Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Asking for it

"Can you cook?"
"Can you dance or sing?"

These, reports TOI, are some of the 'unrelated' questions asked in recent admission interviews to institutes like NID, CEPT and Nirma - in order to test the candidate's character and personality.

"The questions are not meant to throw students off guard but guage their understanding, common sense and aptitude. With coaching classes available now, it is difficult to know calibre and true worth of students," says Akhil Succena, NID activity chairman for education.

I would tend to agree. The perfectly programmed and pantomimed answers to all the 'usual questions' often leave little scope to differentiate one student from the next.

IIM interviews have always been a little more edgy and asked these 'unrelated' questions. I remember at the IIM Calcutta interview, which was held in the commanding Hindustan Lever boardroom, I was asked things like:

* Can you recall a few lines from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
* Who painted the mural next to the library in TIFR
* What was the O Henry short story 'The Last Leaf' about?

Of course, these questions were not entirely unrelated. Gettysburg came out of my passing class 12 from an American high school, the mural from the fact that my dad works at TIFR and the O Henry question from stating 'reading' as a hobby.

All this info was listed on my form, which lay before them. Luckily I could answer everything - although I messed up some of the routine questions (guess coaching wasn't as sophisticated back then).

But I must have done alright coz they sent me an admit letter, though I chose to join IIM A.

As far as 'unrelated' goes, asking a physics graduate the principle behind the working of the ceiling fan may sound irrelevant to his or her aptitude for management. But what the panel is really checking for is how well you know your basics. Are you a thinker, or a mugger?

Believe it or not, many people cannot answer such simple questions because they have passed exams with flying colours through ratta. And they cannot 'think through' or connect the theory with the practical. Which definitely does not bode well for a future career in management! Or any other field, for that matter.

The other quality which gets tested in the process is integrity. If you say "I speak 5 languages" but are unable to actually do so, you will probably be dead meat. The only thing worse than not being able to answer is faking it. How can they tell?

Well, years of experience give these panels the intuition that Malcolm Gladwell described so wonderfully in 'Blink'.

Still, you might argue the 'cooking' is going a bit too far. I'm sure that's just one of the many they ask - and you won't be automatically flunked for saying you have never touched a stirring spoon.

It happens to be highlighted simply because it makes a good headline. But NID has give the following - valid - explanation: "Considering that students are overprotected by their parents, we want to see if they can do things independently."

Bottomline: Sadly, only a few institutes of great repute can undertake such subjective interviews. Because in the general scheme of things it would most likely be 'hijacked' ie used to give backdoor entry to the-less-deserving-but-willing-to-pay ...


  1. Anonymous4:04 PM

    "Sadly, it's only a few institutes of great repute which can undertake such subjective interviews. Because in the general scheme of things it would most likely be 'hijacked' ie used to give backdoor entry to thelessdeserving-but-willing-to-pay ... "

    great repute? ha ha! Stanford is of great repute. And look at the kinda ppl admitted there. Akshata Murthy (Narayan murthys daughter), Mukesh Ambani ... i am not saying that they are dumb, but its abundantly clear that they are in stanford bcoz they have shit load of money. did i mention Narayan murthy is on the advisory board of Stanford? its not hard to imagine what kinda advice he wud be giving them. i guess the next stop for Rohan from Cornell(yeah NRNs a trustee there as well!) is going to be Stanford. yeah!

    so i think its a good think that in case of CAT atleast you ahve to have a 99+ percentile to get a call from IIMs. then maybe all the flithy rich may try their contacts to get their kids in. But getting a 99+ wud be the most difficult thing then, if it wasnt for Ranjit Don.

    Except for the 2003 CAT leak , IIMs have done a good job so far (as in the leaks havent been publicised!)

    btw, what was ur percentile? in good old days?

  2. OK maybe I should have said UNdeserving.

    Dunno my percentile, no one knew till the year 2004. But I got into all 4 back then

  3. yeah , surely infact the iims and the iit's shud start enrolling some undeserving also but with some cost...that is like the stanford or the cornell...let them charge hefty fees..so that the money earned can be used for expanding the iits and iims....but the moot question is..will this model survive ..i doubt bcoz the problem with IITs or IIMs is that they r good at screening the good from the bad(ooops I don't mean evil..)but not at all good at imparting quality education. Thus infact allowing the 'undeserving' will only make the IIT /IIM bubble burst faster.

  4. Know what, Rashmi? My view is a little different. Through Bschool interviews (the few that I attended) and after that, I feel that it is very much meant to put the student off guard...! And why not?
    A friend of mine was asked the following sequence of questions at the IIMB interview.
    1) You are bengali. Yes
    2) You are from Presidency College Kolkata. Yes
    3) You are a communist, aren't you? ...
    Hearsay is that a bihari marwari guy in our year was asked on his face what is his going rate on the dowry market.
    I, at my interview, was asked about 10 questions in a row on sports, and then, on the Jesse Owens/ Luz Long incident at the 1936 olympic, questioned on Hitler.....
    Saw the trend? You are put on the edge. Put in the deep end of the ocean. Attacked at what you ARE, (be it your religion, be it popular misconceptions about your associative groups, or be it your raison-d-etre, which quizzing was for me then) And then they see whether you swim or sink.
    IMHO, for business, among other things, you need strong people, who can hold their own when off guard. So they are checking the right things. So it is alright.
    And as for the ones who fake it and make it to the top institutes, they are good enough to fake it and make it in life. That too is fair, I guess.
    Thus, cooking is fair. Dance or sing, is fair. Nothing is unrelated.

  5. Shilpi Sharma5:37 PM

    Hi Rashmi
    I was doing economics (hon) and the biggest muggers used to get the best marks.so, it's really important to mug up to score in economics. now,i might take the cat this year so, i don't know how difficult it'll be to get out of the habit of mugging up.you actually cleared all 4 ?what did you do for your bachelor's?

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. I'm of the opinion that when B school board decides to interview and select the best, then its not right on our part to decide on what is related and unrelated .It's after all a screening to identify the best of future managers.The B schools also have the same pressure in terms of identifying the right ones and train them. Tell me who wouldnt want to be a part of Ivy League.Then why not B schools alone.

  8. i think its totally unfair saying stanford , cornell admit some undeserving ppl. these instituitions have a reason when take a person in. jus because someone has 9 point cg from iit and have a 1600 gre score it does not mean that he is all brains, coz trust me even in iit one has to ratta a lot to get such scores. when stan gives someone a admit,its bcos he/she fits a certain profile.

  9. Anonymous11:10 PM

    There are a lot of differences in the way bschools admit people in the US or India.
    In India bschools admit mostly freshers while in the US 9with some exceptions) the avg experience is at least 4-5 yrs..
    In the US, they look to admit people who would be successful later (success = money in most cases). Thats why they admit celebrity kids. The chances that narayan murthys daughter would be successful are very high..same with mukesh ambani.. george bush graduated from HBS.. I think godrej's daughter is in HBS, azim premjis son is in HBS right now..
    In India IITs and IIMs have made a name on meritrocacy. Thats why they cant apply this criteria.

  10. don't know abt the IIMs coz i haven't give CAT as yet, or seen what its to study in one, but i can surely blab on IITs... or atleast the one I am in. with the level of the entrance going down south, the students entering arent exactly meritous (is that even a word?) but mostly ratta people who ratta-ed well in grade 12 and in the coaching.
    the seniors that I had, who were 'crackus' in most forms of things they did, are disappearing, and no one seems to realise that but the students stuck in the transisiton phase of IITs.

    when i entered the IIT i study in, we had seniors who had loads of applied knowledge, but may not have the grades to show it. today, my juniors have gr8 grades, most 8s and 9s but not the applied knowledge to prove that they are 'IIT-stuff'.

    and the only 'non-worthy' students getting into IIT, thru the DASA feature, where NRI's sent their kids on dollar fees has been scraped, so not much of a cash flow exists now. i presume, soon there will be a time, when IIT will be a college living only on its name, coz the politics in this country is only reducing the level of the exam for the sake of keeping the kursi intact

  11. Anonymous6:54 AM

    Hmm..There you go again with your IIM-A stories.. The whole world knows you went to IIM. Seriously, GRADUATE!!

  12. Anonymous7:54 AM

    Hmm..There you go again with your IIM-A stories.. The whole world knows you went to IIM. Seriously Rashmi, GRADUATE!!

  13. Anonymous9:18 AM

    was shocked to hear abt NRN. its amazing how such hypocrites pass off as true leaders of this countries. did some googling and was really amazed to find the results.

    www.kamalsinha.com/iit/people/ narayana-murthy/infosys-foundation.html

    i had a great respect for NRN and Stanford and now its all gone!

  14. Anonymous10:23 AM

    "Hmm..There you go again with your IIM-A stories.. The whole world knows you went to IIM. Seriously Rashmi, GRADUATE!!"

    if you hate her and this blog SO MUCH then why do you even bother reading it? you shudnt even care even if she tatooes I WENT TO IIMA on her forehead. Just go away! :p

  15. There's flip side of story too. When you are supposed to interview someone, you need not know *everything*. This year's IIML panel did try to show their superior intellect. I could do nothing but laugh at their sad attempts, example - They asked me what'd the difference between "Linear Programming" & "Computer Programming". When I said ki linear programming is used to solve simultaneous equations & is totally different study from Computer Programming, they kept asking me about the "differences"! Tchaah..

    Needless to say, I felt that I failed to impress them. Still I got admission from their waiting list. Dunno what does that show. I'm not going there though :)

  16. Varun, Its great to know that you can solve simultaneous equations with linear programming. Infact i would really like to learn such an easy technique of doing things.

    Simutaneous Equations!

  17. I was just wondering how does one minimise/maximise linear functions with linear inequalities as constraints? Varun what do you do for that? I mean linear programming we can always use for solving simultaneous equations. .

  18. ehh .. where do I hide my big mouth :D I meant linear equations, optimization etc. But then, I missed it now, that time I had rattofied it :)

    Does difference between "computer programming" & "linear programming" make sense to you?

  19. yes varun the word before "programming" is different

  20. Rashmi, All these great II (thats double I)institutes are no different from the rest, they suffer from the same problems, men who work there are as humanly inhuman, and even there go all kinds of dhandley baji, I have been associated with atlest two of these I I institutes and I have seen and known how people get there. No doubts about the fact that there are those who get there purely on the basis of merit but believe me regarding the quality of professionals that come out of these intitutes, a lot of it is overrated, its just that a path has been created and a brand name is there, the labels are great, and thats what's needed to sell, whats inside comes out only over a period of time. The end decides.

  21. And yes these interviews are just not sufficient to judge callibre however un-related questions they ask.

    We have come to the point corruption that we have started grading callibre, Something which is impossible.

    We are only creating a society full of snobs.

    Hatred is all I see in these posts.

    And arrogance too.

  22. Yaar, I don't get when people get so harsh on the selection procedures! It's not perfect, of course, but then, the world's not perfect. I also agree that the luck factor should be minimized for such entrance exams, but does that mean take 4-5 CATs, JEEs and take the average? Who has that sort of time & patience? IIMs are doing good with their 2 tier entrance system. JEE was modified to introduce a screening (objective questions based) exam, which works fine.

    Then there is fine line between, arrogance & taking pride in one's alma mater. If one develops a condescending attitude towards other schools, s/he is in for a real big surprize in the industry & life otherwise. The seats in IITs/IIMs are very less when compared to the number of deserving candidates, so it's natural that some of them will be disappointed (pigeon hole principle :).

    One disturbing thing is that people take these entrance exams as their goals & many of them develop this attitude - "IIT mein ghusne ki hi fight hai, fir sab peace hai". A good school is just a carrier & not final destination! Even if you do good in schools other than IITs/IIMs, you can get ahead. Brand name does matter for first few years, it'll get you more interview calls, more opportunities; but after that you're on your own.

  23. What shall i do if they ask me too cook?

    may be i'll tell i'll marry and get do tha interview!!

  24. No its not about selection procedures, for they can never be perfect. And those who get there are not far better than many of those who don't. callibre and talent can not be judged. Under the current circumstances probably you cann't do much.

    The flip side is, there are snobs on both sides. I am not saying all are like that, but there are those who have made it and do not wish to understand and think about everyone who hasn't can be worthwhile. And there are those who haven't and hate those who have.

    Now this whole thing of judging and grading callibre (in fact grading human beings) leads to this.

    The problem?

    the problem really is that we have not developed a society where everyone would be respected for whatever s/he is doing. whatever little s/he is doing.

    That sounds more like an ideal, an ideal that losers talk about for the winners are too much into the illusion of what they think they have won. And that brings a stagnation. Things never change.

    And its not just about India, thats how it is all around the world.

    I as a kid had my own Ideas of scientific work being more "worthwhile" and "respectable". Today I find they don't do much. I mean what they do is not very different nor is that very difficult or complex. Anyone can think out of the box if one really wish. And at the same time a sweeper does work as mundane and as creative and has opprtunities to do things better.

    I have seen how when a known scientist sends a paper for a publication to a refered journal of repute, it gets approved and how a little known research worker sending an account of the same work gets his copy back.

    Are we really recognising work? are we really recognising callibre and talent?

    And then we have all the disillusioned "winners" and "losers".

    we may be recognising and grooming some. but we are not doing enough. And those who think we are doing great need to really take a closer look at how things are.

    we have grown up doing things for recognition and not for doing whats needs to be done, we have all grown up studying to make make money, we have all grown up confusing recognition as success. We have never done things for the right reasons, and always done them for the attributes.

    Its the same with our gods, its the same with our relationships, its the same with our love(s). Attributes decide.

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