How to tackle the Personal Interview
The Personal Interview is the last stage of your evaluation to get into an IIM, and by far the most important of the factors you can control (the others being your CAT score and the GD), where factors not under your control would include your school and college marks and overall profile. The Personal Interview (henceforth referred to as PI) offers a golden opportunity to create an impression on your panel which will evaluate you and perhaps deal with you in the future. Candidates that perform well in the PI despite being average in other areas are sometimes recommended for admission purely on the strength of their interview. On the other hand, there have been cases of candidates who, despite having fantastic profiles, choke under pressure and say something inappropriate which automatically leads to rejection.
There is only one way in which you can do well in the PI, and that is to believe with all your heart that there is an IIM seat with your name written on it, and that you are better than all of the other candidates that have turned up for the interview. This is not arrogance, but belief in your self. There will be a hundred factors gnawing at your head before the PI (my GD was poor…my tie is awry…I don’t have all the required photocopies…), and the only way to ensure that you do not crumble before the interview panel is to be firm in your self-belief.
At the end of the day, your interview is about yourself. I can (and will) tell you some techniques to help you, but your interview is a very personal thing. There is no standard method to do well on an interview, and you can never know how you have done. I have seen a lot of people coming out with smiling faces that have eventually failed to convert their calls, and many people with long faces who have been pleasantly surprised.
If you can maintain your composure during an interview and justify everything that you have put down on your Candidate Information Form (which will be mailed to you along with your interview call letter, and has to be submitted at the time of your interview), you will sail through the interview. Some basics to help you keep your cool are:
- Be prepared: Shine your shoes, adjust your tie-knot, comb your hair and arrange all of your certificates in chronological order. Carry photocopies of everything. Don’t forget your CAT admit-card or the interview call letter. A well-organised candidate creates a good impression on the panel, and ensures that the PI has got off to a good start before the questions even begin. Also, when in doubt, always wear a suit.
- Treat the panellists as humans: The people interviewing you are not gods. They are professors whom you will have an opportunity to interact with in a few months’ time. Don’t assume that they know everything, and that they cannot make mistakes. The panellists often have a shallow knowledge of areas that they question you on, but ask questions with tremendous self-confidence. Therefore, it is up to you to not stumble at these points. Explain to them what you know about the topic. Often, even the most rudimentary answers contain more information than the person asking the question has with him.
- Be humble: At the same time, never underestimate the panel. They have knowledge in depth of several diverse fields, and will definitely surprise you with their lines of questioning. They have far more experience and knowledge than you, and have interviewed candidates like you by the hundreds, so give them their due respect. By virtue of this experience, they can size you up pretty quickly, and they don’t like someone who thinks he is better than them.
- Don’t give a ‘stress’ interview: A ‘stress’ interview exists only in the mind of the interviewee. If the panel starts questioning you aggressively, sit back, smile and take your time answering their questions. They will appreciate your composure, and soon revert to a normal interview format.
- Know what you have written in your Candidate Information form: The form is one of the few sources of information that the panel has about you, and they will ask you several questions on it. Be prepared to justify every line of what you have written, and don’t just write things down for the ‘sake’ of doing so. A good candidate who can defend his point of view is almost always preferred to a brilliant candidate with a half-hearted defence.
- Be honest: The panel will catch you out pretty easily if you are lying, unless you are a pathological liar. Dishonesty creates a very bad impression, and will almost certainly lead to rejection. Even if you do manage to hoodwink the panel, will you really be comfortable going to an IIM knowing you don’t deserve to be there?
- Say ‘I don’t know’:It is absolutely okay to not know the answer to something the panel asks you. They don’t expect you to know everything, and will purposely keep asking you questions to test the limits of your knowledge. I’m not just talking through my hat here. In the 5 IIM interviews that I have attended (ABCLK), I have said ‘I don’t know’ twice or thrice in every interview. Yet every panel saw enough in me to select me.
- Speak slowly, look everyone in the eye: Despite what GD/PI coaches say, avoid looking at all the members of the panel while answering a question. If someone has asked you a question, respect that fact and give him/her your undivided attention while answering. Speaking slowly helps you gather your thoughts and stops you from blurting out incoherent or inappropriate sentences.
- Be diplomatic: The IIMs like ‘safe’ candidates. This is because mavericks rarely make good managers, and are often more trouble than they are worth in the corporate world. Diplomacy is a valued virtue in any good manager. Therefore, avoid taking a stand during the interview, especially on controversial issues. If you are forced to take a stand, justify completely why your views are what they are, and always admit that there may be opposing views as well. Finally, never criticize anyone, however deserving they may be of censure. Sidestep the question by saying something like ‘I don’t know enough to pass judgement.’
- Ask questions: The IIMs want you as much as you want them. When the interview is over and they indicate that you may ask questions, take the opportunity to ask intelligent questions and figure out if that IIM is right for you. Read up on the IIM you are interviewing for, and never belittle the newer IIMs. The panel will appreciate the effort you have made.
- Don’t time your interview: A shorter interview just means that you were easier to ‘read’ for the panel and that they judged you faster than some of the other candidates. The duration of your interview has absolutely no relation to how good or bad the interview was.
Remember to always greet the panel with a smile and thank them for their time when you leave. Politeness will hold you in good stead inside the interview room, and outside it as well.
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