🎆 This essay is a collection of advice I would like to give to people for IIM interviews. As the essay's title suggests, the advice is for people "exactly" like me. I believe no two persons are identical, and hence you should take everything I say in the essay with a pinch of salt (I don't know why people say this, but it sounds pleasing to the ears- "pinch of salt.”)
🎆 I wrote another essay some time back titled "College advice for people who are exactly like me." If you think that would be useful, you should read that. The link to the essay is here.
🎆 I'm a fresher, and hence certain parts of the essay might be more useful to someone with a similar background than, say, someone with work experience. Of course, it would be most useful to someone identical to me. But, my understanding is that none like that exists yet. So, meh!
First of all, congratulations on your CAT success. It doesn’t matter how “well” you did; it’s just a score. However, IIMs do place some weight on CAT scores in shortlisting and admitting candidates. I won’t get into the mechanisms of how to do well in CAT or any competitive test for that matter. I also won’t get into how admission panels decide whom to admit, which is the best IIM, and other topics. You might ask, “Well, then what is the point of this essay?” And you would not get any concrete answers. You came looking for advice, so read on! This essay could prove mildly valuable for candidates who have a shortlist from any of the IIMs.
Full disclosure: I applied to IIMA, IIMB, FMS Delhi, IISc Bangalore’s Management Program, and IITB’s SJMSOM. Of that, I interviewed for IIMA and IIMB. I skipped the interviews of the other three. I also skipped final college placements, among other things. If you are interested in the rationale behind these stupid decisions, you should read this essay. With all the caveats and the boring stuff that I did out of the way, let’s get some useful advice. Shall we?
Table of Contents
- Just hang in there
- Tips on doing well in the PI
- Luck matters, if not a lot
- Learn to ignore the bullshit
Just hang in there
Once the schools start publishing shortlists, sending out emails inviting candidates for a personal interview, and submitting a statement of purpose, things can get crazy. I mean, crazy level crazy. You’d open numerous pdfs, web pages, etc., estimating your chances of getting in. First things first, please stop doing that. If you got a call for PI, well and good. If not, don’t bother; it’s not the end of the world. I know, you’re probably saying, “Yeah, sure. It’s easy for you to say that because you’re already there.” And you’d be right but trust me; I’ve talked to enough people to reliably estimate that it’s not the end of the world. In fact, not getting into an IIM might be life-changing for you.
I guess what I am trying to say is whatever has happened has happened. Once you get an interview call, more or less everyone has a level playing field, and how you perform during the interview day counts a lot. I’m not saying that what you did previously does not matter, but if you do well in the PI, you would mostly get an admission offer. I suppose it now makes sense to talk about what to do during the PI.
Tips on doing well in the PI
If you Google for “IIMA PI Questions,” you’d find questions such as - Tell us something about yourself. Why MBA? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? And so on. I believe that having some sort of structure for answering these questions might be helpful. I’m not asking you to write down answers to them and memorize them. Although, if you can do that, I don’t think there is any harm. It’s just that when the interview panel interrupts you in between, you might be caught off guard. Hence, the optimal way is to have some structure in mind and then build on it.
Let me give a concrete example. I’ll try to elaborate on answering “Tell us something about yourself.” Why? Because I was asked the exact question during both IIMA and IIMB’s interviews and I think I did okay. So, here’s a structure that you can follow: your name → , what you did most recently → , your demographic background → your interests → conclude by tying these together. I know it sounds vague so let me elaborate a little more.
Most people would tell you that the panel already has your name, educational background, etc. and hence spending precious time on them is not worth it. That is not true all the time (like all advice). It is helpful to elaborate on your interests and how your background contributed/reduced these interests. Concretely, I told them that I love Taylor Swift and did not like Electrical Engineering at all. Instead, I said to them that because of IIT Kanpur’s flexible open electives policy, I could pursue my interests in Linguistics and Biology.
More often than not, you would get questions on what you did during your undergraduate studies. That may include questions on coursework (such as the best class and why) or any significant projects that you did. There is no standardized way of answering these questions. A rule of thumb is, to be honest in answering them. That way, if they choose to dig deeper, you have solid points and reasoning behind your answers.
Do they ask questions from previous coursework? Yes and no. You see, it totally depends on the interview panel. If a Professor who teaches quant is interviewing you and you are an engineer, they would most likely be interested in knowing more about your quant abilities. On the other hand, if someone who specializes in Organizational Behavior is asking you questions, they might be more interested in how you think under certain situations.
What about current affairs? If you know answers to the questions, just answer, else say you don’t know. A few people also start reading newspapers after they get interview calls. The effectiveness of this approach is questionable. For example, if you get asked about the current economic policies or the markets and have been reading news about them, you are more likely to answer the questions. However, it doesn’t hurt your chances if you just say you don’t know about them.
The panel is looking to admit you, not actively reject you. So, they are more interested in knowing how you think under certain situations and applying basic knowledge under complex scenarios. You need not know everything about the markets of the world. That’s why you work in a team. How much weight the panel places on you knowing vs. not knowing certain things is up to them leads me to my next argument.
Luck matters, if not a lot
I think most people would agree that how lucky you get during the PI day has a bearing on whether or not you get an offer. Let me try to explain. Once I told them that I did not like my undergraduate degree (which the Professor was very kind to accept), the panel quizzed me on my interests, i.e., Biology and Linguistics. DeepMind’s AlphaFold had essentially solved the protein-folding problem a few days before the interview day. I read up on it and was able to articulate well on why solving the protein-folding problem matters and so on. I was also quizzed on how languages can shape social and political discourse, and luckily I’d read up about a Barack Obama interview, which came in handy.
I was also fortunate that the panel asked me questions on my interests rather than grilling on why I did not like EE, why I spent four years doing something I did not like, etc. Hell, if they did not ask me why I love Taylor Swift and about the controversies, she got into, that interview could have gone in a wholly different direction. Suppose that happened; I might not be writing this essay at all.
Learn to ignore the bullshit
I’m not sure if this essay counts as BS, but I’d like to ask you to ignore what you see online, with exceptions, of course. It does not help your mental health if you go online to estimate your chances of getting in, or if you stress yourself out by reading articles that mention nasty stuff such as “everyone at IIMA has $\geq 99.99\%$ile”, “you won’t get in if you don’t have a $9+$ UG CGPA,” “IIMA is better than other IIMs” and so on. As I said before, once you have a PI call, everyone has more or less the same chance of getting in, and calculating or re-calculating figures would not change that probability. Once you are done with the PI, just forget about the whole CAT and IIMs fiasco and focus on doing useful things.
I’m sure you are also actively reaching out to alumni and your college seniors, asking for advice. That is not a bad thing, frankly. However, if you ask ten people for advice, you’d get ten different points of view. It is up to you to decide on a course of action. I’m not saying they are wrong. In fact, most of them want the best for you. But, what’s best for you may be very different from what they tell you. I know it’s getting a little philosophical here but bear with me.
If you ask seniors about “realistic” chances of getting in, they would tell you answers that they think are realistic. That can turn out to be right or wrong. It’s an opinion, after all. But, you’d have tough days if you ask someone about your chances of getting in, and they tell you that your chances are slim. Hence, it is best to avoid asking such questions and, in general, ignore whatever their estimates are.
🎆 Please be courteous enough to not berate these "advisors" by telling the world that you got in despite them telling you that you don't have a chance. You reached out to them asking for their advice, they did not come to you. They gave their opinion when you asked. I think you need to respect that.
This section contains a collection of a few questions that a few friends asked me. I called them FAQs, for lack of a better word.
How much do they ask about current affairs? The answer depends on whom you’re asking, honestly. Given my background and my interests (biology, linguistics), the IIMA panel asked me about current developments in the field of computational biology, more specifically about Deepmind’s Alpha Fold, DNA, proteins, etc. The IIMB panel asked me the name of the governor of Tripura, if Puducherry has a CM or not (the CM had just resigned a few days before the interview day), the names of ALL the founders of Twitter and LinkedIn, etc. So, you have a sense; it’s totally random, and as I said in the section about luck, it might or might not work in your favor.
A more helpful approach is to steer the interview towards your comfort zone. For example, if you read the news and know about the country’s macroeconomics, by all means, hint to them that you know about it, and they’d be happy to ask you questions on those. I talked to a few friends, and they told me they got questions about GST, fuel-price hikes, MSP relating to the farm laws, etc. All in all, try to get them to ask you what you know best.
What was the topic of the WAT/AWT? I don’t remember what the topic was. Depending on your fortune, it would be on a recent issue or could be completely abstract. If you have done some sort of writing in life, it should be pretty straightforward. Just remember to structure the essay logically and write grammatically correct sentences.
Why MBA? Luckily, IIMA did not ask me this. IIMB did ask me that question, though. The standard answer goes something like this - “I’ve been doing very well in XYZ, I also worked on PQR during my UG, internships, and blah blah. I would love to learn ABCD from your MBA program so that I can commercialize QWE.”
Another line of an answer can go like this - “I’ve dealt with numbers all my life. I wish to learn how to better interact with people and businesses, in addition to my technical skills as I aspire to be a business leader someday.”
Essentially, you can either choose to be honest (in which case think about why you really wish to do an MBA) or fake-it-till-you-make-it. Many people prefer the latter. I chose the former, even though I have no clue why I am doing an MBA. It’s totally up to you; both are equally good approaches.
Thanks for reading till the end. I wish you all the best for your PI and whatever else that it is you’d do in life. If you get a chance to walk the hallways and yards of IIMA, I shall see you around!
If you have other questions, please send them to
hi at reangdeba dot xyz. I’ll try to update this essay with the answers. But, please don’t expect a personal email reply. Thank you.
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