Irrespective of where you stay or what you do, 2020 was an unusual year for everyone. I am no different. I was due to complete three years with my organization. Wanting to expand my career path and explore more opportunities, I began toying with the idea of doing an MBA just as the lockdown was imposed. Being a hotel management graduate, I knew that the preparation process would not be a bed of roses. To add to that, I had performed poorly in maths throughout my school life and was afraid of anything to do with numbers.
When the initial lockdown lifted in July, the hotel I worked with instituted a new work model in line with the quarantine requirements - I would be working from home for two weeks, followed by two weeks of working from the office while staying at the hotel. The two weeks that I was staying at the hotel turned out to be quite unconducive to my preparation. I was sharing the room with other people, the furniture wasn’t designed for studying and I was unable to focus.
Though CAT 2020 was going to be my first attempt at the exam, it had already been 3 years since I graduated. I did not want to risk another attempt and needed to devote more time to preparation. When a request for a 3 month sabbatical was turned down by my organization, it was time to consider resigning.
The final decision on your resignation should always be taken by only one person - you. However, it is crucial to get as many different points of view as possible. I spoke to my manager, colleagues, parents and friends to understand what their perspectives were. This helped me draw up a list of pros and cons of the decision, which I have elaborated on below.
The biggest risk - the uncertainty. Leaving a job to prepare for the exam is literally a gamble. No matter what you decide, you need to ponder over your choice for at least a few weeks to be absolutely sure that it is a logical, well thought out one and not emotionally driven. Luck plays a considerable role in a good CAT score and should even a minor factor go awry, it can lead to your gamble falling apart. This is a decision you cannot go back on and thus you need to be absolutely certain of a few things.
You need to be fully confident that you have it in you to achieve a score that will get you calls from your target B-schools.
The financial aspect - If you have financial dependents, then it goes without saying that this is a decision you can ill afford. If you don’t, you need to ensure that you have sufficient savings to last at least till July of the next year, when academic sessions start.
You need to acknowledge that there could be a scenario wherein you don’t get an admit from a target B-school. Remember that a good CAT score does not translate into admission.
Should such a scenario arise, you need to be willing to put in the grind to find another job. In the present situation, most companies have either reduced or completely frozen hiring. It could take months before you find something you like.
It is of utmost importance to have multiple back-up options chalked out before you resign. Just some of the possibilities that can come up are - you do not do as well as you wanted to in CAT, you do well enough but don’t get any calls, or you get your dream calls but do not convert them. Each of these scenarios has a different timeline and you need to be thoroughly prepared with the roadmap ahead should any of them happen.
Another downside to leaving your job to prepare is the gap it leaves in your CV. This will be brought up time and again in the future, and you need to be ready to face the music. Every b-school interviewer will view such a gap negatively. You should be able to confidently answer “why should we take you instead of someone who cracked the exam without leaving their job?” and the subsequent grilling that will follow.
The best solution to this dilemma would be to speak to your organization about a sabbatical. This will allow you to resume your job post CAT and you can avoid all the pitfalls I have discussed above. But should that not be possible, and you have carefully thought the decision out, let’s see the advantages.
The biggest one - ample time to prepare. If, like me, you have been completely out of touch with maths since your school days, you now have all the time in the world to study each concept in detail. E.g., if the verbal section is your Achilles’ Heel, this gives you time to read extensively and brush up on your language skills.
I was a part of the sales division of the hotel and the hospitality industry was one of the first to be affected by the pandemic, and also one of the worst hit. This meant incessant pressure to bring in numbers and an impending fear of job cuts, which adversely affected my preparation. If you are in a similar situation, leaving the job will allow you to put these things behind you and focus your complete attention on what you want to - CAT.
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Do note however, that the additional time is a double edged sword. You cannot take it for granted and end up wasting it. Having this much time on your hands also means that you should use some of it to work on hobbies you may have left behind because of a hectic work schedule. This will help keep your mind fresh and prevent mental fatigue from the long hours of studying. I used the opportunity to begin exercising and get into shape.
So, is it safe to quit your job to prepare for CAT? The answer is a resounding no. Should you do it? It all boils down to how much risk you can afford to take. If you are a fresher or have a year of work experience, I would recommend balancing work alongside your preparation as if that does not work out, you can attempt CAT again the next year with more work experience under your belt. If you are sure that you do not want to risk another attempt, are denied a sabbatical, have enough money saved up and are ready with plans B, C and D for any of the hundred things that can go wrong going wrong, then you can consider leaving your job.