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.
a) EXL Service, Round One
Interviewer: Darpan Jain, Manager
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.
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
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.
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.