The common misnomer doing the rounds today is well echoed in the headline and I use the word misnomer since most consider CAT or Common Admission Test as the end of the world. More than 230,000 candidates were appearing for approximately 4,300 seats (this year the number of seats is likely to go up) in 19 IIMs. The ratio stands at 1:53, which it is needless to mention makes CAT the toughest test in the country. However, there is no “end of the world” factor that really is important to factor in.
My experience illustrates there are four categories of candidates who appear as CAT aspirants. One who is serious and there is a lot at stake for them. The second is the one who thinks that there is no harm in appearing and if scores are good, my luck. In the second category, there are the candidates for whom efforts are proportionate to the objective of appearing in CAT. The third are those who are appearing because someone told them about it and hence they thought of meddling and figuring. And fourth is the one who is testing the water and will come back later fully, geared for deep diving. Let me make it amply clear as I start talking and explain, the article focuses on the first category of aspirants only, for whom CAT was the end of the world.
The world has moved on since MBAs or aspirants, so to speak, realised that there is life after MBA and that is frankly happening with even the engineering space. We will leave that for some other day. To me, most aspirants of CAT must look at specialisation and skill building. Management qualification (in India) unfortunately does not provide for that possible foundation. It has succinctly produced outcomes, who are geared to understand the organisational nuances (that are an outcome of the B-School pedagogy and the curricula), but beyond that it is all about skills and loads of attitude that matters. Take for instance, marketing as a specialisation area and perhaps the most favoured one. Business schools tell you what marketing is and how it is practised. Well, they really do not provide sectoral experience and that’s a gap.
Working for a few years (could be between 36-54 months are ideal) helps build the foundation. Second, building on skills during the period in which you were thinking to prepare/appear for CAT is a better prospect. Simultaneously, there is a whole buzz around the startup culture and there are more and more challengers willing to experiment. I will tend to believe working in the space for someone (who runs a startup) is a far better prospect. There are opportunities galore and most of them are looking for interns.
Unfortunately, the drive to earn money (and more) and the fact that business schools are so placement driven, it creates a wrong picture for most aspirants. I spent a large part of my time in IIFT (Indian Institute of Foreign Trade) and now am in IMI (International Management Institute). I remember when participants graduated from business schools about 2 decades back they were mostly experienced professionals. In the last 7-8 years, the trend to do an MBA right after graduation has started. And lo and behold I find these same set of people coming back to me in 3-4 years and complaining of burnout or job dissatisfaction and sometimes willing to do another MBA from the US/Europe (that is to me a complete let down). Whereas participants with prior work experience do not complain of such challenges.
CAT aspirants who were working (failed to score well) should continue to work for some time and target the PGPX (1-year masters) programs which are better suited to their profile as opposed to a classical 2 year MBA programme that to me seems redundant for all practical purposes. CAT aspirants (who are freshers) should look at working and spend some time working rather than consider an MBA so early in life. The lure of big bucks and a good job is more hype and less hoopla. Hype I say because the placement-driven focus in business schools do not help in the long term career building for participants in any which way.
However, should you wish to stay on and consider looking at similar options there are other business schools with similar entrance curricula (XLRI, IIFT to name a few)? Off late, there is a surge in specialised management programs in tourism and hospitality, banking and financial services, insurances services, retail management to name a few and these specialised programs have tremendous opportunities in times to come. As a nation, we are grappling with skill related issues with such a large repository of manpower available and I think the timing of these programs to be considered will be perfect.
Often as aspirants when we fail to achieve our desired intentions/objectives/targets they may dissipate us, but trust me as the learning from the startup space is throwing up the concept of “failures are necessary” and to me, that is extremely important for goal planning.
All the best and plan well.
(Dasgupta is a professor of marketing and dean (corporate relations and placements), IMI New Delhi. Views expressed here are personal.)