Month: March 2011

Case Interview for Dummies

This was written with the intention of helping my juniors in college with Case Interviews. The general nature of the topic, however, made me share it on my blog as well, to help some other souls in distress.

Highlights of my campus stay:
Never a serious student, nor ever interested in extra-curricular activities that the institute provided me with, I think my selection comes as a hope and inspiration to those who think they won’t be placed anywhere. Being a dual-degree student, I had a PG and a UG CPI, being 9.3 and 6.4 respectively at the time of the interview. Don’t be too shocked by my PG CPI, only three courses comprised that, at that time. As far as extra-curricular activities go, I was a secy in Synchronicity, nothing to boast of. Still, as I am sure most of you will also manage, I had a decent resume, banking on my school-time achievements, like NTSE, some contests et al. So go the highlights of my stay at IIT Kanpur, let’s talk about the interview in the next section.

Why were you short-listed?
This is a very dangerous question to ask, for I risk appearing to be wearing my lucky underwear on the interview day. Though I must not shy away from awarding a sizeable portion of my selection to my luck, it would be unfair, at the same time, to undermine the importance of my behaviour during and around the time of the interview. I had prepared just enough, read some puzzles, standard ones (and believe me, the companies ask just those), read about case interviews and how to behave in them (very essential). Since I had nothing to lose, I had no choice but to “be myself”, a point so often iterated that it risks losing its importance. What it essentially means is to appear very frank and outgoing in the interviews and saying the things that they want to hear in a way that makes them think you’re pouring your soul in a wineglass for them to take a sip out of. Though they know this all is pretence, but these are precisely the kind of guys they’re looking for. Also, language helps. Look your best, and maintain composure even outside the interview room.

The Interview

a) EXL Service, Round One

Interviewer: Darpan Jain, Manager

PI Questions:
Led by a friendly handshake to a seat, probed lightly about my background with the cliché “Tell me about yourself.” Waited for some brief seconds to see how gracefully I stop. Then talked about my city, from the resume; moved on to asking puzzles, followed by a small but tricky case study. Then talked about my CPI, asked me if I would go for research, told him how bad I was at studies, and not to be fooled by my PG CPI. Laughed and showed me to the door.

Case Interview:
This was the question. A company wants to send promotional e-mails to its customers. How much is enough?
It is very important to be prepared for such a small and detail-less question. What they want to see is how you approach the problem. So show them. Keep on talking to them while you arrive at the solution, but don’t jump to a solution directly, take a minute off before starting to work the solution out with his help. Probe him for details. What kind of e-mails are these? Does the company know the details of its customers beforehand or not? And any stuff that pops into your mind. Though I did arrive at an answer after some deliberation, a simpler solution was to just ask the customers themselves. The interviewer told me this, and I discussed his solution for a while and settled with his answer after admiring the ingenuity of his thought a little, subtly of course.

What went well?
My demeanour, the air of frankness I had assumed and the puzzles. Maybe my grammar, and thence my confidence, as well.

What went wrong?
I, for a moment, was about to have a Simmelweis Reflex when he told me about his solution to the case; I suppressed it instantly.

Take away for future batches:
Hope is all I have to offer. Go in with a dash, come out with a dash.

b) EXL Service, Round Two

Interviewer: Jasjeet Singh, Head, Consulting, EXL Service, India

PI Questions:
This one was a lot more gruelling, with precise questions about my resume, about my capabilities, and how my resume reflected my capabilities. He also briefly touched upon my background, but that most probably only to ease me into the process, not that I hadn’t eased into it already. Almost my entire resume was touched, and I was asked to first select three points in my resume, defend them, and then tell him how those were important to him as an interviewer and why he should select me on the basis of those points. However, my entire resume got discussed. My plans, my CPI was also discussed. I was also asked where I would see myself five years down the line, a pretty clever question which you can use to your advantage by showing them your naiveté, and your hunger for success and progress. The interview is almost always concluded with the trickiest of all questions: do you have anything to ask me? The trick is, don’t appear dumb. Don’t ask about salary or comfort of living or work hours or trivial details. Ask, rather, about how the company suits you, the kind of work and opportunities that you will get. And at all times, appear enthusiastic. It’s only half an hour of drama, a successful one will be worth it.

Case Interview:
The question: Nokia comes to your campus. It’s going to launch a cheaper version of the iPhone, and is interested in your campus as a potential market. In order to lure some customers, it approaches you with a proposal of giving you 100 coupons of 20% discount on a new phone, and for every successful coupon, you get a thousand bucks. Maximize your profit. Select potential 100 students who are most likely to buy the phone from your campus.
It was clear from the go that he was not much interested in the final solution as he was in the way I approached the task. Took a minute to regroup my thoughts, scribbled and drew a brief outline of my proposed method, and began expanding it with his collaboration. Asked him brief and precise questions, focussed on covering as many aspects of the problem as possible, and laying out as diverse a solution as possible. It is essential that you avoid getting stuck into only few dimensions of the problem. Involve him into the discussion, for when you work, you will be solving cases together. Show him how game you are for discussions like these.

What went well?
It went really smoothly, appearing almost scripted. The answers flew, the humour was light and effective, and I almost made a friend in that room after 45 minutes of tête-a-tête.

What went wrong?
I felt my resume was a bit weak and I hadn’t prepared well on how to defend it. Know your resume; each point should reflect some aspect of your personality- think of something clever to say for each point.

Take away for future batches:
CPI is great and so are extra-curricular activities, but a weak resume should not make you a weak candidate. Ace the written test, prepare for the interview, eat something light and energetic, appear fresh, talk fresher. Good luck.

Roth’s Pastoral

This is an essay I wrote for the appreciation of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Read it after a long time, and enjoyed it, so thought of sharing it with you guys.

Is it still I, who there past all recognition burn?
Memories I do not seize and bring inside.
O life! O living! O to be outside!
And I in flames. And no one here who knows me.
-Rainer Maria Rilke

If there was one thing that could be called omnipresent, it’s struggle. American Pastoral, intertwining Jewishness, Americanness, the struggle to be right, the struggle to be moral, the struggle to be true to oneself, the struggle to appear true to others, the struggle to remain true to yourself while appearing true to others, becomes a parable of life in its most basic form. The novel is more of a direct conversation with the reader of Roth’s confusion and less of an expert’s take on the dilemma of Jews living in America in the post-war era.

Roth relives the life of Jewish Americans in the guise of Nathan Zuckerman, a person struggling to decipher life. In the process he raises many questions about what defines life. Throughout the text, in a style as simple as it was prosodial, he subtly explores the ideologies, the beliefs and the acts of people by wide and versatile paradigms ranging from extreme non-violence to extreme violence, from an utter disrespect of life to an insanely high regard for it. He praises the protagonist, Swede Levov, almost raising him to a pedestal and then calls him fake and dumb and disposes of him as a phony. But throughout the novel, Roth remains absolutely convincing, which I believe is due to his inner struggle with these ideas. Roth’s masterful writing explores Merry as a lunatic and the reader cannot beg to differ. Then he sympathizes with Merry and again the reader cannot help but pity ‘the poor girl’.

In some sense the novel is an allegory of life, the pastoral a term for something we all believe in, something which each of us lives for. In the process of achieving this pastoral, this ideality, many lose hope, many adopt ways that are deluded. The styles of these delusions are also varied: on the one hand is Swede, a strict liberal, a true rational, living in the delusion that life will be perfect if he does everything ‘right’ and on the other hand is Merry, whose irrational beliefs make no sense to Levov, an extremely leftist ideology ranging from first violently fighting for the lower class to a frighteningly high regard for life in the end. Roth mocks both, Roth mocks everything.

By way of Nathan Zuckerman, Roth vicariously explores life by living in an era that was the best window into the nature of human thought. With death looming large in the war, the scar had hardly healed when America plunged into another battle with Vietnam over defending its capitalist regime. Life becomes precious in the vicinity of death, and forces even the ordinary mind to find ways to save it from devastation. With security in the economic sphere but death in the background, life had to be taken more seriously and not be compared by the accumulation of laurels, thus providing a case against the winner of the war, capitalism. Roth had the benefit of hindsight when he mocked the strict communist wave inside America, a so called retaliation for life, ironical in its modus operandi. By placing all extremities in a single family, Roth weaves a delightful drama, evoking a rich debate over what is right and how to live, essentially showing us how to think.

Roth subtly points out the various facets of life, unlike Bellow or Camus who adopt one of those to define life. He neither accepts life as bliss, each moment of which we should be grateful for, nor does he shun it by invoking Sisyphus, and calling life a mere myth of Sisyphus. The conversation between Lou Levov and Dawn elucidates the helplessness of religion to muster a reason, a meaning. I quote some lines from the book which will throw some light on what I want to say:

(Loneliness) “For him it was stripped of any other meaning- no meaning could make better use of that building. Yes, alone we are, deeply alone, and always, in store for us, a layer of loneliness even deeper.”

(Merry’s answer to the question: What is life?) “Life is just a short period of time in which you are alive.”

(Roth, according to me, mocks religion in these lines) “(Lou) I’d rather not leave it up to the child, Dawn…my grandchild is not going to eat Jesus…I give you the Baptism. That’s all I can do for you.”
Religion is a faculty that gives people a reason to live, a higher meaning for their lives. By way of these lines, Roth tells us how it fails when it is inherited or when you decide to fight it with reason.

(Here’s what Roth feels about blissful existence) ‘”A mere taste,” Proust writes, and “the word ’death’ has no meaning for him” So greedily I ate, gluttonously, refusing to curtail for a moment this wolfish intake of saturated fat but, in the end, having nothing like Marcel’s luck.’

Capitalism was ridiculed at every step by Roth, communism was ridiculed whenever he chanced upon it, Roth dissects fascism, tearing it to shreds, Roth mocks pacifism, Roth laughs at Judaism, he laughs at Christianity. He treats righteousness with a sinister derision, he denigrates intellectuals. This book is starkly elegiac in the fact that it mourns the death of such ideologies, the incapacity of these to explain life, to find a suitable way of living.

In spite of these arguments, and in spite of the fact that he is tempted to follow Sartre in calling life meaningless, Roth is not negative. Roth wants us to tackle reality head on and not be deluded by one or the other theories that tantalize us at one point of time or the other. As I put the book down and spent time meditating on its meaning, I felt that Roth had this to say to us: I don’t find bliss in existence, I don’t find relations meaningful, I don’t see why struggles define life, I don’t find meaning in anything but in the fact that we have to live. Roth is not a believer of any higher power, or as Michael Guillen puts it, “something that lies beyond the grasp of pure smarts.”

I end this essay by quoting Arthur Schopenhauer, “there was no Absolute, no Reason, no God, no Spirit at work in the world: noting but the brute instinctive will to live.”

My Medicine

My girl casually remarked today that I write only sad and insecure stuff. Not a very hard observation to make. Something that reminded me of another little pattern: every time I’ve decided to write something funny, I’ve ended up with a really nice short story. But it is really hard for me to go against myself, even to write an innocuous little story. Every time I stare at the blank screen when I’ve decided to fill it up with myself, my heart churns out copious amounts of sadness. I’ve gotten too much of it. I feel like a phony when I’m not writing. I am forced to wonder how much of my constitution is melancholia. The answer, I feel, only adds to the existing melancholia.

There are definitely moments when I am happy, when I am a man of the moment, but sometimes the moments get so hot, so unreal, that I have no recourse other than to go searching for some cushions in my past. It occurs with such a degree of inevitability that I feel like I’ll soon become a resigned fatalist. Or worse, a believer. Reality is a hard bargain, and I often find myself making costly purchases, which makes it really tough to avoid hanging out in the past for relief.

I sometimes feel I write only because I am sick, in the head, and writing is my medicine. I then feel sick at the thought of writing only to cure myself, contrary to my held assumptions of writing because I love writing. I am tired of climbing this mountain just to look at myself, then falling back again to being myself. I want to lie on the ground and enjoy the sun. I don’t want to be Sisyphus any more, I don’t want wisdom so immense that I cannot handle it. I want a mosquito to bite me so I can chase and kill it, be engaged in anything but myself. There, I start again. And again. I want to end this infinite recursion, but I want to be sane as well. In short, I am just scared.

I think this much should be enough. I’m getting more tired of all of this by the minute, by the word.

Natural Blues

Man has altered the environment around him in his own image so much that he believes he controls it. This is the ultimate god complex, unconsciously enjoyed by many. It surfaces at various points, in many guises: our views about the environment, our views about our species, our views about vegetarianism, et al. While not entirely irrelevant to his survival, many of these are indeed a psychological luxury we find ourselves shamelessly indulging in. What we often fail to see is a simple old fact: we are products of nature, and anything we do, by extension, is natural.

Don’t we all marvel at how ants build their colonies, maybe because we all are aware of staring into our own reflection. We leap with joy when a hungry lion gets a prey, and we feel terrible for the little innocent deer it plunged its teeth into. But the question is: who is really innocent here? The answer is no one.

Each of the species on Earth is designed so every individual of it should take care of itself. A very cleverly crafted design, with little patches of order in a largely chaotic world, that hinges on what may, on first looks, feel like a delicate balance. However, I beg to differ. The balance is hardly delicate. In fact, of all systems possible, it is one of the sturdiest and patiently built. Individual species may get sacrificed on the way to eventual, far-off doom, but it is so designed that many things would be moving no matter what.

But then, we may be cleverer than we seem to be. That is, we might be a selfish species. That each one of us is stuffed up to the neck in selfishness might just add to the collective selfishness of the human species. Then, whatever our actions are, no matter how they are packaged, are designed keeping our own interests in mind. And thus, purposeful and intelligent (also, natural).

What bothers me, however, is that there are a few confused souls, who took all this packages at their face value and started sanctimoniously spewing advice for others for a more pious life.  The vegans. PETA. Human Rights‘ Organisations. (Sometimes even economists.) They often boil my blood. Not because they are retarded, but because they are retarded and have a voice. I am not a totalitarian, but these morons are influencing our lives at a personal level to extents pretty irritating. Not grave, just irritating. For once, I wish they’d see the world in my mirror, and have a clearer view of the world. But alas! I am not the king of the world. Yet.

Sometimes it feels good to just bicker. That’s what they do. That’s what I am doing. The only difference: I would know when to shut up because I have an insight of my own character that they lack (of their own characters). Nothing but stupidity to blame for it.

The Memories of My Present

Run through her hair
on a lazy sunday,
taste her lips
warm as the sunshine.

Like a whirlpool,
like its eye,
drown me beautifully,
drown me silently.

Run through her hair
on a windy wednesday,
hold her close,
to make her feel loved.

Like a night’s sigh,
like its prayer,
wake me beautifully,
wake me silently.

Running around in circles,
forever chasing her beauty,
hold her sometime
on a midnight clear.

Like my poem,
like its innocence,
love me eternally,
love me naively.