B-School Selection
Comments 24

Preparing for an MBA and not just the CAT

The results of a few 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.

Learn what sort of profiles recruiters look for in each of these domains

So you have learnt what Finance is and are super-excited to become an I-Banker but is your profile aligned to the same?

What do recruiters at b-schools look for when they shortlist profiles for I-Banking. You have paid Rs.20 Lakh and taken all subjects in the Finance specialisation does not by any stretch mean that you will get an I-Banking shortlist.

Watch the two parts of the webinar — All About Specialisations — to learn about the practical aspects of the roles in each of these domains and the profiles that firms tend to favour.

The first part is not only Sales & Marketing but also starts by putting things in perspective.

If you thought life will be settled if you crack the CAT, think again!

As a professor at IIM-L told us in the opening/welcome lecture — they told you crack X and life will be settled, was it settled? No! They told you crack JEE and life will be settled, was it settled? No! The same applies to CAT as well.

I would add only thing to what he said — only sediment settles down.


    • Hi Shivam,

      It’s heartening to see a heart-emoji for an academic blog post!

      Glad you liked the post; hope you take up some reading based on the same.

      All the best!


  1. Niyati Shah says

    This is such a great insightful post. As I am interested in Finance I actually bought The Intelligent Investor, Ascent of Money and The big short. Thank you Sir for such great blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Niyati,

      Glad to hear the you found the blog post useful and hope you also watched the webinar recordings that will tell you what sort of jobs that Finance offers and and more importantly the profiles for needed to bag those jobs.

      All the best!


  2. Sanika says

    Hey Tony sir!
    I’ve never met you and yet you have guided me seamlessly into my MBA prep journey right from helping me narrow down on my specialization ( marketing) to clarifying concepts with your various Masterclasses. Thanks for this blog and your guidance.


    • Hi Sanika,

      The goal was to help students on their irrespective of whether they were IMS’ students or someone else’s and in a way that does not drain too much of my time and it is most satisfying to know students benefit and appreciate the effort.

      Good to know you have narrowed down on your specialization; hope things go as per your plan or even better!

      All the best!


  3. Hello Tony Sir,
    Firstly, I am huge fan and your posts always inspire me to study harder.
    I am interested in MBA in sports management but couldnt really find that great institutes for the same in India and also in depth information about the course as well.
    It would be great if you share your thoughts about the same or suggest some books or anything that might help.

    Thank youu.


    • Hi Sharvari,

      Ah, sports management!

      Back in my days at IIM-L, during the preliminary intro sessions, a senior had asked me what I wanted to do and more importantly how much money I wanted to make — I instinctively said sports management and he replied oh there is no money in that!

      Well, I was not passionate enough about it to pursue it and there is enough and more money to be made in the profession.

      The path though is still not easy. I do not think any of the Indian sports management firms — IMG, Globosport — visit b-school campuses.

      If you do an MBA from India then you will have to be super-resourceful, reach out to these firms on your own and snag an off-campus job.

      I have heard some really inspiring stories of a b-school grad who wanted to work with Real Madrid and managed to on his own pursue them and bag an internship.

      So, to put it simply, you are on your own.

      There are a few decent schools abroad, I would suggest just go dive deep into Google and keep looking.

      When areas are niche and paths are not laid out as they are for paths walked by the general public, there will not be any books and schools to help you out; you need to figure things out on your own.

      I can get you names of the best international schools for sports management and stuff but may be you should hit the road on your own first and get back 🙂

      All the best!


  4. nischal kadel says

    hello sir
    really liked your post
    is there a window where being ims student i can talk to you one on one ?


    • Hi Nischal,

      That would not be possible since I handle the responsibility of being the CLO of IMS and with tens of thousands of IMS students, I would be left only fielding 1-1 interactions day in day out.

      Which is why I try to cover everything as comprehensively as I possibly can through blogs and webinars and you need to take it from there.

      All IMS classroom students can book 1-1 Mentorship slots with mentors of their respective centres to get their queries cleared.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  5. Nitya Srivastava says

    Woah! I really love this blog. Thanks for this amazing list of books!


  6. yogesh kumar jha says

    Hi Sir! Great post, as always! Actually I am in a dilemma hence would love to get your advice, I have converted IMT-GHZ full time pgdm and It was my best call. But my acads are lower than 60 in engineering. Will it be ideal for me to join? I am concerned about the placements! Thank You Sir!


    • Hi Yogesh,

      I suppose your specific worry stems from the fact that the batch size is huge, otherwise, this is a problem that you will face in any school, not just IMT.

      I would say that if the school meets your criteria go ahead and join, do well academically, and work on other aspects of your profile.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  7. Shruti Joshi says

    The ‘only sediment settles down’ at the end! An amazing article that all of us needed sir


    • I am glad the article struck home, Shruti.

      Well, I had another analogy or rather another riff on a phrase that people usually use — life set ho jaayega — dahi nahi hain, ke set ho jaaye! Given the pan-India audience, I stuck to English version 🙂

      All the best!


  8. Hardik Dua says

    As you said, a person should 8/10 in a particular field and a person needs to be curious to learn about everything that contributes to building a great organization. Sir, I’m interested in the finance field and have learned beginner’s level concepts. Should I go for learning the advanced concepts related to finance or start learning about the other fields like Marketing, HR? I’m preparing for CAT-21.
    Thanks for this wonderful post.


    • Hi Hardik,

      Whichever domain you feel you are suited for, you learn more before joining and more importantly build a profile for the same; hope you went through the All About Specializations videos in the blog to learn what kind of profiles recruiters look for in Finance.

      The other fields you will learn about in a b-school during an MBA.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  9. Shashwat Parekh says

    Hi Sir,
    Shashwat Parekh here. I read the article and saw the videos which helped me realise that I want to pursue a Consulting Career. I would like to talk to you further regarding this and gain your valuable insights. Please provide me the required guidance.


  10. Het says

    Sir i am from engineering background but i am very much interested in treading and i can set up a trade in market through technical analysis should i go for some certification courses ? The doubt is if i go for this then it seems opposite with my background so it impacts good on my profile or not?


    • Hi Het,

      Well, the thing is what is your goal — trading or getting into Finance as a field — if it is the latter then apart from your own trading account your profile has to be academically strong and as I mentioned in the webinar, which is posted in the blog, a CFA will be the things to do especially given that you are an engineer.

      Being an engineer and getting into Finance is not a problem at all but as I said if you want the best Finance jobs you have to take up a CFA. For the admissions interviews, all that matters is that you actually know stuff and are not just expressing verbally expressing interest — so even if you do not have certifications as long as you know what you are talking about and can answer their questions you are good.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


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