Things that they don't tell you before joining IIM A
Author is currently pursuing PGDM from IIM, Ahmedabad ( 2015 - 2017 ) batch.
I like stories. But as far as stories go, this one will be less than pleasant. I speak for only one of the 19 IIMs, the one located in Ahmedabad. However, you can apply these (with varying degrees of scariness) to almost any IIM. Don't use this answer as a basis to judge the quality of the institute (or as a factor to decide whether or not to join here.) You will face pressure wherever you go. IIM-A's first year is hell while second year is relatively less hectic.
No matter how good you are at studies, this place will make you struggle.
You are competing with people who have graduated from top institutes in the country. Even if you topped in your IIT in undergrad, chances are that you will be beaten by others in at least a few subjects here.
If you are the studious type who is accustomed to getting straight A's and B's, but not in an IIT/NIT, you are in for a shock here. Your average grade is quite likely to hover between B and C, with the occasional D if you take things too lightly. (More on this later.) Getting A's here takes a significant amount of effort. Getting A's even as you juggle a bunch of assignments, activities and sleep is nothing short of superhuman. I still know of nobody here who has successfully obtained A's while having a good social life and 5-6 hours of sleep every day.
You will find yourself working madly to get CV points - a few words that prove you didn't sit idly on your arse all day. This requires you participate in club activities, case competitions and other events that happen in and around campus; but mind you, not every event gives you a CV point, and not every CV point can be used on a single resume. You will have to pick and choose the ones you feel will be best for the company you are applying to, and even then, it remains a guessing game. Nobody really knows with full certainty what profile is assured of a job in any given firm. Oh, you say you have all this sorted out, and you aren't worried? That brings us to the next point.
If you are relaxed, even for a short time, a backlog will, in all probability, quickly accumulate and overwhelm you.
The pace here is, to put it simply, hectic. First term will have innumerable quizzes, which can easily unsettle the most calm and composed person. You were expecting a quiz in microeconomics, after the hints dropped by the prof (for instance, an email with attached PPTs and the body going "This will be useful to help you prepare for the quiz") but an hour before the quiz time, you get a message saying it's an accounting quiz. You get the idea - this term is loaded with surprises, and most of them are unpleasant.The third term is similar, but with assignments instead. There will be one that requires you to go out and survey members of the general public. You have to do this while balancing time between another 3 assignments, all on tight deadlines, as well as club activities and general studying for classes.
This should give you a vague idea of the load - slacking off for a day or two may feel relaxing, but when you consider that you have to contribute to group assignments, stay awake and alert through classes (which means you MUST have prepared for them) and possibly more activities, suddenly that day of "Screw this, I'm going to sleep in today" seems far less inviting. And the academic requirements to graduate to second year will do a good job of ensuring that even the most determined slacker will not do so without at least a twinge of trepidation about the repercussions later. Let's say you have good grades and you still find time to slack off occasionally. That's great. It implies you get decent sleep as well, and by extension, your life consists mostly of studying, sleep and the occasional wave to a familiar face passing by. So what will you do when it comes to.
Networking - where you have to pretend you are interested in being around someone, just for the sake of leveraging their acquaintance later
This is a damn mystery whose answer eludes me to this day. I know almost every face of my batch - and nearly half of those in the senior batch. (I'm good with names and faces, and I pride myself on this skill.) But don't mistake me for a networking demigod. Far from it - all these people are slightly closer than acquaintances, but nowhere near friends. Oh, we could eat or drink or grab a movie together, but when the fun is finished... well, continuing on these lines would make me come off as an emo teenager. You will form at most one or two close friendships. Those who would wave to you enthusiastically on day one are quite likely to loathe you with a pure, albeit expertly-concealed passion by the time the first year is done. (This, I can attest to from my personal experience.)
But what about someone who isn't that good with faces/names, and is socially awkward? To quote one of the characters from the movie 99: "God help you wonly."
Networking boils down to merely establishing the most contacts. Good at this? Somehow cracked the secret to having good grades, sleep, social life and extra-curriculars? That's awesome. You won't want to tell anyone about it. That's because.
The cutthroat competition seeps into every aspect of your life. You play your cards extremely close to your chest.
Letting people in on your secrets to success, while making you feel altruistic, can easily backfire here for two reasons.
One - those who somehow find that perfect balance end up becoming the stars of the show. There are rarely more than a handful of them, and if you are one of them, the motivation for you to lift the veil is too low; if you're truly as competitive as this place intended for you to become, you will realise that letting out the secret will take away your competitive advantage. It's systemic and has nothing to do with who you are as an individual.
Two - What do you call a good magician who revealed his secrets? A failure.
Let me explain. When people want to know you better, they couldn't be any less concerned with actually knowing you better - it's the process of knowing that they're interested in. If you lay yourself bare easily, or are a naturally very open person (somewhat like me) you run the risk of becoming boring. Remember how I said I can recognise everyone in my batch? That wasn't an exaggeration. But can I have meaningful friendships with more than a dozen of them? Not even close. To sum up this point - if people know everything about you, you will be too boring for them. To avoid this, you will automatically become less open, whether you want to or not.
But this isn't all. IIMA is most famous among the average Indian family for the next point.
Placements will drive people mad.
What you see in newspapers - the crore-plus salaries - are not for PGP students, but for PGPX graduates. And they are the result of conversion from dollars to rupees, including several one-time bonuses and other inflationary tactics. Don't be misled. Be aware of what's happening; IIMA publishes its placement reports in a clear and lucid format on its website.
Why do I say all this?
Because as a PGP, I'm expected by several people to be swimming in banknotes the day I get a job - not happening. FFS, I took a loan of 2 million Rupee (nearly 30k USD) to pay for these two years. If anything, I'll be living on a tight budget while I pay back that money. The story is different for some performers at either end of the salary spectrum, but the picture in reality is quite different from what the dimwitted media shows you.
A little more about the work that goes into getting a job. (For the rest of this answer, when I say job, I mean summer internship; and placement refers to the placement for the same.)
You have to prepare a "master CV" - a repository of all your CV points, which typically runs from 5 to over 15 pages, depending on your educational background, work experience, extra-curriculars and so on. Based on this, you prepare up to seven one-page variants of a CV - the creatively named "one-pagers". You spend a few weeks running around campus, getting these one-pagers reviewed by your seniors based on a hazy assumption that because they got into some top-notch I-bank or consult firm, they will be quite suited for the task. Never mind the fact that you probably have more work experience than them, or that your master CV itself is less than two pages long, with your one-pagers having less variation than cheap Chinese knockoffs - CV reviews!
Then come the mock GDs - moderated by seniors, again, with the hope that they know a thing or two about GDs that you don't. Fortunately, these are not mandatory; people only attend them because "everyone else is, and I have to practice participating in GDs" (I always had to resist the urge to laugh at that excuse. It's a discussion, all you have to do is speak!) I never attended a mock GD or interview, and I was none the worse off for it. Placement at most other institutes works on the day system. The most desirable I-banks and consults get the creme de la creme of the batch on Day 0/Day 1. Day 3 has the dregs of the batch left for the least sought-after firms (all of this, remember, is relative and from the perspective of the batch in general.)
At IIMA, we have a cluster system. How much does this differ from the day system above? Well, here's an answer. Not much!
While the cluster system is ideally meant to segregate recruiters based on industry domain, the catch is that I-banks and consults are, to the average MBA, the most sought-after places. And this fact is known to both sides. So what happens is that a job that some other institutes finish within four days (and we could, in theory, do in two or three) is stretched out to almost a week.
Cluster -1 : Firms have interactions with candidates.So far, the institute's reputation has ensured that by C3 end, the entire batch is placed. However, there is always a plan made for C4 (no, not the explosive, Osama!) just in case.And what do recruiters look for? Mostly your marks up to undergrad, and any work experience you may have. Why? Simply because they are not allowed to ask our CGPA here (and if they do, we have no compulsion to tell them.) Hence the aggressive efforts to get more CV points while in first year. (Don't even get me started on the inflated and outright nonsensical points some CVs contain.)
Cluster 1: "Cluster -1" firms select candidates.
Cluster 2 (two consecutive days following a day's break after C1): Firms have GDs on first day, interviews on second day. GD day can often begin at 9 AM and go on till after midnight.
Cluster 3 (two consecutive days following a day's break after C2): Same schedule as C2. But overall energy levels are somewhat down and sanity has begun to take over again.
So, placements haven't driven you mad yet? And all the other factors have had no effect on you? There are only two possible explanations.1. You are ready for life at IIMA.2. You are already aware of these, and hence are an IIMA graduate.
Yes, it's harsh. Yes, it's brutal. And you may say it's excessive. But you know what else it is?
It's real. It's more lifelike than you can imagine.
This is what life will be like. Nobody will give you a manual of life and say "This is how things are done."
"Flash, take the controls", they'll say. No one will ask whether Flash knows how. And if Flash is from an IIM, having gone through the hellscape depicted above, Flash will learn how to operate the controls much faster than average - after all, Flash got through IIMA with a CGPA of 4.0, amazing friends, job offers from five eager firms and enough CV points to distribute to all the starving kids in Africa, with some more to spare.
Flash will survive.