Every year, MBA aspirants search for IIM interviews of candidates with low academics in the hope that they could steer their own interviews in a similar direction. "Can you get into an IIM with low academic marks?"- this can be a worry of many aspirants that certainly needs to be addressed with credibility.
Whether they're your graduation marks or 10th or 12th, this post is going to help you understand "how to tackle the question around academic scores in an IIM interview". The inputs in this post have been shared by Nikhil Mittal, who is a graduate of Kirori Mal College, where he was pursuing BA Economics (H).
Nikhil had a 10 CGPA in 10th, 96.5% in 12th and 65% in Economics (H) at the time when he applied for the CAT exam. He finally made it to IIM Kozhikode and in this post, he has shared a synopsis of what happened during his interview and how he justified his academic scores to the IIM panelists.
The rest of the post will flow in a Q&A format wherein Q means a question I asked to Nikhil and A means his response to the question.
Q: Hi Nikhil, thank you so much for agreeing to share your IIM journey with the readers. Could you start by sharing a bit about your academic background?
A: Sure, so I pursued BA Eco (H) from Kirori Mal College, where I wasn't as inclined towards academics as I was towards the other extra-curricular activities. I was a part of the Placement Cell and also the Economics Society.
Q: What was the GD topic, how did you go about it?
A: It was something around the "Impact of Movies on Making Better Managers". I shared my points on how movies reflect the latest trends in the society, which provide a manager with the perspectives of other stakeholders like customers, clients, employees, etc.
Q: So, were you asked about your academic scores during the IIM Kozhikode interview?
A: Yes, I was asked, in fact I already set a ground for the interviewers by letting them know that academic wasn't the strongest point in my candidature. I also mentioned about my PORs, internships and projects and said that I was more into them which is one of the reasons behind the graduation score.
Q: Did your interview turn out to be a stress interview after you mentioned that?
A: It kind of did, but when you are already expecting a stress interview (and you should do that if your academic scores are low), then the interview doesn't seem so stressful. You're already prepared to handle those questions because you expected them anyway. The key to cracking a stress interview is to remain calm.
Q: Were you asked questions from your academic background during the interview?
A: Yes, the panelists asked me some basic questions from Economics (this is another benefit of setting the expectations clear - you won't be asked difficult questions at the onset). The questions were similar to ones asked to other IIM students from economics background. I was able to answer those questions but when they moved on to some of the complex concepts, I told them I didn't know the answers to them.
Q: Any example of what kind of questions were you asked?
A: Most of the questions asked were from the Term 1 syllabus taught at any IIM i.e. mostly Microeconomics based. So, for instance, I was asked the definition of an Indifference Curve. In response, I shared the definition but missed out on some key terms which an economics student shouldn't.
When I was asked how come I missed those terms, I simply apologized for missing out on the terms and shared that I don't know the definitions per se, but I am aware about the basic concepts. In my opinion, it is better to know yourself before entering the interview room than figuring it out during the interview.
Q: How did you face that moment when the interviewer focused on academics given it wasn't the strongest?
A: When you accept yourself that it is a weak area, there is no shame in accepting the same in front of the interviewer. There is no point being aggressive about something you don't know. Had it been a question on my work experience or the credibility of the projects I did there, I would have defended myself aggressively. You just need to know your strengths and weaknesses yourself first before you put them across in front of an interviewer.
Remember the fact that if you're being called for an interview after your CAT result, it certainly means that they are okay with your academic profile, else why would they call you despite having those numbers in front of them beforehand? You just need to have a mindset wherein you don't doubt your potential to perform in the future, leave what happened in the past.
Q: Was it taken in a bad light that you couldn't recall some of the economics terms?
A: I'm not sure, but see the point is, when I already told them that this is something I don't know, they didn't waste their time on grilling me further on academics. They gave me an opportunity to steer the interview in the direction of my choice by asking me HR questions and general awareness questions.
Q: What kind of general awareness questions were you asked?
A: For example, I was asked to share my take on Poverty in India. They even asked me what I could do about that issue. Then, there was another question on North v/s South India and what my opinion is on the matter. I believe one should really keep themselves up-to-date about the latest happenings which would certainly help in acing GK and awareness based questions in the interviews.
I was also asked my political ideology in one of the interviews, was questioned how the government is standing on the economic front and was asked to give suggestions on changing the economic scenario in India. Just having a bit of industry specific knowledge can help.
Q: And, what kind of HR questions were you asked?
A: They were mostly related to testing my personality and qualities. IIM-K focuses a lot on why you wish to do an MBA from Kozhikode specifically, so you must be prepared for that answer.
In IIM Shillong, I was asked about my hobbies. I said that I read books and to check the authenticity, the interviewers asked me to share the names of last 10 books I've read along with their authors. I could only name 5 and that's when I knew my interview was over. The panelists can detect the truth quite well, so never bluff in an interview.
Q: How can one prepare to tackle Kozhikode specific questions?
A: So, the interviewers try to ask you what you know about South India, what your opinion is on the culture, places. They also expect you to research a bit about the college, how is it different from the other IIMs. Just reading up a bit about the institute can truly help you differentiate yourself because most candidates don't come prepared with this answer.
I'd also like to share how I aligned my answers with what the institutes were known for. In case of my IIM Shillong interview, I had researched that Shillong puts a lot of focus on hyper local activities, it has adopted many villages, it consults and develops them. So, I shared about my social entrepreneurship vision to align my goals with the goals of the institute.
Similarly, for IIM Kozhikode, I focused on the cultural angle and shared about Calicut Half Marathon that the institute organizes. I guess that really gave me an edge during the interview.
Q: Coming back to the academics front because a lot of readers will surely want to know more about it - what according to you can help someone compensate for low academic marks?
A: See, the interviewers are not sitting there to reject you unless you give them a reason to. And, in my opinion, the weightage of graduation marks in IIMs is only as much as the weightage of other activities that one could pursue to build a strong profile. Now, you could do that with internships, projects, extra-curriculars, but if you don't have anything to showcase and also have poor academic scores, then it is going to be difficult.
Q: What do you think the interviewers look for in candidates?
A: I guess, it's the ability of the candidate to be trained post joining an IIM. It's okay if you didn't perform well in academics in the past, the question is - do you know what you're getting into because you'll certainly have to study a lot at an IIM and if you make it, are you ready to put in so much effort to deliver results?
Q: What is that one thing that you would say helped you ace the interview despite your academics?
A: Honestly, if you are able to steer the interview in the direction of your choice, you're able to put across the other things you did that can bring value to the table. That would certainly help you, so make sure you introduce yourself in such a way that you get the chance to talk about those things.
Q: Thank you so much for your inputs, Nikhil. They will surely be of immense help to the aspirants.
A: It's my pleasure, I have been there! :)
So, this was a quick call I had with Nikhil to discuss his experience of making it to IIM Kozhikode despite scoring 65% in graduation. This is an example I was looking for since a long time to share with the MBA aspirants and prove that it is possible to compensate for your academic scores to get into an IIM.
I'm truly grateful to Nikhil that he came forward and shared his journey with us. It will surely help many students. If you also have a similar story to share, please consider contributing to the blog.
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For more interviews, please go through the Interview Experiences Category of the blog.