How do interviewers look at the dreaded Gap year? CA Ritika & IIM Lucknow
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
This HAS to be one of the most asked questions - “Should I quit my job for CAT?”
Now, each one of us has had unique life experiences and come from radically different backgrounds, so there is obviously no one answer that can holistically cover this question. However today, Ritika Mittal shares her story and how she ended up having to pick a side in the corporate vs gap debate and what that meant for her in an IIM interview setting.
Ritika is a qualified Chartered Accountant who is all set to join IIM Lucknow for her post- graduation. She has experience in Risk Advisory Consulting in various fields such as Real Estate, Infrastructure, Logistics & Mall Management Sector.
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10th - 95%| 12th - 90% | B.Com - 70%
CAT - 99.69%ile
Chartered Accountant – First Attempt
I am a Chartered Accountant and will be joining IIM Lucknow, batch of 22. Post CA qualification, I worked with an investment bank for a brief period of 2.5 months and then with an audit firm for 5 months in Risk Advisory.
The Beginning -
My CA final results came on 20th July’18 and I’d cleared my CA final exam. However, in CA, unlike other streams, the end date can be fairly uncertain, and thus, I had not really planned as to what was next. Being thrust into that zone overnight, I was lost.
My mother is an MBA, and me being in awe of her skills, I always thought of pursuing an MBA someday. After consulting with her and giving it some thought, I decided to enrol for CAT’18. Having had recently cleared CA final, I was overconfident and to an extent laid back during my CAT prep. I didn’t work hard on my weak areas and when the result finally came, I scored a mere 74.26%ile in the QA sectional. Right then, I knew I had no shot at pursuing an MBA in 2019.
Shortly after that, I joined the investment bank in U.S Corporate tax. My attitude had changed after CAT’18, I had a purpose and was clearer on why I wanted to pursue an MBA. Though I had a U.S. shift (12 noon to 11 p.m.), I made a schedule to start working on my preparation for CAT’19.
However, within a month of joining, due to some unforeseen situations, I was at a crossroad wherein I had to prioritize between continuing work or focusing on CAT. I decided to move out and focus on my preparation. I hadn't planned for this, and it was an unexpected curveball. Like any other aspirant, I was worried about the gap and short duration of work experience (2.5 months). By the time I was relieved from my job, it was May’19.
After speaking to several mentors, I decided to focus on CAT, and not take up another job for the time being.
Yet, the stigma associated with the gap haunted me every day. I used to frantically look for alternative opportunities, attempted to join part time internships, and develop hobbies. Having put myself through that for over a month, I realized I was diverting my energies in the wrong direction – Covering the gap would matter IF I actually first crack the CAT!
Thereafter, I decided to put in all my energy in working towards my weak areas and develop my strengths for CAT’19. I fine-tuned my strategies, worked on foundation concepts, and took regular mock tests. The flow went on, until one day I scored a meager, single-digit ‘6’ in my QA section in a mock.
Self-doubt set in again. I started reading innumerable articles on the impact of gap on MBA admission and questioning my decision of leaving a stable job for an uncertain exam. Trust me, this will happen. If you do not perform well in one aspect, you will fruitlessly start to doubt ALL your decisions until that point!
Fortunately, my mentor did not let me give up, he helped me rework my QA strategy and tackle it by focusing on marginal improvement in steps over a period of time. I divided the huge QA syllabus into smaller sections and started improving my skills by acing one section at a time.
Though my preparation started to stabilize, at the back of my mind, the gap still bothered me. To alleviate this, I started focusing on things I could control and do now, to justify my decision. I decided to transform this period from a burden to a journey where I utilized my time to become a better version of myself.
I started out with preparing a list of hobbies and interests that I always wished to pursue but didn’t have the time for. After having listed out around 10 things, I picked the top 3 that I could pursue without hampering my CAT preparation.
For me, the top 3 were mentoring, jogging, and dance. I reached out to an NGO and volunteered to mentor young children. I had been passionate about mentoring since my CA articleship days and taking up this responsibility, helped me unwind on the weekends. Similarly, I started taking out time from my daily schedule to pursue jogging and dance. These activities helped me rejuvenate and keep a level headed approach towards my preparation too. I kept up with this routine right till the D-Day of CAT exam.
Along with this, the support of close friends, family, and mentors really helped me maintain a calm state of mind. I surrounded myself with people who believed in me and my abilities. This helped me stay focused towards my goal for the entire duration.
CAT Result -
On 4th Jan, I was at the NGO, making a painting with my mentee, when my screen popped up the notification of CAT results being out. Gathering courage, I opened the website- 99.69% ile - I was over the top and knew I had accomplished Step -1.
Soon after that, calls of various IIMs followed. Now for Step -2, I had a preconceived notion that my decision of leaving my job would be put to test and be questioned in all interviews. This notion was proven wrong when I was questioned about it in only 2/8 interviews that I appeared for. Further, after a reasonable justification, my rationale wasn’t cross questioned in either of the interviews.
Looking back, I realized, the gap was never the main issue, the main contention is the rationale of each person behind it. The key characteristics of confidence and clarity of thought, combined with a CAT score to justify the gap, satisfy the interviewers’ curiosity.
Finally, on 23rd May, when I saw the words ‘Congratulations!’ on the IIM Lucknow website. I knew my risk had paid off!
I believe the main take away from my experience would be ‘Cross the bridge when you come to it’. Unnecessarily pondering over the gap can do more harm than good.
All the best!
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