The selection process for IIMs
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Aviral Bhatnagar graduated with a B.Tech in Engineering Physics at IIT Bombay and he is currently pursuing his MBA at IIM Ahmedabad. He cleared CAT with 99.99 percentile and scored 100 percentile in verbal. He won Eureka!, Asia's largest Business-Plan Competition as part of Education Edge Initiatives.
The selection process for an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) is an extremely rigorous process that requires quite a lot of preparation. I'll speak majorly about Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta, but the rest of the IIMs follow a very similar pattern of selection.
The First Stage : The Common Aptitude Test (CAT)
The first step to getting admitted to an IIM is writing the CAT (or even the GMAT for foreign nationals). The CAT is a highly competitive exam that is given by approximately 1.96 lakh candidates. All candidates appearing for the exam are obviously not students, but are also composed of candidates with work experience. The purpose of the CAT is to sift out candidates for the final interview, where they are called. (Aside: The etymology of this is very interesting. Candidates were actually called on their phones before the internet existed. Now calls are communicated through email and mail).
The CAT is composed of two sections, the Quantitative Aptitude/Data Interpretation and the Verbal Ability/Logical Reasoning. Excelling in these is generally beneficial and expected from excellent managers.
To get a call from IIM Ahmedabad or Calcutta, you need to lie in a percentile that is greater than the 99th percentile, with a variation of upto 0.5 upwards every year. IIM Ahmedabad has been especially keen on including academically diverse students, and they have stressed on it for the past 2 years. The criteria for getting a call and an admission varies from year to year, but the percentile cut-offs are generally high. IIM Bangalore doesn't generally have a strict percentile cut-off, but they too use a publicly available admission criteria. They give considerable weight to academics and your work experience. Talking specifically about the pros and cons of work experience, IIM Bangalore has historically tended to prefer candidates with work experience, while IIM Ahmedabad and Calcutta have had a sizeable large share of freshers (though it is not a majority). This year, IIM Ahmedabad has also allowed freshers to take deferred admissions. This could possibly be a signal to accommodating more candidates with work experience.
The Second Stage : The Interview
The interview at the IIMs (Group Discussions are not there at IIM A/B/C but are there at others) are usually taking by a group people associated with the IIM, be it the faculty, ex-faculty or in some cases even alumni. You end up connecting really well with them if you make it to that particular institute. For IIM Ahmedabad, the interviews are generally very open ended and very contrary to what most people believe, not random. Everything they ask you is related to you or something you talk about. IIM Bangalore interviews vary between stress interviews and "nice" interviews, freshers tend to be grilled a lot (which is possibly why very few of them make it). IIM Calcutta has a more academic sort of interview, with a good stress on academics as well as mathematical rigor (this is again a general statement).
Focusing more on the pertinent aspect with respect to this question, any experience you have can be made to work in your favor, or against you if you are unprepared. Work experience will always serve as a good talking point, as it would be academics or extra curricular activities for fresh graduates. You can use it as a very good plank to put your case forward as to what you can bring to the institute, how you can contribute to the learning process and how your experience makes you well equipped to pick up what is taught.
The Final Stage : Conversion
Every institute has certain criteria for selection, where your CAT score, academic history and your interview are taken into consideration to select you. Most institutes incorporate the work experience but explicitly in the final selection, or it may come across through a good interview score. Using the admission criteria a list is drawn and the candidates are finally selected. All in all, I would say make your experiences your own, make the interviewer live through them and be earnest. Be it work experience or no work experience, you can always show why you are a good candidate. I would say that you should be honest about yourself, your ambitions, your failings and in your efforts. Nothing can stop you then. The most important thing that I learnt was that they are looking not for a reason to fail you, but to select you.
It's a great feeling to feel once you're here, trust me.
Hope this helps.