My Interview Experience At S.P. Jain – Nishant Shah
Funny, isn’t it? You strive hard for a year or so, sacrifice most pleasant experiences of college life, miss out on those eventful trips with the bunch of friends you would be lucky to meet again after a while and all you get in return is those 15 minutes in that intimidating interview room. As it turns out, more intimidating is the fact that you meet the set of guys and girls who have been through the same ordeal as you have been through and who belong to the place as much as you do. You want to hate these people, for just being there and sharing your dreams, but all you can do is smile and acknowledge the competition and get ready for another challenge, a challenge to beat the odds again.
My first tryst with this contest was scheduled on 22nd January 2016, in Mumbai, a place where a lot of people go to build on their dreams, and a place where I went to keep my dreams alive. The B-school at stake here was SP Jain, an institute known for its diversity and unique selection process. Also, interesting here was the fact that you have to choose your specialization at the very beginning and your survival depended on how well you justify your chosen field. For the uninitiated, the fields on offer here were 1. Finance 2. Marketing 3. Operations and 4. Information Management. I chose Finance as my first preference and hoped against all the odds that I would hold up well.
The institute was some 3 kms away from the place where I stayed and is famously (read: Only) known as Bhavan’s college in the locality. A déjà vu feeling as my own college faces this severe identity crisis. Anyway, I reached the reporting place almost an hour before the reporting time and had all the time in the world to look around for *you know what a guy would look around for*.
An hour and 30 minutes later, I was done with the document verification process (almost as cruel as my passport document verification). We were hurried to one big room and made to sit in a predefined arrangement. And then, it began. The process about which I had read enough to feel surprised or overwhelmed. It consisted of 1. Psychometric test 2. Written Ability Test (WAT) 3. Group Interview-I and then for some lucky ones 4. Group Interview-II.
The psychometric test, one of the most idiotic innovations of the education sector, was manageable. The questionnaire had some standard questions you need to answer imagining yourself to be a Gandhi or Teresa. The catch here was that one also needed to explain in detail some six answers by giving specific examples. But, let me assure, engineers would find this a walk in the park. It was followed by the WAT round and the topic for us was ‘Is western culture eating into Indian values?’. I mostly followed the modus operandi where I wrote about both the positive and negative effects of western culture, but concluded putting up a view that, over a period of time, Indian culture has influenced the western culture more so and supported the line of thinking with some examples.
I came out of the room feeling I had done good enough, but when I looked around and saw all those smiling and satisfied faces, I knew I was not the only one thinking he had done well. I was still contemplating the way I wrote my essay when I was called up for the next round. A do or die round, for all I knew. The first group interview of my entire career was few minutes away and I would be lying if I say that I was not nervous. Hell, I was nervous. Not because SP Jain was my only option, but because a rejection would have left me in a disastrous state of mind for the next Interview, the IIMA interview, a week after.
My group had five people apart from me and we were all made to sit outside an interview room where a bunch of some other six people were trying their best to convince the professors that they deserved SP Jain. Anyway, just as I had nothing else to do but to wait, I initiated the conversation in my group hoping to know the other guys who looked extremely focused and serious about everything. Almost as I expected, every one of them had some work experience. Two of them opted for Finance, with one currently working in ‘Futures First’ and the other working in ‘Morgan Stanley’, though as a software developer. Two had work experience in Tata Motors (*winks*) and Reliance respectively, and had opted for Operations. The other guy opted for Marketing and had relevant work experience somewhere. I almost cursed myself for conversing. It was going to be a tough fight inside the room in the next few minutes, surely.
I was second in the sequence and took my place in the interview room. The panel had three members, let’s call them S (Serious one, you MUST impress this guy to get through), O (Observant one, hardly asked any question to anyone) and L (A lady professor, one who maintained a friendly look throughout).
(I would only describe the parts where I was involved in some way or the other)
S: Good morning everyone. I hope you had a pleasant experience thus far. As we can see, five of you have work experience and Nishant (looking at me) is a fresher. (Almost felt lonely in a room which had 8 more people). All of you except Nishant (Why is he mentioning me this much!) can talk about your work experience along with an introduction, and Nishant (Again), you can talk about your academics.
(The first guy gave a real long introduction and talked about his job as if he never wanted to leave it. I made it a point to maintain eye contact with everyone and smile when required)
Now, my turn…
Me: Good morning everyone. [A standard Introduction where I generally talk about my family background, accomplishments and hobbies]. I don’t have any work experience, but I have two unique experiences to share with everyone. [Talked about 1. My stint at a broking firm- Sharekhan where I worked as an intern for two months and in the process got a few certificates in Financial Markets from NSE and 2. Internship at IIMA, where I got a chance to work for the underprivileged primary school students].
S: You’re in the final year of your Mechanical Engineering. Why finance?
(Saw that coming from the time I filled the form)
Me: [Would write a detailed answer separately, but talked about my family background- father being an accountant and mother being a banker. Talked about three phases of my decision making- Interest, inclination and Passion for Financial Markets, and explained how one phase metamorphosed into another phase as the time passed by]
(S looked convinced. O maintained an expressionless face. L was ready to fire some Finance questions at me)
L: You may know that there is a slowdown in the world Economy. Why is that happening?
(Read a lot about the issue, so just prayed to God that I speak everything coherently)
And it went well. I spoke about the dwindling commodity prices, China slowing down considerably, Europe still recovering from Greek crisis among other things.
L: Why crude oil prices are going down?
Another perfect question. Spoke about the Shale oil revolution, Better engine efficiencies and OPEC’s insistence on not cutting down the output resulting in a supply glut in the market which already has demand side issues because of China and other emerging economies.
(Now, I thought I was done with questioning and I would just have to sit and smile at everything even remotely laughable)
The lady asked some questions to the Futures First guy and he fumbled big time. The Morgan Stanley guy was asked only one question throughout the interview. ‘Why Finance?’. The poor guy could only muster his enthusiasm to say ‘I find it interesting’ and nothing else. Of course, the professors would not be buying that.
Now came the general question to all Finance guys. (My mind starts ranting ‘carpe diem’…)
L: Reliance reported a net profit increment of around 39% in the last quarter and yet its stock price crashed the previous day. Why did that happen?
(I didn’t know the answer, to be honest. But, I knew the event, the fact that the profit increased by 38.7% y-o-y and yet the price crashed. Luckily for me, the other two guys didn’t have a clue about the event. I jumped in, only speculating)
Me: Ma’am, I feel one of the reasons has to be the bulk selling by FIIs. They hold roughly 20% stake (A calculated guess, which turned out to be correct) in Reliance and they are on a selling spree for the last couple of trading days because of global economic reasons. They are offloading everything from their ‘Emerging market’ portfolio and reliance finds itself in a bitter spot at this moment. The bulk selling created panic among domestic investors also as it so often happens, and they also went bearish on Reliance.
(I would assume it went well, as no more follow-up questions on this topic)
There was one more general question on commodities, which I had no clue about. I mentally reassessed my situation and thought it would be fine if I conceive that I didn’t know the answer.
And THAT WAS IT!
The first group interview went considerably better than I had expected. I would also consider myself lucky as the other two finance guys were just not mentally ready for an interview. They surely had better exposure to Finance than I had, but I guess I was able to do well with the limited knowledge I had in the field. On any other day, with the quality of their work experience, they would have got the better of me. But, as it turned out, that was not that day!
The results were announced after a while and I made it to the next round of Group interviews, along with a Marketing and an Operations guy from our group.
A sigh of relief!
The second round had nothing explanatory about it and we were asked to discuss on only one question: ‘Should lottery tickets be banned in India’? I sticked to my view that they should be banned (I had read so much about the importance SP Jain gives to ethics and values that this answer was a no brainer. I just had to come up with some logical explanation about everything, and luckily I did.)
It was over in roughly 15 minutes and everyone got ample opportunities to put forward his/her views.
I left the place in a fairly satisfactory note, not overjoyed but happy with my deliverance of things. The fact that SP Jain interviews some 3000 candidates for 240 seats meant that it would always be a herculean task to convert. I could only hope.
15th March, 2016.
At around 11:30 a.m., when I had just loitered back to my hostel room, I got to know that the results were OUT. The first interview results after nine gruelling interviews and I desperately hoped that it kicks off well, the result season. And, oh god, it did. The screen flashed:
“Congratulations! You have been selected for the PGDM programme at SPJIMR with specialization in Finance. We look forward to having you in the batch of 2016-18. “
And all I could do was close my eyes and thank everyone for everything.
About the author:
“This is Nishant Shah from Ahmedabad. I completed my B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from NIT, Surat. I would be joining IIM Ahmedabad in June for a Post Graduate Programme in Management. I have interned at ONGC and Inductotherm, and dabbled in Financial Markets at Sharekhan. I have spent two months at IIM Ahmedabad under Prof. Vijaya Sherry Chand, working for the Education Innovations Bank. I am passionate about analysing Cricket and find solace in reading literature. You can find me at financefink.”
Click here to read Nishant’s second interview experience at IIM Ahmedabad.