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'Be consistent, donít lose momentum'

  ...says APAN KALRA, a second year MBA student at MDI Gurgaon. In conversation with Kalyani Majumdar, Apan talks about his decision to pursue an MBA in Marketing and how consistency helps in cracking the CAT.  

Q. Was doing MBA always on your mind?
I graduated with a B.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering from SVNIT, Surat, and I started working for Mu Sigma Business Solutions, an analytics firm in Bangalore. While working there, I felt the first trigger to pursue an MBA. I would work on a project where I had to do simple analyses and give the results to the client, and they would take business decisions such as deciding on pricing, offers, and how to increase sales and optimise them. I was really excited to see the process of a business decision based on my analysis, and I felt that an MBA would provide me a good career path, as it would help me understand the business aspect of an industry.

Q. Why did you choose an MBA in Marketing?
Right from when I decided to pursue an MBA degree, I knew I wanted to do it in Marketing, as I felt that there were certain skill sets that I already had, like networking and interacting with people, asking the right questions to know them better, understanding their needs and behaviour. Also, back in college, I’d been part of a marketing event during our fest, where I had to promote the event, and I enjoyed driving and successfully launching the event. I knew then that I could hone these skills at a good B-school, and I could definitely see myself studying marketing as my field of specialisation.

Q. Why did you select MDI Gurgaon as your MBA destination?
I was very clear about pursuing MBA in Marketing. When I weighed my options, choosing MDI was easy, as the institute’s USP has always been Marketing. Also, its location advantage was a great factor, since the Delhi NCR region is a hub for all big corporate firms. I also liked that they take fewer students in each batch as compared to other B-schools, so the faculty can give more personalised attention to each student.

Q. Did your work experience help you in handling the tests and personal interviews?
Yes, it did. My work experience helped me handle the pressure. Working at Mu Sigma prepared me to handle hectic schedules, and the constant pressure to finish a task within a given deadline helped me immensely while taking the CAT, as it had a time constraint. Managing the time is always tricky, but it was a familiar feeling and I knew how to cope with it.

Q. Did you adopt any strategy to crack the CAT? Were there any hurdles in your preparation?
I took around 6 months to prepare for the CAT, while holding down a job. I started with the basic Quant, Verbal books. Initially, I planned to study everyday for 2 hours at least. But because of work pressure, I couldn’t follow through with my plan, and when I sat for SimCATs, I realised that my basics were still not quite in place. It was then that I realised that I had to be consistent with my test preparations. At least for the CAT, you cannot follow a strategy to sit for 10 hours one day and then neglect it for the next three days.

Q. Do you think sitting for mock tests really helped you?
I was regularly taking mock tests and analysing them, and they really helped me find my bearing. I realised that reading comprehension and verbal was my problem area. So I used the mock tests and my analysis of them to identify and work on my problem areas.
Q. What is your take on group studies?
For me, group studies really worked out well as I was weak in verbal. I discussed with friends who were strong in verbal and tried to improve in that area. As you practise more, you subconsciously develop and understand the concept, and that is a major advantage of group study. In DI-LR and Quant, we had to figure out new ways to solve problems, and sometimes there would be questions I had not solved yet, but someone in the group had, and vice versa, so we would share notes. Also, there were questions that I was taking longer to solve, so we would discuss it in the group and find a quicker way to solve it.

Q. How did you approach the CAT on D-day?
On the day of the exam, I woke up had a good breakfast and got into a taxi. I did not study or even think about the exam. On my way to the test center, I listened to two of my favourite songs that inspire me a lot. This helped me clear the clutter in my mind and stay focused during the exam.

Q. Tell us about your group discussion and personal interview experiences at MDI.
I found out about the process at MDI beforehand, and so, just two days before my GD and PI rounds, I practised writing on multiple topics within the word count and time constraint that they usually ask you to. This really helped me on the day of the GD. After they tell you to write on a particular topic, they conduct a GD on the same topic, and my GD went very well.
But my favourite part in the selection process was the PI. It was a 10-minute interview, and they asked me to talk about myself. I told them about my education, my two key projects at Mu Sigma and about my hobbies. They picked up on my Mu Sigma projects and asked me questions regarding them. And it really helped that I had given mock interviews before. So I was well prepared.

Q. What are the important points one must remember before going for a PI?
Be conversational and friendly. This really improves your chances of getting selected. Be very thorough with your answers and your resume, and most importantly, you must be thorough about yourself. Answering about yourself must become second nature to you. Try to figure out the brownie points on your resume that they might ask you about. Circle points that you would like to be asked questions on and then build stories around them. Also, you must know about the B-school whose interview you’re sitting for. What does the institute stand for? Why do you want to be in that B-school?

Q. Any suggestions for those that are preparing for the CAT?
Prepare and work hard. Returns from this hard work will be very high. Put continuous effort, and try not to lose momentum at any point of time. Keep giving mocks and keep analysing them, and you will see everything else will fall into place.

Q. What according to you are some of the benefits of studying at MDI?
The first three months are very hectic, of course. However, after a point, MDI gives you liberty and space to develop your skills and work on yourself. It lets you pick your own pace. You will get ample opportunities to pursue your interests. I feel it is very important to get that space, as it helps you understand yourself and develop into a mature individual who can take their own decisions and decide what is best for him/her. You have an opportunity to be part of different activities pertaining to academics, dramatics and so on. I personally love Table Tennis, and I play that outside the curriculum. The faculty are extremely helpful and approachable. The campus is very nicely designed with lot of green area and is a peaceful place.

Q. What are your personal learnings after joining a B-school?
I am more industry ready than ever before. I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I understand how exactly I can contribute to a project. In the first three months, I learned a lot of new things as we interacted with some of the various industry stalwarts who came to the campus. Also, you learn how to conduct yourself in all situations. I pursue my hobbies and I have become far more disciplined. I have a better understanding of myself, and that is very important.

Q. Anything you would like to share with future MBA aspirants?
The first hurdle is the CAT, and so, prepare well in advance. In the last one or two days before the exam, just relax. The best way to perform well in your exams is to not be bogged down by pressure. If you are worried about whether to choose marketing, finance or HR, don’t fret. You will get the opportunity to explore all the fields for one year before you make that decision. After giving a lot of mock interviews, you have a good reading of yourself and your personality, it gets easier to choose a field.