I had my interview scheduled for 3:20 pm on October 7, 2017. I reached the campus an hour before the scheduled time and went straight to the reception area where the other applicants were waiting for their turns. I could sense the awesomeness in each of these individuals. From the way they had dressed up to the way in which they were talking, every one of them exhibited exuberance and confidence. It can be a bit overwhelming for anyone at first when you’re surrounded by such exceptional people. But because of my preparedness, I had this underlying self-confidence and optimism that day.
I took a seat, made myself comfortable and chatted with a couple of people. After waiting for around half an hour, I was called into a separate room for the essay writing task. There were three of us in the room and everyone was given a sheet of paper with a one-word topic written on it. We had to write a 100-word essay on the same. There has been a lot of speculation about the purpose of this task and no one really knows how does the admission committee factor it in while evaluating candidates. While sometimes it is discussed in the interviews, it didn’t happen in my case.
During my research for the preparation of the interviews, I had come across a couple of topics (Pink, Superficial, Fragrance etc.) on which the candidates had previously been asked to write this essay. The thing with these kinds of abstract topics and constrained word limits is that it becomes very difficult to come up with ideas to write on. Moreover, this is something which can’t be practised. So I had decided that I’d present two perspectives in the essay. One would be to describe the literal meaning and the other would be to try and bring out the abstractness of the topic by referring to its metaphorical or philosophical sense.
The prompt for my essay was “Pace“. I thought for a couple of minutes before I scribbled anything on the paper. I decided that I’ll write an open-ended essay while touching upon the idea of what pace exactly means, describe the extremes through examples and discuss in brief the concept of the “pace of our lives” (to add the philosophical angle). I somehow managed to do so within the stipulated word-limit. Finally, I rechecked the essay for any grammatical or spelling errors that I might have made.
Once I was done with the essay, I was led to a different room for my interview. The panel consisted of a male (M) and a female (F) professor, both either in their late thirties or early forties. They got up to shake my hand and asked me to sit. The rest of the interview went as follows:
F: So Rakshit, why don’t you tell us something about yourself.
I had a well-prepared answer to this question. I began by describing myself, my schooling and my involvement in quizzing during that time. Then I went on to talk about the JEE preparation and what motivated me to choose Maths and Computing engineering at DTU. Post that, I briefly described my internship experiences at IIM Ahmedabad and Deloitte and also mentioned that I’d be doing consulting at PwC post my engineering. I concluded with a line on my other interests (reading, writing and sports).
F: Okay, that’s quite an interesting description. What did you do as part of your internship at IIM Ahmedabad?
I explained my work in detail describing what all was I expected to do and what was its significance in the greater scheme of things. It is important to highlight the kind of impact that your work has had in the organisation. Since the internship involved business analysis, I made sure that I discussed some of the important business concepts and revenue models that I’d used while doing my analysis. It was to show that I have had a little bit of exposure to business and I wish to learn more. They seemed satisfied by my answer.
The male professor, who had been a keen listener up till now asked his first question.
M: Have you faced any challenges while leading? How did you overcome them?
I described my experience of leading a news satire website called News that Matters Not. I explained how the content generation was a problem for us, how I tackled it through recruitment and reformed practices. I also described the challenges that the changes in the social media dynamics brought and how even without any funding we were able to sustain through a revamped content strategy.
M: You have mentioned in your essay that you want to do consulting. You’re already placed at PwC and would be doing consulting. What is the need for an MBA then?
Essentially it was the much-anticipated “Why MBA?” question with some context attached to it. I explained how I’ll be transitioning from my technology background to a more techno-functional role while working at PwC. But my long-term aim remains to work in a purely business-centric role. I’ll be needing formal business education to form a good base and extrapolate that knowledge to solve real-world business problems. I also added that the MBA experience will enable me to gain a lot of essential life-skills.
F: Supposing that you make it to the PGP at ISB. What clubs would you like to join?
I gave a pretty straightforward answer – “Given that I wish to venture into strategy consulting post my MBA, I’d join the Consulting Club. Also, I have been an avid quizzer all through my school life, but due to other involvements and a lack of quizzing culture at DTU, I couldn’t continue participating in quizzes. It has been a long-term dream to win the Tata Crucible (which is one of the most prestigious quizzes in India) and I’d like to do so at ISB. Hence, I’d also like to join the Quiz Club.”
M: Apart from the clubs, why do you want to join ISB?
This was one question that I had prepared for very diligently. I had devoted an entire day for scanning through the entire ISB website and blog for coming up with the most eccentric answer. The answer involved me mentioning the importance of a global education in this intricately connected world and how ISB would provide me with the same. I told them about a couple of unique and peculiar courses offered at ISB and the professors who take them, and how it will help me gain a holistic education and give me an edge over other top B-school graduates in India. They were clearly impressed by my preparation and attention to detail. But I had more to offer. I had done an elementary statistical analysis of the past five-year placement data released by ISB. I went on – “Since I want to a be a consultant, here are the results of a preliminary analysis done by me on the placement data released by ISB”. I started blurting out numbers and percentages in a very structured manner and convinced them of how ISB is the best place to be for someone wanting to venture into consulting. They were pretty happy with the response.
F: Okay, tell us something that is not mentioned anywhere on your application, resume or essays.
I started on the wrong foot while answering this question. I said that pretty much everything is mentioned here and it actually was. The application and essays are so exhaustive cumulatively that it is very difficult to leave something out. This question is meant to give the panellists an insight into something that can set you apart. I realised my mistake soon enough to correct myself. I continued – “Although the application does cover pretty much everything, the one thing that it doesn’t reflect is my varied interests – how they have shaped me and how they’ll help me in contributing in the class. My engineering background has given me the necessary quantitative and analytical skills, but I am someone who enjoys reading history and exploring economics as much as I enjoy my quantitative pursuits. In fact, I am currently reading a book on how the Mughal empire perished in India. I am a creative person at heart and maintain a blog. I feel that gives me a very distinct advantage as I’ll be able to understand the perspective and empathize with people from different backgrounds, thus facilitating discussions in my study groups.”
M: That’ll be it on our end. Do you have any questions for us?
I asked them two questions and they gave detailed answers. I asked basic questions and I feel that it was a weak point of my preparation. I had somehow forgotten about this part of the interview and I had made up the questions while waiting for my turn. One should actually prepare interesting questions – something through which the interviewers can remember you by.
That was it. I thanked them and we exchanged pleasantries. All in all, I enjoyed the entire process. They didn’t grill me and I sailed through because I had given a lot of thought to my answers. They were smiling throughout the interview and had created a very encouraging atmosphere.
As far as the preparation goes, I’d say prepare well for all the commonly asked HR/behavioural questions such as:
Tell me about yourself.
Why MBA? What are your career goals and how will the MBA help you achieve them?
Why ISB? Why YLP?
A constructive feedback that you’ve received from a team member.
Give me an example of a time when you motivated others and how this led to a positive outcome.
What experience are you most proud of?
What experience do you wish you could do over and how would you do it differently?
What is a difficult/risky decision that you’ve made?
What is an example of when you showed initiative and leadership?
What makes you angry?
Tell us about a time when you handled conflict in your team.
Worst mistake that you’ve made?
Why should we select you?
What unique attributes and perspectives will you bring to the class?
Do you have any questions for me (interviewer)?
The answers need to be well-researched and unique. There is a set pattern along which all candidates are interviewed. You need to make sure that you do your best during those twenty minutes to increase your chances of selection. These questions leave very little scope for the interviewers to differentiate between candidates on an objective scale. The quality and exhaustiveness of your answers can only set you apart.
Apart from that, read about whatever has been happening around the world. They sometimes do ask your opinion on matters of relevance. Make sure you know yourself and everything you have written in your application and the essays inside out. Be purposeful and honest. The interviewers are seasoned pros and can easily call off your bluffs.
It will be a great experience. Feel free to reach out in case of any queries that you might have. I’ll be happy to help.