This weekend, I thought of penning down my interview experience at the IIM’s. While I am well aware that there are a plethora of sites you can consult for this, I just thought this might help some of my juniors pick up cues from a context that is more specific to them.
Preparing for the interviews can be divided into 3 broad segments (just love breaking things up into 3’s, read the Minto Principle for this 😉 ) –
Family: Ah, interesting name, what does it mean? Tell me a little about yourself *in undertones: without rattling out your CV*- where are your parents from? Have you travelled extensively as a kid? Interesting memories from your childhood/school?
Cities you’ve lived in: Oh, you’re Bong. Tell me 5 interesting facts about Kolkata. Have you strolled along College Street and spent hours at the Indian Coffee House? Do you know the top 5 roadside eateries? East Bengal football stars? Can you sing us a Rabindra Sangeet?
Undergraduate institute: BITS Pilani, eh. Name a few famous alumni. Shoot at me, what do you know of the Birla’s, Pilani or of the Aditya Birla Group?
Academics: Ah, I see Chemical Engineering on your degree. Can you tell me if you can create a battery that runs on alcohol? *stumped for a second, and tries to desperately recall pages from ‘Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?‘*
Work Experience: How did you exactly save US$ 200 mn for the company?! Natural-born leader? Natural-born leader? Enlighten me. (use the STAR method to answer-it’s specific and succinct, and a life-saver)
Opinions: Read up, and well. The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Economist- and not only for the interviews. Have an opinion, and be ready to make cogent arguments to defend what you say. Often, the topic for the Written Ability Test (WAT) is a trigger for this conversation.
*Note: The questions above are representational and a figment of my imagination. However, interviews have had quirkier questions, and even weirder requests for solo dance/singing/origami making requests, depending on your hobby.
The underlying psyche of the interviewer, at least to my mind, was- Why do you want to do an MBA? And why are we your natural choice? Every answer to the last question must answer some aspect of the theme above.
I interviewed with IIM Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta between the 6th and 22nd of February, 2016 in Mumbai.
At the Ahmedabad interview, as soon as I entered, I was promptly asked, ‘So, where are you placed?’ After mentioning that I have an offer from BCG, the professor seemed visibly taken aback! But then he went on to ask me why, after Chemical Engineering, I’d chosen to venture into Strategic Consulting. After a long, 20 minute discussion, I managed to convince them that BITS Pilani was not into manufacturing engineers. 4 years at Pilani had given me the opportunity to seek out choices and take decisions for myself. The older of the two professors asked me, ‘but how will you serve your country better if you’re giving up on doing what you studied?’ In my defense, I proposed that my country would be served better if I were given the freedom to pursue a career that is the perfect alignment of what I’m good at and what I love doing, not if I’m artificially labeled a Chemical Engineer and force-fitted in a petrochemical plant.
They were in the mood to grill. So they asked me what would happen of the seat I had just snatched away from another candidate.
I told them that I had gotten admission to BITS Pilani through my own mettle, through the standardised exam called the BITSAT- and that is probably the fairest way to allot seats in a college. Moreover, after gaining a strong network and a headstart in the knowledge of business processes by working at BCG, I would be able to start-up a social venture of my own-which fits in perfectly with what i see myself doing in the long haul.
And there’s even a precedent for that. Avanti fellows, is a start-up that has helped a sizeable number of underprivileged kids get access to quality coaching for the IIT exam, and it is entirely headed by BCG alums!
At this response, I believe, my interviewers seemed quite happy and offered me chocolates placed on their table!
For the Bangalore interview, the panel was certainly less aggressive than the one at Ahmedabad. They focused on two courses I had done at BITS- Modern History and Modern Political Concepts. They cross-questioned me on a variety of issues: what I thought was the meaning of ‘modern’ history, what the most recent political wave was, and if India had a Renaissance, who was it led by (Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Nazrul Geeti- Ma should take the credit for my knowing about the Bengali Renaissance!)
In the end, the lady professor remarked, ‘it seems like you’ve been studying history, and not engineering, all your life!!’
That, in short, was a compliment that, quite literally, made my day.
The final interview at Kolkata was dominated by the interviewers conversing with me in Bangla, the moment they read out my name. After offering a spread of food to me (it was an 8 a.m. interview day), they settled down to ask me about myself. I mentioned that my long-term career goal was in Strategic Consulting and that was what they picked up on. They tested me on how much conviction I had in what I said: so everything from what you know about management consulting to the technical definitions of management terms like ‘product placement’ and ‘positioning’-probably because in my answers to generic questions, I used a lot of jargon. When the professor said, ‘your answer is smart, but not the exact definition’, I said, ‘that is precisely why I’m sitting here for the IIM Calcutta interview! While my knowledge of things is restricted to what I’ve chanced across in articles, the solid theoretical base of what it takes to build a profitable, sustainable and efficient organization can perhaps be best learned through this PGP at IIM Calcutta!
I’m hoping for the best as I was honest and open all throughout my 3 interviews. And hope you get an admit letter from the institute that makes you belong.