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'Have an answer to the question: Why MBA?'

  This is what SNIGDHA DUTTA, a first year MSc Finance student at JBIMS, has to say about the importance of choosing a career path early on, and how to choose a B-school to get that success. In conversation with Advanc'edge, Snigdha shares her learning so far.  

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I have done my graduation in Commerce. I did my M.Com also simultaneously. I was also pursuing Chartered Accountancy, which shows that I have been in the finance field for all these years. Now, I have my CA final left, and MSc Finance in JBIMS came up.

Q. Was doing an MBA always on your mind?
Pursuing an MBA degree along with CA had always been on my mind. I’ve interned with companies like Goldman Sachs, SBI, etc, and I realised that CA teaches you the very core of Finance, but not the finesse of it, the way you handle people, how you manage your time, your structures, etc. Studying for CA means studying on your own, with your own drive, which means that you’re interactions with others, is quite low.
An MBA gives you an edge in that regard, as it takes you through meeting people, dealing with human emotions, pressure, set timelines, etc. Initially, a year into my CA, I knew I’d get my MBA degree, but it happened sooner than I expected!

Q. Did your work experience help you in handling the tests?
My work experience didn’t help me with the tests, per se, but what did help was that I was already dealing with few people there, and handling time limited structures. So from that point of view, preparation gave me a flow. I was always a student, I was always preparing. I always knew what finishing a part of the curriculum or a portion was like. My work experience gave me an overarching view as to how I would sit in front of a person and talk myself through. So not studies, but more for the softer skills.

Q. How did you prepare for the tests?
IMS has a unique quality of knowing exactly how much needs to be imparted to students in the few weeks of test preparation. Being in the weekend batch, I was only attending two days out of seven, but I never felt burdened.
I’ve never been very good at planning my studies. If I feel I have to take a test, I will sit down right now and take a three hour test and see where I stand and prepare accordingly. Most people don’t do it like that. They prepare and then they take a test. For me, the benchmark has always been to take a test, see where I am, and then start preparing. If I feel I don’t need to prepare for a particular subject, then I don’t!

Q. Any suggestions for future test takers?
If you start preparing around eight months before the CAT, it is essential to take the first two or three months to be clear that you really want to do this. Don’t just take the test because there’s nothing else to do, or because everyone else is doing it. The CAT is not a test that anyone and everyone can take. In the first couple of months, go through the entire curriculum, get the BRMs, all the modules, get your bearings, identify your strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve done that, you know what to work on, and therefore, which faculty to sit with for an extra hour!

Q. Do you think sitting for mock tests helped?
They did, immensely! In the first mock test, I scored miserably, 40 or 42, and it was totally unexpected, as I’d kept boasting about how I was good at both Math and English! But the minute you sit for a test you realise that a lot of other factors play an important part. Even if you’re a seasoned test taker, a mock CAT is completely different.
But the first mock stripped me of my over-confidence and showed me that there were tiny nuances I was ignorant of in areas that I was confident about. So I knew that I needed to work on those areas, and that gave me a direction to my preparation. The mocks also show you that there will be areas in which you won’t do well consistently. So it just makes sense to strategise accordingly and not attempt those areas, and instead build on the other areas of strengths.
And of course, once you’ve taken a lot of mocks, the actual test seems a bit like a mock anyway, so the psychological pressure is just a little bit lower!

Q. Tell us about your group discussion experience at JBIMS.
The GD at JBIMS was unique, actually. For instance, the moderators never stop the discussion, and we students just keep talking. But during my JBIMS GD, we were actually made to stop, as three of the candidates were not speaking! JBIMS does this particularly, at least for MSc Finance, because since it is a batch of just 30, they want the best, and not candidates who are not good at their task. A lot of the time, candidates are just nervous and cannot speak up during a GD. So, they actually stop the discussion, because they want to gauge if the non-speakers actually know their content or not. And if they see that a candidate does indeed know their stuff, and he or she is someone they can work on and polish, they will still offer admission.
There were candidates in my panel who probably did not come up with a brilliant solution to a problem, but they spoke, and they gave an opinion that made sense and was relevant, not just something out of a textbook. And they finally got the opportunity. So because the MSc Finance batch is such a small batch-sized course, the teachers and the faculty invest a lot.

Q. What are the things that one must take care of during GD?
It is essential to sit for a couple of mock GDs before sitting for the actual one. That gives you a holistic perspective on the kind of GDs there can be, and how to navigate yourself through them. These mock GDs also help you get in touch with all the current happenings. And of course, brushing up your general knowledge helps enormously when you sit for a GD.
You should also not interrupt people when they are putting across their views. Make your point clearly and be thorough with your content, as the B-school representatives or moderators who sit for the panels are smart enough to understand whether you are just beating around the bush, or you actually do have a point.

Q. According to you, what are the important points one must remember before going for a personal interview?
For PIs, first and foremost, carry your resume. Next, being presentable is important. Wearing formals is a must, and you must take care of the little things, like keeping your shoes polished.
As far as your resume is concerned, don’t put in content that you don’t know. You should be thorough with every single point in your resume. The panel might ask you a question from one of your projects that you mentioned in your resume, and you should be convincing in your answers. Otherwise, it’s a big trap that you’ll never know how to come out of.

Q. How was your PI?
I had 20 minutes of a grilling interview that was purely technical. They wanted to test every bit of finance that I knew. They wanted to challenge me, find out if I was good being a chartered accountant, or not. So they tested me from apps to audit, options and derivatives. So personally speaking, it was core finance for me.

Q. Did you have any location preference while applying to B-schools?
For me, the B-school brand mattered, and so did the course or the programme the institute was offering. The location was never really a priority. If I managed to get into the programme that I wanted and the brand that I was targeting, I would have moved. The same applies to my work as well, if it’s good, rewarding work, I will move.

Q. What are your plans after you finish MSc Finance?
As of right now, I am interested in the field of equity research. I have been working in this field for 5 to 7 months now, and there are aspects that continue to intrigue me. I understand the core theory, but how it functions and how it triggers the markets is very interesting.
If I had to think of a second option, I would choose corporate finance. That is more in line with what I have been doing in CA.

Q. How is life at JBIMS? As part of the campus life, what should one look forward to at JBIMS?
JBIMS is a completely student-oriented college, so it is essential to have a close bond with your batch mates. So, from deciding who your faculty would be, to arranging the lectures and bringing companies on board, all of this is done completely by the students, the administration is not involved. For instance, there is a person in the student academic committee who schedules all the lectures with the professors. Basically, if you are in a particular committee, you know you are responsible for every one of your batch mates.
JBIMS will make you immensely responsible and accountable to people. The faculty are either visiting faculty or industrial professionals. So more often than not, classes are held post lunch. On an ordinary day, you would probably spend 9 or 10 hours in college. Days are never really hectic, because they are interspersed with leisure activities as well.

Q. You have completed one year at JBIMS. What’s your experience been like so far?
This last one year has been immensely rewarding. It was a mix of good, bad and ugly emotions. Being in specific committees has their specific perks and privileges, but also their downsides. But it is essential to be a part of a particular committee. I’d say this to every person who joins a college like JBIMS, because that is how you get a tester of how a college functions, what being in a position of authority is like.
Often, you can be sandwiched between the authorities. At JBIMS, that doesn’t happen much because we are left completely on our own. But, that pressure is required, because learning that will help you in your corporate life as well.

Q. What are your personal learnings after joining a B-school?
I have become more open about my opinions now. Also, I have become more aware of my time and other people’s time, and I feel it is almost a sin to waste someone else’s time! If I commit to something I stick to it. If you’re on your own, studying on your own, you tend to procrastinate. But JBIMS has really inculcated this feeling of staying committed to a task. I have also realised after coming to a B-school the critical importance of building contacts and networking.

Q. Anything you would like to tell future MBA aspirants?
The first and the foremost thing you have to do is have an answer to the question: Why do you want to do an MBA? And even though you know your end career goal, when you are preparing for the tests, don’t stay hung up on whether you want to do an MBA in HR, Finance or Marketing, or any other field. Stay focussed on the fact that you are a student, and you first have to sail through your exams and your GDs and PIs in that phase. So basically, even though it is important to know the end point, you should always keep thinking about the path.