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”


6 thoughts on “The Personal Interview – Introduction

  1. How to approach the panel? I’m never sure whether to walk to your seat directly, offer a handshake, or simply react to how they act.

    • I usually hover politely until offered a seat. I don’t volunteer a handshake, but if they offer to do so I ensure that I promptly and firmly shake hands, smiling the while. I take my cues from their body language as much as possible.


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