For our success stories segment, we got an opportunity to interview Ajay Parasuraman who is a first year student at FMS, Delhi. A 99.58 CAT percentiler, he had converted SPJIMR Mumbai as well. In this candid interview, Ajay talks about his preparation, admission process and why he chose FMS over SPJIMR.

Ajay_Parasuraman_FMSAjay, for the benefit of our readers, share your background in brief with us.

Hi, my name is Ajay Parasuraman. Quite appropriately for a person with that surname, I hail from Kerala – although I speak Tamil at home.

After passing out from BITS-Pilani (Goa) in 2011, I joined Mu Sigma as a Business Analyst – and stayed there for 2.5 years. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of the company until they were on campus giving their Placement Talk. Having been passionate about Math, I fell in love with the idea of being able to use data to predict someone’s future behavior. I have to tell you that the experience more than met my expectations. It’s a period in which I had some great learning. Post my Mu Sigma spell, I moved to a very similar role at Target, Bangalore. I knew that being part of an in-house team had its advantages – and I was right.

It was during this time when I found out that I had scored quite well in CAT (99.58), and there was a possibility of receiving interview short lists from some of the top b-schools.

Tell us about your extra-curricular achievements and hobbies.

The two hobbies which have stuck with me over the years are Carnatic Music, and Quizzing.

While I was introduced to quizzing rather voluntarily during school, Carnatic Music was imposed upon me as a result of hailing from what they call, “a Tam-Brahm household”. I was in 8th standard when I won the Kerala State level Augustine Joseph memorial award instituted by Padma Bhushan Dr. K.J Yesudas. Currently, I learn under Padma Bhushan Shri. P.S Narayanaswamy – although my time away from Chennai means that I will have to keep aside any plans of learning for now.

As far as quizzing is concerned, I have been extremely lucky because I have always had good teammates ever since school. I won the Kochi regional edition of ‘The Hindu Young World Quiz’ in 2006. I also won the Goa edition of IMS Quotient in my first year of college – amongst other quizzes. And when I started working in Bangalore I had the privilege of quizzing against some of the biggest names in India. The most memorable event in my quizzing career (if I may call it that) took place when I won the Landmark Open in Pune 2013. It was one of those days when everything just fell in place. I will never forget that experience ever!

I am also an amateur table tennis player; I was captain of the table tennis team in my college. I played futsal quite regularly while in college, and am a huge fan of Real Madrid.

When did you decide to do MBA and why? When did you start preparing?

Everywhere I looked there were MBAs around me doing amazingly well for themselves. I hadn’t given a serious thought about MBA till then. Post this realization I decided to talk to some of my friends who had passed out from various institutes, tried to understand what an MBA could give me that an Engineering degree couldn’t, and introspected a lot about how I would fit into this whole new scheme of things.

After I convinced myself that an MBA would do well for me, I enquired about coaching institutes. Fortunately, some of my colleagues in Mu Sigma shared the same enthusiasm that I had, and we started preparing about 6 months prior to CAT.

Did you join any coaching institute? Do you think coaching is required?

Because I was working, it was difficult to even think about attending classes. So I decided to enrol myself in the Test Series packages of two coaching institutes. This not only helped me gain an overview of the various topics in the syllabus, but also assisted me with the test-taking strategies. As far as coaching is concerned, I think one should do it if there’s time because it can only do good.

Did you have any advantage because of your engineering background?

Oh, definitely! I think engineers are generally comfortable at dealing with numbers. Ever since you start preparing for JEE, you solve problems which require lots of analytical thinking and intense calculations. This continued for me through my four years of Mechanical engineering. At work, I had to go through a lot of charts to derive business insights for clients; this was the perfect prep for the DI bits in the paper. So, I never felt like I ever lost touch because there was some form of number handling throughout college as well as after it. The advantage of all this was that I could invest more time preparing for the Verbal section.

How many months did you prepare for? Can you take us through your schedule?

Like I mentioned earlier, preparation started about 6 months prior to CAT. I think this is sufficient enough for anybody with a proper plan to score a 99+ percentile. The frequency of mock tests was just right for me to prepare what I didn’t know already. There were quite a few topics I realized I was not comfortable with, and the Sectional tests helped me gain a deeper understanding of each of such topics.

Towards the end of July, I increased the number of mocks to about 2 a week. The mocks happened over weekends as it gave me sufficient time to analyze faults at length. On weeknights, I stayed back at work to write Sectional tests. Somehow this did not seem like a burden I was putting on myself, and I enjoyed the experience. I guess the kick I got out of correctly answering questions kept me motivated.

What were your strengths and areas of improvements during preparation and mock phase?

The tests certainly helped me understand the areas I had to work upon. Even in Quant which I believe to be my ‘Scoring Section’, I realised that there was enough scope to minimize error. As for the Verbal section, I realized there was a lot more practice required to crack the Comprehensive Passages.

Can you elaborate your preparation a bit?

In addition to mocks, I solved previous years’ CAT question papers. They are all available on the Internet! Post giving the exams, I had gone through the question/topic-wise scoring analysis that was provided. This really added a lot of value to my prep.

Most of my mock percentiles were in the range of 99 to 99.5. I remember I scored 99.77 in the very last mock I gave before CAT. This, if I remember right, translates from a raw score 145/180.

Tell us about your SPJIMR application and interview.

The application takes a while to fill. I have not seen / heard of any other college which conducts its process as comprehensively as SPJIMR. It ensures that well-rounded rather than high scoring individuals get through.

The form had questions to do with an individual’s versatility and skills, any adversity faced in personal, and professional life, responsibilities shouldered etc. It is highly advisable to be utterly honest while filling out this form because the college does not tolerate misrepresentation.

The entire interview process is divided into two phases. Phase-I involves aspirants short listed purely on the basis of academics. This list is released in January. Phase-II is a combination of the Form and CAT/XAT/GMAT score. The interview experience was amazing. SPJIMR conducts Group Interviews instead of Personal Interviews. This form essentially determines experience, composure, knowledge and compatibility among other qualities. The topic for discussion could be anything ranging from one’s Profile Sheet to something that’s been in the news recently. It’s not a sin to not know everything, but it is one to not have an opinion. After the first round of ‘GI’ you are informed whether you made it through to the next (and final) Group Interview. The format remains the same, only the questions change. I forgot to mention that we were asked to take a Biometric + Psychometric test. The test needs to be taken with utmost sincerity – as this could play a part in the final round of interview.

The results are published in March-April, and the college starts in June.

Why SPJIMR?

It’s a fantastic college! It has constantly risen in rankings over the past few years, and deservedly so. The elaborateness in the selection process ensures high standards of students making the cut. Apart from the curriculum, I believe being located in Mumbai has proved to be advantageous for the college.

Tell us about your FMS application and interview.

The application in contrast is much shorter. In addition to the details about marks secured, there is a statement of purpose which needs filling. Again, I can’t emphasize on the word ‘honest’ enough. FMS gives due importance to the CAT percentile. Post release of short list there would be a Group Interview, and a Personal Interview – in that order. If all goes well, you start college in July.

Coming to the tough question. Why did you choose FMS over SPJIMR?

Multiple reasons. FMS has amazing faculty; the average experience runs into a couple of decades. The alum network: FMS just completed its 60th year! You can imagine the number of industry leaders who call FMS their alma mater.

FMS provided a chance for me to be around some of the smartest brains in India. And yes, the expenses are lower in comparison, with absolutely no compromise on the experience. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had the opportunity to interact with corporate professionals over the last couple of months here. Also, we are a Top 5 b-school according to several ranking lists.

Any tips for MBA aspirants?

Prepare well; there’s no substitute for hard work.

What do you think of Learningroots and do you recommend this to aspirants?

It’s a great initiative. Highly organized and to-the-point. I like the fact that less clutter on the page improves the experience of visiting it.

And your future plans?

Only time will tell. 🙂

It was great talking to you, Ajay. We wish you all the best. Thanks!

End of interview.

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