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SPJIMR’s PGDM programme and the admissions process-interview of Dr. Atish Chattopadhyay

Dr. Atish ChattopadhyaySPJIMR’s PGDM programme is now open for admissions for 2014-2016. The online applications process was launched on September 15,2013.

In this freewheeling interview, Dr.Atish Chattopadhyay, Deputy Director of the PGDM programme at SPJIMR, speaks about the programme and the admissions process.


Q: You’ve launched the admission process for PGDM 2014-16. What kind of a response do you expect this time?

A: The intake of the two year programme has gone up to 240 since the last year and we receive a good number of applications. This year, we expect a better response given the fact that the programme has done extremely well over the last two years both in terms of placement and in terms of initiatives which are very contemporary and relevant. I think that the programme will receive a robust and enthusiastic response. Also, I must point out that our ranking has improved and this will also be reflected in the response we see.


Q: What is it that you are doing different this time from the previous year?

A: As far as our admission is concerned, we must understand that SPJIMR’s approach has been very different. We realise that we are ultimately catering to the industry and the recruiters who have different needs. So if we are talking about different needs or differentiated end products, we need segmentation of the input material.


If we are talking about the person who will join the manufacturing sector in the operations area, we will be looking at someone who would have some kind of a background in manufacturing and operations, and accordingly the whole training would be geared towards that. A person who would like to do finance or corporate finance, maybe the person will be a CA, and then go through the whole process of MBA and sharpen that finance base.


So the approach towards the admission is looking at the differentiated needs of the recruiter and segmentation at the time of admissions. We give lot of emphasis to the background of the individual seeking admission to our programme. Given that our whole approach to admissions is looking at segmentation at the time of admission and differentiation at the time of graduation, we ask for specialisation at the time of admission.


The way the SPJIMR’s process is different is that we give a lot of weightage to the long term leadership potential of the individual which means we not only look at the competency, academic background and the skill sets which they bring in but the overall individual as a person or the values of the individual.


So this is how the overall admission process is very different. Whereas other Institutions look for IQ, test scores and the academics, we look at the holistic personality where academic performance is just one of the components and our relative weightage on the entrance test score is much lower in the overall composite score.


Q: But you are still specifying a qualifying test score…
A: Yes, of course. That is to ensure that the basic competencies are in place. As far as CAT/XAT is concerned, the qualifying level is 85 percentile. For GMAT, the qualifying score is 650. The objective is simple: We get aspirants with the desired IQ level or the basic competency. With that being given, we look at the person. The individual is much more important when we are looking at people who will be taking up future leadership roles. And there we look at certain values that the individual possesses and the alignment of the values with our Institutional values.


Q: So the interview becomes very important and crucial in case of SPJIMR, which must be unlike other Institutions?

A: For SPJIMR, the interview is the most important factor but it’s not just the interview per se; I would say interview plus what the applicant has done earlier in terms of co-curricular activities, the roles played, the types of responsibilities the person has shouldered, combined with academic performance and specialisation fit. So these are the things which become very important when we look at the individual and the profile of the individual.


Q: So you have been doing these “profile-based” calls for some time now.

A: Yes, SPJIMR is known for profile-based calls. Since last year, we have started to actually strengthen this.


We have always been doing two sets of calls. Now we have also started conducting interviews in two different phases. Since our weightage in the entrance test score is relatively low, we believe that if we can interview the applicants early, we can get to see them in a manner and at a pace that allows us to devote more time. Also, we have a fairly large group of aspirants who applied with their GMAT scores. And we expect the CAT results to be out by the time of the interviews.


Most of the interviews for various B-schools are generally bunched around the same time after test scores are out. Applicants face the pressure of rushing from one interview location to the other. Many of them are studying, many of them are working and it becomes a challenge for the applicants to move from one location to the other in a short span of time.


So what we have done – beginning last year with the process being strengthened this year — is that we get aspirants coming in early for interviews that we would conduct in January 2014 in Mumbai. Going forward, we expect that more applicants will appear for early interviews.


The shortlist would be available even before the test results are available. The applicants will have an opportunity to come and appear for the interview and talk to us early. The good part is, when the test score comes in (as and when it does), applicants can just update it and that would be part of their overall scoring.


So it relieves stress of the applicants, allows us to spread out the interviews and we can look at the applicants more closely.


Q: So what’s your experience with profile- based interviews?

A: All applicants are interviewed based on their profile only. Profile includes not just their academic accomplishments.

Academic accomplishment is only one of the requirements for long-term leadership positions.


We have found that this approach to our selection has been very positively accepted by our key stakeholders, especially our recruiters. If you look at select recruiters like TAS, who visit few campuses and where the focus is more to do with the person, they have found our participants to be well- grounded, better team players who can actually roll up their sleeves when the occasion demands. Many of our alumni are in leading positions in the industry today.


It is to be noted that the last time there was this incident where some 80 aspirants had inflated their CAT scores. None of these applicants were offered admission at SPJIMR even if they came in for interviews.


Our interviews give a lot of emphasis on character, maturity and personality, the values that the individual brings in. The fact that we did not offer admissions to any of them in spite of high CAT scores shows that there must be some merit in what we are doing – that our interviews help us select the best of applicants. I have a feeling that eventually other institutions will probably try to replicate what we have experimented with and fine tuned over the years.
Some of our innovations are being replicated by other institutions today. What we feel good about is that what we did some two decades ago, like social projects during summer time, is being replicated today by institutions across the country.


Q: You have also announced that aspirants can apply for specialisation in two streams. That’s new. Why have you allowed this?

A: It has been our experience that aspirants when they apply have some thinking that the chosen specialisation is good for them.


During the process of interviews or process of shortlisting, we want to see the fit between the specialisation and the competencies, skill sets and the type of person the individual is.


When people apply, there is sometimes a herd mentality and you can see that often a specialisation becomes the flavour of the season – whether it is in the long term interest of the aspirant or not. So even though the applicant may be a good fit for some other specialisation, it sometimes is the case that the applicant is not even shortlisted for the interview because of that mismatch between specialisation opted for and the competency the person is seen to bring in.


Giving an option to choose the second specialisation will give the applicant an opportunity to be considered in the second specialisation in case the person is not found to be fit for the first specialisation. It is an opportunity which an applicant gets to be considered in two different buckets so the chances of shortlisting which earlier was limited to one specialisation becomes two now.
Q: Can you explain your process of preparing shortlists?

A: I would like to say that a lot of times the application forms don’t tell us the complete story. We know only when we meet the applicant. So we are planning to conduct interviews for more applicants this time.


Let me stress that all the calls here are based on profile. For us, profile is academic background, co-curricular activities, versatility, achievements, adversities faced and relevance of experience (if any).


What we look at later on is the individual — overall personality, communication, character and maturity.


So when we do the shortlisting, we naturally create a ranking based on this profile of the applicants. We call them in two phases. In the first phase, we shortlist around 1,500 when all the test score results are still not declared. We expect the applicants will come and appear for an interview in Mumbai.


When we are giving the second phase calls, we consider the profile and also their relative performance in entrance test.


In the first phase, if we shortlist around say 1,500-odd, there maybe somebody who may not have qualified in the entrance test. If out of these 1,500-odd whom we thought had a good profile, 100 do not qualify in the test scores, naturally they will not be getting in.


In the second phase, entrance test scores are known, which is also considered along with profile. This is the basic difference in the two rounds of short listing.


In the first phase of calls, there is an element of uncertainty whether they will qualify in the entrance test. However, since they have a consistent academic record and they have been shortlisted by us, our experience is they generally qualify. But for the second phase, we know that they have qualified, that’s the difference


Q: Why do you not shortlist later– after the test scores?

A: If we do that, it creates a pressure on the system. We need that many interviewers. We need that many extra days and MBA aspirants are also hard pressed running around from one centre to another appearing for interviews.


By creating an opportunity for applicants to appear for interviews in January, we are de-stressing the applicants and the system itself. Moreover, since we place a good deal of emphasis on the interview, it is also important that we take enough care to make sure that the interview process is robust and the aspirants get a good opportunity to present themselves. Moreover, we are getting more and more applicants applying with GMAT scores which are available in any case.


Q: You have a fairly large pool of non-engineers…

A: Most of the tests are geared towards the engineers and somehow the engineers get good test scores. So an overwhelming dependence on score results will give a bias in favour of engineers.

However, those who are graduating from the other streams have equally good leadership potential. If you look at areas like Finance — maybe those with a commerce and economics as background or CAs – have a lot of potential.


Similarly, if you look at Marketing, people with a liberal arts and social sciences background or people with a background in design, architecture, art – normally have very good potential. An artist may not score very well in an entrance test score.


Our admission process is geared towards accommodating this diversity and not merely looking at the test scores as a major input for future leadership potential. We maybe one of the few Institutes who without giving any special weightage to any particular category have always achieved diversity in the class.


If you look at other Institutions, they are giving some additional weightage to various categories of applicants based on gender, academic stream etc. – we have never done so. In spite of having not done so, where the admission process is purely merit-based, we have more than 40 % women in the class, which is good gender diversity.


We have got the highest number of non-engineers in the class among top B-Schools. We have got a very good number of CAs, doctors, architects, designers etc.. As a matter of fact, in the batch which passed out recently i.e. 2013, the topper of the batch was a graduate in fashion. The fact that a fashion graduate becomes the topper of the batch in SPJIMR where we have got sizeable chunk of engineers from the top Institutions like IIT & BITS Pilani proves that there is very little correlation between performance in a management institution and the academic background like engineering or technology.


That the admission process of SPJIMR takes a balanced view of intellectual readiness with emotional readiness and considers the overall personality of an individual has actually helped us in achieving gender diversity, diversity in terms of fresh graduates and experienced professionals, diversity in terms of participants from various educational and regional backgrounds. The greatest advantage and merit of this is the peer learning that happens outside the four walls of the classroom.


Q: You have additional seats reserved for PIOs above 240. Is this number just an add- on and if you don’t fill these, do you transfer them to the general pool?

A: This is the sanction that we got last year. This 36 is over and above the 240 sanctioned seats. We cannot fill these seats with non- PIO, non foreign nationals. This year, we are going to reach out to the international community and it is important that we get to learn the process of getting aspirants of different nationalities in our programme.


This will aid diversity; also, eventually Indian schools have to be global and have to source applicants’ globally. This is one competency that schools need to acquire — the art of attracting foreign students to India.


There will be a learning curve and we will go through the learning curve – the intention will be to shorten the learning curve.


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