Seven Deadly Sins of Personal Interview, and the Eighth

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Personal Interview Tips

I must have interviewed at least a few thousand candidates in my time.

Every time I feel that I have seen it all and I have met them all, a Higher Power Up There intervenes and restores my humility by presenting a sample that I have never seen before.

I share with readers these samples in the (absolutely vain) hope that they will not repeat these cases, and make their own new mistakes so that my life remains exciting.

I just pray that you make those new mistakes in the mock interviews and not in the actual ones!

Sin No 1: Negative Body language and Attitude:

This includes slouching (or slumping, depending on the course of the interview) in the chair, shaking the legs, not making eye contact with (any or all of) the panellists, twitching the hands nervously, leaning too forward in the chair to project an image of cool casualness, constant shifting of legs (those with better GK will recall Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct), feigning shyness that borders on flirting (yes, I have also seen this!), stroking the hair coquettishly (I have no earthly idea WHY!), smiling suppliantly,  rolling up the eyes in disapproval, having a permanent frown on the forehead, being a poor listener, not letting the panel finish, raising one’s voice over nothing, or in general, just showing anger and frustration for no apparent reason.

All of these are signs of a disturbed and disturbing soul who is going to be very difficult to handle over the course of 4 semesters.

Sin No 2: Overthinking (in other words, Thinking that You are Smarter than the Panel)

While conducting a PI workshop I gave the candidates the usual advice on not sitting in the chair till offered and all that. After the workshop a candidate (with 4 years of experience in one of India’s top IT companies, mind you!) comes up to me. Here is what we talked:

The candidate: “Sir, I understand what you said about the chair, but I have a question.”
I: (Anticipating something at least half-sensational and hence gleaming) “Go ahead.”

The candidate: “The only purpose of the chair is to be sat upon. Would it be rational of the panel to not take this into account?  And if I wait for the panel to give me the permission, are they not also equally likely to think that I do not even understand the basic purpose for which a chair exists? They may conclude that I am irrational as well as lacking in initiative and that I am merely yes-man!”

I: (glowing in the knowledge that I have found another priceless sample for my collection) “Don’t worry [yes] man! You may never find yourself in a place where you have to face this dilemma!”

The candidate: (completely oblivious to my barb) “Yes sir, that’s exactly what I am praying for!”

Sin No 3: Misplaced Priorities:

This begins from the usual MBA-for-more-money, or for rising-up-the-ladder banalities, which are at worst immature career goals. However, people’s priorities could quickly get a lot worse. Here are a few:

  1. “I wish to study at your B-school because it has a vegetarian campus!”
  2. “I want to do MBA because by the age of 30, I must have Rs 50,000 cr. in my bank account!”
  3. “I want to do MBA because I want to become a logical thinker!”
  4. “I wish to do MBA from here because you will offer me a fab placement”. To this I respond, “Do you think we are a glorified placement agency?” The candidate says, “Yes!”

Sometimes the panel asks you to ask them a question. This is their way of finding out your priority, which at this stage must be learning. Instead, this is what I have heard:

  1. “How many holidays do you have in a year?”
  2. “Are there lectures even on weekends?”
  3. “Does the college have an official rock band?”
  4. “Do you have a laundry service in the hostel? Because I am not in the habit of doing it myself!”


Sin No 4: Colourful Language

These occurred despite plenty of warnings given in no uncertain words.

A candidate: (having realised that he has messed it up) “I know whatever I am saying in this interview is coming back to bite me in the a$$!”

Another candidate: (a film enthusiast whom the panel has deviously led into an argument) “With all due respect, sir, XYZ is a f**kh*le director!”

Yet another candidate: (at the start of the PI) “Oh! F**k me! I forgot the CV!”


Sin No 5: Criminal Lack of Knowledge – GK or Academics:

There is a lack of knowledge, and then there is a criminal lack of knowledge.

Although GK and academics are areas of concern for most of us, there is a line we do not cross, a level below which we must not go. For example:

I: “Who is your state’s finance minister?”

The candidate: (looking smug because she thinks that she ‘caught’ the trick question) “There is no such thing as a state finance minister. Finance ministry is only a federal portfolio!”

Another case:

This comes from a candidate who has graduated with BA (English Honours) from one of India’s elite universities and cites Shakespeare as an area of interest: “A character called Jessica does not exist anywhere in the Shakespearean works!”

Yet another:

An Electrical Engineering department topper from one if India’s topmost engineering institutions, who has a CGPI of 9.73, says this: “Mobile phone batteries sometimes swell because you overheat them. So, if you keep the phone in an ice box while charging, this problem would never occur!”

This is the best:

My fellow interviewer: “Where do you live?”

The candidate: (who always so pithy that he would have given Goethe a complex) “Kolkata!”

The interviewer: “Where in Kolkata?”

The candidate: “Dunlop!”

(Dunlop is a locality in the northeast of Kolkata)

The interviewer: “Where does the name Dunlop come from?”

(You’d assume that pretty much every one who knows tyres would know what Dunlop stands for, but no!)

The candidate: (now he decides to make a sentence!) “Dunlop is called Dunlop because of Lord Dunlop!


Sin No 6: An (almost) Impossible Combination of Aimless and Supercilious

That the majority of the candidates are not entirely clear on why MBA is normal. That they know this and somewhere feel concerned about it is also normal.

The abnormal, however, is an entirely different class. This, ironically, consists of such candidates who are usually good students, but this quality of theirs is counterproductive because they have mastered the art of scoring well in exams without having any clear goals. They are usually aware of this strength of theirs, and this awareness lends them an air of haughty disdain for almost everyone around them – including the interview panel.

While such kids may have so far thrived in the sequestered cocoons of elite institutions where academics may be the only priority, they make for most unsuitable B-school candidates because they are clueless about the realities of life, and yet arrogant. They try their hardest to give the impression that they are doing the panel a favour by deigning to appear for the interview, that MBA is not their plan A, and that they consider the education and the career in management somewhat ‘beneath’ them. Here are a few examples:

In response to “Why should you be selected?” one such candidate said this to me: “Why me? OK, you tell me why I should not be selected!”

While responding to the same question, another said this: “Why me? You would not know what you are losing out on unless you first ‘take’ me!”

In response to “Why this college?” a candidate said this: “Why? Because you called me!”

Here is the best. I once interviewed a case who had 99.25 percentile, and had NO clue about why MBA or why any IIM. He told me that he had not ‘planned’ this (i.e. scoring so well in the CAT). In his words, it just happened.

I could not resist the comeback!

I: “So this is a little like saying that I don’t really know what happened. May be the condom burst!”

The candidate: (grinning from ear to ear) “Yes sir, something like that!”





Sin No 7: Crying During the PI

While it is true within the context my experience that for every one male candidate that cries during the interview there are 4 female candidates who do, the phenomenon of being on the verge of crying presents a much more balanced proportion.

It is possible that during the PI, you may be reminded of a potentially disturbing detail, a painful event caused by factors that lie outside your control – such a serious illness or death in the family – and your eyes may well up in its memory. This is a natural reaction of every sensitive individual. The panel will completely understand this. This is not the type I am referring to.

What I am talking about is breaking down (or being on the verge of it) because the interview is too rigorous and is exposing the candidate’s awful performances in the past, and/or the lack of preparation in the present.

As I have said earlier, one must have an analytical approach to one’s failures. One must demonstrate to the panel the learnings from mistakes. That is all that matters in the present.

An emotional outburst such as crying only demonstrates that the candidate not only has not learnt from the past mistakes but also is unable to handle the slightest pressure, either of which is enough to confirm the rejection of one’s candidature.


And Sin No 8: There is No Word for This – Just…Just Do Not Do This. Ever.

I would have liked to call it abject solipsism. But no, that does not cover even half of it.

This happened exactly like this:

(The candidate in front of me has scored very well in the CAT, the XAT, and also the NMAT. She has got calls from several reputed institutions, one of which is NMIMS, Mumbai)

I: “Who was Narsee Monjee?”

She: “Aeh?”

(You know exactly what that ‘Aeh’ sounds like!)

I: (losing my patience just a little bit) “Who…was…Narsee…Monjee?”

She: “There is nobody called Narsee Monjee. I don’t think any such person ever existed.”


That evening, for the first time in my life I went to church and prayed, “Oh God! Please exist!”

Seven Deadly Sins of Personal Interview, and the Eighth
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