Written: Oct 2004 | IIT Bombay
This page is my experience of the placements and is here to help IIT-B students get a flavour of it. It has some standard questions, a compilation of few case studies and sample resumes. Its not exactly
"Dos and Don'ts for an Interview" (you will find that at a lot of places elsewhere). Its more of an experience that I underwent during the process. If you are careful enough, you will read a lot between the lines.
Please note that the content of this page is based on my personal point of view; and you are required to read it objectively. You may or may not agree with what is written here. Also, I am writing this entire Illiad exhaustively so that
the first-timers can get a good insight into various company interviews. When I was sitting in the placements, I had a lot of questions that I wanted to ask. Now that the disclaimer is in place, lets move ahead :-)
Our placement started in August, 2004. I had applied to three companies - McKinsey, BCG and ITC. I was shortlisted by all three. This is the McKinsey resume, the BCG resume and the ITC form (apart from these, I also made a general one page resume). I had 2 interviews with McKinsey in the first round and did not go further. I had 5 with BCG and was in the Final-6. And I had 1 group discussion, 1 group event and 1 interview with ITC before being made an offer.
McKinsey & Co
McKinsey short listed about 30 students. After 2 interviews of 20 mins each in the first round, they
short listed 10. And after 2 more interviews of 30 mins each, they made 3 offers. Here are the cases that I got -
Case # 1: A ferry service, from Vashi to Nariman Point and back, wants to enter the market. Discuss the feasibility.
When I walked out of the room, I thought I did the interview well. But so did everyone else. As the saying goes, "If everybody is thinking alike then somebody isn't thinking". On hindsight, I think I did the interview rather poorly. No wonder I was not
short listed for the next round. I was incoherent with my thoughts. I was disorganised in my thinking. And I did not complete the case.
Case # 2: Estimate the number of twin edge blades manufactured annually in India.
This interviewer had come for the Career Counseling session on the campus a week ago. And I must admit that I was very impressed with his ideas about life and work. Maybe the pressure in front of him was too high. Forget the case, I couldn't even get my "Tell me about yourself" answer right. So its worthwhile to practice your basic answers. And as far as the case is concerned, I took the Top-down approach, which is rather disappointing, no out-of-the-box thinking and add to that a few calculation blunders. Here are some of the questions he asked me -
Tell me about yourself. How would you describe yourself in precisely 3 adjectives? How would your friends describe you in precisely 3 adjectives? What do you think, Zishaan, are the qualities/ traits of a leader.
After the 2 McK interviews, I learnt that a consultancy interview never goes wrong. And even if it does, you will never know about it. For most of us, our first chance of an interview is also the best chance that we get (although in my case I would consider
my second company as my best chance). And missing the first/ best chance always hurts.
I took feedback from my second interviewer, and despite not having the evaluation sheets with him at the moment, he was very kind to tell me about my
weak points. Feedback helps, ask for it!
At the end of the day, I was not short listed for the next round. My attitude had been wrong. I never believed I could make it to McKinsey. But I had another firm the next day - the BCG. And this time I made up mind to give my best.
The Boston Consulting Group
BCG short listed about 40 students. They had 1 interview in the first round and
short listed 15, 2 interviews plus 1 HR interview in the next round and short
listed 6. And in the final round, they had 1 case interview before they made 3 offers. All BCG interviews were about 30 mins each. Here is how my interviews went -
Case # 1: A supermarket wants to increase its gross profit from 15% to 18%. Determine the measures.
This interviewer was a 10-pointer from IITK. The key to doing well in his case was that I was asking a lot of questions. And I guess I was thinking aloud. He dropped a lot of hints, which I was careful to pick. Of course, the most important point was to get the case right. It was increase of profits from 15% to 18%
A shorlist of 15 came after the first interview and we proceeded to the next.
Case # 2: An old established bank wants to enter the Credit Card market. Should it?
Although I could have been more creative in estimating the number of credit card users, the case went OK overall. Also, these interviews give you your best chance to know about the profession ahead. So when I was asked if I had any questions, I usually asked about two things - One, the trainings that I would get. And two, did the interviewer love his job and why?
Case # 3: Bulb B (20W, Rs. 200) wants to enter the market in competition against Bulb A (100W, Rs. 10). Should it?
This interviewer was one speaker! The PPT that he gave was, by any measure, the best of all companies. His questions came in fast. And if you were not concentrating, you would get intimidated quickly. He asked me -
Tell me about yourself. How did you become the OC? Tell me, why is your GPA not 9? Whats your greatest achievement? Whats your greatest regret? What turns you on?
What are you best at?
This was one heck of an interview. The interviewer was swift with the questions. And she was very polite and warm. Her questions were very different in deed. They were kind of seeking insight into you and your mind. Actually, I was not aware that this was an interview ... probably my greatest blunder. After an initial question, I got a little disturbed and lost my concentration. I sat there almost dumb and was hardly present in the room. Sometimes you wish you could go back into time. The questions in the interview were something like this -
Tell me about yourself. What quality in a person would turn you off? How would you describe yourself in three words?
How do you think would your friends describe you? Is there anybody that you are very close to?
Are you always so silent a person? If you find that a client is also not initiating a talk, would you try to start a conversation?
Do you dream, Zishaan? Are you a dreamer? What do you dream? Dont worry, I am not into interpreting dreams ;-). Tell me what did you dream last time?
If you could be at a place at this point of time, where do you think you would be and what would you be doing?
If you think you have hurt someone, and the other person does not know about it, would you still go to him/her and apologise?
Are you a forgiving person? Would you like to be forgiven? Are you aware of the choice you are going to make? Do you think you know enough about the profession that you would take up at BCG?
I learnt a very important lesson from this interview. Do not drop your guard - You are always being evaluated. Evidently, there were no 'right' or 'wrong' answers - its only your presence that matters. After the offers were made, I did not/ could not take feedback from this interviewer.
A next shortlist of 6 came after the above interview.
Case # 4: A spare part manufacturer is reporting a loss of Rs. 300 Cr. Identify the problem.
Another interview! All of us were very low on energy physically. It had been a tiring day. This interview, I think, was more to evaluate if you understood the profession of consulting and were prepared for it. "Business Doctors - that's what we are", told me the interviewer.
Must tell you one interesting thing. In both, my first McK interview and my first BCG interview, I was asked a question as soon as I entered the room - "Is it too cold here? Should I switch off the AC?"
In McK, I said, "Go ahead, as you wish" although I didn't want the AC to be switched off. But in case of BCG, I said it wasn't necessary to switch it off. Later, I asked Pratibha if she was asked the same/similar question, and she said Yes. I wonder if this was part of their evaluation or was it just that they were trying to put you at ease! Whatever be the case, it was an interesting point to note ;-)
A point to be mentioned about the feedbacks - your interviewers are too polite to ever tell you that you did badly. They will always tell you that they were looking for certain things (analytical skills, creativity, drive, communication skills, and I guess leadership) but would never criticise you or point out directly where you went wrong. I feel that they have a very methodical way of giving feedback, which is sometimes, just too polite for us IITians ;-)
ITC short listed 51 students based on the form filled up. They took 10 students after a group discussion. These 10 students had a group event and 1 HR interview before 5 of them were made an offer.
We were given a passage to read. It had some 6-7 characters and we had to rank them in the order of their goodness. Clearly, no answer was right or wrong. Our group did rather well in that it did not make a "fish market" of the discussion. All of us could reach a consensus, which was appreciated.
The session was 90 minutes. The first 45 minutes were a meeting to discuss the design of a monument of national significance and heritage.
In the next 45 mins, we actually had to build what we had discussed using
thermocol . Apart from team work, creativity etc. we also had to keep in mind the budget of the structure (the thermocol, pins and gum
were very expensive!). At the end of 45 mins, our team managed to erect a building that looked something similar to what we had discussed.
One word - ENERGY
This interview was very different from any other interview I had so far. There were 3 people, all of them very senior in age, on the panel. Whereas I could refer the McK and BCG people by their first names, I would only use 'Sir' for the people sitting in front of me.
It was a relaxed and slow affair ... more of a talk than a question answer session. My interview was scheduled for 20 mins. And when they asked me "Do you have anything to ask us", it stretched another 25 mins, making it almost 45 mins total.
The essential difference, I feel, between a consultancy interview and an ITC interview is that, in McK/ BCG the emphasis was on my analytical and communication skills. Here the stress was on values and my willingness to learn.
After this interview, I was made an offer to join the company :-)
That's all folks! I have tried to make this page more of an experience, rather than a fundae-giving affair. I hope it will be useful.
One final word - A road that we choose today will take us to a destination. And the others that we
don't (or cant) would have taken us to so many other places. And we know that these 'other places' will probably never come across our way again. Life is about choices - those that we have and those that we make. Are you satisfied with the choices you have? And given the choices, are you sure about what you are going to choose? If you are poetically inclined, do read Robert Frost's "Road not Taken".