The Personal Interview – Tell me about yourself

Today we’ll look at a question commonly posed at the start of an interview: “Tell me about yourself”

The knee-jerk response to this question is often something like “My name is ABC. I am an EXTC engr from XYZ college. I come from a middle-class family. My father is a government servant. My mother is a housewife. I have a brother who is an engineer and a sister who is doing her MBA….” and so on. But it is worth asking yourself: is this what the interviewer wants to hear?

Let’s examine this questions from the interviewer’s point of view. Is the interviewer interested in you as a person? Not really (though a good interviewer will pretend to be). Then why ask this question?

The key thing to understand is, the interviewer has a limited time with each candidate (around 20 minutes on average). To make a reliable decision in 20 minutes is already a daunting ask. How should he go about it?

One way is to make a pre-defined list of 20-25 questions and ask them to all the candidates. But this is quite likely to be unfair as those topics might not lie in the comfort zone of some of the candidates.

Another option is to spend the first 7-10 minutes of each interview probing the candidate to find out his/her area of comfort and then going ahead to ask questions on those areas. While some interviewers do this, it can end up being a waste of already limited time.

A third option is to start off by asking the candidate “what do you want to talk about?” and then taking cues from the answer received. However, an interviewer cannot phrase the question in such direct terms, and therefore instead couches it in a more neutral way as “tell me about yourself” – the implied meaning being “tell me where you want to take the interview”.

In other words, this question puts the reins of the interview into the hands of the interviewee; a skilled candidate can use this to guide the interview wherever he/she wishes to take it. There is a flip-side, of course – if, not being aware of this thought process, you mention a topic outside your comfort zone, the interviewer will assume that you are eager to talk on that topic and will judge you based on your answers.

A sensible answer would thus be to very briefly introduce yourself and then quickly move on to those topics which you are eager to talk about. So your pre-work for this would be to identify (a) those topics in which you know you can make a good impression with your knowledge and passion and (b) those topics which you absolutely wish to avoid. So if your academics are stellar, you will quickly bring them into the discussion. But if your academics are terrible while your extra-curriculars are impressive, just pass over your education in one line and jump to your other interests. If you feel that your work experience is your USP, bring that in as early as you can.

Most importantly, don’t bring in unnecessary, extraneous elements without a reason. If possible, every point you bring up should bolster your candidature. Bringing in your family to demonstrate that they inculcated good values in you is fine. Bringing them in just to introduce them is pointless – the interviewer is considering you as a potential student and not your family.

With luck, if you answer this one question right, the rest of the interview can be a breeze as the reins will be firmly in your hands.

The Personal Interview – Introduction

In the next few posts, I’d like to share my thoughts about the PI, an integral part of the admission process in most top colleges (and incidentally, in most jobs as well). We’ll start with an overview of the PI in today’s post, and in future posts I will try to dissect and analyse individual “standard questions” and how to come up with answers for them.

Let’s start by asking ourselves one simple question: “Why the PI?” When entering, let’s say, an engineering college, one does not typically undergo a PI (or a GD for that matter). A simple written test suffices. But in most MBA colleges, the PI plays an important role. Why is this? One probable answer is that an MBA requires you to deal with people, first and foremost, and hence an aptitude test alone is not enough to judge one’s abilities in this sphere. There are three types of people one would typically interact with in the corporate world – superiors, peers and subordinates. An interview tests how one deals with one’s superiors. (Similarly, a GD tests how well one deals with one’s peers).

From the candidate’s point of view, though, a PI is a golden chance to sell yourself. In the first shortlist, which is typically done by cut-offs and cold equations, you get no chance to defend yourself in case something in your resume is sub-optimal (for example, you have no work experience / you graduated as a five point someone / you have a gap of a year in your education). But once this hurdle is cleared and you get an interview call, you at least get a chance to explain, to justify your past sins.

I often see people getting discouraged even after getting a call; a common remark I hear is “I only just cleared the cut-off. I have no chance whatsoever of making the final cut”. I have even heard people say things like “They called me with such a low score…‼ I am sure they are just calling me to laugh at me”. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Remember that the people who will be conducting interviews will be important people (at least in their own minds!) and have a very inflated opinion of the value of their time. They are not going to waste time on interviewing you if they have no likelihood of selecting you. This means that once you have a call, you have a significant, non-zero, chance of getting through. Obviously you need to perform better in the interview than someone who cleared the cut-off with marks to spare; but it is not impossible.

Conversely, I see people who become over-confident (or at least complacent) because of a very high score in the written tests; who assume that it automatically guarantees them a seat. While it does increase their chances, it is not a certainty; in the second stage of the selection process, most colleges give relatively little weight to the written test scores and as much as 60-70% of weight to the PI/GD/WAT processes. And certain colleges will be harsher on the high scorers in an interview precisely because they are high scorers (for example, looking at the past few years’ data, around 50% of those who get a 100 percentile in CAT do not get a final call from IIMA)

Either way, what it boils down to is this: for the interview round, a typical college would call maybe 5-10 people per seat. So if you have a call, you have a 1 in 10 chance or better of making it through; around 1 in 5 for the top colleges. While this might seem an easy proposition compared to the 1 in 100 chance of getting a call through CAT, you have to remember that in CAT over half the competition is fairly casual. But in the second round, nearly every single person is dead serious – and good enough to have made it to the top 1 or 2 % in the first round. In other words, your preparation has to be very thorough, else you will be found wanting.

Next time, I’ll look at one of the standard questions – “Tell me about yourself”


Preparing To Convert Your IIM Call Into a Final Admit

So you have got that coveted call and now you have started fretting about the second stage! You have probably started prepping but are buzzing with questions and a still do not have a structure to the your prep. This post is geared towards giving you the right perspective to organise your prep and some prep goodies as well.

What is the probability converting a first call into a final admit?
Well if we keep all other things out (your academic record, CAT Score, work experience and the weightage each college gives to each of these components) the probability of converting any one of the old IIMs will be around 20-25%. Usually around 4 to 5 people are called per seat for the second stage for the old IIMs. So honestly, it is not that easy.

What should you NOT spend your time doing?
Do not spend time trying to calculate how much you need to score in your WAT-GD-PI round to get a final admit — it not worth the effort. You goal is simple, trying to score the maximum you can in the second round and leave the math to the college. You should spend your time preparing for the second round and not doing the math.

What is the common thread tying WAT, GD & PI?
On the face of it it might seem like WAT, GD and PI are different beasts altogether and besting each one of them requires different skill-sets. Well at some level they can be equated to the different formats in cricket — Test Cricket, ODIs and T20s (not in any order) — while the format is different and there are specialists in each format, the core skill tested are cricketing skills. Over the years the core skill tested in each of GD, WAT  and PI is your awareness of GK and Current Affairs.

That GDs and WATs test GK and Current Affairs is something that need not be stated. But even in PIs interviewers want to test how aware you are of the world around you. For example, they might ask you to

  • name all the districts in your home state as you travel from North to South
  • the names of CEOs of leading companies in your sector
  • your view on recent political events in you state or sector
  • your view on events of national importance or policy
  • your knowledge of people and important trivia about what you call your hobbies (it is trivia because it is just a statistic but it is important because you have mentioned something as your hobby)

So what you need to first understand is that at some level the second stage is closer to preparing for the Civil Services, albeit at a level that is much less demanding in terms of depth and width of knowledge tested

You Need More Than The Manorama Year Book
Most aspirants shortlisted for the second stage of the IIMs and other schools start with the Manorama Year Book. But that is just what it is — a start. While you might be asked facts in an interview and need facts in a GD and WAT, what is more important is the quality of the arguments you put forth. When we evaluate essays written by aspirants we find that are desperately trying to fit in into the essay all the facts that they have crammed. To really make an impact one needs to go beyond facts and have an opinion.

The only way to do this is to read in-depth articles on various topics that can be a part of this year’s GDs.

Issues Most Likely To Be Part Of This Year’s GD/WAT/PI Topics
Every year has it’s share of hot topics going into the GD-PI season. If we look at the big topics over the last few years they fall into two categories:

Event/Phenomenon-Based: Delhi Rape Case, AAP, Social Media, Terror Attacks etc.

Policy-Based: FDI, Nuclear Energy, Direct Cash Transfers etc.

While topics based on events/phenomenons are unlikely to get repeated, policy-based topics usually get repeated since policies usually have a longer shelf life. For example, while direct cash transfers was finally implemented as the Jan Dhan Scheme only recently, it has been in the news for more than a few years. Similar FDI in different sectors becomes an issue at different points in time.

So what are the event/issues/policies that can be a part of the second stage this year?

  • The Charlie Hebdo Attack and Freedom of Speech
  • The Rise Of The BJP and Narendra Modi ( alrrady asked in the s.P.Jain WAT)
  • Religious Reconversion in India – Secularism & India
  • Direct Cash Transfer Pros and Cons
  • Faster Environmental Clearances –  Economy  Vs Environment
  • Society in the Age of Social Media

Each of the things listed above can lead to more than one topic so you should read as many articles as possible on these to get the whole 360 degrees.

Research Previous Years Institute-Wise GD/WAT Topics
Most of the premier institutes have a very specific style when it comes to the kind of topics they give as part of the WAT/GD. IIM-L for example, tends to favour the abstract over the topical. IIM-A tends to give short subjective topics as opposed to information heavy topics, whereas IIFT does the exact opposite. So you will do well to thoroughly research the format and topics from the previous years.

The PI Checklist
Preparing for the PI starts with the five basic questions that can also become your IIM-B SOP:

  • Tell Me Something About Yourself
  • Describe Your Work Experience
  • Why MBA?
  • Short-Term & Long-Term Career Goals
  • Strengths & Weaknesses

We have suggested a lot of research and reading so we thought we should give you a goodie bag that will make your job easier with a GD-PI Toolkit which contains a compilation of

  • Institute-wise WAT-GD Topics and PI questions from last year
  • Articles across various sectors like economy, education, politics etc that can be useful for WAT-GDs this year

Most of these articles are not simple bulleted-lists but in-depth data-filled analyses. We are sure you will be better off reading one of these detailed articles than waiting for a certain new anchor to let the panelists speak!

Apart from this we have also put together a long-list of all the possible questions that can get asked in PIs and some stuff related to the whole second stage.

To access all of this, all you need to go is to and start downloading.

Till the next post, which will be soon, start reading, researching and rehearsing!

All the best,


Happy New Year!

Hi folks!

It has been a long time since we last posted. Hopefully some of you have moved a step closer to your dreams, and the rest of you have not given up on theirs.

As many of you might have noticed, we’ve migrated from the domain to a new one (never fear, the old link will still redirect here for the foreseeable future, so you need not change your bookmarks or anything). Two years and nearly 500 posts have flown by in what seems like no time, and another year is upon us. We will continue to slowly but steadily add more stuff here, as and when we feel we can add value on a particular topic, and maybe discover some new ways to explain things in a better manner. Thanks for all your support and kind words!

The auspicious occasion of a new year also seems like a good time to share some good news with all of you 🙂 So without any further ado, here goes:

Happy 2015, everyone!