Six mistakes MBA Aspirants Frequently Commit

Couple of years back I was in the same boat as many of today’s MBA aspirants are. Today, as a professor, I sit on the other side of the table taking GDs and Interviews of students who are in search for that coveted B-school tag; a ticket to success that will assure them a place in one of top Indian or MNC corporate houses.
However, it’s funny how the mistakes that are so glaring when you sit on the “safer” side of the table are not so evident when you are an aspirant. Nothing much has changed in all these years; year after year, students commit the same set of mistakes, fuelled partly by misguided coaching institutes and partly by ignorance.
In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to list six such areas that I believe, if taken care of, can brighten the chances of an MBA aspirant.

1. The GD is the biggest war  on the way to an MBA admission.

For many, many aspirants, GD is a tense moment. Time is limited and others just won’t stop talking and hogging all the airtime. Therefore, one has to jump in and make a point. Or look for that quick opportunity to summarize. Or steal your moment of glory when someone pauses for breath. Or cut someone short.
For someone listening to the discussion, it seems so concocted. So artificial. In GD, we look for genuine students who have a decent hold over the subject and also have respect for others’ opinions.
As I always keep saying in my earlier articles, a good idea is to come to GD venue early and mingle with the fellow participants. Ask where they are from, what their backgrounds are. Show a genuine interest in knowing each other and being friends. Then you realize that suddenly the discussion is less of war and more of a friendly conversation. If not entirely, to some extent at least; because when you know someone, you automatically start to respect him/her more.
Also show a good interest in the topic being discussed…not behave like a leopard about to jump on its prey. Listen to others intently and show them you respect their opinion. Be in the discussion, forget you are being evaluated.

2. My interview is ruined. I couldn’t answer several questions.

There are all kinds of interviewees. Some are nervous from start, some appear normal and others seem over-confident. There are ways to bring out the best in each of them, or even make them show their true colours by employing a variety of techniques. For example, an interviewer might deliberately ask difficult or ambiguous questions, or ask repeatedly to unnerve a seemingly over-confident candidate.
However, whether one seems normal, stressed or over-confident, the purpose of each question is not to always elicit the correct answer. Many times questions are posed to see reaction, check a particular parameter in a candidate. Therefore, a wrong answer may not be the end of the road. It might – and this might seem unnatural – just be expected.
Far too many candidates get an I-have-lost-it attitude and show a sudden dip in performance, once they fail to answer couple of questions. Bear in mind that you haven’t been conclusively evaluated until the interview is over. So whether the answer are right or wrong, don’t try to assess your performance by looking at the face of the interviewer, because you never know if you are reading that face properly.
Each question is a new opportunity. Don’t lose it because you think you didn’t give a satisfying answer to the previous question

3. Undergraduate is underground.

It’s surprising how several candidates who appear to have scored well in their undergraduate courses fail to answer very basic questions on their subject. I once asked an Electrical Engineering student with more than 80% marks from a good institution what kind of motor the regular ceiling fan has, and didn’t get an answer.
Many engineering students fail to calculate the amount of current in a simple circuit of resistors and capacitors. Yet several of them answer questions on current business and political affairs well enough.
The explanation I get is unwittingly clichéd: “I studied them long back and don’t remember them now”. It’s hardly sufficient, however. MBA curriculum is rigorous and students are expected to have the ability to grasp the fundamentals and never let them go.
Your graduation course might be irrelevant for business studies from a pure content perspective, but for an interviewer, it shows your attitude towards academics and whether your learning is concrete or superficial.

4. I speak my mind. You see, I am honest, at least.

When the interview was already going good, I asked a girl candidate why she chose to go for an MBA. “Otherwise my parents will marry me off. I need some excuse”, she said. To me, this might be a perfectly honest answer and I give 100 out of 100 for that. But should I go ahead and select the candidate? Probably no, because her purpose is entirely different from what I am looking for in students.
Honesty is great, always. But one need not be crude, in order to be honest. A statement like “I am not sure what I want to do after MBA, but at least it will add to my overall skills and help me manage my career better” is also honest while putting things in a better light.

5. I have the best answer to all questions.

This is related to the previous question. While crude honesty might spell trouble, too much cooking up won’t help either. I once asked a candidate what he thinks about our school and what other B-schools he has applied to. “This is certainly the best and I have applied only to KIIT School of Management”, he said. It’s very hard to believe that an MBA aspirant applies onto to one B-school. Similarly I asked another what he dislikes about our admission process, and he said it was wonderful, even though he was kept waiting for several hours for the GD.
MBA students are expected to have a mind of their own and display maturity in their answers. So don’t go collecting the best answers to each question. There are no best answers. The answers that truly reflects you, and brings out the best in you in a mature and polite way (and not being crude) is your best answer.

6. I am great, but sorry don’t ask for any examples.

Many application forms ask the candidates to write their strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, the dreaded “tell me about yourself” question in the interview also prods you to speak a little about your strengths. Most candidates end up writing very generic strengths such as “hard working”, “committed”, “team player”, and so on. There may not be anything wrong in this, but to a reader, unless they are substantiated with example, these words don’t carry weight.
Many times, when I ask a student to prove to me how he thinks he is a good team player, I get a blank stare. A good practice is to write a sentence about a strength (e.g. A good team player because of my past association with several clubs and committees), rather than just a word. If that is not possible, always keep at least two examples ready to prove that you possess the strength.
You will see that it gives you much more confidence when you can prove what you claim.

-by Prof. Ashutosh Kar, Associate Professor (IT Area). Alumnus of NIT Rourkela & IIM A

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