CAT is not an easy exam to crack, and it is not uncommon for test-takers to attempt the exam multiple times before finally being shortlisted by an IIM. Preparing for an exam like this requires serious amount of dedication and focus and this is why many working professionals consider quitting their jobs to devote their time solely to exam preparation. But is it actually worth quitting your job for CAT 2020? What are the ramifications of leaving your job to prepare for the exam? This article explores five important questions you need to ask yourself before you quit.
The following are the 5 questions you need to ask yourself before quitting your job for CAT 2020:
- Most MBA students at India's top business schools prepared for and cracked CAT while working - why can't you?
- How will you explain your career gap to the b-school interview panel?
- You quit your job for a year and prepare hard. But what if you can't crack CAT 2020?
- Is it worth incurring the opportunity cost of taking a drop to prepare for CAT 2020?
- Do you really need all that free time to prepare for a 3-hour aptitude test?
Most of The MBA Students At India's Top Business Schools Prepared For CAT Alongside Work - Why Can't You?
At nearly all the top management institutes in India, the majority of students have over 12 months of work experience, directly implying that not only did these students manage to crack CAT and make it to their dream business schools, they did it while working full-time jobs - some having done this for 2 or more years. Therefore, working while preparing for CAT is not a rarity but the norm. In fact, this is one of the many questions that will be asked to you by an interview panel who will almost certainly cite the example of current batches at your target business schools.
Gaining work experience also has two distinct advantages:
- If you're an experienced professional, your profile is automatically a lot more interesting to discuss from a management perspective since you have experienced the corporate world before deciding to up-skill. Opportunities for leadership, team management, team work, skills development, interpersonal communication, project management, delivering quantifiable impact etc. are possible only if you're a working professional. If you quit your job, you're missing out on these opportunities that will also help you during the placements process at the end of the two year program. Dropping your job and just preparing for an exam puts you in a negative light and in fact speaks poorly of your management skills, as will be pointed out to you by the interview panel.
- Work experience has a direct impact on the composite score calculated by IIMs and other top business schools to shortlist candidates for the WAT, GD and PI processes. Quitting your job and having a career gap, even if you pursue an internship, will not add to your composite score and will in fact put you at a disadvantage compared to your competitors who are working professionals.
However, preparing while working is easier said than done - some are working 16-hour shift, 6 days a week and seriously preparing for a competitive exam while working these hours is not only difficult but nearly impossible. If you're in such a situation, you can find yourself in one of two categories:
1. Your job is demanding and requires you to work long hours, but the remuneration and other perks more than make up for it.
In such a situation, the question is not how you should prepare for CAT but if you should prepare for CAT. You need to evaluate if an MBA is going to add significant value to your CV and your career progression, and if you're willing to incur the opportunity cost of not working for those two years that you're in b-school. If you find yourself in this category, maybe you need to look beyond CAT.
2. Your job is demanding and requires you to work long hours, and the remuneration is not commensurate to your efforts.
In such a situation, CAT may not be the only answer to your problems. Perhaps you need to step out of your current role and look for other opportunities in the job market - opportunities that are not excessively demanding and are conducive to preparation for an exam like CAT. If you find yourself in this category, evaluate if you need to switch your job or explore the risky proposition of taking a one year drop.
Decided that you're going to quit your job? Great! But when should you quit your job? This article from an IIM student may help you find the answer.
A Career Gap On Your CV - How Will You Explain It To The B-School Interview Panel?
When an interview panel is evaluating a candidate, they're not just evaluating their personal and professional attributes but also their employability quotient. At the end of the 2-year cycle, a business school wants 100% placements for its students and for recruiters to be happy with their hires. This necessitates that only highly employable candidates are admitted into the MBA program, which is what CAT and subsequent rounds exist for, because poor hiring numbers don't bear well for an MBA institute.
Amongst the thousands of employable candidates that appear for business school interviews, you sit with a CV in your hand that has an inexplicable gap of 12 months. The candidate next to you, with the same CAT percentile as yours, has 24 months worth of work experience that she cannot wait to talk about in her interview. Now, from an interviewer's perspective, you're a red flag for the placements process. Not only were you not able to put your preparation and job on an even keel, you're now also susceptible to questioning from recruiters that will almost definitely notice this egregious element on your CV.
This is why candidates with a career gap are grilled by interview panels who, from experience, can see through all the spiel and platitudes that you may throw their way. How do you realistically explain such a massive career gap without admitting to your inability to balance your preparation and work?
Is a career gap an insurmountable obstacle on the path to a top b-school? Most certainly not. Here's how this IIM Bangalore student and this XLRI alumna got into their dream b-schools despite a significant career gap!
Only 2% of All CAT 2020 Test Takers Will Make It To A Top B-School - What If You're Not One of Them?
The cumulative batch strength of the top-15 management institutes that accept CAT scores for admissions comes out to approximately 4700 students. Given that nearly 2.45 lakh individuals registered for the exam and just over 2 lakh individuals took the test, it emerges that to make it to the top-15 management institutes through your CAT scores, you need to be amongst at least the top 2% test takers who not only crack CAT but also make it through the interview processes at b-schools.
With this information at hand, consider this - you've quit your job and have been unemployed for 10 months, simply focused on cracking CAT. For whatever reason, unfortunately, CAT 2020 does not go as planned, and you will settle for nothing less than an IIM. Unless you're lucky, you will spend a minimum of 1-2 months looking for another job, which means that now, you've been unemployed for an entire year.
Here's your situation summarized - not only have you missed out on your annual salary (and possible increments), you now have a career gap of 12 months that you will have to explain to an interview panel even if you crack CAT 2021 and are shortlisted by your dream business school. You have to explain this career gap to your next employer, and you've gained no new significant skills to further your career prospects. Additionally, if you're planning to study abroad, your chances of making it to a top business school through your GMAT/GRE scores are significantly reduced since US and European business schools are not very forgiving towards candidates with such a long career gap on their resumes. The question is simple - what if you don't make it?
Despite the cons of quitting your job to prepare for CAT, not everyone really suffers the ramifications of having a gap year. Here's how this stand-up comic took a drop and made it to XLRI Jamshedpur!
The Opportunity Cost of Quitting Your Job To Prepare For An Unpredictable Exam Like CAT 2020 - Is It Worth It?
Opportunity cost is the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen, which in the case of CAT aspirants is the decision to forego a year's salary and corporate experience to gain more number of hours to prepare for the exam. However, is it worth it? Let's explore this further.
Consider that you're a professional with 12 months of experience. You're earning a CTC of 5 lakhs per annum, which would amount to an in-hand salary of 4 lakhs per annum. You are expecting an increment of 20% at the end of FY 2019/2020, which takes your in-hand salary to 4.8 lakhs per annum. The higher your in-hand salary is, the greater the opportunity cost. However, this is just the tangible opportunity cost of taking a drop year. You're also incurring costs in terms of your career progression, skills development, corporate experience and potential CV points.
What's more, the risk that you may take of prioritizing more number of hours per day over a job may not actually pay off. The reality is that CAT 2020 is a highly unpredictable exam - 2017 had a ghastly DI LR section, 2018 had a nightmarish QA section, and 2019 was a mixed bag with a tougher than usual VA-RC section. CAT 2020 may be extraordinarily tough, or the easiest paper in the history of the exam - one just doesn't know. Additionally, there's the risk of error from your end as well - complacency, lack of confidence, lack of preparation, illness, test-day jitters, etc.
There are too many unknown variables when it comes to quitting your job to prepare for CAT, and the risks may not be as rewarding as you may imagine. Here are 6 reasons why CAT is a risky exam, as listed out by an IIM Ahmedabad alumnus.
Do You Really Need All That Free Time To Prepare For CAT 2020?
CAT is made out to be this incredibly complex exam which seemingly requires you to prepare for 10 hours a day. But is that really the amount of time required to prepare for this exam? Unlike ICAI or UPSC, CAT is an 'aptitude' test and doesn't require you to spend and inordinate amount of time memorizing formulae and solving 200-300 questions per sub-topic. So how much time does it really take to prepare for CAT?
If you were to quit your job today and start preparing from April 1st 2020, you would have nearly 8 months till the exam, assuming it is conducted on 22nd or 29th November 2020. This is a total of approximately 250 days of preparation. That's 4000 waking hours that you can utilize for preparation. Let's calculate how much time you'll spend this year preparing for CAT 2020.
As per TIME, if you begin your preparation 8 months prior to the exam, it is recommended that you ideally study for 20 hours a week, which is less than 3 hours a day. With 32 weeks in hand, this comes out to a total of 640 hours of active study time. The delta in this scenario comes out to 3360 hours, which is equivalent to 140 days.
Let's assume that you decide to quit your job and spend 56 hours a week (8 hours a day) preparing for the exam. With 32 weeks in hand, this comes out to a total of nearly 1800 hours. The delta in this scenario comes out to 2200 hours, which is 90 days.
Let's assume that you decide to quit your job and spend 70 hours a week (10 hours a day) preparing for the exam. With 32 weeks in hand, this comes out to a total of 2240 hours. The delta in this scenario comes out to 1760 hours, which is nearly 75 days.
From the calculations above, here's what we can conclude - if you quit your job and begin your preparation from April, spending an exhausting 10 hours every single day, you will still have nearly two and a half months left idle. If you spend an exhausting but reasonable 8 hours a day preparing for CAT 2020, you will have 3 months that will be left idle. If you spend the ideal amount of time (3 hours) preparing for CAT 2020, you will have just over 4.5 months that will be left idle. At a minimum, you will most definitely be wasting 2.5 months in the year while also most likely heading towards a complete burn-out. Do you need all this time to prepare for an aptitude test?
If the answers to all these questions lead you to the decision of quitting your job to prepare for CAT 2020, then you must have a good reason to do so. However, it is recommended that you conduct a thorough risk benefit analysis and evaluate your options before arriving at a decision!