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How to approach the Indian B-School Personal Interview

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 the Farm Bills 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!

12 Comments

  1. Dipankar Sharma says

    Sir,
    I am 26 years old and I have two year work ex. I quitted my job in Sep 2019 to prepare for CAT. I did not scored well in CAT and I have no calls this year. I want to do an MBA as I feel this is the best career prospect for me. I am really confused that whether it will be a right decision to go for an MBA next year and will this gap affect my placements ?. I shall be really thankful if you can guide me a bit.

    Like

    • Hi Dipankar,

      You can take another shot at the CAT but not without working since it will become very difficult to justify in an interview that you have not been working since Sep 2019!

      All the best!

      Like

  2. Prakhar Kaushik says

    Hello sir,
    Your articles have been a constant source of motivation and advice for me since the last year’s CAT.
    I believe very much in visualization, however, when it comes to interviews, I don’t understand what exactly to visualize. For CAT, I can visualize the about the flow of the exam, the mindset, the small things because I know what’s going to happen. But an interview is such an open-ended event I become clueless as what to visualize. What are your thoughts on it?

    Like

    • Hi Prakhar,
      Both for the exam and for the interview one’ main visualisation has to be about being calm and even-tempered and present.

      The quality of our being essentially determines the quality of what we bring forth in all circumstances.

      So visualise yourself being asked questions you do not have answers to, visualise yourself as a professional speaking to a client, visualise yourself as being bullied by the panel, and in all these circumstances visualise yourself answering with poise and pleasantness.

      What they will react to is what comes across beyond the words you say.

      This is true for every situation in life.

      All the best, you will be okay!

      Like

  3. Shubham jain says

    Hello sir
    I have stated in my Why MBA question that I want to be a brand manager in the short term. Can you please help me some of the questions that I should prepare for when I am talking about being a brand manager. Also sir , I have 8 Months of worked in sales after which I have a year gap. What can be the possible answer for the question to why not do a job for some more time, say 1 more year and then go for an MBA?

    Like

    • Hi Shubham,

      If you say your short-term goal is to be a brand manager then you need to be prepared for most ings about brand management — what is a brand, what is/re your favourite brand(s) and why, what is the difference between sales and marketing, etc.

      You can say that you wanted to work in sales for a while more but felt that it will be better if you did not as a fresher but as an MBA, which apart from giving you more capabilities will also give your more responsibility in terms of territory and revenue. So one more year as a junior-level salesperson would not have added much value and learning as much as an MBA and a year as an Area Sales Manager.

      Hope you have watched my All About Specializations – I on the IMS YT Channel; I have covered Sales & Marketing in detail in that.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  4. saurabh says

    Hello sir,
    I would like to start by thanking you sir, your reply to my comment in the post “What after a horrible CAT?” really helped a lot, I gave my XAT&NMAT tension free with nothing to lose attitude and got a decent score, I got the calls from XLRI HR, XIMB, IRMA, IMT, NMIMS. I am not very hopeful for XLRI as the percentile is not too competitive and I don’t want to go in HRM. To date, I have appeared for IMT PI with the Panel from IMT Nagpur.
    I wanted to ask does the duration of PI matters, My PI got over in less than 10 mins.
    I expected some grilling but that did not happen at all. It was very cordial and smooth. I guess I did not make the conversations interesting. P1 had asked me if I wanted to do a startup and I straightforward said No without any explanation, Is there any need to explain your answer when it is not asked. After this P1 said now P2 will ask questions and even P2 asked only some basic GK questions, which I answered correctly. At the end I jokingly asked them “That’s it?” they said we are hungry need to have lunch.
    I feel my interview was too small, what shall I do to make it a bit more interesting

    Like

  5. Gaurav Desai says

    Hello sir, I wish to pursue a career into marketing after having worked for 1 and a half year into direct sales. I got myself shortlisted for the PI rounds of KJ somaiya(MBA) and IIM K (PGP-Liberal studies and Management). Fortunately if I get selected for both I required an expert opinion on which programme would serve me the best in order to grow quickly.

    Like

    • Hi Gaurav,

      I wish had enough information on both programs. My knowledge of both programs is as good as yours.

      KJ Somaiya is a decent school for S&M.

      The IIM-K program is very new and there is very little information about the same.

      You are better off speaking to people who are currently doing the program through Linked In or Quora.

      All the best!

      Like

  6. Chandan S says

    Hello Sir,

    My profile – 9.4 | 90.2 (PCM) | 72 (Grad till 5th Sem)
    I am currently in final semester of BBA and have been shortlisted for the 2nd round of IIFT Delhi/Kolkata. I am inclined towards Investment Banking and planning to drive my interview in the same direction. I have prepared for — what is IB, what is my favourite brand and why. What else do you suggest I should prepare for when talking about IB, and also should I even mention IB or just stick to “I want to pursue Finance” ?

    Like

    • Hi Chandan,

      I think this is fine, as long as you are confident that you have done your homework around IB, and can answer all questions revolving around the same including one’s on derivatives you should be good.

      Else, you can say soften things a bit and say that your primary interest is Finance and from whatever knowledge you currently have IB is your preferred area within Finance.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

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