Student Exchange Interview

There were 22 vacancies, and 45 were shortlisted (out of less than 70 applicants). We were interviewed by 5 panels, each with 2 professors. We had submitted our resumes, a writeup on why we were applying for the programme, various declarations and our grade sheet. Though it was rumoured that grades played a 50% part in shortlisting, it was not so. Each panel ranked their candidates independently (in which grades played only an implicit part) — so it was the interview that really counted. After ranking, they pooled the rankings across panels (this is probably where grades might come in) and allocated the first available preference by rank. If the universities you opted for are not available, you would not be considered for other universities even if your ranking is high. So it makes sense to fill out all the universities of your choice if you’re keen on going.

One standard question acroess panels was on aspects of Indian culture — particularly in Prof. CM Reddy’s panel. Questions ranged from “What was the Yaksha’s last question to Yudhisthira?” to “What is the essence of Indian spiritual philosophy?” Other standard questions were “What will you do for IIM-B once you come back?” and “How will you serve as the ambassador of IIM-B?”

Interview

  1. How did you break your leg?
  2. Do you think businesses have a social function?
  3. What will you do for IIM-B when you come back?
  4. Tell me more about your social contributions. (From my resume.)
  5. What is the central message of Indian philosophy?

Prof. Mahadevan and Prof. Prakhya interviewed me. Both were IITians, and I discovered that Prof. Prakhya was also my school senior. Prof. Mahadevan was genuinely seeking an answer to all his questions. That is, he was really interested in how exchange students could improve IIM-B’s functioning. Prof. Prakhya was pretty sharp, and tried pricking holes in my arguments. Before I left, Prof. Mahadevan commented, “This is nothing to do with the interview, but I just wanted to say that, based on your resume, you have a great future.” Pallavi and I were selected for London Business School.

Learnings

  1. I had ready-made answers to all their questions, and that helped.
  2. I was passionate about all the answers. I think a feeling of genuineness came through.
  3. As always, the resume counted for a lot.

Microsoft is a monopoly

Microsoft has been ruled a monopoly. The findings are a pretty interesting economic analysis. (The US District court site also has a copy.)

Citibank Leadership interview

Citibank awards Rs. 50,000 to 2-3 candidates from IIM Bangalore based on leadership traits. We had to submit ‘brief’ writeups on what leardership is, why we’re good leaders, what our social contributions and academic achievements are, etc., along with our resume. We also had to turn in a student and faculty nomination. Since I had lots of time (I was bedridden with a fractured ankle) I prepared quite well for this interview. 11 were shortlisted. The interviews were scheduled for 20 minutes each.

My preparation largely involved reading what I’d submitted, and preparing for some standard questions like ‘What are your career goals?’, ‘Strengths/Weaknesses’, etc. In our previous batch, 3 people won the award — Hemalata, Saurabh Singh and Sahil Bhandari. All 3 were good speakers with accents. So I brushed up my accent too — turned out to be unnecessary, though.

Prof. Umesh Rajamani & Prof. Rupa Chanda were on my panel. They asked me about my leg (I was on crutches), and went on reading the writeup. All questions were directly based on the writeup.

Interview

  1. Who do you think are easier to lead? Tamilians or Kannadigas? (Prof. Umesh Rajamani asked this question, and soon said that he wasn’t really looking for an answer.)
  2. Tell me about your experiences as a project leader at IBM.
  3. Some details on your social contributions… (based on the writeup)
  4. What are your extracurriculars at IIM-B?
  5. What did you learn as the captain of your basketball team?

Mostly, they were asking me to expand on what was there in the writeup. It was a relaxed atmosphere, and Prof. Rupa Chanda was very encouraging. The results were announced on 3rd March. Sunny Sharma and I made it.

Learnings

  1. I think they were looking for a well-rounded personality.
  2. Personal experiences were given a lot of weight. They were especially interested in what I had done in such-and-such a situation.
  3. all questions were based on the writeup and resume. I feel they gave equal weightage to the interivew and the writeup — but the writeup may have been used only for shortlisting.
  4. Confidence during the interview was very important.
  5. They were looking for someone with the ability to communicate well, too.

More evil than Satan himself

Curious that Google should return Microsoft’s home page when you search for “more evil than Satan himself“…

When I tried this on 24th June 2000, it didn’t work. Maybe Google got smart. Or was it Microsoft?

On 3rd July 2000, it worked again.

Punctuation is critical

Punctuation is critical. Believe me, mistakes can be glaring!

Lehman Brothers interview

Lehman Brothers was recruiting Sales, Trading & Research in Tokyo, and Investment Banking in New York. If that sounds like greek, read Vault’s report on investment banking.

They seemed disappointed at the number of questions that came their way during their pre-placement presentation. There were hoping for a lot more, and agressive, questions. The people who came included Alan Cutter, Pamella, Isabella, Sarab Bhutani (all from New York), Dalip Awasthi and Sumant Gupta. They shortlisted 21 people for New York and 9 people for Tokyo. Rajesh Dalmia and I were on both shortlists.

My preparation for the interview was minimal. I went through the day’s newspapers; found out Lehman’s and IBM’s stock price (IBM because I used to work there); the Sensex, NASDAQ, Nikkei, etc. Read an article in the Economist on Central Banks (Sept ’99). Overall, I put in about 3 hours on the previous day.

The first interview was with Dalip and Sumant. They had split themselves into 3 panels. Dalip and Sumant were for STR, while the others interviewed the remaining candidates. Sumant’s opening question was, “So you were at IIT Madras?” He was from IITM too. A year senior to me. I said, “Yeah. You were at Jamuna Hostel, right?” We went on a bit about IITM after that.

Interview

  1. What were you doing at IBM? (We went into quite a bit of detail.)
  2. What are your hobbies? (Again, quite a bit of detail.)
  3. How do you value technology stocks? (This is where I scored. I said nobody knows.)
  4. How did you find Japan in your earlier visits?

Sumant advised me to speak a little slower, and sent me to the next panel. Isabella and Sarab asked me about my long term plans, my intentions to work abroad, and whether I preferred I-Banking or STR. I said, “Equity research looks the most attractive, based on what I hear.” After a while, Sumand and Dalip called me back and asked a bit about basketball. With that, the STR interviews were closed. By 11PM, they announced that Manoj would be going to New York, and I would be working in Tokyo.

Learnings

  1. The resume matters a lot. I filled mine with what looks ‘impressive’, and was shortlisted for both I-Banking and STR.
  2. Lehman’s shortlisting parameters are: a good academic record, work experience in a reputed firm, and extra-curriculars — strictly in that order.
  3. It helps to have a senior in the panel. (Manoj is from the IITs too.)
  4. I think my work experience and prior travel to Japan worked in my favour too.

If I were preparing again for the Lehman Brothers summer interview, here’s how I’d go about it.

First, get a thin book about how to crack an interview from the library and read it, end-to-end. I say thin because it’s not worth spending more than 2-3 hours on the book, and you DO need to read it end-to-end. Of course, guides are available on the Internet, but it would be cheaper to borrow it than print it out.

Second, know thyself. That’s the most important part. Here are some questions for which you should have ready-made answers for. The rule-of-thumb, of course, is to be perfectly frank.

  1. Why do you want to join Lehman Brothers / Investment banking / Finance?
  2. What other companies have you applied for?
  3. How have you been doing at IIM-B?
  4. Tell me more about (any item on your resume).
  5. What did you like/dislike about (any item on your resume).
  6. What are your strengths and weaknesses (3 of each)?
  7. Where do you see yourself 5/10/20 years down the line?

Ideally, you should get someone to interview you, ask you some of these questions. Catch your classmates, your seniors, anyone. Ask them to give you feedback on their first impression of you, and whether, if they were in that company, they would hire you. More importantly, why they wouldn’t, if at all.

Third, find out what the recruiters would be looking for. My guess is, they’re looking for someone with

  1. Good communication skills — so speak slowly and clearly.
  2. Confidence — so think your answer before speaking; ask for time if you need to think; relax if you’ve made a mistake.
  3. Analytical skills and intelligence — so say “I don’t know” when you don’t, and tell them about all the analytical and intelligent things you’ve done before.

Fourth, learn a bit about the industry. Vault and Wetfeet have good industry guides. Don’t read it end-to-end. Just skim through it and get a feel of things. People haven’t gotten a feel of it after 2 months of working there, so perhaps 2 hours of skimming won’t tell you much. But it’ll get you used to the kind of words that are used there, like “80 hours a week”, “bond price”, etc.

Fifth, learn some concepts. You need to know what a stock or a share is, and what a bond is. If you’ve worked, you may like to know the share price of your former company, and why it’s there. You probably ought to have an opinion on some of the things happening in the business arena, so if you don’t have one, get one. I’ve listed some possible questions below, and my answers, had I been asked these.

Do you think dot-coms are overvalued?
Yes. I don’t think that the productivity growth will benefit companies selling computers. I think it will benefit the users of computers. (No one knows, really, but we need an opinion and a reason.)
Are the second-phase of reforms going in the right direction?
No idea.
Why is the Euro falling, or why is the dollar rising?
No idea.
How would you value a petroleum company?
(I’m a chemical engineer, but…) I don’t know.

Well, the point, I guess, is not to have answers to all questions. The answer is to have a reason for any answer that you give. So do find out about what’s happening in the world. Read the papers. But don’t bother remembering everything. Just have an opinion on a few items of importance, with a reason.

Best of luck!

Web Developers Virtual Library

Web design guidelines are available at the Web Developer’s Virtual Library.

Aditya Birla scholarship interview

First year students ranking in the top 20 in CAT from each of the IIMs are eligible to apply to this scholarship. It pays for the tuition fee for the two years at IIM-B, and hence is worth about Rs. 2 lakhs.

The resume is the key to shortlisting. The Aditya Birla group assigned a weightage to each achievement (depending on whether it was at the national level, state level, college level, etc.) and added up the points. The top point scorers were chosen. Some points are awarded to the write-up also. From IIM-B, Vijayalakshmi and myself were shortlisted in 1999. 8 were shortlisted from IIM-A and IIM-C respectively, while 2 more were from IIM-L. The scholarship was awarded to 10 people finally. The distribution was 4-1-4-1 across A, B, C and L. Viji won it from IIM-B.

In 2000, 13 were shortlisted from IIM-B, and the following 8 were in the 10 that won the scholarship. Vikas Purohit, Karan Bajaj, Prahlad Rao, Yashodhara Lal, Pratyush Tiwari, Lavanya Chari, Prashant Koorse, Saurabh Jhalaria

In 1999, Viji & I were put up at the Grand Hotel. They briefed us the earlier night about allowances (Rs. 1,000 + 50% of the travel fare). Since I’d flown, I ended up making a loss on the trip — but spending an hour at the Taj Hotel was worth it. The interview was spread across the next day from 9AM to 6PM, and the results were announced over dinner at 8PM. We flew back the next morning, just in time for Prof. Ramesh Kumar’s first lecture on marketing.

The interview panel was ‘star-studded’. I didn’t know anyone except Dr. Alagh of the planning commission. The others were from NGOs and big companies.

Interview questions

  1. Which is more important: character, competence or charisma?
  2. What do you think India needs to do to improve?
  3. How do you plan to contribute socially after you graduate?
  4. How can an educational institution like IIM-B take steps to improve its effectiveness?
  5. Tell us about some challenges that you faced when at work.

It was an ad-hoc interview, only partly based on the resume. The only question based on the resume was “How will you apply Chaos Theory to management?” Mine was the first interview, and I thought I had done well.

Learnings

  1. The writeup is critical. They hired an external agency to do the evaluation, and study it very carefully.
  2. The competition is the toughest I have faced. Guys from the other IIMs (they were all GUYS, except Viji) are extremely smart.
  3. I think the interview counted for more than the writeup, at least after the shortlist. I had done fairly well in the writeup, and the interview was the unknown factor.

CGI.pm

I was playing around with CGI and wrote a script to determine when somebody last logged in. Read about CGI.pm.

Keirsey temperament sorter

The Keirsey temperament sorter is an online Myers-Briggs test. My type is ENTP, which I share with Walt Disney, Richard Feynman, Steve Jobs and Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes.)