The Perfect Interview Does Not Exist

More than 1.5 lakh people write CAT every year out of which some 10k-20k people don’t appear for the exam. Of these 1 lakh people lucky few get the calls from IIMs for interviews. A big-time challenge for this lucky herd is to convert the calls. Failing to secure a percentile decent enough to get a call could be disheartening. But not converting your calls is heartbreaking at many levels. A normal candidate began dreaming about studying at his dream b-school since he starts preparing for CAT and these dreams intensify after the call from the ‘dream’ b-school. I couldn’t sleep the night I get the call from my ‘dream’ b-school. Your dreams go to another level. And imagine, if you are not able to convert any of them! All those dreams, hopes, plans, flushed down the chute. So it becomes extremely important for you to crack these interviews. Only they stand between you and your dreams.

Let’s see how can we crack these interviews. When a company launches a new tech-product, its competitors reverse-engineer the product to find out how it is made, and what’s the underlying technology behind it. ‘reverse-engineering’ is the key take away! Let’s see, the final deliverable is studying at IIM and the process behind it is the interview. We’ll be decoding the interviews step by step.

The interviewers are the professors of the IIMs; they are teaching for more than 5-6 years and they have seen 5-6 batch of students pass out. They understand and feel the what students at IIM go through in the 2 years which they stay. The constant grilling, the deadlines, the subjects, placements and what not… Their aim is to handpick the students who can handle such situations. The pool of candidates who are selected for interviews is more or less on the same level (percentile-wise), what differentiates them is their personality. The most important skill the interviewers are looking for is “time management and ability to prioritise”. Why? This place has so many things going on at the same time that you have to actually think, which one to go for; there are so many opportunities for you that unless you are focused and can prioritize on your work, you’ll be baffled. to give you a perspective, there are case competitions going on, then there are the party zones where you want to stay all time partying, then there is the pressure of scoring good grades, committee work, and combine all that with the urge to hang out with your friends ~ then there are sports, and other personal goals…the list is exhaustive! The idea is, that you’ll be really screwed if you are not able to prioritise your work; to avoid that, you’ll need to really know why you are doing your MBA. That brings us to the famous why MBA question! the interviewers are notoriously known for asking this in the most dazzling way possible, while some prefer the cliched direct approach. I believe that the best way to answer this question is by being honest while not being stupid! Tell them the truth in the most diplomatic way possible. Another thing you have to keep in mind is that the experience of interviewers exceeds your age! So please don’t even try to fool them, they can smell the bullshit from miles.

Another important skill they are looking for is the “ability to work with a variety of people”. The student crowd at an IIM is full of diversity, each individual is different from one another. Somebody is a sportsperson, while another is an all-time scholar, or a researcher or a serious goal oriented guy who is socially awkward. The list is long, the idea is that you should be flexible enough so that you can work with all these people. A diversity is maintained in a b-school so that each individual can contribute to the learning process. Learning is not a monologue anymore it is a dialogue between a group of people. At this point, you’ll have to convince the interviewer that you’ll be able to pitch in this learning process and it will help you as well! trust me, this can be a game changer in your interview. This can be linked to the why MBA question as well where the interviewer asks, ‘what’s in it for you in an MBA from IIMx’ this is where you should let them know that you possess this skill!

The third important skill they want in you is “attitude of learning”. I remember I was asked many difficult questions in Economics, just because I had a course on economics during my engineering. I couldn’t answer any of them but I displayed an attitude which reflected that I want to learn, I don’t know the answers simply because it was a long time ago. They won’t judge on how good you remember concepts or facts, but they see how you connect with them and what is your attitude towards it. There are two ways to answer the questions you don’t know, one is by simply saying that you don’t know the answer, another can be bluffing (a big NO) and a better way is by saying that I don’t the answer to this question I read it a long time ago, but I know ‘this’ concept relating to this question and explain the concept. This will reflect that you are enthusiastic and motivated to learn. In both the case you said the same thing, but the later one will win you the battle. However, one important thing to note here is that this doesn’t give you a free pass to skip going through your graduation concepts. You should go through the concepts behind your academic projects or the industry you are working in. If you are not able to answer questions relating to them it reflects bad on you!

The fourth important skill they are looking for is the “ability to solve complex problems” or the ‘attitude to have the ability to solve complex problems’. It doesn’t matter if you are not able to solve some complex problem but if you have a sound approach towards it, it’s absolutely fine. The panel will check this trait by asking some puzzle; they always do this. They are never looking for a perfect solution but are looking for your approach to the problem. For instance during one of my interview I was asked the formula for integration by-parts; I wrote the formula, but changed the sign of the second term; the interviewer told it was wrong. I realised that and checked the formula on a simple function and corrected it. They were impressed by my logic and the way I corrected myself. I forget the formula, no big deal; but they saw my logic and that is important. The way you approach a problem and the way you execute it.

The interviewers are looking for red flags, if they’ll pick one of those they will overlook the good skills you possess. So make sure you maintain your cool because they will often trick you into saying things which you don’t want them to know! So take your time before answering anything, have a mental flow in the 2-second pause which you take before answering.


Pankaj Mann

Pankaj Mann is a 22 years old electronics and communication engineer and a PGP2 student at IIM Lucknow. He's a huge Harry Potter fan and when he says his hobby is reading, he means reading Harry Potter again and again. He's an avid runner and a marathon enthusiast. His passion lies in teaching!