CAT 2016: How to build your profile

This is a question that I get asked often by students and a very important one at that — how do I build my profile? So before we get on to the answer, let us  evaluate what elements of a profile are.

What are the elements of a “profile”?

Your profile is the impression that various elements in your resume create as a whole.

  • Academic Performance
    • Your marks in X, XII, Graduation
  • Work Experience
    • Number of months
  • Academic Pedigree
    • The brand of the institution from which you have graduated or will graduate
  • Academic Achievements
    • Ranks secured at school (X & XII), college and university-level and/or performance in national or state-level entrance tests
  • Co-Curricular Achievements
    • Ranks in Olympiads, NTSE, Paper Presentations, Journal Publications and any other academics-related contests outside of regular school and college work
  • Extra-Curricular Achievements
    • Achievements in non-academic pursuits singing, dancing, sports, games, NCC, martial arts etc, Model UN etcetera
  • Positions of Responsibilities
    • Official posts held at school, college and university-level
  • Pursuits of Special Interests
    • Any extra-curricular interest pursued out of passion but without achievements — reading, writing, sports, games, singing, dancing, painting, trekking, photography, short-film making

Most of the things that would go on to a resume can be fitted into one of the above labels.


What is a “good profile”?

A good profile is one which would rate as “average” or “above-average” on most of the elements listed above and have a spike on at least one of elements.

A spike is a level of achievement on a parameter or attribute that indicates that you are really better at it than most of the other people in the fray.

A few examples of what spikes are:

Academic Spike — Someone who has above 90% in X, XII and Graduation will be considered to have a huge spike in academics. The key is the 90 in graduation since most aspirants (at least in this part of the world) tend to have a 90s in X and XII, it is the 90 in your graduation that will put you in the outlier category.

Sports Spike — Those who have participated in individual or team sports or games at a district, state and national level will be viewed as having a spike since most aspirants will have played but not professionally. A student I met recently told me that the moment he put forward his national-level badminton at the under-13 level in front of the NMIMS panel the interview changed (he made it despite with a merit rank in the 300s the fact that he had just cleared the cut-off with a score of 209. Even running the marathon or cycling if done seriously with achievements to speak about can be major spike.

So similarly you can have a spike in any one area it can be leadership spike if you have always held positions of responsibility. It an be an extra-curricular spike if you have participated in a lot of dramatics, singing or dancing at college level. It can be a special interest spike if you have formally taken up dancing, singing , painting, languages or any other interest and are pursuing it seriously.


How does you profile impact your MBA aspirations?

Your profile plays a major role in three things:

  • The probability of you getting a call from premier institutions
  • The conversation you are going to have in your PI
  • The shortlists you are going to get during your summer & final placements

But all of the elements listed in the profile factors do not equally influence all the three things mentioned above.

Getting a call from premier business schools
Each b-school has a different set of criteria based on which it gives out calls. The usual elements that come into play are

  • CAT Score, Academic Profile & Work Experience

Each b-school gives each of the three components a different weightage and in some cases no weightage at all.

IIM-A for example no longer gives weightage to work experience but Academic Profile (especially your Graduation Marks) play a major role. IIM-B gives weightage to work experience, IIM-C does not consider Graduation Marks and gives, IIM-I gives more weightage to XII marks etc.

Freshers need not worry most b-schools take in a healthy percentage of freshers — please understand that for colleges that consider work experience calls are not given out only to those who have work experience. The weightage for work experience will make it easier for working professionals to get a call — they can get in with a lower percentile when compared to freshers.

Also, for the first call it is only the quantity of work experience that will play a role and not the brand of the firm that you are working with.

What is important to note is that these criteria might change from year to year.

Do not worry about what you cannot change — your marks in the past — let the IIMs decide their weightage and give out calls based on their calculation, focus on what you can change.

Those who have graduated and have poor graduation marks need not worry since IIM-C does not consider it at all in their process; get a good CAT score and you are in!

Also please note that Academic Pedigree plays no part in this stage of the process.

The conversation you are going to have in your PI
Most top colleges send out a form to be filled out along with the call the next round. This form will ask you to fill out not just details about your academic profile  and work experience but will also

  • ask you to list achievements — co-curricular, extra-curricular and work-related (if applicable) and
  • ask you to write answers to questions such as
    • why do you want do an MBA
    • what are your career plans
    • what are your strengths and weakness
    • what is biggest challenge you have faced in your life so far
    • what is your biggest failure and what have your learnt from it
    • what are your hobbies and interests

The panel will have your filled-up form when you go in to the interview and you will be asked questions based on what you have filled up. This is where the achievements and interests element of your profile come into the picture. You can have a look at a sample form, that of S.P.Jain last year, here.

Even if a college does not have a form and starts off with a tell me about yourself, the interview will be based on the things to tell about yourself that are not captured in the CAT application.

The two elements — brand value of the college where you pursued (or are pursuing) your bachelor’s degree and the brand value of the firm that you are working for are not evaluated objectively, which means that there are no marks allotted to the same separately based on any criteria.

The panel will make it a part of the overall marks it awards to you in your PI based on how you perform in the PI. So a good college brand by itself does nothing unless you do a good job in the PI.

Getting interview shortlists for summer internships & final placements
You will be having your summer placements 3 to 4 months into your MBA. So this means that your resume will not have changed at all. So the profile you have before getting into the b-school is what you will have while applying for summer training.

It is at this stage that the brand value of the college where you pursued (or are pursuing) your bachelor’s degree and the brand value of the firm that you are worked for become more important.

Firms will have loads of resumes from all b-schools and they tend to make their jobs easier by giving out shortlists to those with big brand names on their resumes. So this is where the real value of the IIT-tag kicks in! Also, all firms do not do this, only the real big consulting firms tend to do this.


How to build your profile

As mentioned earlier, you need to focus on what you change in your present and hence your future and not your past. The objective of this post is give you a realistic idea of the selection process and help you chart out your future course of action. So do not get deflated but start looking at the ways below to improve your profile.

Take up certification courses aligned to your career aspirations

I am an engineer and I want to get into finance! Well to do this you have to show what steps you have already taken towards your goal.

A lot of engineers who are dead serious on getting into Finance are taking up the CFA exams, the US equivalent of the CA. A student of mine who is currently at IIM-C, the mecca in India as far as Finance aspirants are concerned, said that there about 70 students who have cleared at least Level 1 (out of 3) of the CFA! the CFA is neither an an easy nor a cheap exam to prepare for and take. But if you are really, really serious you need to take it up.

Other options for those keen on pursuing Finance are taking up NSE certification courses about which you can learn here

A great option for those looking at any specialization be it Marketing, Finance, Analytics or Operations are the certification courses from premier international schools such as the Wharton on Coursera.

You can choose courses by specialization and college (just ensure that you choose top-rung colleges).

Freshers can really benefit by taking up a few courses especially in Marketing and Analytics since they will give you an introduction to the world of business as well as ammunition for the PI.

Take up positions of responsibility

This is one thing that freshers should really go after in the next semester. Forget publishing a paper as part of the symposium, organize the symposium! There are loads of committees and clubs on campus, you need get into at least one of them, actively organize things/events as part of the committee/club and ensure that you a certificate for the same.

Take up social impact activities

While both freshers and working professionals can take this up, it is easier for the latter to become an active contributor to the CSR initiatives in your organization. You can also sign up to do volunteering work for an NGO working in the field of your interest — education, health care, environment etc.

One specific thing that freshers can look at is applying to and joining student organizations such AIESEC (they have city-wise chapters) or take part in their initiatives.

Take part in contests, events and cultural festivals

If you are not interested in organizing then take part in inter-college events based on your interest be it — case study contests, b-plan contests, singing, dancing, acting, sports whatever you are passionate about. The idea is that you should come across as someone who does more than just going to college and coming back.

Take an interest in the Entrepreneurship Cell of your college

A lot of people keep saying that they want to become entrepreneurs some years down the line when asked about career plans or Why MBA. But mostly the line is similar to — any they lived happily ever; nobody knows how, we are expected to take it at face-value. So show some interest and become a part of the E-Cell if your college has one!

Take your interests to the next level

Your IIM interview can revolve entirely around your passion or interest. So take whatever interest you have and explore it seriously. If you like languages then take up learning a language and clear at least a level. A student of mine liked to read Manga (Japanese comics) and she ended up learning Japanese and clearing a few levels!

If you like outdoor activities such as trekking or cycling join the Chennai Trekking Club. If you have always wanted to train for a marathon then train to at least do a fraction of it.

Take your public speaking skills by joining Toastmasters

Those of you who want to really improve your communication skills with a view to doing well in the interviews should join Toastmasters — it is a not a training institute but a club for people to improve their spoken English. Once you become a member you can also take up positions of responsibility within the local chapter that you attend.


Do you do do more, do you stand above the crowd?

As aspiring management professionals you need to display that you are capable of doing much more than others. You need to show that you do more than just go to college or work and back. You need to show that you passionate about things apart from what is required. You need to show that you have the potential to perform on a much larger canvas.

So pick a few things form the list and get started!

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9 Response Comments

  • Kishan  May 7, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Hello Sir,
    I am a fresher and took CAT 2015. I am waitlisted right now at IIM Indore, IIT B and NITIE. I don’t have much hope this year as my waitlisted rank is very far from last year convert trend. I want to take another shot in CAT 2016. As of now I have not been placed from my College. I am a production engineering student and I am not intrested in doing a job in core engineering sector as they are usually hectic job for 8-10 hours and it won’t allow me to prepare for CAT. I am thinking about taking SBI PO exam this year and suppose if I will be selected, should I join it for the sake of getting work experience? How would it look in IIMs interview next year that even though being a production engineer, I joined SBI? Will it decrease my chance of getting selected in IIMs interview?

    Another option is that I can become quant teacher in some coaching class or I can become lecturer in diploma college. Is teaching experience will affect my chances of getting selected?

    Please guide me.

    Reply
    • Tony Xavier  May 7, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      None of the options you have suggested will hamper your chances at a second attempt. There are always students who teach and make it in the next attempt. I am one of them, teaching will maximize your chances of cracking it as well.

      Reply
  • Rajesh K  May 9, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    Hello Sir. Can you emphasize a little more on certifications in Operations? Also, is online only mode of certification? And can you provide a little more detail on Toastmasters. Public speaking really interests me 🙂 Thanks In Advance!

    Reply
    • Tony Xavier  May 9, 2016 at 8:30 pm

      Hi Rajesh, For operations you can either do the online courses or you can do a 6-Sigma certification. Will try to get some more about the same.

      Toastmasters is really good forum to improve your public speaking skills. You can just google toastmasters chennai and your location say Adyar or Velachery and get the venue details. You can then visit the venue and join them. It’s comprised of working professionals who meet weekly and do a structured program. They have venues in tech parks such as Ascendas as well.

      Reply
      • Rajesh K  May 9, 2016 at 9:12 pm

        Thank You..! I forgot to mention I am from Mumbai and enrolled at IMS Thane. Sure Let me know any further details that you find out 🙂

        Reply
        • Tony Xavier  May 10, 2016 at 12:51 pm

          Hi Rajesh,

          You are from IMS Thane! My really good friends and colleagues VK and J mentor IMS Thane. Will reply and let you know about the 6-Sigma courses.

          All the best!

          Reply
  • Ashwin  September 11, 2016 at 11:36 am

    I am now working in a lesser known software company. I now got a call from CTS.Which one should I opt for? I want to know whether the company in which I work affect my job profile in any way.

    Reply
    • Tony Xavier  September 12, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      Hi,

      It does matter but not so much given that it is in software. What you need to look at is whether the role that you have here and the work that you do here can be presented better in terms of learning and impact (during an interview) than the role and work you will be doing at CTS.

      If both are the same then there go for CTS, else choose the one you can present better.

      Hope this clarifies.

      Reply
      • Ashwin  September 12, 2016 at 12:30 pm

        Sir,
        The company I am currently employed in is based on manufacturing domain(we design software for manufacturing sheet metal). I have a plan to set up a Manufacturing plant as well. So would it help in any way. Thanks!

        Reply

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