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How to approach the Indian B-School Personal Interview

Over the past few weeks, I was travelling around taking sessions at the IMS NAW, which explains why the posts have become sporadic. Now that we are done with the Achievers Workshops there is more breathing space to do some writing that captures the essence of the closing session that I took at the NAW.

The IIM interview season has already started and aspirants would be trying to get as many insights as they can right from how to dress for the interview to how to reduce India fiscal deficit without affecting our growth!

Amidst all of this clutter, how does one go in with the right perspective? What is the state of mind with which one should approach an interview? How you approach an interview will make all the difference.


The Interview Is Not A Test

For almost every aspirant this interview is a test, albeit an oral one, in which they will be interviewed/interrogated and they have to somehow find a way to get through this successfully.

Everything — your answers, your body language, your facial expressions, your composure — is determined by this, your attitude towards the interview. The panel being this set of two or three gods (benevolent, hectoring, or bullying) upon whose mercy your life hangs.

To start with let us drop the test metaphor and try to view the interview as something else.


Do not become a child again because you want to get into a school

Over the years, I have seen that irrespective of whether they working professionals or freshers, most candidates turn into children the moment it comes to a b-school interview. I have seen this not just with people with 3-5 years of work experience but even while interviewing candidates with 10-plus years of candidates having a call from a PGP-X program.

While mock-interviewing one such candidate, I asked — what you will do if we do not select you? The moment he heard that question his face immediately dropped, instead of looking at it as a professional question about his plan-B, he took it as a rejection, as if someone he really looked up to and was desperate to seek approval from just told him that he is not worth it.

The candidate had more than 10 solid years of work experience, had spent huge amounts of time abroad at client locations and knew his domain inside out. He had a call from one of the twins among the old IIMs for its PGP-X programs.

To think of it, the PGP-X programs at the IIMs are not really that great in terms of the options they offer. They are leagues below ISB when it comes industry perception about 1-year programs in India. In fact, when they do information sessions for their PGP-X programs, IIMs attract 25 to 50 students at max, whereas ISB has its halls full. The way I looked at it, the IIM would have benefited more from this guy joining them that the other way around.

But we place education from elite institutions on such a pedestal that we immediately become 15-year old children yearning desperately to be liked and admitted to a school.

He should have just told them that he will take more time out next time, get a better GMAT score and apply to international programs as well.

So the first thing is to realise is that the interview is a professional meeting and not a teacher-student meeting. If you do make this switch in your head then you will have lost the battle between the ears.


The Panel Is Your Prospective Client

Why is the panel your client?

Firstly, because they have a problem — they need to fill a certain number of seats. Well, that might not seem like a problem but it is. It is a problem because they want the right candidates for the seat.

Secondly, finding the right candidate is not an easy job because just aptitude won’t do, they expect the candidate to have many more traits that cannot always be evaluated objectively. Hence, the IIMs go through the trouble of organising interviews spread out across the country and across many weeks. Else they would have shortlisted people based on CAT Scores and weights assigned to different aspects of the profile.

If every seat they have to fill is a problem, then each IIM needs about 300-400 solutions.

What is your job?

To convince them that you are one such solution.

Why the prospective client metaphor?

Simply because it determines what attitude you take to the interview. Prospective clients can be very similar to interview panels: generous, expressionless, grumpy, combative, high-handed and many more as those among you with work experience will attest.


How Would You Handle a Prospective Client?

  • Would you be walking in trembling and under-confident?
  • Will you sit passively across the table and expect them to ask questions and provide answers or will you try to establish a connection?
  • Will you go unprepared or will you go in with the best pitch you can make about your firm and your product?
  • If the client throws a tantrum or is asking you uncomfortable questions will you sweat and give up or will you handle it with poise to the best of your abilities?
  • Would you give false information and expect the client to not question or probe further or will you say I am not aware of that I will get back to you on that one?

The answers are self-evident and so are the traits you need to display

  • Self-Belief, & Confidence
  • Communication Skills & Personableness
  • Preparedness & Purpose
  • Poise & Ability to Handle Stress
  • Honesty & Prudence

A Test Of Potential

You might not have all the above traits in abundance but a few of them like Honesty are must-haves. The rest of the traits cannot be imparted through specific courses at an IIM but can only be polished during your stay at the b-school and the internship you will be required to do as part of the program.

So at some level, you are supposed to demonstrate these traits to some extent and show that you have the potential to become a business leader if you get a chance to learn at a premier business school like an IIM.

This might seem similar to the Selling/Marketing Yourself  idea and maybe it is to a certain extent, but there is a vital distinction you have to make —  you are not marketing yourself to an individual like in B2C Marketing (Business-to-Consumer), you are marketing yourself to an institution like in B2B Marketing (Business-to-Business).

So all the traits we spoke about have to displayed with the assurance of a solution-provider than with the spirit of a salesman.

If you are able to approach your interview through this lens, I am sure you will be able to give a good account of yourself in your interview.

If you approach the interview panel as you would a client then you will end up displaying these qualities.


A few dos and don’ts

It is tough to cover the whole gamut of questions and possible scenarios in which a PI can play out through a blog post since it largely depends on the profile of the candidate. But be that as it may, we can still look at some general principles that will hold you in good stead to handle a PI.

Be prepared for all the standard questions (Tell us something about yourself, Why MBA, Career Goals, Strengths & Weaknesses)

Be genuine, if you do not know, say I am not aware; if you are making an educated guess then preface your answer with I am not sure but I think.

Do not throw jargon such as I want to do brand management or investment banking unless you have done quite a bit of research about that and are genuinely prepared to answer questions such as what is your favourite brand & why

Do not seek affirmation for or evaluation of your performance in the form of visual cues from the panel. They might maintain expressionless face, stonewalling you into feeling stressed and losing your composure.

Be prepared to think on your feet to answer questions that you are not expecting, your brain has to be alive and ticking not frozen

Be prepared to handle questions from your engineering, I know you are want to do an MBA to escape engineering but you have to for one last time 🙂

Be prepared with GK & Current Affairs especially policy-related ones such as CAA, NRC, Climate change etc.

and

Wear a smile, it looks good on almost all everyone.


Fake it till you become it

I know all of these are easier said than done and some of you might not feel that these qualities do not come naturally to you but everyone need not be a natural at everything, successful people conquer their weaknesses by reading and learning about it and confronting it.


Visualize yourself doing the right things

During the posts leading up to the CAT, we had discussed a lot about visualization — seeing yourself executing certain a set of behaviours/moves in certain situations. For example, in one of the posts we had clearly discussed that the DI-LR section can end up being the make or break section. We had discussed how you should not take the performance on one section into another. But despite all of this on test-day a lot of aspirants did adhere to it and went on to spoil their Quant section on the back of a sub-par DI-LR section.

You need to talk yourself into making the right moves. At that time we had used the example of Brian Lara and Michael Jordan and how they used the technique of visualisation. Well, the Cricinfo Monthly has done even more detailed story with an entire issue dedicated to BCL. The writer Rahul Bhattacharya seems to be as crazily passionate about the batsmanship of The Prince of Trinidad as I am and has penned an awesome article for the issue.

http://www.thecricketmonthly.com/story/954549/fly-lara-fly

Prepare well and all the very best for your upcoming interviews!

27 Comments

    • Hi Adhyan,

      I am not sure which colleges are still open(since almost all of the last dates of application have ended) and I do not know which ones you have applied to.

      DSE is decent, UBS HR I have no clue about since I do not have any students who have gone there.

      All the best!

      Like

  1. himanshu says

    Hi sir
    I am facing problems while speaking in a group whether its a GD or CD. i always have good ideas but cant speak it. now if don’t speak, either someone else would say it or it will let unsaid. its just about the hesitation while speaking in a group. kindly suggest something!

    Like

    • Hi Himanshu,

      Honestly, if I had a solution for this I would give it not just to you but everyone else, rest assured there would have been a post on it already!

      You have to speak because you have to speak because you have to speak because you have to speak, because you want to build a career in management, if you cannot speak you should aspire to a career in management since if you do not get your good ideas out then what the point of wanting to get into management to execute other people’s ideas.

      And no it will not happen automatically in the future, it has to happen now!

      All the best!

      Like

  2. SABYASACHI says

    Sir, please give some tips and tricks for the PGDBA exam. I scored 100 percentile in QA in CAT 2019(OA : 99.43) AND 99.999(QA) XAT 2020, but In XAT I could not clear the DM cutoff.
    I left my job and gambled all my savings for this CAT attempt, but right now with no BLACKI calls,I have only one option left right now and that is PGDBA. I am afraid and I really cannot say if I am right or wrong at this point of time and this time I heard rumours that over 15000 students are appearing for the test and I am in a very confused state right now. Can you please provide some suggestions on how I can deal with my current predicament.

    Like

    • Hi Sabya,

      Over 15000 apply for the test but only a really small number of them are people like you with exceptional QA skills.

      Since higher Math is not my cup of tea I haven’t taken the test and hence do not have any tips or tricks and honestly, I do not think any specific tips and tricks are necessary apart from a solid understanding of Math. My students with decent scores in CAT QA (nowhere as good as yours) have secured a PGDBA call in the past, so do not worry and focus on preparing and doing well on the test.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  3. Adhith Murali says

    Sir I got 90 percentile in CMAT I need to know whether IFMR, Chennai is a good option for me.

    Like

    • IFMR is a good college overall, you need to decide based on your profile and the placement options that IFMR offers whether they are aligned to what you want.

      All the best!

      Like

      • Ankit says

        Sir, I have scored 92.20 %ile in cmat and have applied for GIM and welingkar. Are they good and what are the other colleges I can apply for. Thanks.

        Like

      • GIM and Welingkar-Mumbai are may be broadly comparable and decent at the percentiles you have mentioned. Honestly, my knowledge of colleges through CMAT is a bit limited.

        Hope this clarifies,

        All the best!

        Like

  4. Soham says

    Hi sir.
    I have secured 93%ile in XAT 2020. Since my overall acads were decent right from school days (icse 91%, isc 94%, b.tech ece-cgpa 8.22) I had received a profile based shortlist from great lakes Chennai for their PGPM programme ( I have 34 months work ex in IT-software testing). After I submitted my XAT scores I received admission from great lakes Chennai. Now apart from that, I have GD/PI calls from XIMB, IMT Ghaziabad, GIM Goa, NMIMS Bangalore, FORE Delhi, TAPMI, KJ Somaiya. I am mostly aiming between XIMB, IMT-G and Great Lakes( since ROI here is pretty good and IT experience is taken into account). Now I am really confused as to which of these three should I go for?
    It would be great if you can provide your valuable expertise and insights into this plethora of dilemma that I’m currently going through.
    PS: I am mostly looking to opt for Marketing but haven’t finalised that yet!
    Thanks in advance.

    Like

    • Hi Soham,

      Between the three I would say you can easily set aside IMT-G since it has too big a batch size and the brand has been on the decline.

      Between GLIM and XIM-B I think it boils down to the sector in which you want to build your career, my students who have been to both schools are happy with both the learning and the placement outcomes. So take a call based on specific sectors, recruiters and roles you are looking for.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

      • Soham says

        Hello sir.
        Thank you so much for the timely reply.
        I just wanted your insights regarding one more thing. Since Great Lakes Chennai is offering a PGPM degree( its a one year course) compared to other colleges like XIMB and IMT-G who are offering the general PGDM degrees, how do you think PGPM will stand against a normal PGDM degree??
        Mainly looking at it say 5-10 years down the line, will it be considered the same as a normal PGDM degree or will it be given lesser preference? Also if I switch my job in the future, will the new recruiters frown upon the fact that I have a one year PGPM mba rather than a two year PGDM?
        Earnestly waiting for your valuable insights on this sir.
        Thanks in advance 🙂

        Like

    • Hi Paras,

      IRMA is a good college for Marketing and has a good legacy as well, what matters is whether you want to build a career in Marketing or not.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  5. Hi Sir,
    I am currently working in talent acquisition team but want to pursue an MBA in financ/operations. How do I explain the switch in the PIs where I have to specify the specialization that I am looking at? I am currently working on my SOP and unable to understand how to justify it. While some okay are with answers with complete honesty where I can say I want to explore, others demand an answer where I need to find an link between the two justifying both. Please help.

    Like

    • Hi Riya,

      You should make this pitch — your x months of work-ex in TA has given you an understanding of how organizations are structured and the role played by the different functions ‚ Marketing, Finance, Ops, and HR.

      When you evaluated your skill sets with a view to planning your own career you felt that you will be more suited to working in a line function such as finance or operations, you need to then substantiate why.

      The question is not about linking your experience to Finance but your interests and skillsets, you are more of a hard skills person, Finance, than a soft skills person, HR, etc.

      This is a structure for an answer you have to fill it in with your experiences.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  6. Ghanshyam Mehta says

    Hello Sir!

    I’m a GEM fresher and I plan to pursue finance as my specialization. I have the option to choose between NMIMS and SIBM-P as my option-2/back up. Could you please help me in letting know which one would be a better choice?

    Like

      • Hello Sir!

        I have converted IIM-Shillong and am waiting for MDI’s result. Is Shillong better than NMIMS for fin? I’m a little worried about NMIMS due to the batch size and especially considering the Covid -19’s imapact on economy.

        Like

      • No way, for Fin join NMIMS, do not think 🙂

        In tough times, the older the relationships between campuses and companies, the more durable they are, so any day NM over Shillong.

        Like

      • Thank you so much Sir, your blog has helped me throughout my journey. I managed to score 99.16%ile with my sectional percentile being (98.5/93.4/99.18). I am considering CAT-20 as an option against joining NMIMS(finance). I’m a fresher and my purpose for doing an MBA is not a decent salary but I want to horn my skills to get a step closer to self actualization. Is the risk worth it?

        Like

      • Hi Shyam,

        Glad you found the blog useful and congratulations on a great performance in your first attempt.

        Given that you are a fresher and are looking at more just a placement the question you have to answer is whether believe you can reach a higher score next time around and get into a better school. If you believe you can do that then go ahead and take another shot. If you have any doubts about that or feel a bit scared then do not.

        As far as the risk goes, no risk, no reward 🙂

        All the best!

        Like

  7. Prakhar Kaushik says

    Sir,
    I am a follower of visualization for a while now. I face some difficulty in visualizing the interview process. I am not able to carve out a sequence of events for the interview process that I can visualize because it is such an open-ended situation.
    The way you told about visualizing before the CAT day in your article. Specifically how should I see it going.
    Can you mention some tips here?

    Like

    • It is natural that you are unable to visualize a sequence of events since there is another person(s) involved and they direct the course.

      What you can visualize is yourself from the other side of the table in different situations:

      1. Yourself as you walk in, smile, wish them, and take your seat
      2. Your posture and demeanour when you sit in front them
      3. Your posture and demeanour when they ask you tough questions you do not know

      More than anything try to visualize your state of mind when they ask you things that you do not know or things that make you uncomfortable.

      If you visualize yourself projecting and being in a fairly composed, engaged, relaxed yet alert, state of mind, throughout the interview, you should be good.

      All the best!

      Like

  8. Shubham jain says

    Hello sir,
    I have a sales experience of 8 months in byjus and then i left the job to prepare for CAT. By Feb 2021, there will be a gap of one year. I also have a small family business as traders of milk products. Should i show that i worked there for 1 year as i know inside out about it but do not know how can i contribute to it since i have not worked there.

    Like

    • Hi Shubham,

      It all depends on how convincing can you be on two fronts — showing salary slips etc. to prove that you were formally working in your family concern and being knowledgeable enough about the specifics of the operations and role you did — to prove that you are not just using it to justify the gap.

      If you are confident about the two then you can use it.

      All the best!

      Like

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