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The quest for a pure consulting profile job-which NSITians are not offered during placements in any consulting firm, is what made Sonakshi Behl, a graduate in Instrumentation and Control engineering, go for an MBA. Here she shares her journey to IIM Indore.
When did you realize that you wanted to go for an MBA? What was the thinking process behind it?
My decision to pursue an MBA course wasn’t really a one off event but a gradual development of interest in this course. I really got interested in consulting as a profession after my 2nd year when I started reading the case books such as Wharton case guide, Wetfeet casebook etc. , interacted with my seniors regarding the non-tech firms like Bain, McKinsey that visit our campus, participated in case study competitions conducted by consulting club etc. I got deeply inclined towards consulting. However engineers are usually offered an analyst role in the data analytics arm of these major consulting firms. For a pure consultant profile, an MBA course becomes imperative as major consulting firms offer consulting profile only at top B-schools. Hence, after much consultation with NSIT seniors at reputed B-schools, I decided to go for an MBA right after my graduation.
I feel that an MBA course is not only imperative from the point of view of changing one’s domain from a technical to a non-technical job such as finance, consulting, sales and marketing etc. , it is also a great course from higher education perspective, irrespective of which domain you want to embark your career in, for two reasons. Firstly, in the long run we all wish to take up higher management roles in a firm (whether you have a technical or a non-technical job) and MBA can really accelerate this process .Secondly the course, with its panorama of activities and teaching pedagogy it offers, helps in inculcating a diversified skill set which is highly valuable for a successful corporate career in the long run.
Why did you choose to go for IIM instead of some good B-School abroad?
Needless to say, the tag “IIM” is huge brand equity in Indian education and employment scenario. Not only are the IIMs valued for the high quality of education they offer but also for promising career opportunities they offer. Since an MBA from abroad is an expensive proposition and is well suited after gaining work experience of at least 2 years, I decided to go for MBA from a reputed IIM since I was more inclined towards pursuing it right after engineering. Moreover, the placement scenario of IIMs is very promising if not better than many B-schools abroad.
In your opinion what are the skills that are essential in a CAT aspirant?
If we were to look at the selection process for IIMs, the necessary skills and qualities can be classified into two buckets. First is essentially a good command on quantitative ability and English language. The candidate must be quick with numbers, have strong mathematics fundamentals and logical reasoning. For acing the verbal section, the candidate must be a quick reader. Needless to say, all this requires rigorous practice; hence the student must be consistent and regular in his preparation.
The second stage of selection process i.e. written ability test and personal interviews are a test of a person’s awareness of his own self and his surrounding and how well you articulate your thoughts in oral and on paper. Hence, any sincere CAT aspirant should be well aware of the current happenings which can happen through regular newspaper reading. He should also have decent writing skills.
Lastly it is imperative that the candidate have a good extracurricular record. It shows that the candidate is enthusiastic, high on participation, takes initiative and is a good manager of time.
According to you what is the ideal time to start preparing for MBA?
I feel the ideal time to start CAT preparation is anytime during the 5th semester in October to just the ending of 5th semester in December. It is neither too early that by the time CAT exam comes you have almost forgotten a few topics you did almost a year back nor is it too late that you don’t get time to do a few topics thoroughly. It gives you the whole of 6th semester to do each topic thoroughly at your pace, solve ample questions from various sources. One advice to save your time later when that Cat exam is just a month away, is to make notes during your initial phase of preparations so that you can make quick reference to them during revision. After the 6th semester, you should ideally focus on taking the mock tests during the summer holidays and ensuring you do an analysis after each mock test. Then you should utilise the months of September and October to recollect all that you have done and focus on your problem areas. Solve the previous years’ problems with focus on speed now i.e. solving problems accurately as quickly as possible.
What are the various rounds of CAT selection procedure? Kindly brief us a little on each of them.
The first stage is the online CAT examination. Every year, some surprise element is thrown in. Last year, the exam comprised of two sections of 70 minutes each. The first section was Quantitative ability and Data interpretation while the second section was Verbal and logical reasoning. The time was non-transferable. It was a test of speed as the questions were not very tough. To ace this stage, one must ensure to not waste a lot of time on a question and quickly attempt the ones you find easy and then revert to the difficult ones.
The second stage is the written ability test which primarily comprises of summary writing and essay writing. A paragraph is given and you have to write the summary of it in about 120 words. The essay writing is a 40 minute activity and you are expected to write an essay of about 300 words .The topics are quite general and related to current happenings in the country and the world. For example, my topic was- India is a very soft target for its neighbours who are its enemies in disguise. In this stage, the candidate is tested on his content- his opinion on the world happenings at large, his organisation and articulation of ideas along with command over English language.
The final stage is the Personal interview where usually the candidates are asked HR questions like Why MBA, Why this college, one’s short term and long term goals, strengths and weaknesses, questions related to ones positions of responsibilities etc. Freshers are also tested on academics so it is important to brush up the concepts once. Discussion can also happen on current happenings so one must have awareness as well as opinion on all recent news.
For an undergrad doing B. Tech, what are the major areas, academically and non- academically where one must work upon to excel in CAT screening?
For stage one, a B. Tech student must typically focus on verbal section especially those who aren’t into the habit of reading. Sometimes the reading comprehensions and phrasal verbs are difficult. So, they must focus on verbal. Though typically engineers are known to be sound in Quant, this may not necessarily be true for everyone. So it is imperative for the aspirant to identify their strengths and weaknesses and try to improve their accuracy in their weaker section and improve their speed in the stronger section.
Preparing alone for the CAT exam is not necessary to ensure admission into a B-School. One must simultaneously begin preparation for later rounds as well as it cannot be done over a few weeks. You must ensure to read newspapers daily and some basic awareness of the current state of the Indian and world economy. Apart from that, you must ensure that you are thorough with your major engineering subjects. Usually the questions are related to basic fundamentals. Also try to read about that particular industry. For example, Instrumentation and control engineers should be aware of the state of the power industry in India etc.
Non-academically, one must strive to participate in extracurricular activities and be part of some club or society in college. It helps to let the interviewer know that the student is a well-rounded personality and possess skills like working in a team, managing time well etc. Ideally, you must do one good internship, one good project in college and have at least 2-3 positions of responsibility. However, do get involved with them and don’t just be a part of them for resume point’s sake.
MBA has been always clichéd with experience requirement tag, you definitely beat that with your pioneering achievement, in your opinion, how much is the role of work experience in the selection process?
Having experienced the selection process myself and now being there, I can say that the work experience requirement is a myth. Some years ago, it was definitely difficult for freshers to get in, but over the years, the scenario has drastically changed. In fact, this year, the ratio of freshers to work experience students stands as high as 2:3. There can be no better time for any fresher to get admission to an IIM. Moreover, the talk of difficulty of freshers coping up with the course is a myth too. It only requires hard work to fare well in a MBA course.
What are the types of activities you indulged in during your time at NSIT that in your opinion charted you towards your goal?
In my first semester itself, I participated in the B-plan competition held during Innovision and stood fourth. This was the very beginning of my interest in this field. I went on to be a part of the E-Cell at NSIT. It helped me in a major way to interact with seniors who were extremely talented and preparing for CAT themselves and later went on to join reputed IIMs. They not only inspired me but provided me the right guidance in my preparation. The most important need is to strike a balance between academics and extra-curricular. Academics are an extremely important part that cannot be neglected at any cost. Apart from managing my academics, I actively took part in major events happening on campus. I was part of E-cell and Crosslinks. I organised events during Moksha and Innovision, worked for the sponsorship and marketing departments and attended useful lectures like TED, SEBI workshop etc. All this helps not only in building a strong profile but also in networking and imbibing vital skills like leadership, effective communication and time management.
The popular perception in NSIT is that an external help/CAT coaching is mandatory. What are your views on the same?
I’d say that taking external coaching is certainly not mandatory but it is definitely useful as it helps us plan our time better and be more regular and consistent with our preparation. According to me, the Test series are a must to take if one wishes to fare well in CAT. They really help in identifying the very specific weak areas to be worked upon. I took CL as well as TIME test series and found them very useful. Moreover, we meet other CAT aspirants at these coaching centres. This helps you in staying updated. The guidance provided by the faculty during the second stage of WAT and PI was immensely useful too.
Having said that, the major onus of cracking the CAT and getting through an IIM still rests with the student and his/her sheer hard work. These coaching institutes can only serve to orient our preparation in the right direction but it is the student who has to put in the efforts.
How did you manage things in your final year, sitting for company interviews alongside your exhaustive CAT preparations?
I really utilised the two months of summer holidays after 6th semester to the maximum potential for my CAT as well as placement preparation. I ensured that I finish my CAT course by May and focused on the Test series in those two months. After every mock test, I’d spent 3-4 hours analysing each and every question, comparing my approach to solving the answer to that with the solution key and then identifying better techniques. My performance in these tests helped me spot my weak areas and channelize my time in improving those. For the placements preparation, I was preparing for Non-tech companies, so I’d solve a few cases and guesstimates from casebooks every day. Ample sources for interview preparation are available online. I also ensured to stay abreast of all major happenings by reading newspaper everyday as this was important for both CAT and placement interviews. With utmost sincerity and good time management, any serious CAT aspirant can easily strike a balance between CAT preparation and Placements. Try to get an offer as early as possible so that you can devote your 7th semester (September onwards) to CAT preparation as it is a relatively easy semester.
Give us an insight into your life at IIM. How is it different from the time spent at NSIT?
The life at IIM is totally different from that at NSIT. Since MBA is a residence programme, you have to compulsorily stay in hostels .You can have classes at any odd time of the day ,as late as 10 p.m. since there are many visiting faculty. Everything is student managed here be it clubs, societies or committees. It is a very stressful life with surprise exams, extremely strict attendance norms, regular assignments etc. However, it is this challenging life that makes it fun and interesting. After all, they are only preparing us for the tough corporate life ahead as a manager. The campus is bustling all the time. There is no sense of time here. You are lucky if you get to sleep for more than 4 hours a day. The campus boasts of great facilities like swimming pool, cinema hall, restaurant etc. to ensure there are ample means for recreation. Overall, it is a great learning experience and definitely worth it. Moreover, being from NSIT is always a plus as every IIM is full of NSITians and you are never out of friends.
Which department are you associated with and what kind of projects do you get to work upon?
The first year of MBA is a general course with no specialisation. It is only in the second year that we choose elective courses as per our domain preference.
The MBA course at IIMs is quite well integrated with practical, live industry exposure through various media. Not only are there many companies offering short term live projects to students, there are also industry visits planned every month for students to get exposure to how businesses operate real-time and the challenges faced by them. To facilitate a well-rounded learning, a project in a rural setting is also planned for students.
Getting a call from one of the most prestigious MBA Colleges in India, would you like to reminisce the incredible moment with us?
Well that moment was totally euphoric. It is difficult to put into words the ecstatic feeling of getting an admission offer from IIM. The moment was indeed bliss to see all the hard work put in the last one year to finally bear fruit. I was indeed happy and excited to be finally joining an IIM, experiencing hostel life and a great life exposure.