Friday, December 26, 2014

Making it to the top! - An interview with PGP 2 topper Ashwini Chavan

Tell us a bit about your educational background – were you a topper all through your undergraduate and school days? What brought you to an MBA?
I was born and brought up in Mumbai. I studied Chemical Engineering from Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai (UDCT). I was a top ranker in school. During college, I fared well but was not a topper.
I worked with Reliance Industries in the petrochemicals sector for around 3 years when I realized I want to contribute to more than just the technical aspects of the job and be a part of the managerial decision making process. With an engineering degree and a core production background, pursuing operations management seemed like a good career prospect.
Walk us through your academic journey in the first year – How did you pace yourself academically in the first, second and third term?
SPJIMR follows a semester pattern with each semester comprising of two modules. Each module has 5-6 subjects each following different evaluation criteria with a combination of projects, assignments, presentations, exams. In order to juggle multiple submissions for various subjects, time management plays a very important role. Prioritizing the assignments & projects, based on date of submission and weightage assigned, helped me in managing majority component of the grade.
For doing well in written exams, my strategy was to attend all classes attentively and take notes. I believe that doing the pre reads, participating and paying attention during lectures is very critical in grasping the key concepts. In order to be attentive in class, I ensured that I did not compromise on sleep.
Did you encounter situations where you were in a group in which others were not as committed as you were? How did you handle this? 
I have been very lucky in this aspect. All the groups that I have been a part of have been great to work with. Your academic group is very important in a B school because as high as 60-70 % of your grade depends on group projects, assignments and presentations. In fact I would attribute my good grades to all my group members in the first and second semester. My group used to spend the right amount of time discussing the requirements of each project, how to go about it, division of responsibilities and then each member came up with the best quality parts which led to a good group performance.
What were your thoughts and goals when you entered the SPJIMR Campus? Did you expect to top the program in the first year?
When I entered the campus, I was really excited to be back to school after 3 years of work experience. My goal was to learn a lot of new concepts and thoroughly enjoy the process. I did not expect to top the course; it was just a by-product of the learning process. I believe there are many factors which decide one’s grades and I concentrated only on those which I had control over. Rest like I said, I was lucky to find the right group members and sound guidance.
B school life is always buzzing with all kinds of activities and distractions. What did you do to keep focus?
Firstly I would not call the activities as distractions because they play an equally important role in shaping your personality at a B school. Also, it is necessary to pursue a hobby in order to avoid getting bogged down by the academic pressure. Even the employers don’t look for candidates who have had their entire focus only on academics/grades.
Working in the organizing committee, being a part of cultural performances, participating in competitions has helped me keep my life at SP fast paced and interesting.

Tell us about your DOCC and autumn internship. How was the experience?
I did my social internship/DOCC with an NGO SOS Children’s villages of India near Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. It was a great experience as I got to work with differently abled children and make a small contribution to their lives.
My autumn/corporate internship was with Hindustan Unilever Ltd. where I worked in the customer service department in the supply chain function for West Branch. My project was to improve secondary service levels in general trade and rural distribution channels. The project was a good learning experience as it gave me insights into the complex supply chain of FMCG companies. Since it was a live project which was implementation based, I could see the improvements in the service level percentage as a result of steps undertaken by me.
What was your reaction upon knowing that you had topped the first year? How did you celebrate it?
As my grades were consistently good, I had expected to be in the dean’s top twenty list (DTT) of the batch. But that I have topped the first year was a big surprise and I shared the good news with my family. Then there was a small party with a bunch of close friends.
What is your advice to a student entering a B school, in the first term? How can they achieve their academic goals? Apart from academics, what should they focus on?
I would suggest that academics is just one part of the whole B school experience. Although scoring well gives you a sense of confidence that you have a grip of the concepts, what really matter are the soft skills and a balanced personality. MBA basically teaches you to take on challenges, manage constrained resources and make sound decisions without letting anything affect the calm of your mind. Developing this ability is what the student should focus on.
As far as the academic goals are concerned, managing time and discovering a learning technique that suits you best should do the trick.
If you could distill the necessary qualities for success into one, two or three unique attributes, what would those attributes be?
This is a really difficult question as there is no one recipe for success. Everyone has to capitalize on their strengths and overcome their shortcomings to succeed in life. However, I think the underlying common attributes which are important are an appetite for knowledge and sincerity.
If you could go back in time and you had to live the first year differently, what would you do?
I wouldn’t change a thing as it is the sum of all efforts, activities and decisions that has brought me to where I am today. Applying for an international exchange was one of those good decisions which has added to my basket of novel experiences.
What are your future career plans?
Based on my autumn internship project and a PPI, I have received a PPO from HUL to be a part of the UFLP 2015. I intend to continue working in the supply chain function and contribute to it.
Apart from imbibing academic knowledge, how else has the first year of MBA enriched you? What is the greatest non-academic learning you had at SPJIMR?
Participating in B school competitions, being a member of organizing committee for management fest, choreographing dances and being a part of all cultural events on campus along with keeping up with lectures, assignments, projects, exams has given the biggest learning of time management. So I have learnt the art of maintaining a balance between what you need to do and what you want to do.
I have gained a lot of insights from interactions with my batchmates, each of whom brings something new to the table due to their diverse backgrounds and experiences.
Usually toppers are regarded as nerdy types, and in the high-stakes environment of a B school, they are subjected to a lot of peer pressure in ways that range from good-natured banter to mockery and bullying. Did you face this? If yes, how did you deal with it?
I did not face anything serious at SP. All my close friends know that I am not someone who slogs all the time for getting good grades and there is much more to my personality than just being a topper. So most of the remarks passed are light hearted and in good humor.
How was your performance in SPJIMR? Which institutes did you interview with, which ones did you convert, and approximately where did you lie in the final list of candidates selected for SPJIMR?
Based on the scores of various entrance tests, I received calls from IIM L, K, I, New IIMs, S.P Jain, MDI, NITIE, NMIMS, SIBM. I converted all interviews except IIM L and I decided to join SP Jain. I am not sure about my position in the final list though I was selected in the first list of operations management specialization which I had applied for.

Group Interview Experience- Rajarshi Mukherjee

               Group Interview Questionnaire

Name: Rajarshi Mukherjee
Entrance Exam Percentile: 95.13%
Program and Batch: PGDM 2014-16
Work experience:  35 months – Purchase Engineer – Schneider Electric India Pvt. Ltd.
For WAT:
1.       How was your performance in the MBA entrance exam? Also share your overall WAT experience?
I took only CAT – I found the question paper quite easy. Came to know that probably there were multiple set of questions based on different degrees of difficulty. The WAT exercise was a writing skill test which tries to understand how you can tie your thoughts together over a given topic.

2.       What was your topic for WAT and what was your Time limit?
 I don’t clearly remember what the topic was but it was something like this – How we can ensure that our next generation lives and grows in a safer world? The time limit was about 30 minutes which included the psychometric test as well.

3.       What was your approach towards WAT and how would you rate your writing?
 Those who are well versed in content or abstract writing should not find WAT as a major hurdle. I would say aspirants can practice their writing skill on different topics – I felt a structured approach towards any WAT exercise should be good (What, Why, How with clear examples or illustrations)

4.       How did you prepare for WAT, your Time Management strategy?
 I didn’t have much of a strategy at place – I thought about what I will write for about 2 minutes then started scribbling. As I wrote, more thoughts came to my mind which I attached together. I feel there is sufficient time to write 1-2 pages, so time management wasn’t an issue.

5.       How did you Structure your essay writing along with the time constraint?
 For any essay writing, I would advise to first build clarity about what you are going to write about – the essay should have a beginning, body and a conclusive end. Aspirants should not spend more time on how to start since time will be tight – the flow will come automatically once the first few lines are there.

6.       Was the topic tough for you to write? Please share the difficulty while outlining the structure for the essay and how you tackled the problem?
Difficulty of any topic is a bit subjective from individual to individual. If you face a tough topic where you have little knowledge of, try to relate it with some topic you are well aware of. Try to bring in examples from your personal experience to strengthen your case.

7.       Is there any advice for the aspirants who’d be appearing in the WAT test soon?
 Have a clear thought process when you start writing any content – it builds up the flow very rapidly. A 1-2 pages write up practice every day should help you a lot!

For GI-1:
1.       How many members were there in your interview board?
 There were 2 faculty members on the interview board.
2.       How was your interview structured?
Interview went along the following line: first, we were asked to give a brief about our work experience. For freshers, they were asked to discuss about their graduation. Following that, we had to defend our specialization – this was the toughest part for most of the students since many struggled to defend their choices. Since I have an educational background in manufacturing it was a bit simpler. Also my relevant work experience in supply chain and logistics helped me a lot.
3.       Was there any tough question for you to answer?
 I was asked to relate an experience from my work which I would like to take forward in my life. There were a lot of cross questions which I had to defend.
4.       What were the key factors which you think influenced your selection at PI stage?
 In GI-1, it is absolutely necessary that you know what you are talking about. The interviewers filter the interviewee based on 2 aspects – how well we can justify our answers and ability to explain ideas lucidly. Having a relevant work exp is a bonus but in case you don’t, prepare yourself to face a lot of questions which will try to unsettle your thoughts.
5.       How did you prepare for your PI?
 I didn’t prepare much actually; I came to know about the GI process through pagal-guy which focuses more on your wit and intellect, rather than readymade answers. Sharpen your soft skills and articulation, build a clear insight about the choice of your specialization and map it against your work experience – that’s your secret recipe to crack GI-1.
6.       Did you appear for any other PI exercise at other top B-schools? Please share a few experiences (where you went wrong)
 I appeared for VGSOM (IIT-KGP) interview which was pretty technical. Questions ranged even from my graduation topics which were a bit surprising. Also, current issues were discussed, including inflation, how to control the same etc.
7.       Any interesting moment from your PI which you would like to share with MBA aspirants
 It’s not a nerve-wracking experience – the profs are pretty chilled out.
8.      What is your advice to aspirants for Group Interview
 Groom your professional knowledge and work experience. They will come in handy and will play a major part in your selection for GI-1. For freshers, focus on your academic strengths and try to associate them with the specialization you have selected.  The first mission is to prove that you are worthy of the specialization on offer – if they are convinced, then you are through.
For GI-2:                                   
1.       How was your GI-2 experience different from GI-1?
 GI-2 was more on a personal level, rather than professional experience. It was conducted by 2 senior profs from SPJIMR. They will try to map you as an individual and whether you fit the program. GI-2 can be more grueling for a few people because it is not a technical round, but more focused on your emotional connect and personality.
2.      What according to you was different/unique in your interview (ex: over Skype, Extremely technical, completely non-technical etc.)
 We were cross-questioned on every point mentioned. Keep your current affair knowledge handy.
3.      How was your selection post GI-1 communicated to you?
 Post the GI session, as were waiting in front of the auditorium, a senior student came and informed us. 2 out of 6 students were selected from the first round.
4.      How did you overcome your nervousness (if any) during the interview?
 The first few seconds were a bit nervy, but as the moments went on, things became easier.
5.      What role did your background play during the interview process
  Since I graduated in production engineering and was working with purchasing, supply chain and logistics, my first choice was automatically operations management. I was able to guide the interview to my advantage on a few occasions. It actually helped me because I had an idea what they were looking for.
Good Luck to all aspirants!