Like every MBA aspirant, I had spent months prepping for CAT and interviews. Despite all my preparation, my interview experience at IIM Bangalore was quite different from what I expected. I would describe it as being intellectually stimulating while also being one of the most fun experiences of my life. It was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride.
I had 2 senior male professors and 1 female alumna. I had gathered through previous candidates that one of them was an accounts professor – something I was deeply dreading in my interviews. (I was a BBA graduate with a specialisation in Finance. However, since my graduation, I had not worked in the industry or shown interest in the field at all)
P1 – Finance Professor; P2 – OB & HRM Professor (I found out later through the website); P3 – Alumna
P2: Are you still working, or have you quit your job?
Me: I quit my job in September 2019 to focus on prepping for CAT. I worked in Public Relations, which often meant very long hours, travel and working in the weekends. While I began my prep while I was working, I soon realised that I couldn’t dedicate as much time as I would have liked to. So, I quit my job to give the exam my maximum effort. However, I did do freelance content projects after I quit my job.
P2: Tell me about your organisation.
Me: I told them about when it was founded, the name of the CEO, what services it offers and what role I played in the firm.
P1: I am going to be honest here. Initially, I was very excited to see your profile since you have specialised in Finance. That is my domain. However, now that I have gone through the entire profile, I see you have no interest in the field and are leaning towards Strategy. I am greatly disappointed.
Me: I was always torn between picking Finance and Marketing as my major as I had an interest in both. Since at the time, I was scoring better grades in Finance, I chose to pursue that. I do enjoy studying finance subjects but while I was in my final year, I realised that as a career I preferred one in Consulting. I am sorry if I have disappointed you.
P1: What is your favourite subject then?
Me: I enjoyed Strategic Management, Consumer Behaviour and Principles of Marketing.
P1: Strategic Management? I have no interest in talking to this candidate. This is not my domain and I have nothing to say to her. If anybody else wants to quiz her, go ahead.
While I was slightly taken aback, I tried to smile it away and apologised again for my disinterest in his domain.
P2: Why don’t you to pick any concept or theory you’ve learnt in that subject and apply it to your organisation and explain it to me.
Me: I worked in a Public Relations firm. I chose to apply the Porter’s 5 Forces from my organisation’s point of view to explain the competition in the PR industry. I had barely finished answering all the 5 forces when I was interrupted.
P1: Explain the same model to me from the POV of Publicis (an industry leader)
Me: Certain parameters that I was explaining changed from this perspective since it was an industry leader.
P1: Why did you change your answer just now? Why is there a disparity? Either you don’t know the concept or the theory itself is redundant. Which is it?
Me: I explained how certain factors are dependent on the position of the firm in the industry and therefore my answer changed. I had just started explaining when he interrupted me again.
P1: Are you insinuating that Porter was bogus and the model is flawed?
Me: While I was feeling a little intimidated by now by the professor’s determination to put me down, I continued to explain why the model worked differently for both companies.
There was a lot more cross-questioning wherein he interjected at almost every sentence I spoke. I had started to get slightly flustered, but I tried my best to smile through it.
P2: Okay. Let’s change the topic, these days companies hire young millennials or Gen Z’s for marketing and not the old marketers who have studied marketing and behaviour. What do you think about this trend? Does this mean the old models are redundant and shouldn’t be taught anymore?
Me: I explained how the older models provide a very strong base for understanding why different marketing techniques and strategies would. They provide the foundation for why consumers think the way they think. However, young millennials are perhaps more well versed with newer media outlets, especially the power of social media. I circled back to my work experience and explained my interaction with a much older senior who I worked with and the difference between our approach to handling the same client.
P2: The millennials often complain that older people don't understand them and don't listen. How can you bridge the gap?
Me: I’m sure that vice versa is also applicable. I went on to explain about the importance of clear communication and a mediator in brain-storming sessions.
By now I was feeling a little more relaxed since I hadn’t gotten interrupted or poked at in the last 5 minutes.
P1: Explain the BCG Model to me.
Me: I explained the entire model without being interrupted or cross-questioned.
P1: Okay, so what do you do when you’re not reading extensively about Strategy?
There was also a constant tone of sarcasm in his voice which I found unnerving at times.
Me: Sir, are you asking me about my hobbies?
P1: Yes, what do you in your free time?
Me: I enjoy poetry and write some of my own. I like going to open mics for poetry in the city when I can. Currently, I’m trying to finish a collection of poems which I hope I get to publish someday.
P1: Okay. How do you define poetry? How would you distinguish between poetry and prose? If you have read any of the old English poets (he named a few and I mentioned I had read them a long time ago) they had a rhyme scheme. But poems today, don’t have that. So, how do you distinguish?
I was honestly stumped by this question because in all honesty, I had no idea how exactly to define what a poem is.
Me: I told him I wasn’t aware of a proper definition or rules of poetry and prose but in my opinion it is this – I gave a vague explanation about poetry often being abstract and using a lot of metaphors and involving reading between the lines while prose often had a story or a flow of events.
P1: Have you heard of this poet called Nissim Ezekiel?
Me: I told him I had heard of him and had read probably only one poem. I only vaguely remember it being about a scorpion and I had read this in 7th or 8th grade in school. (If you were a CBSE student, maybe you remember)
P1: Yes! Exactly that one. Now that poem, describes a story. So then, why is that not prose? And what if there is an abstract prose? Is that also a poem?
Me: I tried explaining how that poem used poetic license to not make complete or grammatically correct statements to make effective art. (I made sure to say “in my opinion” before everything since I had no idea if what I was saying is remotely right)
There almost 5-7 minutes of cross questioning, where every time I tried tweaking my definition, he would quote a prose or a poem that refuted it. It hadn’t turned into an argument, but it was exhausting to keep thinking of newer ways to explain it. After a point, I had a feeling that the interviewer was simply digging and had no idea what the right answer was either. While I don’t recommend this to anybody, I eventually started answering for fun and even chuckled at my own answers. Even the professors had started laughing while I was answering. I had no idea if they were laughing with me or at me. Eventually, the back and forth came to a stand-still but the professors kept laughing.
P1: Okay I think you are fed up of answering questions about poetry. Is there anything you would like to ask us?
Me: I asked him some questions about the research opportunities with the professors.
P1: He laughed and told me I would get whatever opportunities if I worked hard.
The lesson I learnt is that you can never be fully prepared for any interview. Nothing is really “out of syllabus” in the IIM interviews and you must be ready to discuss in depth about anything you have even remotely mentioned.
However, the most important takeaway was some advice I had been given before my interviews began –
“Always smile through your interview even when you think it’s going for a toss. It forces you to feel positive and give off those vibes to the interviewers as well”.
I definitely used this advice to the full advantage that day and today, I can proudly call myself a student of IIM Bangalore.
You May Also Want To Read: