B-School Selection
Comments 32

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 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 in which you aim to start 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 :-).

32 Comments

  1. Sir, this question is not in relation with this particular blog. But I am facing a dilemma regarding my admit. I have acceptance from NMIMS Mumbai and MICA Ahmedabad. I am interested in Marketing/Gen management roles. According to my research on the comparison, NM has location advantage as well as some sort of a Brand name and slightly higher average package. On the other hand, MICA has good ROI, Culture and is suitable for Marketing. And all the data I am getting is redundant and vague.
    So, which college would you suggest is better?

    Like

    • Hi Soham,

      MICA is a college that specialises in providing professionals to the advertising industry – people who interface with the Marketing teams of brands and the creative guys at their agency; hard core Marketing roles are newer additions at MICA.

      Since you want to get into Marketing and Gen Mgt., you have to go with NM.

      ROI should not be calculated based on first salary alone since the return of an MBA degree is spread out over a career.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  2. Mahavir says

    Sir,
    your concept was really helpful, as in quarantine I was looking for some valuable books and your post is right here.

    Thank You.

    Like

  3. meet says

    sir, I am facing a dilemma regarding my admission to a particular college. I know none of them are good colleges but still, I want to know which college I can prefer. I have the offer letter from IMT dcp, IMT Nagpur , IMT Hyderabad (got 85% scholarship from both).
    so sir, please guide me on what college should I prefer and IMT G dcp program will give me the brand name but its ROI is too low plus recent crises. so I am skeptical about the dcp program.

    waiting for the cap results 🙂

    Like

    • Hi Meet,
      The dual country program is super-expensive and unless you have money to burn I would advise it even if the economy was normal.

      Between the other two the older one, Nagpur, is better.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  4. Bony Gupta says

    I am inclined towards Finance.How is the BFS programme in IMI Delhi. Will it be worthwhile being an engineer?

    Like

    • Hi Bony,
      IMI is known for its marketing placements. I am not aware of how the BFS program is since it is not a well-known program, you will have to reach out to students in the program to get a first hand idea of the kind of Finance roles on offer.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

    • Hi Kavya,
      The IIMs are not the best but the worst for HR since neither the core programs nor the recruiters are geared towards HR!

      The best schools are XLRI, TISS, SIBM-Pune, SCMHRD, and MDI.

      All the best!

      Like

      • Avirup says

        Hi Sir,
        I wanted to ask one more question.
        How good is IIM Ranchi for HR?
        Also could you please tell me how good is it in comparison to the colleges you mentioned since IIM Ranchi has a specialized HR course?

        Thank you

        Like

      • Hi,

        It is decent but obviously, the spread of roles offered will not be as great as at the other colleges because it is relatively new.

        Should you join it? I think it is best to find people studying there and take a first-hand view.

        All the best!

        Like

  5. Prakhar Kaushik says

    Sir do you think that with advancing technology (AI, Machine Learning and all), HR as a profession will become irrelevant in the coming decade or after that?

    Like

    • Hi Prakhar,

      I do not think so, but before I go deeper if you could tell me the rationale behind that hypothesis?

      Regards,

      Tony

      Like

      • Prakhar Kaushik says

        I started reading Work Rules on your recommendation. I love the book. The hypothesis that I had in mind proved to be wrong.
        thank you sir.

        Like

  6. Yash says

    Hi sir,

    It was a great article. You have put across very well.

    I am aspiring to get into Finance/Gen.Mgmt, would like to know what level of knowledge in these domains is expected during a B-school interview. Which general aspects should be prime focus while preparing for the interviews.

    Any additional suggestions that may help in cracking top B-School in 2021?

    Thank you!

    Like

    • Hi Yash,

      They would not expect you to know any subject-specific knowledge.

      What they would expect is that you know which specialization you want to take up, that ti is aligned to your background, and that you have a fair idea of the kind of firms/roles that you want to take up post your MBA.

      So you would need to know which part of Finance you want to pursue your career in since it is a very vast field with each stream being fairly distinctive — investment banking, trading, corporate finance, equity research etc.

      General Management is not about knowledge but the alignment of your profile to the Gent Mgt. roles offered in b-schools.

      I might do a webinar on specializations as a whole.

      All the best!

      Like

  7. Aishwarya Mansingh says

    The article was really persuading sir.
    Sir, I am interested in Agribusiness Management. So what kind books should be helpful for me?

    Like

  8. Himanshu says

    Sir,
    I got 94.7 in CAT-2019 and 96.7 in XAT 2020 but aligned towards only IIM calcutta thats why looking for another shot. I am Bsc Graduate in 2018 with 8.2 CGPA and having work ex of 1 year as subject matter expert in mathematics, is my work profile is suitable for finance?

    Like

    • Hi Himanshu,

      Finance is the most sought after and niche field across the big campuses and given this there is intense competition for the same.

      You will be competing with batchmates who hold a CA, a Commerce degree from colleges of great repute, relevant work-ex and engineers with a CFA (CAL has at least 80 engineers with a CFA)

      Now you ask yourself whether your profile will be competitive with these profiles. They will also specialise in Finance, they will also have stellar degrees and they will also fight for the CGPA. To be competitive you need to clear the CFA L1 at least before you join campus. You can clear CFA L2 in the second year or after graduating.

      Else even if you crack IIM-C you will not graduate with a FIN job.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  9. Venkat says

    Hi Sir,
    I got an admit for Great Lakes PGPM (1 yr program). I have 2.5yrs of IT exp. Is it wise to join a 1 yr program at this situation? Will it fetch beneficial results in longer run??

    Like

    • Hi Venkat,

      Joining a 1-year program is a bit risky since the economy will definitely contract over the next few quarters and the placements will be affected. This means that you will definitely find it tough to graduate with the kind of job you expect.

      Having said that you will be able to move on to better opportunities once the economy gets back on track. If we look at the recent recessions/busts/downturns/ the 2000 dotcom-bust in the US, led to campus offers in India in 2001 being deferred but by the time I graduated from my MBA ‘-4 the economy was doing very well and we had great placements, the same thing happened in the 2008 sub-prime crisis cycle.

      So you are better off doing a 2-year program and graduating in 2022 but if you have it you for a fight you can join.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  10. Vishnu suri says

    Sir I want to pursue a career in management consulting firms, MBB (mckinsey, bain, boston) preferably, but have poor graduation scores. I will appear for CAT2020. I am a male obc ncl engineer. I wanted to know which bschools should I aim for from a realistic point of view. I believe after my CAT preparation I will be able to score 98+ percentile. Please guide me through this.

    Like

    • Hi Vishnu,

      As far as getting into the old IIMs go, you need to score above 96 and you will get calls from most of them. MBB visit most of the old IIMs.

      Realistically you should look at the old & new IIMs and schools such as MDI,, XLRI, IIFT, and SPJIMR.

      Also, MBB cutoffs are very high and they usually look at stellar academic profiles even at the big colleges.

      All the best!

      Like

  11. Purtika Mehrotra says

    Hi sir!
    I am a fresher with no work ex and any specialisation. I have read in one of your comments that for pursuing finance we have to face a hard competition from cfa holding engineers and other professionals. But i am quite clear that i have strong interest in economics, so i am in dilemma right now as to what option should i go for.

    Like

    • Hi Purtika,

      Well, the catch is that an interest in Economics does not translate into a degree in management. Economics is something that management graduates need to understand and there are two core subjects — macro and micro-economics as part of the first-year common curriculum in most programs. In the second year, some professors offer some economics electives based on their areas of research or interest such as developmental economics etc but these are courses that students take over and above their core electives in order to fulfill their credit requirements.

      If you are interested in Finance and want to get into I-banking, trading etc. then you need to plan to take up a CFA. Mind you that a lack of a CFA will not spoil your chances of admission into a b-school that you can still get but those with relevant education background and professional degrees such as CAs and CFAs will beat you to the jobs.

      You can still get jobs in the Banking & Financial Services sector even without a CFA but as I said they will not be the top-tier roles.and build a career as well.

      All the best!

      Like

  12. meet says

    hello sir!!
    current pandemic will affect our placements and internships during our MBA for batch 20-22. I want to ask you what courses or internships or anything I should do so that I have an extra edge over others. I am a mech engineer with no work ex (2019 pass out). and wanted to do an MBA this year only.

    Like

    • Hi Meet,

      The only thing that can help you is your clarity with respect to which specialization you want to choose, certifications relevant to those specializations, the brands you want to work for and studying their history and legacy.

      By now you should have figured that this has to happen pandemic or no pandemic — you cannot be a commodity with stickers and badges that firms buy in the market, you have to meet them midway.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!

      Like

  13. harshil thakkar says

    Hello Sir, I’ve read my fair share of books and Critical Chain has been by far the only book that I feel the urge to read again and again and I’m starting to develop a huge amount of interest in books regarding Operation and Project Planning. I have also finished a certified course on Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management, from Coursera, right after I read Critical Chain. So my question is , can I believe that I have found a field I am interested in or is it just because of the Mechanical Engineering background that I have. And also could you please tell me which are the good colleges regarding Operations

    Like

  14. Harshil Thakkar says

    Hi Sir,
    Since i began to prepare for CAT I have read my fair share of books and Critical Chain has been the only book which i feel like reading again and again and The Goal series. I have also completed a certified course, from Coursera, on Fundamentals of Project Planning and Project Management. Can I say after this that I have found a field that i am actually interested in or is it just because of my Mechanical Engineering ? Also could you please let me know good colleges for Operations ?

    PS: Thank you for the reply in advance

    Like

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