For our success stories segment, we interviewed Atman Pandya who is a first year student at IIFT Delhi. Atman was our full time student and converted IIFT Delhi with a 98.6 percentile. In this candid interview, Atman talks about his preparation journey, his background and interests, and gives a sneak peek of what life is like at IIFT Delhi.

Atman PandyaAtman, for the benefit of our readers, share your profile with us.

Before joining IIFT Delhi, I worked for 9 months with a small startup called Swasth India, as a Product Lead. My primary job was to handle the development, deployment and testing of our mobile application that was being used in a Breast Cancer Screening project in Pune. Prior to Swasth, I worked with Indus Valley Partners in Mumbai as an Associate Software Engineer for 13 months. Both my work experiences helped me in learning to deal with different kinds of challenges and I was quite happy to have had them before pursuing my MBA

Engineering College: Sardar Patel Institute of Technology, Mumbai

Academic profile:
Xth: 89.69%
XIIth: 86.7%
Engineering: 70.27%

Key Takeaways: Total 22 months of work-ex in the tech sector. Academics were good enough to not exclude me completely from most of the top B-Schools.

Tell us a little about your extra-curricular achievements and hobbies

I was always thoroughly involved in extra-curricular activities. In college, Debating was one activity which I pursued with vigor and efforts paid off when we won the National Debating Championship at Mood Indigo in 2012. Apart from that I used to play the guitar and piano and have been working on a Youtube channel since early 2016.

Key Takeaways: Have at-least 1-2 extra-curricular activities so that you have some talking points that set you apart from others. Having excelled in any of them is always a big plus.

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

I decided on an MBA towards the end 2012 in my third year of Engineering. Started preparing in 6th semester, so that I could get into a good B-School by the time I graduated in 2014. The decision to do an MBA was primarily driven by being unsure of becoming an engineer. I was not really a good coder at the time (heck I was pretty bad at it when I graduated). So the choices were, MS, job or an MBA. By excluding the other 2 options along with considering the long-term benefits of an MBA, I decided to take the exams seriously.

Fortunately or un-fortunately, I did not manage to clear the MBA entrance exams in 2013, nor in 2014. I say fortunately because it was during my two years of work that I realized that coding was not that difficult and that I actually enjoyed it and I’m even working on side-projects right now during my MBA!

Key Takeaway: Be clear on your reason for doing an MBA and don’t worry if you don’t clear it in the first try, it might just be a blessing in disguise!

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

I had joined TIME in 2013-14 and the next year I had only taken a test series. Finally, in the year when I cracked the entrance, I had taken a full course with Learningroots. I do think that coaching is required for everyone save the most exceptional. This is because almost everyone goes for coaching and the methods you learn in classes will help you get that edge over others. In today’s situation, it is more like an arms race, almost every successful candidate I know has taken some sort of coaching and getting through without outside help is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Key Takeaway: Join a coaching institute. Regardless of your skill level, you will surely gain from it.

Did you have any advantage because of your engineering background?

I’m not sure of the advantage because even though I’m from one of the top 3 engineering colleges in Mumbai (IIT B and VJTI being the top 2), it is still not well known on a national level and because of the marking system in Mumbai University at the time, barely anyone got more than 80%, with a score of above 70% being considered quite good. However, different marking systems are not taken into consideration while shortlisting, so being an engineer actually put Mumbai University students at a disadvantage at that time. (Note: Mumbai University has changed to a CGPA system in 2013, this puts the marking system more on par with other institutes in the country)

Moreover, given the huge oversupply of engineers, B-Schools don’t really want engineers, opting instead to reward additional marks in the interview stage to students from diverse streams. We might be GEMs (General Engineering Males), but over-supply has eroded our value!

From an exam prep perspective, I may have benefited from a longer exposure to Maths but given that the most of questions in entrance tests are based on concepts taught in school, I don’t think it made a big difference.

Key Takeaway: Being an engineer does not really help you in the post-entrance phase, being from an Arts or Commerce stream might be more useful at that time.

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

Sticking to a plan is something I struggled with during my first 2 attempts. I would create a schedule, barely manage to stick to it for a few weeks then fall off the wagon, discouraged at not seeing results. This cycle repeated itself a few times but I managed to get it under control by my final attempt. In all, I probably prepared for more than 2 years before managing to clear the exams. Preparing along with academics or a job is also difficult if your work/academic schedule is demanding, so planning while accounting for the time that would be lost in doing extra-work/submissions is important.

Preparing for the exam also requires psychological strength, especially if you are not getting the results that you want. In August 2015, after 13 months of work-ex, I left my job to concentrate fully on exam prep. However, with a stroke of luck, I got into Swasth India and was offered an arrangement that would allow me time to prepare for the entrance exams. My schedule was thus divided into studying and work. Flexibility on the new job allowed me to work more on my weak areas, something that was difficult because of the time commitments at my previous job.

Key Takeaway: Create a schedule and stick to it, if you fail initially, iterate and keep at it, eventually you will fall in line. Account for unforeseen time commitments due to work or academics/extra-curricular activities.

Can you elaborate your preparation a bit?

Until before my last attempt, I was not well versed with the most difficult problems from Quants and that was a gap in my conceptual understanding that I had ignored in the earlier attempts. Before my final attempt, I took around 15-20 mock tests and somewhat regular sectional tests. This was in addition to the 30-40 mocks I had taken in the previous 2 years of prep. Analyzing the mocks was a big part of the prep, and I would mark specific problem questions and revise them every few weeks. This really helped in getting a comprehensive understanding of all quant topics. Quant was a weak area for me and my prep was almost fully focused on Quant and LR-DI since verbal was a strong suite.

Results
CAT 2014 – 92 percentile (Better than last time, still nowhere close to getting through)
CET 2014 – 98.7 percentile (Got an interview call, converted JBIMS MSc Finance, but not MMS)
CAT 2015 – 96.4 percentile (Improvement, but not enough for a top IIM Call)
IIFT 2015 – 98.6 percentile (A good GD-PI saw me convert IIFT Kolkata and IIFT Delhi)

Key Takeways: Focus on mocks and analysis. Don’t be discouraged by a bad performance in the mocks or in the final exam. With focused, consistent practice it will eventually get better!

Tell us more about IIFT selection process.

IIFT has its own pen-paper based entrance exam which is usually held on the third Sunday of November. The registration begins sometime in July along with most other exam registrations. The exam is comparatively easier than CAT and focuses more on speed and accuracy compared to deep conceptual questions. Prepping for CAT should also prepare you adequately for IIFT and it does not require any special prep as such.

Post the exam, the process is similar to any other B-School Process
1) Fill a pre-interview form that would have a few questions regarding your background and other question like Why MBA? 5 year/10 year goals?
2) GD (few candidates may be eliminated here) and then PI

How has your experience been so far?

It is one of the more strenuous MBA programs in the country due to a strict course requirement of about 1400 hours since IIFT grants an MBA degree unlike PGDM by the IIMs. The attendance criteria is also strict at 80% but you usually end up attending lectures regularly.

Advantages of IIFT

Best place in India to pursue a specialization in Trade
This is IIFT’s forte and barely any other top B-School has a similar offering. In terms of trade placements, most of the big names like Cargill, Bunge, etc. visit for finals offering upwards of $100,000 in salary though the locations tend to be in Africa in the initial few years before being moved elsewhere.

Student Exchange Program (SEP)
While the exchange program is not unique to IIFT Delhi, the selection procedure for the SEP is a bit different from that in some other IIMs. Students apply in the 1st trimester and are selected with a combination of their CV and interview and NOT on the basis of marks. This is beneficial for those who may not have the best acads out there. Selected students then get to spend the entire 3rd trimester in Europe or US. The student exchange program was what prompted me to finally join IIFT Delhi, as opposed to giving another attempt. I’m actually writing this article from Lille, France about to start my first day at IESEG School of Management tomorrow!

Placements
IIFT has a history of stellar placements and this has only improved over the past few years. This year’s summer placements were particularly exceptional! Most of the big names in Marketing come to IIFT to hire. Companies hire in the Finance and Consulting domain as well though a few big names remain to be added.

And your future plans?

After coming back from my exchange program in March, I will be doing my internship in the Sales and Marketing domain in Godrej Consumer Products Limited. Post that I would like to pursue my major in the field of Marketing and Finance in the second year.

Any tips for aspirants?

The journey to an MBA can be very long or very short and depends on a lot of factors apart from your prep. Don’t worry too much about the results and focus on the process to progress in your prep. All the best!

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

End of interview.

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