New Delhi: Debanjan Dey, a computer science student at Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology, New Delhi, may have scored in the 100th percentile in the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) entrance exam, the Common Admission Test, or CAT, in November, but he’s not leaving the rest of the admission process to luck. Here’s his checklist for ensuring a good performance:
Step No. 1: Read The Hindu and the Hindustan Times every day.
Step No. 2: Visit Wikipedia.com, and read up on “subprime crisis”, “liquidity” and “stock options”. “I didn’t have any in-depth knowledge (of the financial turmoil) and only a vague idea of what caused it,” says Dey, who is preparing for the group discussions and interviews that begin next month. Test for communication skills, confidence and intellect, and further winnow the pool of these applicants to the business schools. “They ask for current affairs but I am from an engineering background, so (my knowledge is) not too good.”
With CAT results published and call letters sent to candidates who made the shortlist at the IIMs and other top business schools, students are getting ready for the final stages of the admission process. This year, in the backdrop of unprecedented events ranging from recession to the terror attacks in Mumbai and the election of the first African-American president in the US, coaching consultants expect world affairs to play a big role in the selection process.
Make or break: Lakshmisha S.K. (left), an engineer from Bangalore. Hemant Mishra / Mint. And Debanjan Dey, a student at New Delhi’s Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology, are preparing to cross the final hurdle to a B-school. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
“There is the overhang of global economic meltdown and the mood is not as buoyant and optimistic,” says Sandeep Manudhane, founder and chairman of PT Education and Training Services Ltd. “No one is expecting the economy to suddenly perk up over (the) next 12-15 months and any assessment of the global situation should be up to date.”
And students are taking his advice. Nitin Kumar, who worked in business development for under a year after finishing a BSc in physics, says he is making a list of books he has recently read—including Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat and titles by Amartya Sen—and making notes so that he can talk comfortably about them. Another B-school aspirant, Lakshmisha S.K., turned to Google.com for insights on India-China relations, the Indian economy and the IT industry.
The economic slowdown also influenced the type of students who applied to business schools this year, says Manudhane. He identifies an increase in the number of candidates from three categories: those with a few years of work experience, engineering graduates and those who took CAT last year. He attributes that increase to a “panic reaction” of both mid-level executives and young engineers worried about getting and keeping jobs.
Lakshmisha, an engineer from Bangalore with two-and-a-half years of work experience, says that while he had always planned on getting a management degree, he is glad he waited until now to apply. “Working for some time will definitely help you to get more out of a B-school,” he says, explaining that even though he started preparing for admissions last May, when the extent of the downturn wasn’t clear, it might, on hindsight, be a “good decision” to go for it now.
Besides shoring up on current affairs, consultants offer advice on rehearsing what students already know. The method of group discussion is similar across schools, though some prefer case studies of personal dilemmas, while others refer to general topics. One panel discussion at IIM Bangalore last year, for instance—as described by R. Shiva Kumar, director of research and development for coaching firm Career Launcher India Ltd—presented candidates with the following scenario: A group of friends in a car knock down a child and speed away. Now they want to return. How should they do it?
Rather than cramming on a lot of different topics, consultants say, focus on a few things that you are interested in. “If I am an economics student, I better know that very well, or if if I am in engineering, I should know that very well,” says Kumar.
One Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University, candidate wrote on a Career Launcher blog about a similar experience last year. A panelist asked: “You are an engineer, you said. So, you must be able to answer this question. What was the order you followed as you entered the (group discussion) room and exited?” (Lifo, or last in, first out, was the candidate’s answer.)
Others argue that approach is more important than content. Jaideep Chowdhary, product manager at Triumphant Institute of Management Education Pvt. Ltd, or TIME, coaches students to show they are “active learners” or exhibit curiosity about things around them.
He relates one instance where a candidate said he enjoyed playing computer games in his free time. When Chowdhary asked how that hobby might make him a better manager, the candidate had an answer that impressed him: “Playing video games has taught me I need to plan and use resources judiciously. If I run out of them at a critical point, I won’t have anywhere to go.” Consultants agree that many institutes are focusing on work experience in their selection criteria. Manudhane says that among this year’s shortlisted candidates, he saw a clear bias towards students with an impressive resume, even if they had a relatively low percentile in the CAT.
Nishca Arora, a B-school applicant who is finishing her BA in history and Spanish at Delhi University, says that even though she is a fresher, her internship with a training and placement firm gives her an edge. “Had I been a regular fresher, I would have felt slightly pressurized to wait and apply later,” she says. “Mentors had the same perspective. If you have work experience, it gives you more confidence and a better outlook.”
Consultants also cite a growing emphasis on academics. Students who had consistently performed well in their class X, XII and graduation exams were more likely to get a call letter than those with a more up-and-down performance, says Manudhane.
The new emphasis might be largely a function of numbers. “In 1997, there were 35,000 students who sat for CAT, now there are 2.5 lakh, so they have to do something,” says Kumar.