Sunday, February 23, 2014

IIM Admission Interviews - some myths, some truths and some advice - Part I

I am often asked by IIM aspirants what the IIM Admission Interview Panels look for in candidates. Many others are apprehensive about the kind of questions they will need to answer. What topics will they quiz me on? What all do I need to read up on? Hours are spent scouring the net for questions asked by interviewers from each institute. So I want to dispel a few myths and misconceptions on the subject.

Myth 1:  I must tweak my profile a bit and present it in a way that will please the interview panel.

The thing to understand is that IIM students do not come off an assembly line. They do not conform to any one or more stereotypes. They are all different from each other. At any great learning institution, particularly at IIM’s and other Business Schools, a student learns as much from the lectures and such, as from his batch mates. And this is made possible because each student brings their own unique perspective, based on their individual backgrounds, their knowledge and ideas, their various skills etc., to the discussions in and outside the class, so each one gets the benefit of everyone’s experiences. To this end IIM’s also try to create a diverse class each year with students from different backgrounds, while of course maintaining certain academic standards. Therefore the best approach to the interview is to be yourself. Each one of us is unique in our own ways and it is important to let this uniqueness show through in your behavior. And the way to do this is to not try and give answers that you think the panel wants to hear; rather, give answers that you think are correct because that is what brings out your own unique way of thinking. Moreover the interviewers will find your uniqueness refreshing and that will keep them interested.

Myth 2 (and this is a big one):  I need to mug up on every possible subject because who knows what the interviewers will quiz me on.

The reality is that an interview is not about the interviewer trying to find out what all you don’t know. Rather it is just the opposite. The panel only wants to be sure that you know reasonably well, those subjects that you claim to know, by way of what all is claimed in your CV/ Application form. In fact I recall many instances when we would ask the candidate what subject he would like to talk about in the interview and then proceed to talk about just that.

So the first thing to be prepared on for the admission interview is your own CV. Be fully aware of everything mentioned in your CV, application form, any other application material and your certificates. But this needs more preparation than many candidates allow, and I say this from my own experience of having interviewed hundreds of them. If you are a Mathematics graduate, should you not be able to prove that the product of any three consecutive positive integers is always divisible by 3? This is not graduate level maths. Remember the 3 times table you mugged up in class 2? Does it not tell you that every third number is a multiple of 3? So any three consecutive positive integers would always include one multiple of 3 and so their product would always be divisible by 3. This should be elementary for anyone who has cleared class 5, and that also because in class 2 they might not have used terms like integers. And I have seen graduates fumble to answer this one. Another time I asked a Civil Engineer to draw a simple beam and its bending moment diagram, and he could not. But a simple beam is among the most basic elements a Civil Engineer learns so it is not acceptable that one from a reputed institution does not know it. It does not show you in a good light. Let me be very clear. The admission interview is not an engineering exam or an exam to test your knowledge of your graduation discipline. In fact in most cases the interviewers would probably not even be qualified to test you on your subject. But it is definitely expected that you should be familiar with the basics of your field. Otherwise what is the value of your UG degree? And without the UG degree, are you a fit candidate for the IIM? So brush up on your basics.

And be prepared likewise, on all other achievements, experiences, qualities mentioned in your CV. Did you organize your college festival? Great. But can you talk about the experience if the interviewer wants you to? Do you claim to be a trekking enthusiast? In the high mountains perhaps? But do you remember the exact location of your last three treks? Where did you start the trek from? How do you get there? How many days did you trek? At what altitude? How much distance did you cover each day? What were the places, villages, rest stops along the way?

And this brings up the importance of always stating the truth and only the truth, whether it is in your CV, your application form or the interview. Never state a falsehood or exaggerate any aspect in your profile. Interviewers have an uncanny knack of finding out those claims you make that are not wholly or partly true.

So does this mean that the only thing to prepare for D-Day is to be thorough with your CV? Well, obviously not. You do need to read up on some other things as well, but that will be for the next part of this Blog – watch this space.

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