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.