Devil’s Advocate: Why Your Strong Analytical Skills Are Just Not Enough

Strong analytical skills – Common strength of IIM dominated MBA aspirants. Well yeah! IIM means ‘Indian IT Male’. With all due respect to all the aspirants and with no prejudice in mind I write this article, which is my humble effort to give a better perspective to all the aspirants who have a single track idea of merit and managerial capabilities.

Managerial competencies: “underlying traits which are causally related to criteria based superior performance” In simple words –  what makes a successful leader or a manager, what is ingredient or raw material for an effective professional.

Leadership, assertiveness, communication skills, creativity, analytical ability, risk taking ability, interpersonal sensitivity, perseverance, presentation, decision making, professional attitude etc. are some of the key terms taken from selection criteria of some of the top companies. Nearly all the companies are looking for managerial talent keeping in mind key traits like those mentioned above. They vary from company to company but are essentially derived from two key sources, first the company culture & vision and second is the job specification. Based on combination of these two companies derive a selection criteria.

Job specifications guide the selection criteria in a very big way; it will not be a surprise to see people with slightly less academic caliber but great presentation and communication skills getting selected for a client facing job. Because relationship building and first impressions are, fortunately or unfortunately, keys of business development. Many organization select over aggressive people while some like amiable personalities. All this depends on the culture that organization wants to sustain. Individualism v/s team work, power distances and level of professionalism required also drive the recruitment pattern.

Measuring competencies: This is a big challenge for the companies. There are two ways, direct and proxy.

Direct approaches: In direct way candidates are given actual business situations and are asked to give an action plan. Case interviews, structured group discussions, role playing and business simulation games are other examples. Candidates are sometimes also asked to give example from real life situations, where they dealt with a specific problem, how they acted & what was the result. Some companies use an assessment center approach, which includes multiple exercises from above and results are collated from all for final selection.

Proxy approaches: This is the approach where I assume that certain conditions or one trait/ability is directly correlated to another trait/ability, where the latter is my selection criteria. Let me illustrate this with an example – suppose I am a banking or a consulting firm, where working long hours while maintaining same energy level is critical, I cannot measure this directly, a proxy for this will be looking for a candidate who is among toppers in a B-school and is preferably an IITian. I know that if you are among the toppers of the batch, it means you must have studied long hours and have that instinct to continuously slog out. But beware; I might not use this record of yours as a proxy to business knowledge, for that I will use my own case interviews and other interviewing techniques to validate your academic caliber. Similarly many other proxy data are used for selection; some companies also use aptitude tests, psychometric tests, your academic performance in school & graduation etc. Proxies are definitely not the best way, but they do give me a better candidate pool to apply direct approaches in further steps.

Writing on the wall: Simple, just understand that there are multiple dimensions that are required for successfully accomplishing a job in an organization. Some traits might be diametrically opposite to others, this might confuse you! But “there is a pattern in randomness” you have to understand it and develop yourselves, but sometimes you have to take a decision that “ok, this is not for me”. Don’t try to be part of herd because everyone else is doing the same. Most importantly “Analytical skills are not everything”. For some jobs they are indispensable. For others, just a basic level is required. There are bunch of other capabilities that are much more important, that you need to have to make it big!

A note on B-school selections: My article on B-school selection published in this site was one of the most debated one. In this changing environment of demand all the B-schools have realized that they have to constantly fine-tune their selection criteria so that the selected candidates have these required competencies or at least show capabilities to develop them. For long they have used only test results as proxy for aptitude, which is further a proxy for your capability to learn things taught in B-schools. But these tests are not independently sufficient to measure your creativity where extra-curricular activities come into picture. Your leadership skills, where position of responsibilities are better measured, consistency – your academic record, professionalism – quality of the work experience, non-verbal communication and presentation. B-schools differ in their approaches because of the domain of management that is strong in the institute or the way they want to project themselves in the market, eco students may be aware of the concept of signaling effect. All B-schools are moving in this direction where they give importance to other factors than just your exam scores (including IIM-C) so, the business world is changing, don’t lag behind!

(The author is an HRM alumnus of XLRI –Jamshedpur. A 99-percentiler in XAT, Anusheel is alumnus of MANIT-Bhopal.  After graduation he worked for a leading oil & petroleum sector consultancy.  He has profound interests in Training & coaching. Anusheel is also a freelance photographer and writer)

Other Articles by Anusheel : XLRI – The B-School with a Social Heart

Madhumita’s Exchange Diary – An XLer on Xchange!

You may also like to read articles by other XLRI alumni:

Miti Vaidya : What makes XLRI Jamshedpur so special

Meet Kachhy : The CFA conundrum

Sowmya Srinivasan : Summers Prep – Finance roles

Other articles by Miti Vaidya here