"Tell me about yourself" & other HR questions at IIM Interviews!
Updated: Jan 27, 2021
HR Questions. You may like them, you may hate them – But you cannot ignore them! They can make or break any interview of yours and it is best to have them 100% sorted out before you step into that interview room.
Part A – Tell me about yourself
The thing about your “Tell me about yourself” is that every word you utter can and will be used against you in the conversation to follow. And you can expect this question in 99% of your interviews too.
Every answer must have two things – Coherence and Sentiment. Coherence can be attained through logical structuring, chronology, and keeping things in a flow. The sentiment, on the other hand, is the real winner. It is what adds the human dimension to your 30-40 second monologue, which may be as well be a dry summary of your CV!
Every person has something interesting in their life that can become a potential bait for future questions in their answers. This is what you want to say to pique your interviewer’s interest and you wish that they would ask you more about it.
It could be anything – For me, it was growing up in different parts of India (Kolkata, Nagpur, Chennai then Delhi). It usually has some history/culture related questions as a follow-up. For some of you, it could be a unique hobby – Like collecting stamps or playing an instrument, being part of a band, having your own blog or Youtube channel!
Some important tips:
1. Never start your intro with “Myself abc”. It’s not just wrong, it's criminal. It is always “My name is..” or “I am…”
2. They are not really interested in where your parents are from/work or how many siblings you have – Avoid it unless there is an interesting backstory there!
3. Always mix your academic and professional life with your personal one. Tell them where you studied and where you worked but also tell them about your values and hobbies.
4. Never say anything you cannot absolutely defend (This is true for the entire course of your interview)
5. Practice your answer – many many many times! BUT. Make it sound as unrehearsed as you possibly can on the day of the interview. Ironic, eh? Make sure you do not exceed 40-45 seconds. It is an elevator pitch, not an Oscar acceptance speech! Keep it engaging, make it a story narrative and not a robotic delivery. Be enthusiastic! Because no one else is going to be as excited about your life as you are :)
6. Keep smiling. Always 😊
One of my answers:
My name is Simran Somani and I am a chartered accountant. I did my article-ship from PwC in the statutory audit line of service. Post qualification, I worked with Nestle India in their Internal Audit and Process Improvement team. I have always pursued academic excellence and believe that I’ve done justice to my primary duty. That has held me in good stead to brave the rigor of the CA course and has taught me the value of discipline, consistent hard work, and commitment.
Personally, I have had the opportunity to grow up and witness the culture of various Indian states. Being a Marwadi Maheshwari born in Kolkata, I moved to Nagpur briefly and ultimately spent most of my formative years in Chennai, doing my schooling and article-ship from there. Post qualification, I moved with my family to Delhi and worked with Nestle. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, swimming, playing badminton, and listening to music - which has even prompted me to take up learning the guitar.
If I had "The Unconventional MBA" at the time, I would have surely highlighted that in the end! I'd want them to ask me questions about it and hope that my passion shone through my answers.
I did so for my B-school summers interview and it was almost always a topic of discussion :)
Now, I did my homework about all the states and cities that I mentioned in my intro because I knew that they may ask me to contrast the culture in the South with that of the East/North.
I’ve attached the document below which outlines briefly what angles I tried to cover in my preparation.
I would strongly suggest you go through this document and prepare a similar one for yourself! For the people from Chennai, this document should help you a little more already :)
Broadly – Know the origin of your people (Marwad for Marwadis), origins of the name of your city, area, school, political scenario, famous personalities, culture, history, learn the names and leaders of the ruling parties in your home state, the home state of the B-school as well as of the neighboring states along with any disputes the state government might be involved in!
Surely enough, my IIMA interview contained some interesting questions about the heritage of the places I am associated with 😊
Important note - Many people give their "Why MBA" answer in their introduction. Personally, I do not like that approach. It gives the interviewers a clear start to go into the technical aspects of your background and interests much earlier than I'd want them to.
However, if that is the direction you want to lead them towards, by all means, insert a line or two about that here too :)
Part B – Do you know yourself?
Now, the next few questions are very common, and I have also relayed my answers next to them for a few. Do take your time and come up with answers to these and give it some real thought. Remember that saying you "work too hard" for a weakness is transparent to the trained interviewers.
1. Strengths: Hard work, Sincerity, Stakeholder Management, Never afraid to seek clarification/help, Easy to talk to and build relationships (People person)
Keep examples of instances to demonstrate these qualities ready and how they would help you in B-school and for professional life after that.
Weakness: Find it very hard to say “No” – Overcompensation
Always add a line about what you have done to overcome this and what you have learnt in the process.
2. Hobbies: Reading, Swimming, Guitar, Badminton, Travelling
Beware! Getting grilled on one's hobbies is very very common in IIM interviews. They believe that a 'hobby' is something you are actually passionate about and practice regularly.
So, if you say cricket or football and expect them to just nod - you are wrong. Get ready to know the history of your club or major milestones of that sport.
Attached is the document I prepared as some research for my hobbies. It is in no way conclusive since I kept reading up on these without maintaining a written log:
3. Short-term and long-term career goals
This becomes even more important if you are a fresher. Further, if you name a domain you want to specialise in (Say, finance) get ready to answer basic questions in that sector - They would assume that any candidate who would confidently name a domain must have some prior knowledge of what it entails.
4. Tell me something about yourself that is not on your CV
5. How is your ability to learn new things and adjust to new environments? Do you take initiative?
You need specific instances here, saying "Yes I do" is insufficient.
6. What do you rate to be your biggest achievement to date? (I always prefer a personal story as an answer to this. Everyone interviewing at the top b-schools must excel professionally. What distinguishes me is my added emotional intelligence, value system, and actions)
7. One thing which you want to include and one which you want to eliminate from your personality
8a. CEOs from IIM-A: Shikha Sharma & Amitabh Chaudhary (Axis), Ajay Singh Banga (MasterCard), Falguni Nayar (Nykaa), Rajesh Gopinathan (TCS), Deep Kalra (Make My Trip), Amit Bhasin (Go Mechanic)
Goes for every college you interview with! You keep talking about “strong alumni” but do you know who they are?
8b. Name some Female corporate leaders, Female CMs of India, Female union cabinet ministers
Especially important for IIM Kozhikode!
8c. Biggest Inspiration and why: Sara Blakely – Found Spanx in 1998 after being a door to door saleswoman. Youngest self-made billionaire in 2012 and did it with 100% control over equity. She is a mother of 4 and has braved failure in terms of the SATs, unemployment.
Oprah Winfrey – An African American billionaire in a time when blacks and women were not treated right to a media mogul – “Queen of all media”. Her talk show ran 25 years from 1986 to 2011.
Here, I try not to say "My mother/father/brother" . They will not have the opportunity to form an impression of your aspirations or ideals - Nobody would cross-question anyone's respect for their parents.
9. Recall a work or non-work situation where you were required to work with people you disliked. How did you handle the situation? How do you deal with conflict?
10. Describe a situation in which you believed a certain approach was morally right, but your point of view was in conflict with other viewpoints. How did you handle this ethical dilemma?
Part C – Why MBA?
This is a very very common question – Why MBA? Or “Why IIMx?” For CAs, there's the added jibe of "did you waste your CA? Why do you want to do an MBA after CA? Why IIMA/<<Insert the name of B-school>>". It's not usually limited to CA's, though, it happens just as much with engineers when interviewers try to create stress by asking us if we have wasted our technical degree.
"As a Chartered Accountant, the course has helped me gain a firm grounding in some of the most important pillars of commercial knowledge today. It taught me tremendous discipline, the value of consistent hard work and gave me the initial footing in the corporate world as well. Through my article-ship with Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), providing assurance services and at Nestle’s process improvement team, I have dabbled in delivering client-focused, implementable solutions with tangible benefits and structured timelines. I am keen on building expertise to create further value, learn in a conducive environment with an excellent peer group.
My long-term career goal involves being a part of the key decision-making unit of a company, providing operational and strategic direction for sustainable growth. Education in management will help me equip myself with the necessary divergent skill-set across disciplines, the ability to comprehend the dynamics of business and the art of people management. That, coupled with my financial domain knowledge, would propel the fulfilment of my aspirations.
An MBA will ultimately help me put things in perspective, STRUCTURE, to understand underlying currents and trends and work in fairly unstructured situations. I see B-School as a time-capsule simulation of life ahead and I believe that my collective academic experience, the grounding of article-ship, and interaction with some of the brightest people in the country will hold me in good stead and help me stay afloat daily."
Now, this is the written version. The spoken one will touch upon these in an unrehearsed manner but convey the underlying heartbeat of the answer I have tried to demonstrate above.
How do you go about making your answers foolproof?
a) Start out by writing every single accomplishment (personal/professional/academic) and setback of your life in one large chart. Try to be chronological. Take up any incident that had an impact on you, your family or friends. You'd see that there are so many seemingly unimportant incidents that have added up and collectively made you the person you are today :)
b) Share your notes with mentors and friends, and revisit them with fresh eyes every 2-3 days. Be your own biggest critic!
c) Practice your answers. If your grammar is not what you hoped it would be, stand in front of the mirror and see it through - It will pay off, trust me :)
I can be reached on our Instagram handle’s DM for any queries and suggestions, linked here.
In the meantime, stay tuned for the other articles in this series 😊
Once again, from everyone at TUM, wishing you all the very best!