Tackling Trick Interview Questions – Niteen Bali From IIM Calcutta

You have cracked the CAT and only one step away from getting into your dream B-School. Interview score is a major component for getting selected and often students falter in convincing panellists their relevance in getting selected. Understanding how to navigate through such tricky questions is paramount.

The most obvious yet important question thrown is ‘Why MBA?’

I was not asked directly. That is often the case. Panellists are smart enough to camouflage the question and piece out the answer based on your answer to many questions. In IIMC interview, I was candid – that I was not really sure of joining IIMC since I was contemplating doing economics abroad. But told of my inability to finance it and since IIMC has one of the best eco dept., it was an obvious choice. Later, while asking about my career goals, this issue was again raised and I made the panellists understand how IIMC would be very much relevant to my career ambitions. For more info go through these links.

Niteen Bali’s IIM C Interview Experience 

Why a Fresher Should Avoid MBA 


Tell me about yourself

Tell me about yourself is a great opportunity to begin on a high note. Do not be just mundane. You need to sound different from the hundred other candidates they are interviewing. For instance, I told about myself using quotes from my favourite books/movies such as – A shore waiting for the tide (MBA). I know of a friend who used poetry to say the same.

I have a few years of gap after engineering, how will that affect in PI?

Expect that to definitely be raised. You can, in fact, use that as an asset. For instance, you can convince the panellists that you are getting into IIM as a part of your journey of self-exploration and this decision you arrived at during your gap years. Be ready to face questions on why from a purely tech to a managerial role. You could take it as change of heart (dicey yet good) or that u want to gain leadership skills (safe but not very exciting) They may ask why you need MBA to gain skills which you can get via work experience

In order to answer the ‘Why MBA’ question, I thought of talking about the importance of managers I felt during my work in a manufacturing firm? Is it the right approach?

Yes. it indeed is alright. But, be ready to face rebuttal. Panellists are smart enough to know that candidates are smart. So, they would prode to get authentic reactions. Not many technical questions would be asked. Even if you are thrown one, they are mainly interested in how you handled the situation and your approach – which gives away your professional character (mind you, it is different from your personal). So bear this in mind when you give answers. Mainly, what was your contribution? Also, stress on leadership traits you displayed – such as teamwork and taking risks.

I have participated in extra-curricular during undergrad. Would it be wise to talk about them? Would it send a wrong signal that I’m not very much focused on studies?

You should be able to convince the panellists that you are quite passionate about extracurriculars. They can grill you in detail about what you did and what were your learnings. Also, if you show an aptitude towards learning new things, it should help. Many people talk about extra-curricular and a lot of stories are fudged or exaggerated. They realise that. So do not just stick to extra-curricular. Extrapolate them to how it is impacted your personality and how do you want to take it forward in life. For instance, in IIFT interview, I spoke only about my craze for movies and novels and related the same to my understanding of the world and used it to give insights on current affairs such as Syria.

I have tried entrepreneurship but failed. Should I mention this during the interview?

Failure can be an asset. Even during company interviews. You need to answer what you learnt from it. It also shows your initiation skills and willing to take ownership. But these days a lot of students are riding on the entrepreneur fad and trying to gain entry to B-School using that as an excuse. So panelists would ask back you to rather try it than join MBA. They will be blunt in telling you that MBA will not help you in this regard (happened to many of my friends). You need to logically convince them the importance of resources a MBA gives to start a venture such as E-Cell, networks, IIM tag (Yes, be candid), platform to ideate.

I have low acads. How should I navigate this area of weakness in the interview? Will that come off as being lazy ?

Being lazy would not be an issue. The question you need to answer is are you smart enough to handle MBA along with enjoying your laziness.A few colleges such as IIMB, L are ruled out but there are still others. Such as C gives very low importance to acads, but you need to have very high CAT score – basically they prefer smart over hard working people. Everyone has an excuse. But do not give an excuse. Give a REASON. Or divert them from it. You could say poor family background, personal learning issues (But substantiate it with your zeal for learning). If you have a shortlist even with low acads, doesn’t it say something.


What can be the topics of discussion ?

IIMC is known for witty and wacky interviews. The topic of discussion can range from anything – depends on the panelists. The main thing according to me would be whether the candidate is candid and if he/she thinks out of the box on the spot. You need to look convincing and your answers should not be quintessential. Most importantly, remember that the panelists are interviewing many similar candidates in limited time. Hence, it is important to stand out and keep the conversation engaging. There is no generic format as such. But, often on the social media based on previous experience there is a narrative or a vague idea on what each B-School tries to test. For instance, most of IIMB questions give importance to professionalism, initiative taking. IIMC gives importance for people who are street smart, and high probability of puzzles. Expect to be grilled on ur undergrad syllabus in IIML interviews, even if it is irrelevant to your postgrad. Just be yourself in the best form is all. Prepare well.


What should be my body language?

It is important to listen to the panelists completely and rebuke politely. Of course, standing your ground is paramount and often panelists test that. But, stand your ground with humility. Something like ” I believe that is right but if you say it is wrong, I shall go back home and check it”. Attire needs to be formals. Tie is not mandatory. Even suits isn’t mandatory. Avoid rolling up the sleeves. Sitting posture needs to be erect and confident. Very important. Panelists do observe your body movements. Furthermore, try not to deflect questions even if it is crazy. Be candid and give criticism in a professional way. But do not reek of arrogance and not also of timidness..




About the Author: 


Niteen is currently a second year student at IIM Calcutta. He cracked it in the first attempt and has guided his juniors in doing so successfully. A librocubicularist and a binge watcher with a knack for humour.  Currently in awe with The Awkward Yeti and mesmerised by Zen Pencils. He is part of InsideIIM student team.


Niteen Bali

Student at Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta