What To Prepare On For Interviews – Tips From Aspect Ratio CEO Shivram Apte
In Part 1, I wrote about how the best interviews are those that leave both parties feeling that they have had an interesting, meaningful conversation. I thought I would continue the interview skills thread and write about some of the things that candidates might want to revise before they walk into an interview.
When we recruit for our company, and even when I have been on the panel for admissions to business schools, what we look for are people who can apply what they have learned to solve problems. I therefore expect Electronics Engineers to be able to answer at least basic questions about electronics, or EnTC engineers to answer basic questions about telecommunications.
One of my pet peeves is an engineer unable to answer a simple question about say single bit memory registers, provides the rather sorry excuse that s/he does not remember because they studied this topic 3 years ago. I am amazed at how many engineers seem to believe that obtaining an MBA degree gives them the license to wash their mind clean of the engineering education they have had. An MBA job does not involve making only ‘globe’ statements on PowerPoint presentations. Companies with turnovers of billions of dollars are not quite naïve enough to let that happen. They are looking for people who can define the problem correctly, structure the approach to solving it and do the math, yes real number-work, to arrive at a reasonable solution.
I am going to list a few things here that a freshly minted MBA needs to be able to do in his or her sleep before walking into any interview. The following pointers are especially pertinent for case based interviews.
1. Be able to approach the case with a structured framework. At my Business School we had a course called Written Analysis and Communication that suggested the following 6 step framework to approach business problems.
2. Problem Definition: Define the Problem Statement in unambiguous terms.
3. Identify the Objective: What are we trying to achieve? Higher Sales or higher profits?
4. List all possible alternative courses of action that management could undertake
5. Evaluate each course of action with respect to Objective and resources available.
6. Eliminate un-viable alternatives for valid reasons :
- – Would take too much time
- – Would cost more money than we can allocate
- – Would require more management bandwidth than we can provide
- – Would only partially solve the problem
- – Would not truly achieve the objective
- – Would presume that external factors that management has no control over fall into place.
7. Recommend course(s) of action based on above analysis and perhaps Plan B
8. Be able to model the business case, especially if it involves profitability or NPV and IRR on a spreadsheet and to be able to defend the assumptions and the answer. I have been disappointed time and again on how students from elite B-Schools are unable to model the problem on a spreadsheet, or are unable to interpret the number provided by MS Excel
9. Be able to explain the concept of NPV and IRR to an uninitiated person. This means the ability to explain Present Value without using the words Present Value. Read up on WACC. Be able to decide whether a company should discount a new project in a business unrelated to its primary business by the WACC of the company or the WACC of the project; and to be able to defend that answer.
10. Be able to correctly segregate Fixed Costs, Variable Costs, Cap-ex and Op-ex and apply them correctly when working on the case.
11. Be able to deal with ambiguity. Most real life business problems are not like the questions at the end of each chapter in a Physics text book. What might be a seemingly obvious solution to the candidate has probably been tried by the company and has failed for some reason.
For analytics jobs, be able to work with basic statistical concepts. Be able to provide one real life example of where one could apply the Normal distribution or the Binomial or Poisson or Beta. Be able to solve probability based questions.
For Marketing jobs, be able to segment the market and make rational decisions on which segments the company should target. How would you ascertain demand? Questions like, “How many petrol pumps are there in Mumbai City” are not general knowledge or trivia questions. How you approach these allows the panel to assess how you are assessing demand and supply for petrol and diesel in a metropolis. You could start with asking them how many cars are in Mumbai city or if they ask you to guess that too, start with data you might have read recently like, “RTO overwhelmed with 1600 new vehicles registered every day”
Perhaps the most important thing that MBA candidates miss is that they need to be prepared to demonstrate that they accumulate knowledge; not format their hard drive after every degree. It is always impressive to see a good candidate do math in his or her head and move forward through the case. It is invigorating to watch an EnTC engineer work on a Telecom company case and also speak intelligently about CDMA and GSM. It is equally appalling to watch a computer science engineer struggle to compute how many bytes would be required to store a coloured image, 1024 x 768 pixels in size. (Hint: Ask if it needs to be stored in 256 colors (8 bit), or 24 bit 16M colors, or higher before you begin to compute.)
Companies hiring an engineer with an MBA degree are looking for someone who can still think like an engineer and solve problems like an engineer.
– Shivram Apte
Reproduced with permission from Shivram Apte. Originally published at AptReflections