Monday, June 12, 2006

MBA admission interviews – A view from the other side

I have noticed over the past few years that the mindless craze for a management degree is getting worse, with almost every young man/woman and their grandmothers wanting to do an MBA.

Oops I meant the enthusiasm for the coveted MBA degree is just getting better and better.

A couple of weekends ago I was invited to assist in the selection process for the MBA programme at my Alma Mater, SIESCOMS at Nerul, Navi Mumbai. Since I had also taught there my being on the panel has become a routine.

The process followed is the same as in most other MBA programmes in India. A written test followed by a Group Discussion followed by an interview.

Whenever I am invited to be a part of the selection procedure I try my level best to get out of moderating a Group Discussion because I find assessing candidates in a GD a real pain.
Most of the GD sessions I have moderated have fallen into two categories.

The first one is where the candidates have very little to say and after the initial burst of enthusiasm, incomprehensible logic and factual errors end up looking at each other with silly grins. Then some wise guy starts off again and they effectively repeat whatever has already been said and just wait for the bitter end.

The second category is where all or almost all candidates are highly enthusiastic. Having been told in the coaching class that starting first shows leadership skills or some such crap they all start talking. Simultaneously. And keep going hammer and tongues at the topic till they, and not the topic, are completely exhausted. Or the time limit is.

Now my problem is that in the first instance I tend to fall asleep while judging the GD. In the second type of GD it is very difficult for me to keep track of who is saying what. And I invariably end up awarding points of one candidate to the other. Which I think is unfair even if they are MBA aspirants. Anyway to cut a long story short (too late probably) whenever I am called upon to assist in the admission process I always ask to be part of the interview process. It is something that is always safer for me.

When the actual interview starts I have a standard set of questions that I always ask:

1. Well! Frankly I am a bit ashamed at digging out this hoary old chestnut but the fact remains that I do ask, “Tell me something about yourself.”
2. Why Management?
3. Academics. Why are the marks so poor? Why are the percentages going down? Etc etc.
4. Questions on business awareness. E.g. Top 5/10 headlines in business in the past month etc.
5. Where do you see your self 10 years down the line?
6. If the candidate has any work experience then something about the job that he/she does.

Most of the questions that I have mentioned are those that are the usual suspects. These are questions that students tend to anticipate, especially those who have attended MBA coaching classes.

It is therefore very surprising that most students make an absolute pig’s meal of even very basic questions.

Tell me something about yourself:
I have always thought that this would be the easiest of questions to answer. All a candidate needs to do is talk about himself/herself in the context of wanting to enter an MBA programme. And what do I get?
I have a father. I have a mother. I have a sister. I have a dog.
I won a painting contest in Class V.
I am very hardworking.
I am very honest.
I am very sincere.
Seriously, if you want to meet Indians who are scrupulously honest, sincere and extremely hardworking then an MBA admission interview is the place to be.
Not one of them, incidentally, is doing an MBA to make money.

About Academics:
A few questions on their subjects and we have people protesting that it is unfair to expect them to remember all that they learnt in their first year in college.
“So will you forget everything that you have learnt in your B-School after 2 years?”
“No of course not. MBA is different.”
Eh? What was that? Never been able to figure that one out

Business awareness:
My question on what is happening in the world of business elicits a blank most of the time. Those who manage to mumble a few headlines feel very elated. Once a rather aggrieved student retaliated saying that if he knew all about what was happening in the world of business he need not come for an interview to get into B-school.

Another chap confessed that the business pages in the Times of India bored his pants off. Just when I thought that it was the result of the Times’ brand of journalism he hastened to add that most business issues bored him. As my fellow panelist and I sat gaping at this dude he went on to say that the worst were the bits related to the financial sector.
To my question about why he wanted to join a B-school he unfortunately had no answer. Sad. Because that reply might have been interesting.
I find business intensely boring but I want to do an MBA. Cool.

5/10 years down the line:
Almost everyone who was asked the question on career goals & the 10 years wallah question told me that they wanted to be “managers in a good organisation”. Till the end of your careers? Huh hmmmm, well not really. I want to grow with the organisation and make an impact on society. That is when one knows yeh banda coaching class join kiya hai.

On the other extreme end of the spectrum was this chappie who decided that he would be CEO by the time he was 27. Not that is not achievable but why did he think so? No particular reason. He just felt it in his bones. I asked him if he joined the Reliance group would either of the brothers make him the CEO of one of their outfits. Sure thing. And why would they? Because I have the confidence in myself. I did not know that mere confidence could take a person that far.

Once there was this guy who had done his stuff by correspondence and was very defensive about it. No real reason if you ask me, but then he was. And it got to a point where he went on with a single word answer. So.

You have done graduation through a correspondence course. So?
You have not been in a classroom scenario for a while. So?
Your classmates will be much younger to you. So?
What do you do before you reap? So?
Ok. PJ maaf.

In contrast to all these the interviews to the E-MBA (Executive-MBA) course were better. The range of aspirants was also quite vast. However certain answers appeared too trite even here. The one reason that every one mentioned when asked about why they wanted to pursue an E-MBA as opposed to a regular full-time one was that they had family responsibilities. A 38 year-old executive saying that, I can understand but when so many 22 year-olds say that then I begin to get suspicious.

The interviews with the E-MBA guys was good because they knew what they were doing, where they were headed and more importantly why an MBA programme was useful to them.

Most of these interviews turned into discussions that ranged from the viability of Panun Kashmir (a farce, according to a Kashmiri Pandit candidate.) the skills of Reliance to set up large projects, to the reasons that the Sensex was behaving the way it was.

Given the stark contrast in the way the candidates for the E-MBA and the regular MBA programme conducted themselves, I wonder whether we should make work experience mandatory. Else we will keep having fresh graduates, who have no clue about the entire management game, coming in for interviews and floundering their way through the two years of an MBA.


Raghu said...

Gautam, some perspective from the other (other) side: while most of the answers you get are ill thought out junk, so are most questions, MBA or not, in fact most interviews (except the David Frost - British PM type) are junk too. The one true answer to "Why MBA?" is "It seems cool, I think I will get a job which makes me tons of money and women will dig me". The interviewer also knows this to be true but that's clearly unacceptable. So folks are forced into this song and dance nonsense of "Finance excites me more than Porn" and so on.

My interview qns included "How does the internet help fight poverty?", "How can the sun/other stars being gases weigh less than the earth which is solid?". Huh? These dopes were going to be my professors?? You know how that turned out ...;-)

Ashish Agrawal said...

I think to come up with indivisual answers, a person needs a lot of introspection...which is sadly not taught in schools. Anyways, I am myself an MBA aspirant. Thanks for your view from the other side.

Anonymous said...

SIES what?!?!?!!?

just go to an iim interview and the freakin candidate will puke the enitre indian constitution with amendments!

the post you have written just shows how bad SIES MBA or whatever that is sucks and the pathetic quality of students taht it attracts. but the reason for that is , the college itself is pathetic , and a nice way to cash in on the mba boom.

you get what i am talking?

Rashmi Bansal said...

hi Gautam, would like to print an edited version of this post in JAM. Mail me -

Kiran Ayyagari said...

I totally agree with your opinion.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but one does not "do an MBA", rather one "gets", "got", or is "getting" an MBA.

Nihit said...

MBA or we can say it as lucritive salary, status, A tag for marriage, luxury life, etc in current senario. Most of the people/students these days join MBA just for above reasons with no intention about what's Next and what they want.

People feel that MBA is a ready made soup with all comforts in it. Yeh its true but please use it in a real sence and keep its value to the world. Mere doing an MBA for this sake wont help you and infact will land you somewhere which is not your space to be. This could be well said as "Right Person at wrong Job"

Anonymous said...

frank way of presenting facts with some humor. Nice article. Looking forward to see more like this.


nagarjunz said...

i want to know wat will the writer answer to the question..wat after 10 years??

Supriya said...

Hey, ask me who is now doing interviewing for a living. After being an engineer for more than half a decade decided to be on the other side to recruit some for my company. Engineers never get beyond " My name is.. & i finished BE / ME ..from.." to the question " Tell me..".Only once had it happened that thios haryanvi guy who went on rattling about his ancestory that I had to stop him !! MBA types have to be shut u while engineers have to be asked to open their mouth when it comes to non-engineering questions..They start wondering whether we are actually trapping them to tell us some funda they missed brushing up !!

Santanu Chari said...

Methinks you are a bit harsh.

Considering the lack of true opportunities that we have in the country to do what one is passionate, plus with a growing culture of "dil maange more", fresh graduates hardly have much choice than wanting to do an MBA. Companies play a role by valuing an MBA, from wherever it is. after all, the MBA knows how to use the computer and related Microsoft software!
Would you pass him if he said "I don't know why i want to be an MBA, but it seems to be the sure-shot way of getting a better salary". That is the truth. While guys with work experience of 2-3 years may answer a bit better about work etc, they still may not have a clue as to what they'll do in 10 years. Only they are able to provide a "context" for you, and interviewers are satisfied assuming, atleast he has a context.


Anonymous said...

Very well written blog, and very frank too. I am an MBA aspirant (have been for the past six years).

When I just passed out of the college, the recession in the industry (*IT) had started and the promised job did not exactly come on the silver platter. And after several miserable attempts I joined rat race for higher education, and since MBA was the most lucrative I wrote CAT and got a very disgusting percentile (this pattern continued for various reasons).

Couple of years down the line, when I truly became interested (or so I believed) in MBA, I was offered an on site role, which I took up happily forgetting all the effort I had put in for the CAT preparation, which again proved to myself that I was just after the money.

Conclusion after 5-and-a-half years: I am still after the money, but the difference now is that I like being a leader.

AmreekanDesi said...

Oh think that i too was a hapless kid out of college with no idea to the "where do you see yourself in 10 years" question, not too long ago!
Entertaining stuff!

amiyawilliams said...

I am amazed to see such an amazing post. Keep up the good mba college