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How To Tackle IIM interviews ? - Sandeep Kothapalli, IIM Ahmedabad

Sandeep Kothapalli is the author of the novel 'Once smitten, twice shy, thrice lucky'. He spent most of his growing years in Air Force bases at Bangalore, New Delhi, Chennai & Pune before his family eventually settled for good in Hyderabad. Son of a soldier who served in the Indian Air Force for 20 years before calling it quits, he spent most of his time watching the majestic Sukhoi’s & Jaguars take off for routine sorties and sometimes indulge in breathtaking dog fights. He is an engineer from JNTU Hyderabad and an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. An avid blogger and a budding photographer, Sandeep currently is working as a Senior Manager in one of India’s top business conglomerates. He blogs at, and tweets with the handle @taureansandy

First things first. Let me lay down some of the fundamental things you need to keep in mind before preparing for an IIM Ahmedabad interview:

1) Academic credentials - You might be a topper! But that doesn't matter. There are hundreds of other aspirants who are as bright as you are academically. In such a scenario, what matters is what you do with your credentials. In other words, how you stand out in the crowd is what matters in an IIM interview

2) Do you have an opinion? If yes, express yourself in a logical manner and avoid beating round the bush. If no, then be prepared to be mauled (stress interview) by the panel members during the actual interviews!

3) Expect the unexpected - Profs in the panel almost always have the uncanny knack of catching you off guard. There is no set template to the type of questions that would be asked and anything and everything under the sun, is a potential puzzle for you!

4) There is no such thing as a 'wrong' or a 'right' answer to the questions that are asked by the panelists. What matters is how you logically present your viewpoint. The focus is on the journey rather than reaching the destination

5) If you have a firm belief on something, then dare to stand by it and don't hesitate to differ with the panelists. Although, that must be done assertively and yet in a way not to piss the panelists off. Remember, the panelists absolutely abhor candidates who are sissies!

As to the type of questions that one can expect in an IIM interview, there is a common pattern one should be prepared for. If you have a prior work-ex, it would be a delectable mix of your experiences in the corporate world coupled with a test that judges how sound you are technically. If you are a fresher, you will be grilled on your subject matter and on things that intend to bring out the worst/best in you, depending on how you interpret the questions and answer. But apart from this, a lot depends on how you steer the interview. The panel tends to pick up on 'keywords' that you deliberately or inadvertently use while speaking. So avoid jargon unless you are confident to know what you actually meant! Remember, you are there to communicate and not to show off your verbal skills.

Let me recollect my IIMA experience as a case study so that it is easier for you to relate.

Ours was the first batch to have faced the written ability test instead of the conventional GD based approach of screening tests. So once the written test was over with, I was the first one to have been called in to the room.

I won't stress on the importance of eye-contact and projecting the right body language, during the interview for that is known to all. So, let me get to the point straightaway.

So, Mr Sandeep. Can you draw a cooling curve to depict the Quenching process during heat treatment? - I took a moment to recollect the curve. They didn't offer me a piece of parchment (Deliberate!), so I had to ask for one. I drew the curve promptly and explained it, answering all the follow up queries they had as they started picking up cues based on the technical jargon I was using.

Result - The panel tested me and found out I was technically sound

Which sport do you follow keenly? Who's your favourite cricketer? - I told them it was Cricket and Sachin Tendulkar (Aaargh! Cliche). So they decided to bowl a bouncer at me. And this was the follow-up question - Draw a Popularity Vs Time curve for Sachin Tendulkar, explaining all the inflection points. That was tricky! So, I took my time to come up with a convincing rationale to the curve I drew.

Result - I surprised myself! The panel nodded in agreement and moved on. The key takeaway was that I didn't panic and instead took my own sweet time to come up with a convincing rationale, that was looking back, quirky and yet intuitive.

Is there a specific reason why you have come all the way to Ahmedabad for this interview? - There was a mix-up of some sort as I had chosen Bangalore as the centre, and hence I suggested the same to them, albeit indirectly and politely. But as an afterthought, added that I liked travelling and so didn't mind coming all the way to Ahmedabad. With the mere mention of travelling, I steered the interview to Geography and General Awareness; something which I was well prepared in.

Result - In a single shot, I turned what could have become a potentially embarrassing answer to an interesting one and at the same time, steered the interview towards my comfort zone.

So, name all the railway stations in order from the origin to the destination (Hyderabad to Ahmedabad) and the state, the railway station is located in - I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and managed a smile before rattling off the answer rather quickly. The panel was taken by surprise for they obviously weren't expecting such a quick and prompt response. I just missed one station - Maninagar, and that was quite ironical given the fact that it is right before Ahmedabad enroute. When asked, I just stated that I was rather good with my Geography and they seemed to agree.

Result - This was one response they were visibly impressed with and I felt good about myself!

What do you think are the three most important events to have shaped Indian history post Independence? - This is a typical question that has no right or wrong answers. Such questions are directed to test your analytical ability and your grasp on linking facts to derive assertions. I did fairly well, although the panel didn't seem to be on agreement with something I said about the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.

Result - The panel was convinced, although back then, they were poker faced. The key is not to flinch even when it seems that the interview is not going your way. Your performance till the moment, you leave the room matters!

After that, it was the usual conversation with the panel getting to know about me, and my father's background as a soldier in IAF. It was more of a friendly banter than anything else. At the end of the interview though, they offered me a candy that was kept in a bowl, right in front of me on the table. I politely turned down the offer! Looking back, I wonder if I should have picked one candy anyway.

Moral of the story - Don't flinch and be yourself! If you don't know anything, admit it honestly and move on, rather than trying to be the know-all pandit. Be assertive and crisp in your arguments and try to mix in well directed humour in your answers. A great sense of humour is a big plus that is valued in a management professional.

All the best! Good luck...