learn about everything that contributes to building a great organization.

The ones among you who should read all of this at any cost are those who one year from now when facing interviewers asking you — Why MBA — are ready to say — I want to start my own firm in the future. 

These books will cost you, some a little and some a bit more but think about how much you spend on watching a stupid movie or an evening out with friends. If you have your priorities right, you will find a way to acquire and read them even it means making a few sacrifices on other fronts.

A good target to set will be to choose 12 out these 15 and finish them before June 2018 — the month you should be starting your MBA.

And before you sigh thinking I don’t have the time for this or I wish I had the time for this — no one has time and you will rarely have more time than you have today until you retire.

Look at your day, look at the apps on your phone, look at your browsing tendencies. Whenever you make a choice to do one thing with your time, you are not doing something else with it.

Your current consumption of entertainment might seem much more interesting than this reading list but that is not very different from eating potato chips — absolutely irresistible to eat but absolutely useless for your health.

So time to weed out the potato chips you are feeding your mind and feed it something that is aligned with your long-term goals. But there is an exception to every rule, in this case, the upcoming season of Game of Thrones :-).


  1. Pingback: How to prepare for the VA section of the CAT – The CAT Writer

  2. Anupam says

    Wow. I never thought I would find so much answers in this single article. I had been thinking for a long time if an MBA degree will ‘help me start my own business’ or ‘just prepare me for a job discipline in the business world’. I guess I am at peace now. The only doubt I have left is that I am neither supremely talented nor very smart and mostly an introvert. Should I pursue an MBA degree?


    • Hi Anupam,

      Glad you found the post useful.

      Well when you say you are neither supremely talented nor very smart, you are using superlative degrees. I guess okay talent and decent smarts when couple with ability to work hard and manage people well will make you achieve your goals.

      Also if MBA was only for extroverts the bulk of the students at to b-schools will not have made it.

      Extroversion is not a must. It is the ability to communicate precisely that matters. This is a very famous talk that will throw more light on the same – https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts

      What you need to decide is whether you are a techie or whether you are more of a generalist interested in managing people, sales and businesses.

      Eventually unless one is into core tech or R & D an MBA becomes a must for career growth.

      Hope this gives you a direction to think.


      • Hi Tony sir,
        I am a great fan of yours. My question is should I go for the interview of dfs,du which is scheduled in the last of this month or to wait for the result of cap interview?

        Wanting for your reply.
        Thank you,sir


  3. Pratik More says

    Really great post!!
    I felt like my inner self is speaking through this post while I was reading it!!


    • Hi Pratik,

      Felt really nice to read your comment.

      One tries to write from within so it is gratifying to hear that it spoke to you.

      All the best!


  4. Faraz says

    I really liked your post. I am following it n sharing it to many people as it will give them a clear view of why do a candidate should pursue MBA and they should try to find out in which specialisation from this post.. thank you sir.. thanks a lot.


  5. Nabeel says

    That was really an awesome post.. And i wanna know is that necessary to have experience to pursue MBA?


    • Glad you found the post useful. Work ex is not necessary if you want to major in Marketing or Finance.

      It becomes mandatory, though not formally stated, for Ops and Information Management since firms recruiting for these domains need work ex prior to MBA.

      For Consulting, primarily the brand of you Grad college and the rest of your resume plays a big role in whether you get a shortlist or not, work ex is again not mandatory.

      Hope this clarifies.

      All the best!


  6. sonvita says



    • Hi Sonvita,

      Educational diversity is in fact an advantage since IIMs, especially IIM-A, want to take in people from different backgrounds.

      More than looking at your marks or ability to crack the test, you should really evaluate if you want to do an MBA and what options you want to explore after your MBA.

      If you are clear about that you can decide on the tests to take and colleges to apply.

      All the best!


  7. Vyom Karia says

    Hello Tony,

    Found your article extremely useful .
    I was actually confused about one thing though, I recently qualified as a chartered accountant and in the long run I am interested to start my own business (however I am not clear in which stream or direction I will be doing the business). Generally I am able to gather a notion that an MBA will ONLY help me to find a good job.
    So I am facing a dilemma that will MBA help me in starting my own business in future or should I be starting a business right now and not do MBA?


    • Hi Vyom,
      Glad you found the article useful.

      While the value of an MBA in the short term is a great placement it will help you to establish a business through the following ways.

      1. A good business plan is crucial to a great business and that is something an MBA will help you make.

      2. Any business requires capital. Depending on the amount you want you might have to approach a bank for a loan or raise from investors, who as you have money to people with credentials, big-brand MBAs.

      Since you do not have an idea as which business to start an MBA and the ensuing work ex will give you that clarity over the medium-term.

      Since you are a CA an MBA will open up great options for you in Finance as well as roles such as Executive Assistants To business leaders. Both of these can be pathways to gain the contacts and know how to raise capital and run businesses.

      So I would suggest you should do it.

      You do start a business right now only if you have a clear idea of what business t start and if will not require you to raise capital from investors in a few years.

      Hope this clarifies.

      All the best!


  8. Nitin Gaikwad says

    Nice post!!
    Where was this post these many days.
    it really helped me introspect and find few answers.
    Thanks !!


  9. Pramit Yadav says

    Sir,This was indeed very insightful.I have a small follow up question.
    I am inclined towards Entreprenuership.Although,i do not have a multi million idea right now,I believe the ecosystem of a B school will provide me with some decent opportunities and like minded students.
    However,I am also a bit apprehensive.
    Should I opt for an MBA in Entrepreneurship and risk not getting placed at the end of the course or should I pursue a conventional stream and see how it goes from there?


  10. Aritra Hazra says

    Hello Tony,

    Thank you for this post. This article is exactly what i was looking for since days. This was really helpful.


    • Really glad that the post was what you are looking at. Since I spend a lot of time with students, I felt this was something that needed addressing.

      All the best!


    • Thanks Jithin.

      Hope you take up a few things and get a more in-depth idea of your suitability to specializaitons.

      All the best!


  11. adarsh agrawal says

    Great post.
    1.I want to know the difficulty level of various courses that you have mentioned and if it is good idea to pursue them along with CAT prep.How much per day hours will they consume?
    2.I have 90+ 10 and 12 but only 65 in BBA. I worked all my graduation for my business however they are asking for experience after grad so how can i show them what I did with it. (20 times + turnover in 2.5 years ). Also if it will be helpful in a) iim interview b) summer placement.
    Sorry for consuming so much of your time , but i have too many specific doubts which don’t seem to be available across the internet.


    • Hi Adarsh,

      1. The courses will not be extremely heavy and can be done along with CAT Prep. It depends a lot on the individual as well. So you have to look at the number of hours mentioned in the course description, take a course and gauge.

      2. You cannot show the work experience since it has to be work ex after grad. But you can make the most of this to frame answers for Why MBA/Career plans in the forms that you will be asked to fill once you get a call and during the interviews as well. If they find substance in the venture and the skills you picked up as a result of the same then it will definitely help you in interviews and placements.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!


  12. Ramandeep Singh says

    hi sir,

    Thanks for this amazing and insightful post, this was just what I was looking for. I have a penchant for psychology, and I, before reading this post have already finished with Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Apart from this I have read all books of Malcolm Gladwell. I was intrigued by the case points in Blink and about subconscious mind, heuristic and biases we have in Thinking, Fast and Slow. I also follow Psychology Today and other blogs.
    Despite of this, I am unable to make sure of HR being the best fit for me. Apart from salary, compensations and handling disputes in an organization, what my role would exactly be. Also, does my liking towards psychology will be sufficient for a job role in HR ?

    Waiting for your response 🙂



    • Hi Ramandeep,

      You are one of those rare readers of this blog who has already all of the books suggested for HR! Really good to hear from you.

      The first distinction you need to make in your head is between a strong interest and passion for an area and the desire to build a career in an area.

      HR deals with recruitment, training, talent management & organization design. It goes without saying that someone who has a psychology background or a strong interest in the same and who supplements that with a degree in business management will be better suited to a role in HR than someone who has no interest in Psychology. Your role in HR will start with handling bulk recruitments to eventually shaping organization structures and cultures. Read the google book as well since you get an idea of what HR does in organizations or how organizations are built; it might just help you make that connection between the two fields.

      What are other areas related to Psychology?

      Anything that has anything to do with understanding human behavior — Marketing & Advertising are also areas that require an understanding of the same but also need other skills.

      Also look at the traits required for each of the domains: Finance — extreme work hours, judicious risk-taking, numerical & analytical skills, Marketing — an ability to work with large diverse teams, motivational skills and strategic thinking, HR — listening skills, understanding of human psychology, exceptionally good people skills, and strategic thinking.

      If you are still not clear read the books suggested for the other areas and see if any of those areas generates a stronger interest.

      As of now, you need not be dead certain but have a broad direction.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!


  13. aryan khan says

    its very helpful article for mba aspirent i want to ask one thing . i have done b.com in 2016 then i placed in royal enfield dealership right now i am still working in royal enfield so i want to take admission reported college .
    will my working exrience help me in time of placement ?


    • Yes, it will help you. If say, you are working in sales then your sales, then it will come in handy for Marketing roles.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!


  14. Sachin Kose Paul says

    Hello Sir,
    What is the difference between MBA in Consulting and Strategic Management? Though I have work-ex of 1.5 years, am not in anyway a team lead or a manager. Is it possible for me to take Strategic Management? Am also confused about Analytics and the kind of work-ex which Analytics demand?


  15. Athira Anilkumar says

    Hi sir,
    I wanted to know what books I can read to get an idea about the Consulting, Strategic management and Analytics side of business. Any books I can read other than the online courses in data science.

    Thank you for the amazing article.


    • Consulting as a field in itself encompasses marketing, operations, and strategy since you will be solving clients problems in these specific fields. Students who aspire for Consulting roles, take specializations in all areas.

      Strategic Management is again not a specialization in the traditional sense since it is a skill that every MBA requires over the longer-term. You will be better off learning it on campus. You will not be getting strategic management roles on campus since it is not an entry level role.

      For Analytics you should take up online courses in Marketing Analytics or Operations Analytics. Analytics is a tool that gives your information necessary to arrive at business decisions so the courses you need to take will depend on which area you want to work on the tool itself (then you need to do courses in data science and a degree that specializes in business analytics) or the business side, which would not need any courses and books apart from the ones mentioned in the blog and the ones you will do on campus.

      All the best!


  16. Hi Tony sir,
    I am a great fan of yours. My question is should I go for the interview of dfs,du which is scheduled in the last of this month or to wait for the result of cap interview?

    Wanting for your reply.
    Thank you,sir


  17. New and baby iims or dfs,du
    I have a interview of dfs,du in the last of this month? Should I go for it?
    I have interest in finance, economics.

    Thank you sir


    • Glad you found the post useful.

      If you have an interest in Fin and Eco then definitely consider DFS, DU over baby IIMs. Among the new you to look at the placement reports and see which ones have Fin placements comparable to DFS,DU. So in terms of immediate placements DFS, DU should be your choice.

      Join the new IIMs if you plan to do a CFA and are okay looking for Fin jobs off-campus.

      All the best!


  18. veer says

    sir, you must be a hardcore fan of cricket! the way you connect them with CAT prep makes it so much easy to relate. I have a doubt that if one is not certain about the specialization, reading about all the specialization from the books mentioned in the article and then in interview if we can say that we want to explore it first hand in colleges and then choose, is it right ?


  19. sir, you must be a hardcore fan of cricket! the way you connect them with CAT prep makes it so much easy to relate and you have used it in most of the article so it’s so easy to realize the error in my mindset. I have a doubt that if one is not certain about the specialization, reading about all the specialization from the books mentioned in the article and then in the interview if we can say that we want to explore it first hand in colleges and then choose, is it right? but make them believe that I have read about all these and know them quite enough.


    • Hi Ajay,

      Like most Indians, I grew up watching a lot of cricket and cricket being sort of the universal language that we understand it makes it easier to get the point across. Also, I feel facing every ball and negotiating it is like facing a question, so it aligns itself to test prep better than other sports 🙂

      Exploring it first hand in college doesn’t really happen since you have only 3 to 4 subjects from each specialization in the first year, also, if you decide after the first year then you will be wasting the entire range of profile building activities that you can do during the first year, relevant to your choice of specialization. While 10-15 years ago, when the information was scarce and the fee was 3 lakhs, this answer about exploring would suffice but right now with all the information in the world available for you to access and a fee for an MBA at above 15 lakh, exploration honestly sounds very innocent 🙂

      All the best!


  20. Sachin says

    Hello Sir, your article on preparing for an MBA and not just for CAT was really an eye-opener. Sir, am really confused right now. Am not able to figure out the right choice between Business Analysis and Business Analytics.
    I am really interested in role that provides business solutions and insights based on the solutions, helping steer the company in a profitable direction. Which one among these two courses will equip me for this role? Is Business Analysis only a certification program and none of the colleges in India or abroad are offering it? Please help me out.



    • Hi Sachin,

      Business Analytics is a more established course that revolves around how to harness data to provide insights to decision-makers.

      I am not sure which course you are referring to when you say Business Analysis. If you are referring to the 1-year program launched by IIM-K, then it is just a different name they have given for the standard 1-year MBA program that is targeted towards working professionals. I am not sure of any other Business Analytics programs.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!


  21. Ashwinikumar Kesarkar says

    Hi sir, You might have seen the placement report of SIBM Pune. Marketing got the highest CTC of 45.50L and Finance got the highest CTC of 24.20L. Why there’s such big difference?


    • Well, as far as marketing goes, all the top firms visit all the top 30 schools since they recruit a fair number and all top firms pay well.

      But for Finance the top firms visit only the old IIMs mostly (and a couple of others) and the Fin roles at SIBM will mostly BFSI roles and not the core Fin roles.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


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