Today, we bring you the story of Akhil Mangla, who won the Gold Medal and got the 1st rank in IIM Ahmedabad. Find out how Akhil from being an underconfident Commerce grad cracked his CAT exam and interview round to reach IIM A and then went on to getting IR 1 at IIM Ahmedabad for both the years. In this interview, he tells us about how he prepared for the CAT exam and interview, He talks about his summer internship experience, and most importantly, he lists down crucial pieces of advice he would like to give to the incoming batch of 2023. Find out all the things that he has to say here.
Q1. Please tell us about your educational and professional background, and what drew you to pursue an MBA.
I felt pursuing an MBA would act as a logical step for me to move into consulting. I thought that the degree would help me gain the skills and knowledge necessary for the job.
Q2. Please tell us about your journey from preparing for CAT to finally joining IIM Ahmedabad.
The CAT exam prep majorly consisted of solving mocks after revising the concepts in 2-3 months. I believe the CAT exam is not designed to measure the depth of knowledge of the candidate, but her/his ability to chose the right questions and navigate to them after realizing one's personal strengths and weaknesses. Most of my preparation revolved around mastering this skill, rather than solving lists of questions. After solving sufficient mocks, the final exam day seemed like another (but final) mock. This helped me to stay at ease. For the interview, since MBA seems to advance on the basics of BFIA, I brushed up my undergraduate degree, knowing that I could be asked questions from any subject. I read the newspaper almost every day and formed my own opinion on any issue backing it up with relevant facts. However, for most of my interview, apart from basic academic questions, revolved around Delhi, its history, and what made it so special. Those 30 minutes went like breeze without me realizing that I was sitting for a B-school interview even once. If you are curious, they did not offer me any toffee at the end :P
Q3. When you entered IIMA, did you expect to win the award? What did you expect from the program?
I was too under-confident being a commerce graduate. The pride in some engineers' eyes was harsh enough to tell you that you do not belong to IIMA. During the initial days, everyone on campus is awestruck by the level of achievements every other person has. Amusingly, this pride (in everyone's eyes) faints at a click with the announcement of the first surprise quiz. For me, I wanted to understand the basics of all the crucial subjects and advance my learning in subjects that excited me. I guess the PGP program is designed in the absolute way that helped me achieve this. After a generic first year, the second year offered a buffet of courses to pick, offered by the professors who are experts in those areas.
Q4. Given that only the crème de la crème of India makes it to IIMA, could you give us an idea of the degree of competitiveness at IIM Ahmedabad?
Some would call it hyper-competitive and others would see it as unhealthy. For me, I believe, my biggest lesson was that: every person has something to teach you. I guess this is the reason for admitting a diverse batch. Every peer circle was supportive enough to sit together and help each other in the subjects of their domain. We wear a PGP1 survivor t-shirt at the end of the first year- it is a tradition to acknowledge that completing the first year is an achievement in itself given the rigor of the program. Even though everyone is competitive, but also supportive in times of breakdowns. Help is always a door away. In this way, although the peers push you to achieve your best through competition, they also act as a net to support you in case you fall.
Q5. Please tell us about your Summer Internship Experience. How will that experience help you in the future in your career?
I interned as a Summer Associate with BCG. Given the pandemic, it happened virtually. However, the rigor remained the same. My case involved enhancing the services of commercial banks. I worked on a digital banking module which provided me with great insights into the banking world. Given that I am joining BCG as a Senior Associate soon, I believe the experience from the internship would help me to work on the other cases I will be staffed on.
Q6. What did you do differently and how did you study differently that helped you get the IR 1 rank?
I did nothing different. The program is so packed and fast-paced that people tend to lose focus at certain times. I ensured that I devote ample time and perform the best I can, in each component. To be honest, although the A in IIMA stands for academics, the institute has many things to offer. Every person chooses the best for herself/himself to make the most out of these 2 years.
I always had an amazing group of friends with similar interests when it came to picking up courses. They made my life easy enough to not hunt for study groups for each course. I certainly owe a large part of this achievement to them for always working enthusiastically and making the overall experience light with humor and chit-chat, academics and otherwise.
Q7. How does an MBA student balance studies and extra-curricular activities at b-school? Is it possible to balance the two, or must one be sacrificed for another? How did you bring about a balance?
As I already mentioned, IIMA has a lot to offer and leaves it to the candidate to decide what to choose from, on the basis of her/his interest and capacity. I believe that everyone has a unique journey in these 2 years. As far as balance is concerned, it is definitely possible to do all the things if you wish to. Even after the rigor in the first year, I have seen my batch mates following their passion through music, dance and dramatics clubs at the campus and performing well.
Q8. What were your, your family's and your friends' reactions when you won the award? How did you celebrate?
My family was elated- for them it was all worth sending their kid to a far-away city for two whole years. My friends from the college were extremely happy that I could maintain my rank from the first year, after seeing a slip in the middle of the second year. We had studied and had done our group projects together, the hard work had shown results!
... I guess the question about a celebration in the second wave kind of mocks each of the graduating student this year :P
My mom made some sweet dishes at home to celebrate with the routine dal-roti and maintained that smile throughout the day.
Q9. Regarding b-school life and academics, what are three crucial pieces of advice you would like to share with the incoming class of 2023?
I would say everyone has their own journey and every PGP2 always has a pitara of gyaan to share with a new admit. Therefore, I would suggest-
1. Take it as it comes. Everyone gives gyaan based on their experience (so read the next two suggestions with caution :P). Do not hold biases on the basis of this gyaan.
2. Make a great bunch of friends on the journey. You would need them during your course and beyond. Make it a mutual learning space and support each other to get the most of the experience.
3. It will be the last academic degree for most of you. Make the most of it and never let anyone (except the PGP Office :P) decide your path. Always remember that college days would never return to you and cherish each day.