Journey to IIM Ahmedabad: Huzaif Barkati
What made you decide to choose management as a career path, and why IIM?
During the second year of lockdown, I got quite involved in my father’s business. Moreover, I and a couple of students from my batch formed a group and started participating in competitions and case studies, eventually even taking up internships. This made me go for management as a career option. Pursuing an MBA seemed like an obvious path for this, and IIMs are renowned for having great management programmes. I attempted CAT and ended up getting into IIM Ahmedabad.
How hard did you find CAT to be? How much preparation does a student require to crack it?
The exam should be easier for a student from IIT as the mathematics involved in sections like quant, and data analytics are much less complex than, say, mathematics questions in the JEE exam. I feel like you can start preparing for CAT during the summer vacation for the 3rd or 4th year. For example, if the exam is in November, you should ideally have started at least in March. This will give you ample time to prepare for the exam.
Speaking about the amount of preparation, I don’t feel like you have to go to a specific coaching. The key is to practice and solve mock question papers. Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and commit at least some hours to solving a test series online each week.
Did your case studies or internships help in your admission process?
I wouldn’t say it had a significant impact on my admission. I don’t think case studies matter at all because if you are a fresh graduate, it automatically means you have no professional work experience, and they do not expect you to have such experiences before joining.
However, I feel it is good to try your hand at case study competitions and go for internships to understand where your interests lie. Do not try to go for something merely because of the monetary value it offers.
How did you manage to balance your academic workload and your CAT preparation together?
Honestly, I didn't find it particularly difficult. The academic workload in our 7th and 8th semesters was fairly light, and unless one is enrolled in coaching, it's relatively easy to manage. For instance, I used to tackle 3 or 4 mock exams per week, totalling a maximum of 8 hours.
What resources did you use for your preparation?
I had a friend who attended coaching classes earlier, and got the books from him for reference. Additionally, I bought the T.I.M.E and IMS test series and attempted them. Apart from this, I think it might be a good idea to practice your English skills by reading books, but I did not do this.
People tend to read books in two distinct ways - skimming through without much thought or thoroughly understanding and reading between the lines. To enhance your skills, you should strive for the latter approach. Comprehending the underlying meaning will prove more beneficial than mere reading. There's a common misconception that extraordinary verbal skills are required to score well in this section. However, I believe consistent practice can help achieve good scores.
What kind of exam strategy did you follow for CAT?
I’ll give an example of a strategy that you could follow. In CAT, the paper is of 198 marks. If you score 50%, which is around 99 marks, you would cross 99.7 percentile. This means that you would get a call from all the IIMs. So you have to just score around 50% of the marks. This is why you must figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are in the first two months of preparation, as I mentioned before.
So let’s take the example of the quant section- there are 22 questions. If you attempt 16 questions and you can be sure that 14 or 15 of them are definitely correct, you’re good. For example, there were certain areas that I had issues with, and I would keep them for later while solving all the questions from areas that I’m strong in. This maximizes your marks. The test is time-bound, so it is a bad idea to spend too much time on a question that you don’t understand.
Spend more time on your strengths, and try not to attempt questions that you are not too confident about. This is how a general CAT strategy would work.
Why did you choose IIM Ahmedabad as your university? Did you think of joining any foreign university for an MBA?
All major IIMs are actually pretty acclaimed internationally for their programmes, and I didn’t feel like there was a need to go to a foreign university for an MBA. Moreover, a lot of foreign universities require work experience, so it wasn’t suitable for me.
I chose IIM-A for its reputation and the flexibility it offers. They provide you a chance to defer your admission if your work experience is under 2 years, provided that you have a job offer in hand before a stipulated date. I wanted to experience the industry and explore a bit apart from academics, and therefore I deferred my admission by a year.
Moreover, I won't deny that I desired a short break before embarking on another academic journey. After years dedicated to JEE and IIT preparation, I felt a brief hiatus was justified.
Could you tell us a bit about how your career is going after deferring the admission?
Thanks for asking. I got a job in a B2C startup called Kaagaz. I was always interested in things such as strategy and product development, so I embraced the role. We have a lot of customers, and I feel amazing to have the opportunity to work somewhere that I can make a tangible impact. The role aligns with my interests, the working hours are reasonable, and the work culture is great. I work under the CEO, who is highly accomplished, making it a rich learning experience for me. Simply put, I love what I do.
What advice would you like to impart to your juniors, in general?
One of my primary regrets is my lack of involvement during my first two years. Active participation in college clubs significantly contributes to personal development. Utilize your initial years to explore and identify your genuine interests. Determine which topics capture your curiosity and which do not. This approach leaves ample time during your final two years, especially the fourth year with its lighter academic load, to develop these interests.
From an MBA or higher studies perspective, I’d say not to listen blindly to anyone who says a field is good. It is better if you explore yourself and find a field that you love and is viable at the same time. I wish you a successful and fulfilling journey in life!
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