*Skip to ACT 2 for the interview experience
ACT 1: Prologue
“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
― Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo
In 2015, I quit my job in the month of June to get a fresh perspective on life. I had graduated in 2013 with a degree in mechanical engineering and soon after, joined a core company. The following two years just swooshed past me. In the midst of living by myself and work deadlines, the time was just sucked out of my life. The life which we dream as children, to be independent and hard working individuals of the society; didn’t seem so great after all.
Sure, there was a great deal of learning, adventure and excitement in such a venture but I found something missing; it seemed like I am not looking at the big picture. I was foolish enough to think that to change my situation, I have to get out of my current situation first. So, with a pounding heart I called my manager for a meeting and disclosed my intention to leave the company. He was taken aback, this was so sudden and frankly I had no solid reason to quit. But I had made up my mind and said goodbye.
That was the easy part, later I realize that it would have been better to plan an exit strategy; a lesson learned the hard way. First thing I did was to dive in the Indian stock market. It seemed fascinating then and what else I had to do. Hence, for a period of three months I read everything I got my hands on regarding the financial markets and traded actively. I reached a few conclusions from my research (I would like to call it that):
- Trading is border-line gambling if you don’t know what you are doing
- To make a living with low risk you need loads of capital
Now, there are people who have beaten the odds but they are pretty much countable. So, after all this research I was back to square one. The markets have a simple policy:
“No money, No honey”
Next up, I ventured in the field of freelancing. How hard can this be? People are earning six figures via freelancing they say; I can make a small fraction of that (Note to self : Do not make fractional assumptions in the future). The big difference I found between freelancing and working at your office was that your roles and responsibilities explode. In an official work environment, you have a particular job to run and you get pretty good at it. However, in a freelancing work environment you have transformed into a small business entity and will be doing everything from searching for clients, making proposals, negotiating, planning, executing, customer care and finally closing the project. If anyone needs a crash course in business, I seriously advise freelancing once. Suffice to say, it is a good way to progress but then again it takes a lot of time and effort to get the few initial good clients in your club who will stick with your good work and spread the word around. After that, I presume the ride would be joyful (no free lunch here).
Six months have passed in a jiffy since I quit my job and no solid developments yet. I have been gearing up for the CAT exam all along; it could well be the golden ticket. In the month of December, I gave my CAT exam. Fast forward a few months, I had my CAT percentile score: 95.98, not too shabby right? “Wrong”. I was thinking on the lines of maybe I will get admission in some decent college with this score, the top IIMs are out of my league now. One by one all the IIMs started rolling calls for interviews. First comes Kozhikode with “we regret…”, followed by Indore, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Shillong and apparently my CAT score was not good enough to get shortlisted by even the new IIMs. Suddenly, in the middle of all this misery when I had stopped checking status of offers, I receive a mail from IIMB saying “Congratulations …”. Woha! What happened there? Is this a joke? What are the odds?
I knew from early on that this was a long shot, but an opportunity nonetheless. Now, I must tell you that the form to be filled for application is a big form. They ask for everything you got with proofs. It will include three references from your mentors/ professors/ managers and a detailed statement of purpose (SOP). After filling up all that is needed, I submitted my application and waited for the D-Day. Meanwhile, kept filling other forms cause did I tell you this was a long shot?
ACT 2: The interview
I arrive at Hotel Kenilworth on the morning of D-Day via our dependable local railway transport. All the top IIMs conduct their interview in 5-star hotels, so cool if you visit them the first time. I enter the hallway and find a group of suited fellows, getting their documents verified one by one. After the verification is over, we are seated in a room and given writing pads. It’s time for WAT (Written Ability Test). The topic is handed to you and you get about 20 minutes to put your thoughts on paper. My topic:
“Freedom of art forms should be restricted for maintaining the order of law”
After the WAT, interviews start with multiple panels at work. After chatting for a couple of hours with my friend, my turn arrives. I was the last candidate to be interviewed in that slot.
The panel consisted of three persons. There were two professors one male (M) and one female (F); and one alumni (A), possibly of mechanical background. Everyone has laptops open in front of them where they can access all the data you have filled up in your application, the feedback of you references and the SOP.
F: Hello. Did you interact with the other candidates? The one who left before you?
~ Yes, I did.
F: That was very fast, only been a minute. What did you talk about?
~How did it go and about questions you asked him.
F: Don’t worry. We will not ask the same questions (Laughing). So Abhishek, tell me about yourself?
~Generic response, explained my history
F: So you live in Batanagar?
~ It is my hometown. I have been travelling across India as my father serves in defense forces. Currently stay at Barrackpore.
A: Tell us about your work experience.
~Told, explained my projects and responsibilities.
A: Asked details about projects, my freelance work and internship.
~Explained in detail, A seems satisfied.
M: It is a huge gap you have after quitting your job. What have you been up to?
~Told about freelancing and stock market involvement.
M: How much return did you get? Where did you learn from? What is your take on stock markets?
~Told my returns, explained how I self-studied my way into it and shared my views on the markets.
M: So, if the stock price doesn’t change then we can’t make much money?
~Told about writing options and how most of the money is made in this way. Also added why barrier to entry is high in option writing; being a capital intensive process but has lower risk associated. M seems satisfied.
“In my view, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.”
F: What are your hobbies?
~Talked about martial arts and how I trained in Shaolin Temple India.
F: What can we learn from martial arts that can be applied to the business world?
~ Timing of action and thorough in your attack to take down opponent, lesson learned from sparring sessions.
F: So you will be violent in your business dealings?
~It is all about self-defense and maintaining peace. However, if the occasion arises then I would say offence is the best defense. Elaborated on this point. F seems satisfied.
M: No half-measures (chuckles). So what will you do if you don’t get selected here?
~I have applied to other colleges. However, this is my only IIM call.
M: What if you don’t get selected for MBA this season?
~I will be applying for jobs. Also would be giving my SSB exams for joining Air Force.
M: Suppose you get in both, what will you choose?
~I will join the forces. (Unfortunately, didn’t work out as I was conference out, twice)
F: Okay Abhishek, that is all. Do you have any questions for us?
M: You may leave now.
~Thank you all
ACT 3: Epilogue
The result day approaches and I receive a mail from PGP IIMB saying “Congratulations , …” and I was like “Hell yeah!”. Parents are happy and proud; after accommodating me for a full year at home they seem really satisfied. I have indeed received a great opportunity; will make the most out of it. I will be joining IIMB in June of 2016, one full year since I quit my job.
The fee for this flagship course is exorbitant but students get good deals on loans. At this point, it has become a bit like game of loans. Let’s figure out what the hype is all about.
My background info for future aspirants
Degree: Mechanical Engineer (IIT Ropar)
Work exp: 25 months (core FEA Analysis @TimetoothTechnologies)
CAT 2015: 95.98
PS-A loud shout out to that special someone who kept my spirits up that day all the way till the interview. I wouldn’t be in the same state of mind if it were not for your company.