Personal Interviews – the term becomes a misnomer when it comes to S P Jain. The usual convention of SPJIMR – conducting Group Interviews, as against individual ones – has continued this year as well, despite the process happening entirely online.
So, what exactly were the different rounds of the S P Jain process? How did the interview proceed? What were the kinds of questions posed to the candiate(s)? Let’s find out!
Before diving in, though, there is the usual reminder. This article is part of our interview experience series, where the following experiences have been published.
- Great Lakes
- IMT Ghaziabad
- IMT Ghaziabad #2
- IIM Rohtak
- IIM CAP
- IIM CAP #2
- IIM Rohtak #2
- IIM Lucknow
Let’s jump in now!
Of course, we should explore how the process went on, and how it was similar/different to the personal interviews of the other B-schools. First up, let us have a brief about what the candidate’s profile looks like.
The candidate is a male, engineering grad with two-and-a-half-years of work experience in service operations, quality control and content writing and marketing. The preferred specialization given by the candidate was Marketing (Remember, S P Jain wants you to choose your specialization right at the start?).
The ‘Personal Interviews’ and other processes
The S P Jain process consisted of three rounds, which are as follows:
- WAT (Written Ability Test)
- Group Interview #1
- Group Interview #2
While there is no elimination between Rounds #1 and #2, a candidate could be eliminated between the Rounds #2 and #3.
The beginning: WAT
The topic given was, “If there was one thing that guaranteed world peace, in your opinion what would that one thing be and why?”
The other constraints were two-fold – time (20 minutes) and word count (upper cap of 500 words).
What was the candidate’s response?
The candidate structured his argument around two verticals – poverty and women empowerment – to encompass both the social and economic angle.
Now, on to the next and the most crucial round – the eliminator
Got the drift? Yes, we are entering the territory of the Group Interview #1 now. Of course, there are going to be ‘Personal Interviews’ but in a group context. And that is something that makes the process of S P Jain interesting.
The Group Interview #1
When it comes to the S P Jain ‘Personal Interviews’ (yeah, we will keep including that within quotes), the first one is more about the specialization and the candidate’s experience. The second round would be more about abstract questions for which there are no right or wrong answer.
Anyway, now that we have kind of laid the background work, let us get to the act.
The panel for the Group Interview #1
The panel consisted of two male panelists; we are going to call them P1 and P2.
Now, a traditional description about the panel would have ended with just that. But hey, we are talking about S P Jain, which means we need to introduce the other interviewees as well.
The interviewees apart from the said candidate
We are going to address the female candidates as ‘F’ and the male candidates as ‘M’, and the candidate who has shared the experience as ‘C’.
F1 – Civil Engineer. Analytics job at a retail firm. (<1 year work ex) Specialization : Marketing
F2 – BMS Finance grad. Fresher. Specialization : Finance
M1 – Mechanical Engineer. Fresher. Specialization : Finance
P1: Tell me about yourself question and also add some things that are not mentioned in your CV. Explain why you chose the specialization you have opted for.
C: Gave away the standard answer. Mentioned some hobbies not mentioned in the form and commented about the comprehensiveness of the form in passing.
P2: Let’s start with the marketing guys (Started with F1). How did you end up in Retail and Data Analytics and why Marketing?
F1 was asked 2-3 follow up questions.
P1 to C: You are a football fan. How will you market ISL in India?
C: Told that I don’t watch Indian football as I was introduced to European football since childhood and the quality is better. Explained to him that people like me would be a good target demographic. Stated that if I were the ISL commissioner, I would encourage ISL teams to go for old European/South American legends as coaches and players (gave examples of Robbie Fowler and Materazzi). Also stated that they should focus on their “Why”, which is to nurture Indian football. Spoke about the integration of AT Kolkata and Mohun Bagan, an old stalwart in the Indian League.
P1: That’s very good and noble and all. But have you taken into account all of the stakeholders? What about sponsors?
C: Apologized slightly for the lapse. Told him that Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata has a capacity of around 90,000 (it is actually 85,000) which is bigger than many European stadiums. Told him about how I had witnessed the football culture in Goa and Kochi from my time working there and mentioned the modern stadium that is Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi. Told that certain pockets such as Kerala, West Bengal, the North-Eastern region and Goa have football fanatics and brands would get good visibility there.
P1 to F1: Anything to add to his point?
F1: Told she doesn’t watch football. Mentioned something generic in agreement to C’s points.
P1 to C: What kind of content do you write?
C: Explained the product that I work on, and the content that I write.
P2 to C: How do you ensure proper SEO?
C: Mentioned couple of generic points. Told him most of my work is based on keyword analysis done by the marketing team.
P2: Fine, I will not ask more as it is not your domain entirely. Do you include links in your articles?
C: Told him that I mostly work on how-to pages, the likes of which do not have external website URLs. But told him that when we work on mailers, we include a link to Gartner surveys that give favourable ratings to our products.
P2: Aren’t you helping Gartner then? How is it helping you? Aren’t they piggybacking off of your reputation?
C: (Found the question strange) Told him that Gartner being a reputed company that rates products in different domains, their website also gets a lot of clicks/hits. Including one or two good and reputed external links in articles is fine, and is good SEO. Further gave the example of customer testimonials and how some of those are also included.
P2 (to both C and F1): Tell me about marketing in 2 lines.
C: (After F1 had answered) Gave an unnecessarily complicated answer. Then apologized sheepishly and said I was trying to paraphrase Kotler.
P2: You are going beyond him maybe. You have told about the 2 end points. Explain a little more and in a slightly simple manner.
P1: You are talking about marketing a lot. Let me ask a couple of questions. What are demands and needs? (Picked the question up from C’s answer)
C: (answered after F1) Gave a somewhat accurate answer. Had read it in IIT Bombay PI kit but only vaguely remembered the specifics. Shoehorned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into the answer.
F2 and M1 were asked some more questions since their specialization was Finance.
P1 then asked a “Tell me about yourself” doppelganger based on something that was not on our CVs.
P1 to C: Market your college to me as if I am student or a parent.
C: Asked particularly if the pitch was to be focused towards parents or students, to get more clarity, since the question was slightly ambiguous.
P1 laughed and gave thumbs up saying “Good”.
P2: Good good. Consider me a parent.
C: Talked about placements and the good multicultural environment. Spoke about how it is attached to a metro city, as opposed to Manipal and VIT (other colleges in the same bracket) which are more remote and less accessible. Gave example of niche fields such as Aeronautics and Bio Tech that are not present everywhere. Spoke positively about placements, using myself as an example of someone who got multiple offers from campus – one core company and two IT companies.
Interview ended. P1 and P2 asked if the candidates had any questions for them.
C: How are you finding the online process? Are you convinced of your evaluation?
P2: Good question. This process has already been done for a 1-year batch and all students are excellent.
P1: (Agreed to P1) The online process has not hampered student quality and the same students would have been selected in an offline process as well.
Overall, it was a pleasant experience. The panelists were jovial.
(C got selected for the Group Interview #2)
The Group Interview #2
Again, let us start from the basics – getting the taxonomy and terminologies (ahem?) right – and then move on to the actual interview. As you would have seen by now, the interview was still like all other personal interviews, with just a twist – that of the presence of four candidates.
The panel for this round
The panel comprised two members again, but this time, there was a male and a female. Let us call them P3 and P4, respectively.
There were four male interviewees, including the candidate who has shared this experience (and who will continue to be referred as ‘C). Let us call the other three candidates as M1, M2 and M3.
The questions: Did they resemble those of the personal interviews?
P3: (Exchanged greetings and congratulated us on making it this far. Stated that this interview was for knowing us as individuals) Briefly, in a minute, speak about yourself as if you were introducing yourself to a stranger. Don’t state academics and work.
C (spoke first): Answered using standard adjectives – relaxed, easy going, funny, et al. Told that I can get along with many people as I know four languages. Added some other generic stuff.
P4: (Asked us to explain our WAT)
C (spoke first) : Told that I had written that the single factor I would focus upon was women empowerment (social and financial emancipation) as it required a multi-pronged approach and focusing on it would cause improvement. Paraphrased my favourite author Christopher Hitchens, and said that there is not one society which has not improved after focusing on women empowerment due to direct and indirect benefits.
P4 to C: You mentioned poverty also. Do you feel it is more important to focus on women empowerment than poverty?
C: Wanted to elaborate more but said “yes”.
Same question was circulated to the other candidates.
M3 stated something about cooperation and collaboration between nations.
M2 stated something about universal love and brotherhood and stated something about a Coca Cola marketing campaign.
M4 stated that damaging ecosystem is also against world peace. Stressed on using resources properly and started speaking about collaborating for Interstellar travel and used terms like we should become Type-1/type-2 civilizations.
Everyone was cross questioned two to three times.
P4: M4 has stated that competition is needed for world peace and interstellar travel and all. Don’t you think it is contradicting your point?
C: Tried to clarify my last answer to him but he cut me off jovially saying that now I must address my “friends”.
So, I spoke about the space race (US vs USSR) in some detail and spoke about how it was also a competition related to space travel but it is not exactly conducive to world peace.
Leveraged the ‘natural resources’ point of M4, and stated the example of Thomas Sankara – a former leader of Upper Volta/Burkina Faso, who focused on internal development and helped in giving his country prosperity. Also stated that he made education for girls compulsory. Stated that all points were valid such as collaboration but they apply more to technological advancement and developed/developing countries. Explained that I was also thinking of small players like Sierra Leone, Mali, Burkina Faso, Congo, et al. when I talked about global peace.
M3 was asked to conclude by P3. He did so, taking all of our points, giving them merit and stating that (obviously) global peace was never going to be achieved by a single solution.
P3: Now I will give you a situation. Suppose you are working in a startup and you know that the revenue numbers have been fudged to get a better valuation/investment. What will you do? Will you tell someone?
M2: (Tries answering first)
P3 (clarifies): Will you be a whistleblower?
C (spoke after M2): Told that I have 2 scenarios in my head. One where the company I am working with is a company such as Ola, Uber or Dunzo, i.e a “non-essentials” company of sorts. In this case, I would seek advice of a friend of mine who is in corporate law or my father to understand the gravity of the situation, as I am not very well versed in these aspects. Then, as I have to look out for myself and my family, I would seek a new job. After that, I would think about the next step such as whistleblowing.
In the second case – where it is an “essentials” company like a vaccine manufacturer doing it, I would blow the whistle immediately as the larger portion of society gets damaged in this case, and only maybe investors in the previous case.
P3: Okay, ammer investor hai to chalta hai? (Laughing)
C: (Taken aback by sudden switch to Hindi) Nahi chalta to nahi hai. I wish to say that in such a situation, the severity and scale of damage would dictate how drastic my response would be.
P4 (suddenly comes in): Okay, so you mean to say that morality is dependent on the outcome?
C: Yes, Sir. To some extent.
P4: Okay. In the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna asks Arjuna to go to war against his cousins saying it is his duty to do so. What is your take on this and doesn’t this contradict your actions?
C: (smiling) Sir, that is a very deep question.
P4: (starts laughing deeply) Yes, I know. That is why I asked you. And you provoked me to ask it with your answer. So, what do you think about fulfilling your duty?
C: Sir, in that case, I would say I have two duties – one as an employee and one as a citizen. And, I believe the latter supersedes the former as I am obliged (stumbled to get the correct word and said “entitled” first) to serve the society before serving a private entity.
P4: (cutting C off) Leave it. This is a long discussion. We shall do it some other day maybe.
Then P3 asked this situational question to the other candidates and two or three more follow-up questions to each of them.
We were almost done.
P4: Any questions for us?
M2 took the chance to praise SP Jain for their ethics.
P3 laughed, saying that the word ‘ethics’ never came into the previous discussion. (Don’t know how)
C asked the same question that he asked in the previous Group Interview, and got a similar answer.
To conclude – was it like the typical personal interviews?
The SPJIMR process, as always, was markedly different from the usual personal interviews of any other B-school. The ‘bouncing-off-ideas-from-one-person-to-another kept happening then and there during the course of the process.
For general tips on interview preparation, watch this video.
Stay tuned for more such experiences on the different personal interviews in the upcoming days.