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Managing low academic grades in your IIM interview - Krishna Bharadwaj, IIM Ahmedabad

Krishna Bharadwaj is a candidate for PGDM from IIM, Ahmedabad ( 2015 - 2017  ) batch. Krishna did his BE in Information science and prior to MBA, he  worked with Yatra in the partner marketing division and also as a  verbal faculty at IMS. He loves sharing his  thoughts in various forums related to MBA and Science.

Worried about low academic grades ? Maybe I should tell you my story instead of saying all is well.

Tenth, 88%.
Twelth, 75%.
Engineering, 56%. Eight semesters, 25 marks cards.

My first real failure was in my first semester. But I never allowed that to affect me. My friends knew just as well as I did that my potential was much more than could be revealed by stupid exams.  By my final semester I had a backlog from every semester. My reputation as a chronic backlog boy is still strong at the college. But I had one advantage that almost everyone in my class lacked, and that was my self esteem. I admit, I cried when I failed. But that was the first time. The final backlog I cleared only through revaluation. And yes, when I had learned about the pre-reval score, I had a terrible breakdown. But no matter what, I always walled about with my head held high. Mockery that actually came to my face, I took with a pinch of salt.

Now my class toppers are working hard to earn, struggling to make a name for themselves, while I'm personally acquainted with the top brass of a prestigious online travel agency, all of who have a very good opinion of me and would willingly  provide the references I would need for a top college. Why this turning of the tables, you ask? Because I figured out my goal and worked at it. I liked it, excelled at it and now I'm quickly climbing up the success ladder. Have faith. Identify your strengths and use them. Identify your weaknesses and overcome them. Grab opportunities. A few backlogs mean nothing.

Each IIM assigns different weightages to the score. WIMWI for instance gives more value to your grad scores. Joka however considers only 10th and 12th, so you might not get the call if your 10th marks aren't phenomenal to begin with. IIM-B,  however, is far more nitpicking about marks than the other IIMs, and their demand for consistent high performance means you can effectively rule out the call from IIM-B. If you have low 10th/12th scores, make sure your graduation marks are not just average but as close to the top as possible. That might cancel out your low 10th/12th score's effect. So you get the picture - it varies from IIM to IIM. But you're most certainly competing with people who have terrifyingly good profiles and maybe around a year or two of work experience.

My advice is to prepare for the exam and write it once. If you get interview calls, go for it. If not, work for a year and then try again. Work experience is a decent edge you ought to have, recommended but not mandatory. There is also the genius' path. Out of the approximately 1.6 L people who attempt the CAT annually, if your score puts you in the top 50 among the engineers, you automatically get interview calls from all the IIMs. If you think you have what it takes, show them.

Regarding low grades, ask yourself two questions

1. Have you learned from that failure?
2. If yes, can you express the learning in words, in a convincing manner?

If you answered yes to both questions, then this issue should not be of any concern as far as the interview is concerned. Focus on clearing the first stage, get to the interview stage and everything should be fine.


Think over why you did badly. "Why were my marks low?" The answer will be from one of the two categories below.

A: Events outside your control (for instance, persistent illness of a blood relative, requiring your regular attention and hence the diversion from studies; or the more common answer of "parents forced me into it")

B: Events within your control (lack of interest, juggling extra-curriculars, profs didn't like you, etc etc)

The interview panelists are not out to discourage you or mock you. Their purpose in bringing up low grades is purely to see how you look at it and what you have learned from it (if at all you have, that is.) They may broach the topic gently, harshly or not at all (went through all three in three different IIM interviews, all selected BTW :) )

Events beyond your control such as the first example I mentioned are easily understandable. It is not an easy task to take care of an ailing family member while handling the pressure to do well in academics. As for the second example, the counter to this can be "Parents forced you into it? Couldn't you think for yourself? Couldn't you make them change their minds?"

The fact that you have managed to get to the interview stage of an IIM itself is proof of your dedication and determination to succeed against the odds. With some thought, you can deal with these questions.

As for the events within your control, you have to introspect further.

 Possible areas: 

Lack of interest - Why? What did you really want to do? Have you done anything towards that between graduation and the interview?

Profs hated you - Why? What caused the friction? (Even if it was never your fault, don't play the victim card. A prof will not like a prospective student portraying another prof in a bad light AT ALL)

Extra-curriculars: What did you do? How much did you achieve there? Would it have been possible to do justice to studies AND your activities? If yes/no, why? Why did you have studies on second priority?

All the other questions pertaining to this group will revolve around the common theme "You could have chosen your path, why did you choose this path?" You will have to explain your decision/s and what you learned traversing this path.

It is just a chess game. You have to put yourself in the place of the interviewer and ponder over how to answer possible questions.

All the best!


Hi! Can you tell me more detail about your work experience? Was it related to your degree? What questions were asked realated to it at the IIM interview? And what was your cat score?