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'Find your motivation and keep it in front of you'

 

...says Karan Bir Singh, first year MBA student at IIM Calcutta. In conversation with Advanc’edge MBA, Karan talks about how having a consistent drive and motivation is imperative to crack the CAT and find success in MBA.

 

Q. Was doing MBA always on your mind?
Doing an MBA had not always been on my mind. After I graduated from K.J. Somaiya COE, Mumbai University, in Mechanical Engineering, I worked with Larsen & Turbo in Marketing and Sales for about two years. There, I realised that an MBA was necessary to take that extra leap ahead. My job and team were wonderful, but there is always something that can pull you back if you don’t have an MBA degree. So, getting an MBA was always an added advantage.

Q. Tell us about your preparation for the CAT.
I started preparing for the CAT around 3 or 4 months before taking the test. Since I had a full time job, I had to put in a little extra effort and manage my time diligently. After work, I would head directly to a library to study.
My work entailed a lot of travelling, so when I was in Mumbai I followed a strict routine. Whenever I was travelling I had my books with me. It was a gruelling 3 or 4 months, but my efforts paid off. I had joined a classroom coaching for a while, but it didn’t help me much; I did, however, take a lot of mock tests, as I wanted to familiarise myself with the pattern. Hence, my focus was completely on the online mock test series.

Q. Do you think sitting for mock tests really helped you?
Mock tests really worked for me. Basically, a mock test is a complete simulation of the CAT. So, if you are taking a mock test, you get the hang of how the actual test would be. You are totally in that zone! Also, when you take a mock test you tend to cover everything. So, once I finished taking a mock test, I would go back and analyse the particular sections in which I didn’t do well and work on them. I took more than 60 mock tests during my CAT preparation!

Q. Did your work experience help you in your personal interview rounds?
Work experience definitely helped me in my PI as you can always throw in the experiences. Once you are in a customer-facing role, you have to interact with a lot with people, and that always helps in handling GDs and PIs. Most of the time, the questions would be regarding your work, and if you enjoy your work, it’s a great topic to speak on.

Q. Did you follow any strategy to crack the CAT?
My core strengths were DILR and Quant, and not Verbal. So I used to put in special effort on Verbal, consulted extra books on Verbal and practised reading comprehension. My whole aim in getting a good score in Verbal was to push my percentile up. For Verbal, I used to study an extra hour. I took a few extra mock tests only for the Verbal reading comprehension!
I was also very active on social networks where other CAT aspirants would post questions and you would help solve them.

Q. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I was in a customer-facing role at L&T and I think my strength is that I am easy to interact with. I am also great at mingling with a new group of people. I don’t hesitate to speak for a cause and speak for myself, and this has been appreciated at my workplace too. I come from a family with a defence background, and so, I have travelled a lot; this helps me to easily acclimatise to a new place.
My biggest weakness that I can think of (with respect to the CAT at least) is that I need to read something a few times to get it into my head. I am not the sort of person who can read something once and remember it. So for exam preparation, I had to put in more time and effort.

Q. How did you prepare yourself on the day of the CAT?
My exam center was in Pune, so I had taken a hotel close to the center. My exam was in the second slot. I didn’t revise or study anything on the day of the test.  Once the reviews of the exams are out, it can ruin a student’s test, and we all know that news travel fast! Since everyone around me was tense, I had to remain calm.
I started with the Verbal section. Then came to the DILR section, which was tough. Usually most students would start to panic at this time, especially after going through the questions and finding them tough. I started somewhere in between, where there was an easy question. That really helped me remain calm. And so, Quant went very well for me!

Q. What is your take on group study?
To be honest, I feel group study is a waste of time. It is not for a CAT aspirant. Personally, I don’t like it because if you are preparing for yourself anyway, what’s the point of sitting with 10 other people? It is distracting! Group study works in colleges. For the CAT though, with the kind of dedication it demands, you cannot have people around you.

Q. How was your PI?
We had a WAT session for around 15 minutes at IIM Calcutta. We were given a topic and made to sit in a room with around 15 people. After that, we had to go for our PIs, where there was a three-member panel — a professor, an IIM alumnus and another panellist who was a moderator, probably also from IIM-C. The professor had a finance background, and the IIM alumnus was from marketing.
My PI lasted around 35 minutes, and frankly, I found it extremely stimulating. They asked me about my job, the products I’d handled, including the study of heavy equipment in Indian mines. They also grilled me on the ban of mining in Goa in 2012, and I told them everything from scratch. They gave me a few Quant questions as well.
Also, since I’d done a financial analyst course, it grabbed their attention, especially the professor from Finance. He asked a few basic questions, as he knew I was from engineering background. Finally, they also asked me to pitch a product to them.

Q. According to you, what are the important points one must remember before going for a personal interview?
Dressing right, which gives the first impression, is very important. Let me tell you why it is important. You see, the panellists have been around students for a long time and are extremely sharp. They will immediately spot a candidate who has not ironed his shirt or does not know how to knot a tie, and that is a strict turn off. If you want to impress the panellists from the get go, you should might as well spend some time in dressing well! Get a good suit, although it’s not compulsory, but definitely an add-on. And of course, always keep smiling, no poker face. The whole point of you being there is to sell yourself.
Another very important factor is to keep calm. To anyone facing an interview, I would recommend that you chalk out your plan beforehand. Divide up your work experience. Prepare beforehand for the general HR questions such as your strengths and weaknesses, your ambitions, and of course, one of the most important questions: “Tell me about yourself.” So every word you say should have a story behind it, with sound reasoning and logical thought. You need to be well acquainted with all your answers. You must think ahead for every possible question that your answer may bring your way.
Another advice I can give is to phrase your answers in such a manner that you give out keywords for the panel to notice, and hence swerve the interview in the direction you want to take it. So actually, mock PIs can really help you!
During the interview, it is critical to maintain eye contact. Don’t look up or down, and don’t fiddle with your hand, in fact, don’t make big gestures with your hands either. Look at all the panellists while answering. You always take cues from the person who is taking the interview. If you see the person is receptive, that’s good! But if they look bored, you need to increase your own enthusiasm level and make your answers interesting to reel them in.

Q. What is your plan after MBA?
Well, I have just started my journey, but my aim is to work for a consultancy. I don’t have an absolute process thought out completely, but yes, I do have an idea that this is where I would like to go.

Q. Do you have any suggestions on how to prepare for CAT?
Focus on your mocks. Get back to your books if you are not performing well in a particular section. Take the mock on Monday, and then spend Tuesday and Wednesday to analyse the mock. Then on Thursday take another mock test again. This will really help you get familiar with the tests, and you will be more confident. Mock tests and mock percentiles are a really good reflection of your improvement.
Also, never make a judgment of how many questions you will attempt before entering the exam hall. Because then, you will tend to set a benchmark for yourself, and the moment you reach that benchmark, you tend to become complacent, which is a strict no-no.

Q. How is life at IIM-C? As part of the campus life, what should one look forward to at IIM-C?
IIM-C is a beautiful campus, designed back in 1961. We have seven lakes! The culture is fantastic at IIM-C, with some of the best minds here.
One thing that stands out about IIM-C is that they treat you as adults. They give you a deadline and you are on your own. They don’t micromanage you, and that’s a great thing. They don’t treat you as students and burden you with work. You are given the opportunity to do other activities too, which helps in developing other aspects of your personality. There are lot of competitions such as debates and other cultural activities that they encourage students to participate in. These give you ample opportunity to explore yourself. You can get into dramatics, dance, music and other classes. Bonding between seniors and juniors is quite open here at IIM-C. There’s actually no hierarchy, and the senior is a friend.
Also, IIM-C has a CEMS MIM programme, which no other B-school in India has, not even the other IIMs. It is actually a second degree and only 25 students from a batch get the opportunity to be part of this programme.

Q. What are your personal learnings after joining IIM-C?
You are with a bunch of elite people, so you need to respect that and live up to the expectations of that group. And that is why you need to work extra hard. Networking, of course, is very important. You cannot live in isolation. Also, you evolve because of the people around you, so if the people around you are evolved themselves, then the discussions you have with them are on a wholly different level. You learn to see things from a different perspective. Earlier, you were an employee and now you are a manager.
At IIM-C, nobody is merely average or not doing well. Everyone is brilliant. So the entire group is at another level. And as part of that group, your own aim and target gets realigned. You are more motivated as everyone around you is motivated.

Q. Anything you would like to share with future MBA aspirants?
People have a very rosy image of a B-school. But you need to work really hard once you get into a B-school. If you are up for that and are really looking to boost your career with an MBA, only then sit for CAT and get an MBA. Don’t do it just because everyone else is doing it, you need to have the drive yourself. And if you do, then your CAT preparation becomes easy, and the MBA-process gets easy as well. That drive is what will keep you going. Find out what motivates you. Motivation is the key and it is something you will need all the time. The day you get de-motivated, you will waste time and lose focus. Find your motivation and keep that in front of you, so that you are always on the go and keep working towards your future.