Confessions of a serial GD/PI flopper - Part 1 (Statement Of Purpose)

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    Did you recently notice some changes in your life ? Like you feel an urge to dive in to the spiritual quest of knowing yourself better or to unveil the whole conundrum of the purpose of your life.. You feel sad about your performance in your board/grad exams (which you didn’t care when the results were out!)... and all of a sudden you started forming your opinion on every social/business/political events. In most of the case, this is nothing but symptoms of a common condition that affects many Indians during Jan, and is called "I got a Call syndrome”!!!

    Too often we make mistakes that change the entire course of our life. Some mistakes take us to a better path than the "right" would have led to; but some mistakes are a recipe for continuing regret. Screwing up a GD/PI for a premier Business school belongs to the latter. Let me make one thing clear. Not converting a call is NOT a mistake if you have done your best, pursuing the same. It is simple math anyway; People who get calls count more than the actual seats available, and some have to be rejected. What makes life miserable is in knowing that you got kicked out from the list because you didn’t give your best.

    Every mistake is a learning opportunity. But it is much smarter to learn from other's mistakes. During GD/PI preparation it is quite obvious that you need advice and guidance from the experts. Make sure you also talk with people who screwed up their GD/PI before. A "screwed up" guy can tell you EXACTLY why he is not selected giving you lots of insights about the pitfalls during GD/PI. I will try to make an attempt to collate my experience in screwing up GD/PI sessions and hope this helps you in some way. To prove my credibility to author this article, I got TISS HRM call for three consecutive years and couldn’t make it through, despite the fact that I love HRM and shared TIME person of the year award (2006).

    In this article I will share my thoughts about the bio sketch and those SOP (Statement Of Purpose).. Here we go!

    Golden Rule: No matter who you are and what you did with your life, you are a potential GD/PI flopper! Panel members can break your hypothesis of being an MBAtious person and thrash your life into pieces. During GD/PI, panel is more worried about selecting a wrong person than losing a good one. You can blame the supply-demand curve or our education system. But thats the way it is. Period.

    How much time you need to judge a person or atleast to know a person? A year... A month... A day...? Definitely not 30 mins, right? But that’s all a panel gets to judge your capability to survive and succeed their program. The first impression you make is not when you open the door with your most confident smile and impeccable attire.. it would have happened 5 minutes before you make your grand entry. That’s the whole role of a SOP (Statement Of Purpose) or Bio sketch. Do not take it lightly. These are some learning which I got from my travels to TISS! :)

    1. Know every word and every number in your application form

    "Being a diehard Sharukh Khan fan...” this seemingly harmless statement in your SOP (Statement Of Purpose) can be fatal. Scene goes like this

    Panel: So you like Sharukh Khan
    Aspirant: Yes Sir. I have seen all his movies and what I feel unique about his films is...
    Panel: Ok. Do you support Sharukh Khan endorsing brands when he should have focused on acting..
    Aspirant: Sir, I feel It is a personal choice and since advertisements are...
    Panel: Can you name some brands he endorse..
    Aspirant: Nokia.. Asian Paints..
    Panel: Do you think Nokia's association with Microsoft will help them to regain their grip in handset industry
    Aspirant: How exactly we reached here ? !!

    This happens a lot. A guy I met in TISS got his first PI question as "What is the real name of Mark Twain?" Because his SOP started with some quote by Mark Twain. Then it spiralled to other Mark Twain related stuffs like the story behind the pen name Mark Twain... Relevance of Mark Twain literature... some discussions on Mark Twain's famous books and characters...

    Build 100% confidence about each and every portion in your SOP (Statement Of Purpose). If you wrote your academic scores in your application form then make justifications on why you got those scores ( no matter high or low.. one of my friend scored really well in academics and he was asked to make a framework using his learning techniques that can help others to improve the score!").

    [Mark Twain's real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. His primary pen name came from his years working on Mississippi riverboats, where two fathoms, a depth indicating safe water for passage of boat, was measured on the sounding line. The river boatman's cry was "mark twain" or, more fully, "by the mark twain", meaning "according to the mark [on the line], [the depth is] two [fathoms]”]

    If you cannot prove/justify a portion in your SOP (Statement Of Purpose), avoid that (if possible).

    PS: I am not a Sharukh Khan fan!

    2. Do not tell you are superman unless you can dodge a bullet

    It is easy to make tall claims but if you cannot defend and reflect them in your GD/PI then it can hurt your chances. I feel it is better to use visible/verifiable pointers from your life to establish a quality rather than explicitly claiming the same. Like, if you are capable in managing a group, don’t tell it directly. Let them deduce that from the pointers like you were elected as college chairman or you managed a role which demanded coordination between cross functional teams etc. Give them the proofs then they will be interested in your claims.. If you give them claims then they will be behind the proofs.

    There are always two groups in a system; One who tries to build the system and another one who wants to break it. We have programmers and hackers, coaching institutes and test makers, aspirant and panellist and so on. We all fill our SOP with GAS and panel will try their best to evaluate the GQ (Gas Quotient) of our hypothesis. Trust me, they are good at it. They will challenge your claims as hard as they want and if your theory bursts, so does your chance. Having said that, no one can go with a 100% solid theory.. Gas is always there.. but point is, we should not make it easy for the panel to identify where the Gas points are!

    My friend, during his IIMC interview, was grilled on mathematics. He was asked to prove algebraic equations geometrically. Then some panellist got interested in his passion for photography. He was well prepared for that part and he showed them many photographs he took. Discussions led to various topics like types of lenses, shutter speed adjustments etc and he was able to convince the panel about the sincerity of his passion. He converted the call and eventually served as the president of photography club in IIMC.

    3. Don’t tell everything.. Give hints

    Purpose of SOP is not to give a complete picture of your life. It is meant to build a basic understanding of your profile and passion. If used wisely, this can be used to drive your interview in the direction which is beneficial for you. Your SOP (Statement Of Purpose) will sketch a portrait of you before the panel. Your interview will mostly revolve around their suspicions/curiosity. Try to avoid anything that makes them suspicious (unless you can clear the air using facts and figures). Instead, make them curious.

    one another IIMC alum told me a story about his class mate who stated one of his achievements as "Designed and developed a machinery which is now in space".  He did his internship with ISRO where we was associated with some project which launched a satellite and he made some small part for the project. Point is he was sure that there is going to be some question on that and he was well prepared to take it from there to his advantage.

    4. Be positive

    If you are a panellist and you read the below paragraph what will be your possible questions?

    "In my final year of engineering we had to work on our project in a team. The model we did at the first try was a complete failure. And second one was no better. But by then lot of negativity had crept into our group and we had a fight with everyone accusing each other of not giving his best. Then we decided to have a proper discussion regarding what went wrong and how could we correct that. But most importantly we decided to never blame any single person if it again failed and vowed to work harder. After 5 failures we finally succeeded and our project won the Project of the Year award in college."

    My questions will be

    Why it failed 5 times? When you guys worked hard and maintained decorum it was a success. Why it was not done at the first time itself. I don’t see proper planning here and will you be able to manage more complicated transactions in a managerial role?

    The above para is from a very talented guy who scored 99.6 in CAT and got multiple IIM calls. His project was based on an awesome concept of solar powered engine. His team showed the guts to pick a very challenging idea for their project, started the work from a scratch level, learned new domains and tools for the implementation, struggled to complete the prototype, managed their human capital, successfully submitted a data driven report on the concept which can be tweaked to be the base line of a next gen energy model for small scale industries. Their work and toil was recognized and appreciated as they were awarded the Best project of the year. But from the above para most of these stuffs may not come into attention.

    Always be positive in your SOP. Rather than saying how you averted a problem, try to frame it as how you faced a challenge. Read your SOP thoroughly and rephrase areas where you see negative words.

    5. Consistency

    Always focus on the whole story. Your Statement Of Purpose as a whole should give a fair idea about your profile to the panel. If you claim that you are hard working and if your grad score doesn't agree to that what is the strength of your claim ? As we discussed before, this may lead to suspicions. Many a times, panellist will rely on two things to stress you, and test the strength of your claims; suspicious claims and negative statements. Avoid them :)

    I will try to write some notes on Interview and GD too.


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