CAT Strat
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Should I quit my job to prepare for CAT?

One of the questions 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 for many, an MBA is the last big shot that they can take to get a big brand name on to their resume.

There might be 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 “I“s 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 easy 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 (unless there are some extenuating personal or professional circumstances).


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.

12 Comments

  1. Mohit Sinha says

    Hi Sir, by September I will have 24 months of experience in IT sector as an Associate Consultant in a MNC . Two doubts sir.
    1) How much percentile should I aim for , GEM 95%(10),94%(12),86%(Btech) Exp : 18 months as of now ?
    2) In context with Indian scenarios, do I need to limit my experience months ? Would there be any hurdle in the shortlisting of profile if I have around 30 months of experience when I join a business school?

    Like

    • Hi Mohit,

      Since you have 24 months of work-ex you need to get in excess of 98.75 percentile to get calls from a few of the IIMs, if you score above a 99 you will get calls from 2 to 4 of the old IIMs.

      No work-ex of 30 months is not counterproductive. If you enter a b-school with more than 40 months of work-ex that will make your profile a bit of an outlier, otherwise it is fine.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  2. Ria says

    Hi Sir,
    I have 32 months of work experience in IT sector in a top MNC. I gave CAT and other exams in 2019 but couldn’t score good percentile. I have converted two tier 2 colleges though. But I am confused weather It is worth joining them. I tried hard to manage both my demanding job, traveling for more than an hour just one way and studies on weekend and in office, but it just didn’t work for me to get more than 90 percentile. I wish give a try this year too but this time by quitting my job. But by the time I would finish serving notice period, my total work experience would be 36 months as of July.
    I want to ask what should I do? Join tier 2 college this year or prepare for exam again? Also, my work experience would be a hindrance when I join any B-school next year?
    Thanks in advance.

    Like

    • Hi Ria,

      If you have a good profile, feel that you can easily score above 95 if you have the time to prepare, and are not looking forward to joining the colleges you have in hand right now, then quit your job around July or even before that, 34 months, and prep for CAt as well as build your profile.

      36 months is not too much experience, the average is around 22-24 months and anything above 40 is an outlier.

      Also being a female candidate, both admissions committees and recruiters will not fuss too much over the specifics of your profile.

      So if you really believe that you can land in a tier 1 school, go for it.

      All the best!

      Like

  3. animeshpaul2595 says

    Hi Sir,
    I am working in an MNC as a system engineer and will have a work-ex of 24 months in IT by September.
    1) How much percentile should I aim for , GEM 83%(10),86%(12),78%(Btech) Exp : 18 months as of now?
    2) I do not want to continue in IT. Would like to switch my domain to Marketing/General management. In that case, is it recommended that i quit my job after September?
    Otherwise, I am afraid the increasing work-ex in IT might hamper my chances of getting shortlisted for companies in my preferred domains.

    Like

    • Hi Animesh,

      Since you have about 18 months of work-ex you need to get in excess of 98.75 percentile to get calls from a few of the IIMs, if you score above a 99 you will get calls from 2 to 4 of the old IIMs.

      If you want to aim for Marketing then the more work-ex you have in an unrelated field the tougher your chances; for Gen Mgt, Ops, and Consulting, 24 months will suffice.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  4. Nupur says

    Hi Sir,
    I am a Software Developer in a gaming company. I am working for about 8 months as a full-time employee in it. I gave 2019 CAT, amid a very tough hardcore coding line and 11-12 hours company timing, I could manage to get a percentile slightly above 91(Grad(95%),10th(95%), 12th(95%)). I primarily have interests in HR or finance. But my work ex is completely different from what these jobs require. I do not see my lifetime career as an engineer. I don’t feel a need to quit job along with studies as now I am well settled in the company and find myself able to manage time but my big question is, should I switch my job in some other field as more experience in such a field will hamper my dream as a future HR or a finance corporate because as per you, HR is primarily preferred to be a fresher or experience in that field and if I opt finance also, this should be from some well-known college of graduation(mine is Jaypee Institute of Information Tech, Noida) or I should possess some professional certifications?
    Thanks In advance.

    Like

    • Hi Nupur,

      You have a good academic profile, diverse work-ex, and a 91-percentile while managing with hectic work-day is quite commendable.

      The catch for you I feel is that you seem to have no idea as to what your core skills are since Finance and HR are as different as chalk and cheese.

      You have to decide on one or the other, are you more interested in designing the people strategy of a firm or are more interested in managing or multiplying money?

      Will you love creating large, happy workplaces or will you like being a part of small teams acquiring and selling firms?

      You have to ask yourself these questions, you can get into HR with your work-ex since relevant HR work-ex is hard to come by.

      If you choose Finance then clearing a CFA L-1 before your interviews or even before you start your MBA will be the best thing you can do.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  5. Saloni says

    Hi Sir!
    I am a Chemical Engineer who’ll complete one year in June, 2020 in a startup as Graduate Engineer Trainee (rotational roles, will have 3-4 months of Sales/ Business Development experience by June). I wish to have a career in Finance. I don’t have any relevant experience/ certifications in Finance. Do you think quitting my job in June to prepare for CAT and build a profile in Finance makes sense? I dont have a great profile – X (90.5%), XII (69.23%), BE (68.68%), not working in a popular organisation.

    Like

    • Hi Saloni,

      If you want to build a career in Finance then there are two paths — one marketing/business side roles in the BFSI (banking and financial services) sector and the other core Finance roles such as Corporate Finance, Investment Banking etc. For the former, you need not need any major professional certifications, a specialization in Finance would do, but for the latter, you would need some solid certification like a CFA or an FRM.

      With the CAT in November, I do not think it will be possible for you to take the CFA in December, the earliest you can take it next June. So unless you cannot work and prep for CAT, do not quit, you can continue working.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  6. Susmita seal says

    Hello Sir,

    I have 33months of work experience in the core Sales & Marketing field. I am from an electrical engineering background.
    1) How much percentile should I aim for, 75.75(10),70.80(12),80%(Btech)? (Female-NC OBC)
    2)Can I quit my job in August to boost my CAT preparation?

    Please help me out.

    Like

    • Hi Susmita,

      Since you already have more than 2 years of experience you can easily quit your job to prep for CAT.

      Given your academic profile, you should score above 96 percentile to get calls from the old IIMs, you will get calls from the old and baby IIMs at above a90 percentile.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

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