Interview: Mahesh Venkatasubramanian (Chem-2016)

Could you explain the program you’re currently in?

I am currently pursuing a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management (PGDM) at Xavier School of Management (XLRI). PGDM is equivalent to a Master of Business Administration (MBA) MBA and is also what all Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) currently offer.

Why did you decide to switch career fields?

There were multiple reasons for this, the major one being that I didn’t want a core job. I didn’t see myself in a core engineering job because of factors including corporate hierarchy and growth hindrance. Further, I didn’t see a future in chemical engineering and a core job would mean starting over again and it would be a waste of the 4 years spent at NIT-Trichy.

What challenges did you face in taking up such a programme?
A transition for an engineer from a top school isn’t that difficult. Cracking CAT or any other entrance exam is difficult as admissions in premier Indian institutes are skewed against engineers. One would need 99.xx percentile with a decent amount of work experience to even get a shot at interviews. IITs and NITs have a bit of leeway but a minimum requirement would be 90% in 10th; 90% in 12th and a GPA close to 9.0 – ‘the holy trinity’. This is especially important as most of us wouldn’t be having work experience.

I first wrote my CAT in 2015 and got 99.15 percentile, which didn’t fetch me much. I got three calls for an interview and as I didn’t have any work experience, I wasn’t able to crack them despite having -99.6 % in 10th , 95% in 12th and 8.5+ at NITT. It is highly competitive and requires you to have a higher end of the 99.xx percentile spectrum.

Work experience does matter based on how you pull it around in your interview. The question of why you’re switching from work to MBA is much easy to answer than engineering to MBA. It is advisable to work in an industry relevant to where you want to work in rather than a core job. Even if you take a core job, say in a manufacturing company or a chemical plant, you should see yourself working an operations role. A switch from a core job to a marketing job is a bit of a stretch even with a B school degree. Provided you have high scores, anybody could switch career paths. Even an excess of work experience might be a disadvantage. Two years of work experience would be ideal.

Tell us about your CFA certification (Chartered Financial Analyst Certification):
CFA is mainly a self-study course which requires specialized knowledge such as that in economics and finance, some of which help with courses during MBA.

It requires around 200-300 hours of strenuous work. Thus, it is recommended that one obtain the CFA certification before starting your MBA. The first year of your MBA will be very hectic and by the second year, placements are completed. The added advantage during placements would be then lost.

If one wants to pick up a CFA certification, what must one do in college?

I did a lot of certified courses on Edx and Coursera – helps, but not much – shows an interest and helps substantiate interest. Helps with a change of field. CFA helps a lot as I wanted to do finance. Work experience is critical and there’s not much you can do about that in college. Not sure how much an internship would help as I didn’t pursue one.

Is there something you wish you knew in college?

I knew that work experience and high percentile played a role but I underestimated its importance. Even in XLRI, a lot of my peers have work experience and I attribute me getting in, to a high percentile.

I wasn’t able to sit for campus placements as a lot of CIC reps knew that I had written CAT. If you want to write CAT then be pretty sure that you need to score a 99.7+ percentile to be sure of getting even a middle level IIM. It’s either all in or bust.

Another is that Curriculum Vitaes are really important. When compared to those at IIMs and other B-Schools, our CVs are quite lacking. A placement support committee with feedback from alumni to help form CVs would really help.

Due diligence must be put into preparation for CAT. Get into coaching and figure out the areas you are weak at. Basically, write mock tests and brush up on Verbal. GRE doesn’t really help with CAT.
Think well before opting out of placements.

How difficult is it to get off-campus jobs?
Change of field and off-campus is difficult. CFA preparation helped in getting a job as a financial research analyst. It was really difficult as a lot of companies didn’t see a fresher engineer fitting into an entry-level analyst position. Getting a non-core placement if you opt out of campus placements is really difficult.
Core jobs are easier to get. But you get fewer offers and lesser salary than on-campus placements, which are inherently much better.

Job opportunities- India and Abroad
CFA is starting to gain traction in India. I’ve seen a lot of people writing CFA in Bangalore and Mumbai and it opens a lot opportunity. In India, CFA is a complementary factor and is not very helpful as a standalone certificate. It requires prior work experience in a relevant career field. It is not equivalent to an MBA either as the backing of a premier institute helps you get better jobs.

How useful are minors for a career in management?

It would serve as an explanation for your origin of interest when asked during your interviews. Minors in management might help at B-Schools as you would have some familiarity with the terms used. Anywhere you study, having a good CGPA really matters in the short run. Whereas, your institute and work experience would be helpful in the long run.

Before you take up minors, check if the teachers are good. Minors would help you diversify as core engineering is not viable in the long run. People need to thing of either an MS, MBA or GATE.

Which skills did you develop in college that help you now?

I did not do much at NITT apart from studying and chilling. I wasn’t involved in any club either. Having positions of responsibility such as being a cultural head, marketing head etc. helps fill your CV. But for a fresher the only things of worth are your – Percentile and CGPA. Your positions of responsibility will not help you achieve an admission.
Frankly, it is quite sad that the bar is set high for engineers for the sole reason that there are too many engineers. B-Schools are losing out on talent and aptitude but they can afford to do this as there is a surplus of engineers.

My takeaway from NITT and engineering are some really helpful life hacks and other skills. You gain independence and team bonding which is where clubs might help. There are many team activities in a B-School and your team skills play a vital role. Engineering teaches you more about life than core.

Before you make a decision, know of all the options available to you. MS is also becoming quite expensive and visa issues might be a possibility. It is pitiable that you only need to game the system of MBA and your talent only plays a role once you are inside. NITT is like a cocoon which shields you from the outside world. Build your CV and talk to your seniors who’ve taken similar paths.

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