• Simran Somani

A Chartered Accountant's IIM-A Interview Experience (PS - It's mine!)

Updated: May 25, 2020

I’ve read almost every IIM-Ahmedabad interview experience on the internet and each time, I went through the same emotion I expect you did as well. I was intimidated! How can someone know so much and answer?

If I were in his/her shoes, I would have drawn a blank and made a stupid face! And even if I did manage to say something (anything), I wouldn’t have articulated it as well. Are these guys even human?

Having been there & done that, let me tell you - Nobody's experience is as authentic as it seems to be.

That’s not just an observation. That’s the law. So when you do read mine (which follows after this, just in case you didn’t know), please account for awkward pauses, some rambling & some not-so-fluent answers.

To make my point easier to appreciate, I have put down below in bold & italics, exactly what I was thinking / how the professors were reacting / what the atmosphere was like.

I have tried to go in as much detail as possible, making this a fairly long read - So let's get to it!

Interview experience - IIM-A

Indian Habitat Centre, New Delhi

15 February 2020 – 8:15 AM Slot

Interview Duration – 30 minutes

AWT (20 minutes) – Driverless cars are the future. They are being heavily invested in by Uber, Google and Tesla. Union Minister of India has opposed this technology from coming in to the country fearing job loss of truckers and transport industry drivers. He says we do not want to see a tech marvel on the roads, we would rather protect Indian jobs.

Do you agree with his view point? What are the stated & unstated assumptions? What would strengthen/weaken the argument?

Fun fact: IIM-A is the only IIM that has AWT (Analytical Writing Test) and not WAT (Written Ability Test). It is like a small, accelerated case study based on your opinions around the facts presented. Before you ask, we will do an article on this later.

I’ve discussed my background in a previous post (check it here).

Just for the TL:DRers out there, my profile – 10 CGPA/ 97%/ Chartered Accountant/CAT - 97.41%ile

Two professors (P1,P2), Candidate (SS)

P1: Hi Simran. Have you had breakfast?

SS: As much as I could manage, sir.

P1: You should have breakfast, it is the most important meal of the day!

So, tell us a little something about yourself.

SS: Spoke about my academic background, experience in statutory audit & internal audit,

top qualities (Ones I believe I possess) and highlighted some hobbies.

Mentioned that I have lived in a few different cities of the country, but mainly in Chennai since I was 10.

* Tried to steer the conversation to Chennai & come off as unrehearsed as I could *

P1: So, you seem to have lived in Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi. A lot of metro cities. Tell me what unites India? What keeps us together?

SS: Spoke about diversity but how we share a sense of common underlying belonging.

P1: You are talking about what divides us (referring to 'diversity'). I am talking about what unites us.

SS: Spoke about how cultures may differ but essentially, people across are all the same.

Everyone in our country is trying to reach their maximum potential – work towards their goals – Pursue excellence. We are a hardworking lot. Spoke about our love for the country & desire to see her progress.

P1: If everyone loves the country so much, why is it that all we see these days are people cribbing? Protesting?

* We had the anti CAA protests then *

SS: I said that the supposed 'cribbing' is also a part of the improvement story in democratic India. To better the aspects of our country we can change & evolve.

* In retrospect, I should have taken a moment to think & structure it better. It came across as little scattered. *

P2: Okay so you said you are a “Kolkata Marvadi”. Tell me – why would you use that specific phrase? What do Marvadis in Kolkata mainly do?

* Now "Kolkata Marvadi" is something I blurted out under pressure. I had carefully thought of every word I would say in the intro part (which is an expected question). I had no intention of saying that, since Chennai was where I grew up (And had researched about :P) and frankly, I did not have enough knowledge about Kolkata or Marvadis. Also, P2 was a Bengali professor. So, only authentic Kolkata knowledge was to be showcased here. *

SS: Spoke about how my father and grandfather had lived in Kolkata all their lives. I was born there but moved at the age of 6. But it has had a huge influence in terms of our food patterns, close relatives residing in the city & how my father speaks Bengali like a native.

Told them that I have met many others who identify as "Kolkata Marvadis" since Marvadis are a huge community, settled in Kolkata for ages. They are mainly traders and businessmen and a lot of CAs too!

P2: Ah. Maybe that is why you are a CA as well! (Smiling)

P1: Where do Marvadis come from? Have you ever wondered? Shekhavat region and Marvad, I’m presuming?

SS: * The only two words I knew, he had already used in the question *

Spoke about “Maheshwari” Marvadis and a little about our heritage. Tried to reiterate that I have spent all my life in Chennai. They were not having it. It was open season on Kolkata/Rajasthan that day. At one point I even said "My mother jokingly says that they are family of Marvadis but their daughter is a total South Indian."

* I bit my tongue as soon as I said it. At this point, the interaction felt more like having a conversation with a friend than an interview and I had clearly been more casual/friendly than recommended. I sat there and wished for Mother Earth to consume me, as the professor raised an eyebrow on that.

The only thing working for me was that I was smiling the whole time. And there was no stress. *

P2: Okay, let me ask you about something else. What are the different kinds of audit?

SS: Stat, Internal, Forensic, Concurrent, Bank, Certifications

P2: I think Internal Audits are useless. They are a waste of time.

SS: * Since I had done Internal Audit in Nestle, I obviously needed to take a defensive stance. *

I defended the need for Internal Audit. Spoke about corporate governance, importance of independent reporting to the board of directors.

* Faced no/minimum cross questions throughout the interview. That is quite contrary to most interview experiences, since professors take inputs from your answers and build on it. Mine was full of random redirects to other topics. *

Random Redirect - 1

P2: How does a company contribute to GDP?

SS: They produce output, which is part of the GDP.

P2: No. I mean if I take the Financial Statements of the Company – Say, the P&L, what figure will I see which will indicate contribution to GDP?

SS: *Confused at the economics question*

Sir, GDP has various components and can be measured either through output, expenditure or income. Looking at it from various lenses,

a) The COGS + Inventory would give an idea of goods produced.

b) Payroll would give an idea of income that employees earn (“Wages” component) & in-turn spend on consumption which boosts GDP (“Consumption” component).

c) Any rental income in the P&L would be considered (“Rent” component)

d) The Net profit which is added to reserves would be included in GDP through the “Profit” component.

e) Further, business investment (from the Balance Sheet) will also part of GDP.

I have absolutely no idea if I was right or not. Still don't know. Maybe Divij Jain (Economics graduate & IIM-A PGP 2020-22) can help me out here!

P.S - Check out his post on tips to Economics grads and freshers!

Random Redirect - 2

P1: What do you think of banks and frauds in the current scenario? Should borrowers be penalized for defaults?

SS: Spoke about frauds in India & their impact triggering the NBFC crisis. How it creates an ecosystem where bank balance sheets weaken (C.A.R requirements) and reduce their ability to lend to the legitimate borrowers.

Said that the bigger frauds are often a result of crony capitalism and collusion and penalties must be commensurate with intention.

If the intention was to defraud, maximum punishment under the law should be enforced but a genuine business failure of legitimate borrowers should not be excessively penalized as it will kill the risk taking appetite of the average Indian entrepreneur.

P1: What are legitimate borrowers? Can you design a system to check borrower status before sanctioning the loan?

SS: Spoke about background checks, credit scores, robust evaluation of audited historical statements & vetting future projected cash-flows from business plan of the loan proposed, in a conservative scenario.

P1: You spoke about collusion. What about punishment to be vetted out to the employees in the lower levels of hierarchy? Those who carried out orders from top bosses without doing their due diligence?

SS: * Having no tangible opinion on this, I tried to come up with something (not too satisfactory) on the spot *

Sir, all employees have to follow the internal control protocols in place to prevent circumvention of the established process. So even if an employee has not colluded but merely carried out orders, he must take his share of the blame too.

P2: Who sanctions loans? Branches or the Central Office?

SS: I am not sure, sir. I would assume there are limits under which the branch could also authorize them, a certain level of decentralization, but I am not completely confident of that.

P1: You have mentioned "transfer pricing"(TP) on your application form. Tell me, how is TP carried out practically?

SS: * We have the option to highlight any achievement in our job in support of our application to IIM-A. I had written about a project at Nestle about TP price calculation. Big 4 CA article-ships only give you single vertical exposure and I had no idea about how TPs are done practically. *

Spoke about TP theory (Trying to remember CA final terminology 2 years after having studied it).

P1: The professor laid down all the technical words in the TP syllabus and said "This I know. You are not getting the question. Suppose I have a laptop which is made of many parts that are manufactured in different parts of the world, imported and assembled in one country, what are the checks you need to do to audit this business from a TP standpoint"?

SS: Completely clueless, I repeated the technical checks, linking it to the electronic hardware industry he had given an example of. Randomly inserted "Anti-dumping" clauses checks to ensure no violation with customs duties act (Not relevant to TP rules at all.)

Thankfully, this ended the TP torture and that lead me to:

Random Redirect - 3

P2: Tell me which large economy does not have GST?

SS: * Thinking out loud * “Haan, but Dubai does not have direct tax on income, they have other indirect levies and fees."

P2: What was that? Did you just say Dubai was a large economy?

SS: *Mortified. In-fact, this single incident made me doubt my ability to convert more than anything else*

No sir, I was just thinking of how Dubai does not have direct taxes but I am not sure what large economy does not have GST.

P2: Think. LARGE economy.

SS: I do not know, sir.

P2: It is the USA. Why are you not saying USA? I have been hinting “LARGE” economy for so long.

SS: Sir, China is also a large economy. And relative to India, so are Japan & Germany. I did not know the answer and did not want to venture a shot in the dark.

*Smiling and looking down* - "And it is good that I did not, since I would never have guessed USA! I cannot believe of all the things I read up on about the USA, their GST is what I missed."

Both professors laugh. LAUGH. Not smile.

After three back to back “I don’t know” questions, I desperately needed some positivity.

P1: I am done. P2, do you have any questions?

P2: These days, we see a lot of intervention from the Supreme Court in all matters. Is that good for our country? Should the Supreme Court be so actively involved in solving day to day matters? Whenever someone is unhappy with something, they move to the SC, which leads to delays and conflicts. Should the SC not do its primary duty instead of meddling in these affairs? What is your take?

SS: The Supreme Court is the guardian of the constitution and the highest authority on the law of the land.

*P1 raises eyebrow*.

I spoke about how our system is structured into legislation, judiciary and executive. And how citizens are exercising their democratic right.

P1: USA is also a democracy. You do not see their Federal Court interfering so much.

SS: Spoke about how comparison with the USA is unfair to a democracy like ours which is only 70 odd years old. Again, defended the spirit of constitutional rights given to each citizen of the country.

P1: What gives them the right to be the highest authority when it comes to law? How do we know our SC judges are competent?

SS: *Confused at the law question* Hi Nikunj Rakyan (Lawyer, CAT 99.76%iler.) This question would have been right up your alley!

(Nikunj says he would’ve talked about the Constitution, NJAC and try touching upon Kelsenian Jurisprudence, whatever that means)

Said that I did not know the exact process of how someone can become a SC judge but spoke about how certain degree of experience is required to serve as a SC judge and how all important decisions are laid out to bench of judges and not a single judge, with the option to refer the case to a larger bench.

Said that the judges are also very aware of the responsibility they shoulder and consider different opinions and all sides of the coin.

P1&P2: *Both profs look at me poker faced & then at each other. “We are done. You may leave.”

*But I could not leave cause I felt like the interview was too short. I did not do enough. I did not say enough. So I sat there for another 10 seconds. Staring at the toffee bowl in front of me.*

P1: *Laughing* Go on, you can take a toffee & a polo.

SS: I relaxed, laughed, took a polo & an eclair (I have the chocolate wrapper till date, because....well) & left.

Verdict – Converted.

If you want to know more on how to prepare and strategise for the CAT, check out:

My preparation strategy

QA percentile booster tips

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