5 years ago, right after graduating, I compiled a few things I had to say about the placements process at IIT Delhi in the post below — my own experience, my understanding of the process, and a few tips.
To this date, my friends ping me for this since they cannot find it at its original link. Since this overview was apparently helpful to a lot of people over the years, I decided to re-publish it here. I’m not sure how much things have changed over the past 5 years, and I advice you to take everything here with a big grain of salt.
Also, if you didn’t go to school at IIT Delhi, you may find the post littered with a bunch of acronyms you may not know — sorry about that! Now onto the original post:
First, this is a long post. Read it when you have lots of time — which I’m sure you won’t. Don’t feel compelled to go over each and every bit that I’ve written; it’ll be better to skip over parts not relevant to you. This section should give you a good idea of the same.
Broadly, there are three divisions in which companies can be placed over a recruitment session — consulting, finance and core. All of this post pertains to just Day 1 companies because I was not looking beyond that. The core part is different for different departments, and in my case, I was, if at all, interested in Silicon Valley based software engineering roles— and none of the other standard EE/CS jobs. I was an 8.5 CGPA electrical engineering guy who was also the Overall Coordinator of Rendezvous 2011 — with a completely confused mind frame. I had just returned from an internship at Microsoft Research, Bangalore and was continuing my BTP with the same (awesome, if I may add) advisor from MSR. There were a couple of hard decisions I had to make — 1. Ph.D vs Job. 2. What kind of a job do I want out of the three divisions — consulting, finance or core. And finally, how do I go ahead and prepare for it along with pulling a whole fest pretty late in the semester (Oct 21–24.) So I’ll write the next few sections in order of their hotness: consulting, finance, core, HR, CAT/GMAT, PhD vs Job and my experience on Day 1. In interest of sanity of length of this post, I won’t describe what these companies do and why you should join them. Attending the pre-placement talks (PPTs) will give you a way better idea about that than I can ever attempt. If you don’t see a point or practicality in attending all the PPTs (as was my case), attend a PPT of at least one company in each division. Of course, ideally, you should attend PPTs of all the companies you’re interested in.
I’m not going to delve into the actual CV preparation process or teach you how to prepare for case interviews here. This is just a broad discussion of what goes on with consulting companies. All your seniors will help you with both CV and case preparation in any case.
For consulting companies, IMHO, the major hurdle is getting shortlisted. Once you’re on the shortlists, it’s pretty easy to prepare yourself for the case interviews and ace them. Shortlisting is done primarily through CVs. Do immediate recruits have a say in the shortlisting process? I don’t think so. What they surely can do is ask senior managers/recruiters to take another look at a particular CV if they feel that a really good candidate didn’t make it through the internal shortlisting process. Try to make your CV by mid August, mail it to a couple of seniors and ask them to review it. Go for a version control system like git if you are geeky enough to know how to. I started very late (around mid-Sep, owing to Rendezvous), and ended up having an unoptimized sort of CV. Make sure you send one copy to at least one senior in every consulting company you plan to apply to. I didn’t send mine to anybody in BCG/Bain — and boom, I wasn’t on their shortlists whereas at least someone amongst McK/ATK/Booz recruits knew me well from college, and I got through the three. Of course, this could be a pure coincidence too.
Once the CV part is done and you’re on a couple of shortlists, make a small 4 person job prep group and start preparing with it. Since people get booked up fast, make the group asap — ideally in July itself. Once you get shortlisted, you’ll get assigned buddies — _seniors who just started working at these companies. With them, there’s nothing like “_It’s not evaluative” in the scheme of things. They will do sample cases with you over phone/in person — and that may be evaluative. You may find contradictions to this rule too — I felt that folks at McKinsey were genuinely not evaluating anything in any of their interactions with me prior to Day 1. The idea is to go out with a mindset to do your best all the time, and not worry too much on what’s being evaluated. Most of the consults try to make a top-10 kind of list amongst the shortlist of 30, which has colloquially come to be known as the “hot list”. I’m not sure of this and this is just my opinion. Apparently, people on the hot list can manage an offer if they just do their first 1–2 cases well on Day 1. (And believe me, I’ve seen that happen a lot. Like 90% of the time)
My advice is that you start preparing for consulting cases after the shortlists are out unless you’re absolutely sure you’ll be on a couple of them. There’s no point wasting a lot of time if you just don’t end up making it. Also, making a group with people who’ll actually get shortlisted is a good idea, because if majority in your group don’t make it to the shortlists, there’s no point left in continuing case preparation in that group.
The thing about finance companies on campus is that they’re too less in number — the Day 1 are probably just DB, Goldman Sachs and PIMCO. Each of these companies tackles their process a bit differently (usually a test (in early Nov) and a round of interviews being the common theme) so I’ll just go ahead and describe the specifics one by one:
- DB: The test is a CAT kind of paper — I think it’s 30–45 mins long. You also have to write an essay on an easy topic for another 15 mins or so as a second part to the test (no prep needed, of course) I think the test is used just as a cut-off mechanism (with pretty low cut-off) and they focus on CVs as well. So even if you screw up the test, don’t be surprised to see yourself on the shortlist. Though I was called for the interview, I didn’t go for it since I had the ATK offer at 8.50 am (read the section on my Day 1 experience.) From what I know from a fellow batch mate who got recruited at DB, you need to mug up the DB’s prep book which can be taken from someone who went to DB over the summer for the internship. The book has a couple of finance basics compiled together (and it’s supposed to be confidential material, but whatever.) Since it’s just slides put together in a book, it might be a good idea to catch hold of one of these DB intern people and ask them to teach you the book, like they were taught in the first week of their internship. This is critical — the interview has a lot of finance in it, from what I’ve heard.
- Goldman Sachs: The test is critical. It’ll be a 2 hour long test — and you need to be a MAL250 expert (yes, till the very end including the Markov chains) to do it well. In my year, it had 4 sections — Probability, Comp Sc (Networks, OS, Comp Arch etc.), Algorithms and Linear Algebra, and you had to attempt 2 out of the 4 sections. I attempted Probability and Algorithms — CS people usually sail through with their Comp Sc section. EE people shouldn’t bank upon it, unless they have done/know Networks/OS the way CS people do (thoroughly, i.e.) Probability section is MAL250. Linear Algebra is MAL124 (sp. the latter part of the course which comes after Group Theory) Algorithms is full on ADA (CSL356) — though you can grab around 30/50 on that section with just DS (CSL201) knowledge. Again, I got through the test, but didn’t appear for the interviews (went for just one mandatory round.) The interview is high on math, low on finance (they may ask basic stuff like what’s a bond etc.)
- PIMCO: The test has finance, algorithms, probability, C etc. For the finance part, try to grab hold of finance basics page on PIMCO’s site itself. Google it up, I never had the link and came to know of its existence after the test. You should know all the basics like bonds, stocks, libor rate etc. The interviews are a bit grilling — they make you code in C and quiz you on algorithms/finance related stuff. They’ll take up a lot of time on Day 1 — so go only if you don’t have too many other companies lined up.
Some of these finance companies try to gauge your sharpness by asking puzzles in the interviews along with standard probability and algorithms (and of course, finance) stuff. Here are some awesome links with good puzzles.
My experience with core companies was a pretty brief one. I definitely didn’t want an Electrical Engineering company. I hardly know any transistors or MOSFETs to be eligible to work at TIs or GEs. I wasn’t interested in 9 to 5 coding jobs like in Adobe/Directi’s case either. I was mildly interested in more fun places like Facebook/Google, but they’re pretty hard to get into if you don’t prepare full time for them. It’s a good idea to be on top of your game in algorithms and puzzle solving, be a highly TopCoder-ish person and have amazing projects in your Github repos before you apply there. You can apply to them off-campus as well and talking to someone who works there beforehand is not a bad idea if you’re interested in this.
You should generally prepare for HR a bit. I don’t recommend, nor see a point in sitting hours with another person with them asking you stuff about yourself, but doing this exercise once with yourself is not a bad idea. Why do you want to join the company, why should they pick you, why consulting/finance? Know each and everything written on your resumé well — each project detail, each extra-curricular activity in detail. What did you learn about leadership as an OC of Rendezvous? (ATK) Keep yourself abreast of general affairs. What should Ratan Tata teach Cyrus to ensure he’ll do well as the heir of the Tata empire? (McK, it was pretty recent stuff for Dec 1, ’11) And be generally smart about it all. The companies are dead hungry for good people. They’ll know if you’re one.
CAT is not a bad idea if you think you don’t have a great Day 1 shot at placements and don’t want to do a Masters/PhD. From all the interactions I’ve had with seniors with MBAs, I’ve never heard anyone recommend not going for some job experience before going for your MBA. A lot of people get through CAT and eventually make it to IIMs, which is sort of a life saver and gives them another shot at all these consulting/finance companies. But yes, IIMs by no means are the best B-schools in the world, and going for a consulting job will position you much better to make it to one of the Whartons or HBS or the sort. Another thing, try for the 2+2 programs only if you’re absolutely sure you have a good chance — else you’ll end up wasting a lot of time giving GMAT, preparing apps, asking for recommendations and all that. I was sure that if at all I wanted to do an MBA, I’ll go for a 2–3 year work experience first, and wasn’t too sure about my odds at HBS 2+2 etc. Hence, I neither appeared for CAT nor applied for the 2+2. I probably should have applied at least for the 2+2, but with a whole Rendezvous on your hands, things are a whole lot different and you’re crunched for time.
Very frankly, Ph.D. is a rigorous 4–6 year training in the scientific method — hypothesizing, collecting relevant data, analyzing all that data, and concluding the results (which you hope are path breaking and better than anyone else’s work in the field, so you can publish a paper on that.) This is great if you’re planning to become a researcher (or a professor) as a career choice. For a person like me, who wants to build a valuable startup one day, this didn’t fit my profile. Yes, I’m still very passionate about tech and ML and robotics and all the stuff I used to do in college, but that doesn’t necessarily make me interested in doing a Ph.D. (and eventually becoming a professor or a researcher in a top notch college.) There’s a difference — you can be really passionate about what you do and end up having a startup built around that, or you can be passionate about what you do and feel that teaching the same to others is the best way for you to contribute to it. Mine is the former case. This is a great read for those who are considering a Ph.D, and gives a pretty accurate description of what to expect there. The broad idea is that applying for a Ph.D requires a lot of hard work and time — giving GRE, preparing apps, asking for recommendations, doing great projects and internships, publishing papers if possible etc., and you should get into this stuff only if you’re 100% sure you can manage it happily all your life. It’s more difficult and intensive than any other option, and I hold those who actually end up pursuing it in very high regard.
One of my friends pointed out that I was being biased by not stating the various industrial research opportunities available to Ph.D.s. I didn’t because I read this amazing article which brings out a clearer picture of career options after a Ph.D — most shockingly that roughly only one in five Ph.Ds ends up in academia or industrial research and rest end up doing nothing better than what a masters degree holder would be doing, especially in CS.
Of masters — it’s another one/two years in college. Mostly non-funded unless you’re brilliant and can get through Rhodes scholarship or something like that. Again, there’s a broad spectrum of schools available, and all this advice holds for the top 10 schools only. Of course, if the maximum you want to get into is a mid-tier US University, you’ll sail through even with a 7.5 CGPA.
Besides thinking on the lines of idealist grounds put above, looking at the practicality of things might give you a good idea. I was an 8.5 in EE, looking for a Ph.D. in Vision/Machine Learning in nothing but the top 5 CS departments in the world. Without a published A-level conference paper, I had no shot no matter how good my recommendations were. Hence, I decided not to apply for it. Please note the A-level part. You can easily publish a paper for the sake of it in any Tom-Dick-Harry conference like IEEE Indian Conference on xx. What matters is that people should know the conference (like SIGGRAPH and similar level stuff) to enable them to trust your research and research-abilities. There are a lot of phonies running around in this paper-publishing business, so stop looking up to anyone who’s published a paper without asserting the quality of the conference/journal first.
Fortunately, my Day 1 experience was a short one. My first slot (8 am) was ATK. I went in and had a case till 8.30 with one of the senior managers, which I did well. So I was sent to a partner, who did a very small case and had more of a HR kind of interview. 8.50 am, they extended an offer. Now the nature of most of these offers is ‘take it or leave it’. If you’re really good, you can ask them to hold it for some time, say an hour or so if you want to try another company. I asked them to let me give a shot at McK, and I was free to go by 9.20, and they wanted me back in an hour, else they’d go ahead and give my offer to someone else. 9.30 — I started the first McK interview with a partner from McK, Dubai — and boy, it went long, till 10.15 or so. It went well, except I felt that a part of it didn’t go perfect. Then I went to the second round with a manager from Gurgaon office, and that again went on till 10.45 or so. The thing about McK is that they are not too keen to give out an offer on the basis of just 2 interviews, specially when it’s the 4th or 5th offer they’re going to make for the day. So I was recommended for a third round, which I no longer had time for, lest I expire my ATK offer as well. Hence I had to walk off the process (and the first interview was a bit of a screw up too nevertheless.) You should know how much you can bargain for on Day 1, and the first few hours test out your patience like anything. Taking a wrong call on any one of these can put you in a bad spot for the whole day, leaving you hunting for an offer amongst the slot 2 companies. Some of my best friends who’re way more talented than me ended up doing so, and you don’t feel good about it later.
This is just one person’s perspective and experience at the placements — make sure you gather many such perspectives before forming an opinion of your own/ taking a decision in this matter. Look for seniors who were in a similar position as you last year, and what they did and how they fared. Talk to them, understand what they didn’t do and could’ve done, and try to correct all their mistakes. Most importantly, don’t panic!
I didn’t actually end up starting work at A.T. Kearney. I asked them if I could join them a year later since I was working on a project called EagerPanda on the side that I felt could potentially balloon into a full fledged startup — and I wanted to give that a shot. They were okay with it (I guess) and I eventually ended up moving to Silicon Valley in 2013 for it (which didn’t work out either). After EagerPanda, we started another company called Compose Labs in Summer 2016, and are currently working on Commonlounge. So in conclusion, you may stress about the placement season a lot, but in the end when you zoom back, it probably would’ve mattered much less than you think.