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Ace the Personal Interview
Gejo Srinivasan
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December 08, 2006

Part I: How to impress your interviewer

You'd think a personal interview is standard operating procedure to secure admission to a B-school or land that dream job. That it is just an often used standard set of questions thrown at you. That everyone gives practically the same kind of answer to every question.

Well, here's some food for thought.

The interviewer finds out a lot about your personality traits, background, temperament and, eventually, your suitability for the seat/ job from your answers.

If you are looking for admission to a B-school,  there are certain things you need to keep in mind.

Yesterday, we discussed how covered academic/ technical and work experience domains. Here's more.

Extra-curriculars/ Hobbies

First of all, let's understand the difference between an extracurricular activity and a hobby.

Extra-curricular activities can be broadly defined as activities that are pursued formally, apart from your academic or  curricular activity. For example, you could have participated in debates, dramatics or some sports along with your formal education.

Hobbies, on the other hand, are activities you are really passionate about and will do anything to follow. In a nutshell, the difference between an extracurricular activity and a hobby is the level of passion involved.

Participation in extracurricular activities and hobbies shows you know how to draw a fine balance between study and fun. It also indicates your recognition of the fact that learning need not only happen through textbooks. For example, participation in football teaches you things about teamwork and leadership that no textbook on earth can.

The interview panel will want to assess if you have a one-track personality or a well-rounded, multifaceted one.

Do some serious introspection over your extracurricular activities and/ or hobbies. Try and formulate answers to the following questions:

If hobbies are 'things you are really passionate about', it is expected you will brush up your knowledge about them. For example, if you say you are passionate about cricket then you should know things like:

General awareness

This area may or may not be touched upon, but if it is, the purpose is to check how alive and sensitive the candidate is to his socio-political and economic ecology. The purpose may also be to check the candidate's maturity and reasoning ability.

At this stage, you should know the difference between General Knowledge and General Awareness.

Knowing the name of the island in which Tokyo is based is general knowledge. Understanding the difference between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of state policy is general awareness. To cite another example, knowing the name of the wind blowing across the Alps is GK, while understanding the problems caused by terrorism is GA.

It is a good idea to brush up on your general awareness by going through good national level news magazines and news channels. Try to develop your own perspective on current issues and events. Opinion pieces in newspapers, magazines, television and Web sites will help. You can also read the letters to the editor column in the national daily newspapers.

Career goals

The purpose is to assess whether you have clarity when it comes to your career. They need to know what your motivation is, whether you have given a reasonable amount of thought to your career before choosing it, whether you have your priorities clear, etc.

Preparation for this area of questioning can be very challenging. You can expect queries about your graduate discipline (why did you choose to do arts/ science/ commerce/ engineering) to those about your interest in management and even beyond (such as what specialisation do you plan to opt for in your MBA, where you see yourself five years down the line, etc).

What you need to do is to spend some time thinking:


This broad area covers almost everything that has been left out in the above areas. The purpose is to allow the panel to form a more holistic picture and consolidate the opinion they may have formed about you through your answers in the other areas.

Personality is an outward manifestation of your character. Personality can be developed or groomed; character is more internal. Thinking on these lines will help you handle questions like:

The key to acing personal interviews lies in doing an objective analysis of what you have done in the past, what you are doing presently and finally what you intend to do in the future. Visualise yourself doing well, practise a lot and success will be yours.

Part I: How to impress your interviewer

-- An IIM-C alumnus, Gejo Srinivasan is head of products at IMS Learning Resources Pvt Ltd, an educational services provider that prepares candidates for leading competitive examinations like CAT, GRE and GMAT.


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