Interview: Prashant Srinivasan (Prod-2016)

A very brief description of your current program.
I’m pursuing my Post Graduate Programme at IIM Ahmedabad. It is a two-year programme in management.

What are some things about your career path you wish you knew in college, in retrospect?
I was in the Production Engineering department. When I took up MBA right after college, I wanted to take up operations and supply chain management specifically. When I joined IIM-A, I found that people with work experience had a huge edge over freshers when it came to getting selected for jobs in this field. Some firms even had explicit cut offs for work experience, and required at least 2 years of prior experience for getting into these roles.

What skills should one develop to follow the career path you’ve chosen? Do include courses, internships etc.
Firstly, you need to be sure that you want to do MBA. Taking positions of responsibilities and being a part of teams will be extremely helpful in this front. That will show how comfortable you are at handling responsibilities, working in teams, interacting with people etc. which are essential components of a management career. NIT Trichy offers a lot of opportunities in this respect. Club and Fest work is taken very seriously. Doing this also ensures that your soft skill bases are covered.
Coming to hard skills, since I already had a specific field in mind, I had done considerable work in that field to build my profile. I did an internship at IIM Trichy on Lean Management, which was an on semester internship, during my 3rd year. At the end of 3rd year, I interned at TVS Motors in their Operations Management division. Although identifying an area and doing related work is an added advantage, it is not a necessity. It is perfectly fine if you do not have any area that you want to specialize in as yet.

How can one be sure that a certain career path is right for them? What is a good way to make that decision?
The only way is to learn and work by yourself. What I have observed is, in NIT Trichy, many students tend to look at others having comparable profiles and GPAs as of theirs and make decisions on the basis of that. Work in what you feel interests you. That’s how it started for me. My initial interest in operations and supply chain management came from an article about Lean Management in the course material. Following this, I did some online courses. Subsequently, I applied for internships in the same area. Simultaneously, by working in teams, I understood that I am suited more for a career where I roll up my sleeves and engage with people, than a career like research where I have to work a lot in solitude.
Finally, academics is only a component of what we do in NIT Trichy. NIT Trichy offers a lot in terms of opportunities to work in teams. Ironically, we also have a locational advantage, with IIM Trichy being very near. This throws open the option of doing projects with their faculty during the semester rather than waiting for the semester break.

What are the challenges faced during learning new skills and adapting to new environments?
I did face an academic shock when I joined IIM-A. I had to take numerous courses which were completely alien to me. This is something which will be there in almost every field. Forming a network of peers to help each other out is extremely critical, irrespective of whichever career path one takes.

Another major adaptation for me was to learn how things work on the new campus starting from the evaluation methods to how teams work there etc. Every organization, be it an educational institution or an industrial setup, will have its own way of functioning. Quickly learning how things work there and adapting to it is of primary importance.

What should students know before taking up management studies?
If someone is planning to take up management studies, especially from one of the top IIMs, they need to have a completely open mind. Specialization is not encouraged in IIMA at least. The idea behind that is, if a firm needs a finance expert, it will take a CA, who will probably be better at it than an IIMA grad. Similarly, for Operations, the firm will probably hire from an institute like NITIE which teaches Operations exclusively.

Firms come to IIMs not to hire functional experts, but to hire their future leaders. The only way one can groom oneself for being a business leader is by having a cross functional view, and by being a generalist rather than a specialist. If someone is taking up an MBA, they must be prepared to learn a lot outside what they want to specialize in, if at all.

How to decide between Indian MBA and one from abroad? Do we need to have a fixed perspective on this during B.Tech?
It is a general perspective and my firm view also that an Indian MBA offers a greater value for the money that you pay in terms of the peer group, placements as well as faculty members than an MBA done from abroad. A foreign MBA is extremely expensive and ties you up financially for several years after.
Adding to that, there is a Young Leaders Programme (YLP) by Indian School of Business which is also a very good program, the entrance of which is through GMAT. It is comparable to any top B-school programme in the country. If any college admits through GMAT, I would recommend ISB.

What must one do after getting admitted into college? How do you feel time must be utilized post-admission?
If you have been admitted, then apart from perhaps learning Excel, there is nothing much which I would suggest you do. This is because by the time results are declared you would be in the last 2-3 months of your course. Thus, the priority at this point of time should be to spend time in college with friends. Moreover, typically there is a bridge course in most of the colleges which will help you bridge the gap if any. In IIMA, a bridge course was offered on Excel, mathematics, and communication. So I would really not suggest that you push yourself and learn something in that time period.

How useful is having work experience before applying for Higher? Is one year time for work experience enough?
Work experience is definitely necessary for MBA programmes in abroad. However for an MBA in India, if you have worked in a sufficient number of teams then the additional value gained out of work experience goes down. This is because the things which you learn from one year of work experience are mostly soft skills which include the way of interacting with your boss, with your subordinates etc.
Also, one year is typically spent in the training period. Especially, coming from an engineering background, it will take a lot of time for you to have something substantial on your resume from your work, for which one year won’t be enough. However, an experience of two years would be of advantage since you would have done a significant amount of work by then. This can really boost your profile especially if your CGPA has been low. Thus, either you should join directly after engineering or have a work experience of at least two years.

What do you think are the inadequacies in management studies and work in India, and specifically in NIT Trichy?
Starting with India, the biggest inadequacy in management studies is comparative lack of diversity of people joining the institutes. Courses which are heavy in quantitative skills are generally appreciated more than courses which touch on softer aspects like organizational behaviour, human resource management etc. This is a direct result of the fact that most of the people coming in these colleges are engineers. This is a problem that Indian Management Education as a whole has to solve. In short term, one’s quantitative prowess matters but as one goes along working in an organization, skills of working with people, handling responsibilities etc. matter a lot which is essentially what the areas of organizational behaviour and HRM cover. There are a lot of alumni of IIMA, who have come back after a few years to learn these courses again. With respect to NIT Trichy, I very frankly think that the number of management electives in our curriculum could be increased. In my entire B.Tech course, apart from my core courses, I was able to take only two courses which were remotely related to management. One was Financial Management and other was Industrial Economics. The institute can perhaps partner with IIM Trichy to offer more courses in management to the undergraduate students.

When is an ideal time to start preparations for CAT/GMAT?
I don’t have a very clear idea about preparations for GMAT but telling from my friend’s experience, a month before the exam is typically quite sufficient.
Coming to CAT, the exam takes place in November. Since I was heading a team of Festember, I couldn’t really prepare for the months of August to September. So because of that, I had to start preparations from December of the previous year. Otherwise, one can manage if he/she starts from the month of February.

If one plans to pursue management, is it worth learning to code? If yes, then considering the current scenario, which languages or tools should one begin to work with?
Learning to code is becoming a necessity. A fundamental knowledge of R programming is very much advisable if you’re planning to enter into the field of management. In the non-coding area, knowledge of Excel is extremely important.

Anything else you would like to add?
There is a general impression in the minds of students that if they have a low CGPA then perhaps they can attempt CAT. But this is not at all correct.
CGPA is an extremely important criterion for entry into the top IIMs. I personally know people who had a 99.5+ percentile in CAT but didn’t even get an interview call from the top 3 IIMs because of their past academic record. So while academics is considered extremely important for MS aspirants, it is equally important for MBA aspirants, if not more.

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