My IIMB interview : CAT 2015

*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.

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What my core work looked like

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):

  1. Trading is border-line gambling if you don’t know what you are doing
  2. 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”

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See that royal enfield power!

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).

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You get to wear all the caps

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?

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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.”

-Warren Buffett

F: What are your hobbies?

~Talked about martial arts and how I trained in Shaolin Temple India.

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Shifu Kanishka in action

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)

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Sukhoi Su-30MKI ~ftw

F: Okay Abhishek, that is all. Do you have any questions for us?

~No.

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.

offer

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

Gender: Male

Degree: Mechanical Engineer (IIT Ropar)

Category: General

X/XII/grad: 93/92/89

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.

A TREATISE ON SERVICE SELECTION BOARD (SSB)

Based solely on my 6 day experience in batch D-AFCAT(M)/188 1 AFSB Dehradun in November, 2014. These are my own views on the service selection board and is intended to help the general public in a better understanding of the toughest military entrance exam in the world.

D-AFCAT(M)/188 1AFSB Dehrahun

INTRODUCTION

SSB can be looked upon as a rejection board, to create a foolproof system so that only those people pass through who can at least become an average officer. The converse of this is not true i.e. you may have a potential officer like qualities and maybe it so happens that you are not recommended by the board. It is important for the SSB to ensure that only the deserving candidates get through and nothing else, not even if it costs a few deserving candidates not getting selected.

This point must be kept in mind for all those patriots who want to get through SSB. They should keep trying and if you have it in you, sooner or later you will make it. The two people who were selected in my batch were both repeaters with a repeat count of 3 and 7 respectively.

Again this means that one person who gets recommended by the board once, may not get recommended the second time. I saw this happen first hand when one of the SSB cleared candidate got stuck in medicals the previous year and was repeating this year to get through. It came as a surprise to everyone when he didn’t got selected this time. This again brings our attention to the dynamic nature of SSB testing procedure.

OFFICER LIKE QUALITIES

What makes an officer? There is no clear answer to that, greatness is not defined. Rather we should be asking what to look for if a man has to be an average officer?

The answer lies in disciplinary conduct, leadership abilities and gaining trust of people. There is a very simple way to check if the person really has these qualities and is not faking them for one odd week. The motto for the SSB:

“Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action”                                                 

See how this test of character and personality brushes close to Buddha’s noble eightfold path. Do not confuse this with the studio album by Franz Ferdinand.

  1. Right thought ensures that you have the right bend of mind for serving in the armed forces. This is the most difficult aspect to project during the SSB. Make best use of the psychology test to let the board know about it. Be yourself, be practical.
  2. Right Speech comes right after right thought. The importance lies in communicating your thoughts effectively via verbal and body language. Language is no barrier as it is just as fine to speak freely in Hindi if you want to. The central idea is to let your thoughts out, let others see what’s going on in your head. This is the only way you will lead your team-mates by convincing them. So, just let your thoughts flow freely.
  3. Right Action is the most important aspect of the three. What you do defines you. How good are you at converting your thoughts and speech into live action. You may have a brilliant idea that you communicated well to your team but what good it does if you are not the first one to act on it? Therefore it becomes very important to have the will to see things thorough and not just make castles in air. A lot of guys were giving lot of suggestions but not acting on it, this behaviour goes very negatively on your scorecard. The SSB is not a test; it’s an evaluation of who you are.

These three qualities form the blocks for the pyramid of human character, with right thought as the base and right action on the top. In order to form a healthy pyramid, you must perform your actions which you have communicated properly which you had thought of initially. The pyramid would crumble if any of the blocks is weak. In order to grow your pyramid, make the base the strongest and grow on it. However, I hope that right thoughts would not be a big problem for all the patriots out there. You guys must be having an amazing base block, just build upon it to reach new heights in your personality.

DAY BY DAY WALKTHROUGH

DAY 1

Reporting time 6:45 p.m. near MCO at Dehradun Railway Station. Few officials will call out your id number followed by admit card verification and boarding the bus to AFSB. After reaching AFSB, you are provided with a light snack. Then people are grouped into teams based on id and repeater/fresher status and assigned a chest number. This follows with filling some basic info forms and 2 sets of OIT tests. The OIT (Officer’s intelligence test) gauges your quick decision making. Maintain your speed through some simple problem solving. After this follows the major attraction of the day, the picture perception and appreciation test. You will be shown a blurry image, make whatever story you want. Keep it practical, positive and concise. Remember you will have to convince others too in the group discussion that follows on the story you and others made out of the blurry picture. Figure out the main characters of the story, their mood, gender and age, give it a solid title and spin the yarn. It’s important that the story is practical, uses original ideas. In the group discussion that follows, wait for your turn and make a convincing story for others to hear with what you have written earlier as base material. The discussion which follows could be chaotic, try to find order in chaos. Avoid large hand movements and don’t be greedy. Applause good in others stories and encourage them. Make a concluding statement before GD is over. Don’t fight for the concluder status, support others if need be. It is a good idea to know the people of your group before hand and establish a connection.

The GD is a wild goose to catch. Give it all you got because this decides whether you stay or leave at the moment. Leave the room in order and wait anxiously. If you are selected for further testing, your chest number will be called off. If not, don’t lose your heart, improve upon yourself and keep trying.

In our batch 80 were selected out of 230 on the first screening test. This follows with lunch and document verification throughout the evening. Following the verification process, some of you may have to postpone their ssb due to lack of documents. Next up is the PIQ form to fill up. This is an important task for the day as your interview process depends heavily on the PIQ you fill up. It asks for basic personal information about you and your parents. Maintain a crisp documentation of your achievements. It is a good idea to remember the town population of where you live in. Give a lot of effort in filling up the form; it’s the last task of the day. Take your dinner and retire to your rooms after checking tomorrow’s schedule in the mess notice board. Get to know your roomies better, will be spending some awesome time with these guys.

DAY 2

Get up at 5:30 a.m. in the morning with the bell, get freshened up till 6:30 a.m. and approach to the mess for breakfast. Then, fall in at 7:15. After that, move to the respective task of your group. It could be in any order. In this breakdown I will stick to the routine I faced. We were taken to a hall in the morning for out psychology tests. This is basically a testing of your “Right thoughts” character.

It is important to follow your instincts as the test is going to be low on time. Also, get into the habit of writing English fast beforehand to cause undue repercussions.

The test begins with Picture perception test, where you are shown a series of pictures to write stories on (approx 4 min per picture) followed by an empty slide to make a story of your own. It may help to club all the pictures together into a grand story with various chapters with the main lead. However, that is not necessary and you can write whatever comes to your mind.

This is followed by WAT (word association test), which again tests your psychic instincts reaction to random array of words (approx 15 seconds per word). Again practice some beforehand to avoid a deadlock.

Next up is the killer for the day, the SRT (situation reaction test), which tests your reactions to a given situation (approx 30 seconds per sentence). Don’t get fiddly; just write a small line expressing what you ought to do when faced with a situation like that. Don’t over think it, just write what comes naturally and let it flow dude. Remember, this will be the last and toughest test for day 2, act like it. Give it your 100 percent.

After this you will need to write about yourself. This procedure will check how you perceive yourself and how you think others perceive you, do you know your weakness (which is imperative if you want to improve). Be true to yourself and write off the ups and downs of your life. It’s your life, make it large.

DAY 3

After the fall-in, I had all the day to myself. This was my day off. In general, everyone will get a day off in the whole SSB week. Make use of this to play games, interact with friends, roam the town and relax. However, be disciplinary soldier. Have all the fun you want, don’t break any rules.

DAY 4

Our Group tasks were scheduled for day 4. You and your team need to perform today at their peaks. The people for your group task will be the same people you have been living in a room with. The interaction you had with them in the previous days will play a large hand in today’s proceedings. The dress code for the GT is white shirt, shorts and PT shoes with white socks. After the fall-in, your team will be taken to your assigned room where you will meet your personal GTO. He will instruct you about the rules of the game which will follow. After a crisp self-description, the initial task of group discussion will start. Remember that this is a test of your “Right speech” personality character; be confident to say what you are thinking about. The GTO will present you with two topics for a discussion and your team has to mutually decide on one. Don’t let anyone make a call for the whole group without consultation. The sanity rules apply for any discussion at hand. This will follow with a discussion with a topic suggested by the GTO himself.

Following the second discussion, a situation will be presented to your team and everyone has to write an individual solution as to how to resolve the issue at hand using the group resources available. After this, you will have to discuss within yourselves to reach a conclusion as to how to solve the issue at hand. Gentlemen, it’s of utmost importance that someone concludes in a correct fashion, it doesn’t matter who does that.

After the hoop-hula of group discussions, move on to the “Right action” personality testing. The following task involves efficient communication and physical activeness in the task. Do what you say. You will be instructed about how to approach the obstacles. In general, you will be provided with a plank, a bamboo, a rope and a package which need to be transported across obstacles along with all the members of the team. You will have to imagine that there is wide gap in the ground between you and your objective position and the only way to get there is using the structures in between. Maintain teamwork and cross the obstacles. Once again, remember to do what you say. After a series of full group tasks, you will be moving on to half-group tasks at hand, with a better chance of making your opinions heard. This is followed by a command task where you will command one or two of your teammates to cross the obstacle. Make sure that in the command task, you are the last one to leave the start point and the last one to reach the destination point. It is also imperative to get called for a few command tasks by others too, as this shows the level of trust your teammates have in you.

Next up is the individual obstacle task, warm up fellas. This is the last and toughest task of the day. This task will test your individual athletic abilities and self-confidence. Get through the obstacles in a fashion most suitable to you. Remember to make safety your primary concern, use a logical approach to the tasks. A dead leader is no good to the force. I have classified the tasks into two categories: high strength/ low time and low strength/high time. A good strategy would be to do these in alternate sequence to allow the body some rest to get ready for the next push. For example, one could perform the rope climb followed by Burma Bridge. You have exactly three minutes to tackle the 10 obstacles in whatever fashion you want. A brief about the obstacles is presented below in the order of increasing difficulty and points:

  1. Long Jump: Run up to a ramp and jump off to cover a distance and land on the soil ahead
  2. High Jump: Jump over a 2 feet high level
  3. Balancing on the log: Walk over a horizontal log balancing yourself, go slow
  4. Tire go through: Hold the hanging tyre with your hands and go through it leg first
  5. Monkey Crawl: Crawl over a hanging log, remember to face towards the direction of climb
  6. Burma Bridge: Two set of ropes hanging at a height, walk through the ropes using your arms and feet
  7. Wall Climb: Climb over a 6 foot wall, use the jump action on the plank to leverage yourself above the wall
  8. Jump of faith: Climb over a high platform, jump to a lower platform maintaining balance. Finally, jump to the ground.
  9. Tiger Leap: Climb over a high platform and jump to catch hold of a suspended rope. Remember to use your feet for added friction on the rope, crawl down slowly.
  10. Rope climb: Rise up the same rope, touch the upper pole and then descend down. Preferably, watch a YouTube video on how to climb on a rope to get the technique right.

After the individual tasks are complete, you will move back together to be briefed by the GTO about the tasks to follow: personal interviews and conference. That’s it for the day, have a nice meal and doze off. You will be tired.

DAY 5

Rise and shine to get face to face with the interviewer. Get ready in your formal attire; use the laundry facilities beforehand in case of a dirty piece. Wait for your turn with the interviewer. Remember to practise how to tell the PIQ description to the interviewer. That is all. The way you tell your story to the interviewer will tell him about what you consider important and what you do not. Some basic GK questions and basic general awareness will be an icing to the cake. This interview is to test your “Right Speech” character. Say what you think and don’t try to fabricate the truth. This is the only test for today.

DAY 6

Ah, the much awaited conference day is here. Rise up, dress, have breakfast and fall-in with your packed luggage. It may feel bad to leave this wonderful place but keep moving. Next up, you will be walked in to the conference hall one by one. This room will decide your fate with the president’s seal. However, there is not much that will change at this point as the decision of recommendation has been taken already. The only chance is in case of conflict between members of the board, in which case the president of the board has the final call. Act confident and enter the room, greet everyone and face towards the officer who is talking to you. After the brief chat, leave the room confidently. This will mark the end of SSB journey for most of you but don’t lose hope as the majority of the recommendations go to the repeaters only. You will be taken to a hall where the officer in charge will declare the results of the board. Wish those lucky bastards a happy life ahead and move on with your journey.

WORDS OF CAUTION

  • Do not look at the officers conducting the exams. They are there to judge you in a neutral environment and not the other way round. If it were possible they would like it better to view you via camera and microphones but that is more advanced. Hence, assume the officers are invisible when the exam starts.
  • You will be monitored for disciplinary conduct throughout the stay at the board, sometimes without you being aware that someone is noticing. Keep your natural conduct at all times. Don’t even think of hacking the system. Chances are, you will fail.
  • While having a pyramidical personality structure is healthy, you have more chances of getting recommended if you project a rectangular personality structure where all the thoughts are communicated and all the communication converts into action. This is an impossible case but try to achieve this.
  • You will be hearing a lot of bullshit in the 5 days of stay at SSB from other batch mates. Listen and have fun but don’t let the bullshit get into you.
  • Some conspiracy theorists have pointed out that all the mirrors in the SSB have been fitted with cameras and that hostel rooms have been bugged with microphones. Something to think about.

RANDOM POINTERS

  • Use the opportunity to visit the nearby attractions with friends, don’t overdo it though. Follow the book in and book out timings
  • You can avail STD and internet facilities inside the hostels too
  • Get a batch photograph clicked, you won’t regret it
  • Lots of sports to play in free time, which you will get a lot of. Definitely, learn to play pool from the experts.
  • Follow the lights out timings, it can be difficult to convince everyone but try.
  • Go see the Indian Military Academy; it’s a place out of nowhere.
  • The SSB is a great learning experience in team work, leadership and general confidence. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, don’t miss it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

My name is Abhishek Ghosh. I hail from a small town by the river Ganga called Batanagar, in the state of West Bengal. My dad is an Airmen in Indian Air Force and with him I have been travelling across the length and breadth of India while growing up. After the boards, I joined IIT Ropar to study Mechanical Engineering. As part of my internship, I have worked on simulation of detonators in Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory, DRDO. Currently I am working on cool simulation projects in an upcoming major R&D hub TimeTooth Technologies in Noida. I too like you dream about donning the uniform one day.