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’s 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 the Indian B-School Personal 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 are 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 who have a call from a PGP-X program.
While mock-interviewing one such candidate, I asked — what will you 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 to 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 than 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 realize 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 organizing 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.
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 be 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 Approach the Indian B-School Personal Interview.
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 favorite brand and why?”
- Do not seek affirmation for or evaluation of your performance in the form of visual cues from the panel. They might maintain an 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.
- Be prepared to handle questions related to your engineering background, even if you want to do an MBA to escape engineering. Be prepared with general knowledge and current affairs, especially policy-related ones.
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