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Expert Suggestions on Preparation for Computer Based CAT-09

The MBA Hitchhiker's Guide

- by Issac M. John *

The following post comes with an inherently flawed assumption - that I have received my PGDBM degree, which is still subject to the vagaries of nature and the powers at my institute. It is an attempt to demystify some of the myths surrounding MBA education and a guideline to survive a two-year journey during which one not only undergoes an emotional turmoil, financial backlash but also a personal renunciation of joys like watching cricket 24/7.

I must confess that one of the most important reasons I wanted to do an MBA was to have the security of a solid six-figure salary in the shortest possible time. It was in Standard VII when I read an India Today cover story profiling some of India's hottest professional profiles. All of them were MBA's from India's top institutes. I read about this chap called Rajeev Balakrishnan whose salary at the age of 24 read an eye-popping six-figure sum. I was damn impressed by our man's grey suit and I told myself - "Gotta be like that, Issac, gotta be like that." I don't have that issue with me today, but yeah, the color of the suit was grey. I have a tremendous memory for irrelevant details. That was in 1995.

Today in 2006, I have a black suit and I am going to pen the following words with the limited wisdom of a guy who has had the pleasure and the pain to go through two years of MBA education at one of India's top institutes. The following 9 points are some of my most treasured gems of learning I have picked up from my experiences of the last two years. They should be applicable to any wannabe MBA or anyone who is still going through the pleasure such an education bestows. Some of them have been acquired through personal application, some through observation, and some have been passed on to me by some of my gurus at SPJIMR.

1. Play the game of Last Impression and not First Impression: In MBA, the rule of first impression being the best impression never applies. Do not ever attempt to make a point at the beginning of a class if there are CP marks. Make your point when the class is slow, drab and fatally boring. This is usually towards the end of the class. People who speak early lose their recall in the eyes of the professor. There will be a time mid-way when every CP desperate guy will attempt to make a point. During these times you should simply watch the fun from the sidelines. Do not attempt to break the clutter, for you will be lost and loathed by those desperate around you. Go for your kill only in times of recession.

2. Find the goldmine but don't dig it yourself: In times of exams and tests, go to the specialist of a subject for advice. Every batch has an Eco, Quant, FM and Operations specialist. If you are the kinds who never bothered to attend classes or thought of Brearley-Myers as the updated version of Duckworth-Lewis, go to that expert for that particular subject. Spend time in his company. Take tips from him including the syllabus for the test.

These guys are better than textbooks. Often they might also tell you the exact question that's coming, for they spend a lot of time in the professor's cabin.  

3. Keep your ego at Absolute Zero: Feel at ease to be thought of as stupid or crazy. Your batchmate or even your professors are hugely unlikely to be your employer. So if you have a doubt, ask, but in private. Never take the liberty to make yourself stupid in front of 50 others. That's dangerous. Always approach the person one-on-one if you have a doubt and preferably don't approach a professor. I learnt on an average atleast 60% more from my peers than from my professors. How I arrived at that figure is a mystery - even to me.

4. Keep your options open; all the time: This I learnt from my stint as a Placement Committee member in Second Year. There is a beauty in not committing to anyone, learn to admire it and exercise it. In terms of electives, minors, careers and dates, always keep your options open till as long as you can. I never killed my alternatives even when I was always sure what I was going to do. This is an off-shoot of the best answer in any MBA class: -

Professor: So should D/E equity ratio be low or high?
Dumb Guy 1: High because blah blah blah...
Dumb Guy 2: Low because blah blah blah...
Smart Guy: It depends Sir...

5. Be Flexible: In the last two years, I have developed a huge interest in Theater, Movies, Writing and Photography. This is only because I was willing to listen and spend time with experts from my batch in each of these fields with an eagerness of a beaver and the curiosity of a three-year old. I realized later that whenever I told myself, "That's not for me..." I have lost out on something. Some of the things I learnt from my batchmates range from fields of Oil Painting, Yoga and Astronomy to Animation using 3-D Max. There's no limit really.

6. Play to Peer Pressure most of the times: I had been told in school to carve my own individuality and not be guided by peer pressure. Conversely, in a B-school, I believe Peer Pressure is an element that one should exploit wisely. So if in a Costing Viva, there are 110 before you who have told you that they have said that Cost Control is better than Cost Cutting and you have reason to believe them and you are the 111th, do not - I repeat - do not take a chance and play the hero to say the converse.

Follow the crowd, for something called Relative Grading will plunge you to depths you would have never imagined existed. I used to do a quick poll before any individual assignment submission to gauge how many are actually submitting on time and if a substantial part weren't going to, I put on my earphones back on for that Quentin Tarantino flick I'd left mid-way.  

7. Don't take anything at face value: This I picked up from a Harsha Bhogle video-tape in our library. If something is coming your way and it seems too easy, question its validity. So even if you are mid-way understanding a concept from the batch topper and you are grasping it easily, question him in between. If you thought you calculated the Black-Scholes with real ease in the examination, don't sit back and relax, but speak to a few people around you. Chances are you screwed up big-time and that means managing better impression in the eyes of the professor from next class (Refer Rule 1). I once thought I had a real easy Costing paper and came out half an hour before the allotted time only to realize later I missed out on the last Question that was listed on the second page of the question paper.

8. Speak it out in the hostel rooms: If there is something that you vehemently disagreed with in class, don't let it play in your mind, but speak it out in the mess, the gymnasium, the nearby bar or in your hostel room. I can never under-estimate the wisdom I gained from thrashing things out with my pals outside the classroom. We never reached a consensus and that's exactly why I value those heated discussions right up there in my take-aways from SPJIMR.

9. I am not like everybody else: I said play to peer pressure most of the times, but when things were going to have a greater impact on me, and these related to career choices, I was happy to let go of the crowd and tell myself that I wasn't like everybody else.


Placements are the craziest time in a B-school because the stakes are really high and you would see people around you apply helter-skelter to companies and you would be tempted to do so too. Know yourself well and when you feel like taking that step that 30 others are taking around you and you don't have a reason as to why "Me too?" pause a second and tell yourself "You have a right to be different from others".

If that doesn't still soothe your nerves, go right ahead, and as I said previously, exploit the power of peer pressure. It never let me down.  

On an average my Marketing Batchmates would apply across 4 different sectors and 12 companies for Final Placements. I applied to 2 sectors and 6 companies. 2 of the companies did not even short-list me. I came out more than fine in the other 4.

"Truth be told," Harsha Bhogle says, "Management is fantastic general education."

If you don't try too hard, just let it be and have a smile on your face, most of the times you will do great!

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