With academic internships on Internshala (likes of CERN, JNCASR, EPFL etc.) ruling the roost, we have been inundated with requests for tips on how to write an impressive Statement of Purpose (SOP). The kind which grabs selection committee’s attention and forces them to accept you in one go. We present, a been there and done that, expert telling you the finer nuances of how to write an effective SOP. About the author: – Nirmal Jayaram graduated from IIT Madras in 2006 post which he did his M.S & Ph.D from Stanford University. Whether Nirmal is synonymous with the term Academic Brilliance or coined it; I am not sure. Sample this – he graduated with a CGPA of 9.54 from IIT Madras (last 4 sem GPA being 10/10), he had calls from all 6 IIMs and attended interviews of only 2 and converted both including IIM Ahmedabad. But of course he did not join it. He had admits with full scholarships from Stanford, MIT, Berkley, Cornell, UTA, & Purdue. Rumors has it that MIT admission committee stalked him for weeks to swing his decision in their favor and sulked for months when he went to Stanford instead. With these credentials, if I were you I would pay VERY close attention to what he has to say on SOP writing.
Happy reading… 1. Understand what a statement of purpose means: You’ve probably been in situations where you have to choose one among several exciting alternatives. Recruiters face the same scenario while dealing with several good resumes intended at the same job opening. The statement of purpose gives you an opportunity to connect all your application materials together and express to the recruiter why you fit the role the best. To understand what goes into a good statement of purpose, you need to put yourselves in the recruiter’s shoes, and try to get a feel for the two burning questions a recruiter has: 1.Why are you interested in the opening? Sometimes the answer to this might be obvious. You current area of study/ work could well be closely related to the job opening, but it still can’t hurt to clearly enunciate your interest in this area of work and how that helps you move further in your intended career path. Naturally this is much more important when the job opening is in an area unrelated to your current area of work, although you might believe that the new area is really your calling.
The end goal is that the recruiter needs to believe that you are very serious about this opening and you would give it your all once you actually get the job. More on this later. 2.What do you bring to the table? So, you have shown the recruiter that no one could be any more serious about the opening than you are. You’ve won half the battle, but you still need to prove that you are not all bluster and you are capable of performing the work at a very high level. Your resume does this for you partly, but the statement of purpose gives you an opportunity to highlight some of your major achievements and skill sets that are closely related to the job of interest. 2. Tell a story, your story! Let’s talk about structuring your statement of purpose for a bit. Your statement of purpose needs to tell your story in such a way that the recruiter clearly understands your background, your capabilities and your suitableness for the job.
There are many ways to structure a statement of purpose, and this would be one: •Who are you and what do you do currently? Start out with your current education background and what got you there. Maybe you were inspired by pure science as a kid and ended up as a physicist. Maybe you were excited by the world of algorithms in high school that inspired you to pursue the field of computer science. Or maybe you even wanted to build the next Eiffel tower and decided to become a Civil Engineer! •What are your current academic credentials? Dedicate some part of your statement of purpose to explain your academic achievements and credentials in your current education program. If you did great in your college entrance exam or in your college exams, state it here and explain how this reflects your dedication to your current field and the hard work you are ready to put in. If you won scholarships through, for example, the National Talent Search Examination, make sure the recruiter knows that. •What is your current state of knowledge? Most disciplines are very broad and diverse, and it is imperative that you explain your specialization in more detail. Discuss your coursework and explain why you chose to specialize in the area that you did.
Suppose that the job opening requires an intern that pursues research in the analyses of large data sets. You could be a mathematician and might have pursued a diverse set of courses, but you need to explain why the field of data mining excites you the most. You need to specifically identify your data mining-related coursework that clearly illustrates that you have the theoretical background to succeed at this new job. •Discuss your past projects: This is particularly critical for research based jobs that require that you be creative, comfortable working in open-ended problems, good at communicating orally and in written, and will not get easily frustrated by occasional difficulties in furthering the project due to research complexities. Some jobs also require that you be capable of working without much guidance or work as part of a large team. The most obvious way to communicate that you possess the above-mentioned skills is to provide a brief description of all your past projects and the skill sets you demonstrated along the way.
Any journal or conference papers that you published as part of your projects will go a long way in helping you get a research-oriented job! •Discuss your non-technical skills: A lot of successful people are technically sound but also charismatic and possess excellent interpersonal skills. These are almost essential qualities in modern work places and activities that you’ve been part of where you have demonstrated these skills should help you big. Such activities include playing a leadership role in a department or college level association, being part of NSS, or maybe even running your own small startup! •Identify yourself with the company/ university: It is of utmost importance that your statement of purpose does not look generic, rather seems well crafted to the specific job opening. It would be wise to discuss briefly about your interest in the specific workplace and not just the nature of work, and in particular detail the attempts you’ve made to learn more about the workplace.
3. Ensure that the statement of purpose is written in a professional manner: A poorly worded statement of purpose with spelling or grammatical errors is a big turn off that would certainly hurt your cause. Request help from friends and colleagues regarding possible wording changes that would make the essay look more professional. Avoid terminology and wording that aren’t obvious to the reader, and remember that different countries may use different terminologies to refer to the same word. Keeping these sensitivities in mind will help. 4. Be brief: Recruiters do not have the time or energy to read through a rambling 4 page essay. The statement of purpose shouldn’t exceed a couple of pages and should be to the point. We are not trying to author the next Lord of the Rings here!
Statement of Purpose (SOP) is a document containing one’s personal and professional details which makes the task of knowing a candidate for the MBA school much easier. It is a concise essay about one’s career goals, identified means to achieve them, and accomplishments so far in reaching towards those goals. An SOP often acts as the yardstick for assessing the capabilities of a prospective student of the MBA School. What should your SOP contain?
According to top experts the answers to the following queries must be there in your SOP:
— You, your background and personality
— The reason or reasons for making a particular career choice
— Your hobbies
— Your short-term and long-term career goals
— Social initiatives taken by you, if any
— Leadership qualities demonstrated by you
— How you have dealt with failure
— Example of teamwork at the workplace
— Strengths and weaknesses
— Ethical dilemmas faced by you
Preparing for writing the SOP
Some suggestions on how to prepare for writing the SOP:
— Think deeply about matters concerning you, your choices and aspects of personality. — Adopt pre-writing strategies and jot down thoughts as they occur — Prepare a rough draft and proofread it to remove any errors. — Start well in advance.
While writing the SOP
SOP is an extremely important document that you will have to prepare before you will be accepted into any MBA School. You must ensure that your SOP lacks any kind of spelling or grammatical error. Your ability to write at an acceptable level will tell a great deal about you as an overall student, so do not neglect to proofread your document before submitting it. The SOP must make an interesting read; otherwise it won’t leave any impact on the readers’ minds. Integrate your knowledge about the B-school with your career goals, as this will make it seem as though there is really no other school that you are thinking of attending. Some important points to keep in mind while writing the SOP: Originality
The answers have to reflect the distinctive ‘you’ all the way. So, be original. Copy –Paste exercises will do more harm than good as one shoe size does not fit all, especially in terms of personality.
Read the question very carefully before you start framing your essay. Consider the question: “Please detail your long-term career goals. Why have you classified them as long term? Do you foresee any change in these goals in the future?” Now, you must be careful in crafting a reply to each question in a convincing manner. Concentrating only on the first segment will make the statement lopsided and put off the admissions panel.
Every word, every sentence should be present in the essay for a purpose. Rambling and undirected thoughts are a no-no as your essay will be given a couple of minutes within which the panel member has to locate something memorable and distinctive.
Imagery means using words that enable pictures to form in the minds of the reader. For example, the phrase ‘turning point’ is better than writing ‘The course of my life changed decisively at that point because it succeeds in giving rise to a picture in the mind of the reader.
Using too much jargon clichés or long-winded sentences obscure the point you want to convey. Professional tone and elements of standard usage There is a world of difference in the way we speak and the way we write. You should avoid informal style or slang while penning the academic essay. Keeping the standard elements of usage in mind will go a long way in ensuring admittance in the MBA School. It takes a lot of time and engages your mind to undergo lot of thinking before you come up with the perfect SOP. So you should start much before. All this takes time, so begin writing the SOP well in advance. Stay tuned to MBAUniverse.com for more on MBA admission tips!
CAT Toppers share their GD, PI & WAT experiences
When a student is selected by a top B School, it is ensured that he has not just scored well in CAT but has also performed well in the Group Discussion,
Personal Interview and or Written Ability Test (WAT) or Essay Writing rounds. This page will give you the GD, PI & WAT experiences of the CAT 2011 toppers who are now students of the academic year 2013-15 of the top B schools. I had an enjoyable WAT & PI experience of IIM Ahmedabad B Sekhar Anand IIM Ahmedabad Tricky WAT by IIM Indore Vishal Vyas IIM Indore
My interview at XLRI lasted for 15 minutes Arjun Gupta XLRI Jamshedpur I had a grilling interview session at Common Admission Process of new IIMs Siddhant Gupta IIM Raipur WAT & PI experiences of top 3 IIMs Anusha Subramanian IIM Bangalore If you are a fresher, be thorough with your subjects for PI Parag Poddar IIM Indore My WAT topic was on foreign coaches at Indian sports Aditya Agar IIM Bangalore My interview experience was different in the top four IIMs Mohit Srivastava IIM Bangalore There was no stress at my interview; it was a candid conversation with learned men Tanishq Goyal IIM Ahmedabad
I had an enjoyable WAT & PI experience of IIM Ahmedabad, B Sekhar Anand IIM Ahmedabad Q: Please share your WAT/PI experience in detail.
A: My WAT/PI experience was very enjoyable. The topic for WAT was on corruption’s affects- a topic that I was comfortable with. The PI on the other hand was skewed towards my academics. A lot of preparation beforehand helped me answer most of the questions. Though I could not answer a few, the interviewer was fairly satisfied with my approach to those questions.
Tricky WAT by IIM Indore, Vishal Vyas IIM Indore
Q: Please share your WAT/PI experience in detail. A: WAT and PI were the two vital stages of IIM Indore selection process. WAT was somewhat tricky with a question on précis writing and another asking about my opinion in a given situation where a choice was to be made between a family managed business and a professionally run organization. PI probably was the most challenging part, with the interviewers asked extensively about by job profile and nature of work apart from a good amount of general knowledge. Work experience was somehow a difficult part to tackle with questions ranging from basic programming concepts to industry quality standards and their constituents. Overall, it was a mixed kind of interview which had its own high points and lows. I was hoping to convert with a good performance on almost all the measures which I later did.
My interview at XLRI lasted for 15 minutes, Arjun Gupta XLRI Jamshedpur Q: How many GDPI rounds have you had? Please share your experiences in detail. A: I attended the GDPI rounds for the following institutes:
• NMIMS, Core
• XIMB, PGDM & PGDM(HRM)
• XLRI (BM & HRM)
SPJIMR’s admission process is unique in the sense that they call you on the basis of your profiles. In the group interview rounds also, the emphasis is on ethics and values. They question you comprehensively on your work-experience, if any. XLRI has a single PI round for the BM program. The interview covers all the important points, viz., work-experience, Graduation subjects (Math, especially for Engineers), current affairs and ethics. Highly unpredictable stuff, I must say. The HRM program has both GD & PI components. My interview went on for around 15 minutes in which I was questioned a lot about cultures, economies and technologies. I was asked to relate the factors citing suitable instances. Some questions on work experience and mathematics were also there.
GD topic was related to IT sector. It was pretty basic hence I did not face any problem during the GD. XIMB had a single GDPI round for its BM and HRM programmes. The GD was related to Income disparity and was manageable. The interview again revolved around my work-experience. We had a very candid discussion instead of an interview. I could easily answer all their queries related to work. NMIMS’s GD was related to the airline sector. The interview was about Petrol/Diesel pricing, Basic Share Markets term and history about my parent company. For all the above GDPIs, I brushed up my Graduation Subjects well. Read about the major issues which are plaguing the nations, basic indices to measure economic health & society, knowledge about the parent company, its product profile, job role, etc.
I had a grilling interview session at Common Admission Process of new IIMs Siddhant Gupta IIM Raipur
Q: Please share your WAT/PI experience in detail
A: I had my WAT/PI in Delhi. I was given a topic on financial crisis in Europe. I was asked to speak on any topic from current affairs during the interview. I chose to talk on KFA bailout. I explained the problem and was asked for possible solutions. I suggested some solutions and a few cross questions were fired. Then I was asked a few questions on chemistry (I am a chemical engineer). Towards the end, I was grilled on “Which IIM will I choose if I happen to get multiple converts”. I linked it to the question related to the meaning of name and the panel seemed impressed.
WAT & PI experiences of top 3 IIMs, Anusha Subramanian IIM Bangalore Q: Please share your WAT/PI experience in detail.
A: Let me share my experiences of attending IIM Calcutta, IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Bangalore. IIM Calcutta – I had a good WAT and GD. My interview was mostly about events doing the rounds, a few maths questions, logic puzzles and some general questions about my future plans, etc. IIM Ahmedabad – The WAT was tricky as we were given only 10 minutes to complete the essay. I was questioned on a wide range of topics ranging from work, recent happenings in the software industry and academics. IIM Bangalore – My interview with IIM Bangalore was almost entirely based on the statement of purpose submitted earlier. I was quizzed in great detail about specific points in my SOP, regarding my work experience and future plans.
If you are a fresher, be thorough with your subjects for PI, Parag Poddar IIM Indore Q: Please share your WAT/PI experience in detail.
A: The WAT process for IIM Indore involved summarizing an article in one-third word limit and was followed by essay writing. I had been practicing essays during my GD/WAT preparations and this helped me perform well in the WAT section. This was followed by PI. Being a fresher, I was questioned thoroughly on my subjects. Professors checked every aspect of my personality through questions on general awareness, GK, current affairs and my background. The interview was a great learning experience and helped me gauge myself better and identify areas of improvement.
My WAT topic was on foreign coaches at Indian sports, Aditya Agar IIM Bangalore Q: Please share your WAT/PI experience in detail.
A: At IIM Bangalore’s WAT/PI process, I was asked to first write an essay on ‘Foreign coaches are a waste of money in Indian sports.’ My interview was centered on my experience at work and I was asked a lot of questions on the contributions I made to the organization. All in all, the interview was a big test of finding out what I gave to the organization I worked for and to the college I came from, which, trust me is very difficult to comprehend.
My interview experience was different in the top four IIMs, Mohit Srivastava IIM Bangalore Q: How was your WAT/PI experience?
A: The interview experience was very different at all the four IIMs. IIM Lucknow was focussed more on general affairs. IIM Bangalore was mostly academics and SOP based (they actually asked me an algorithm) IIM Calcutta was purely quant based in terms that the first five questions were based on Permutations and Combinations. After I satisfactorily answered them the interviews started asking me questions on Seattle and where all I had been in Seattle. IIM Ahmedabad was very unpredictable in terms that most of the questions were not from my strength. It was somewhat less academic.
There was no stress at my interview; it was a candid conversation with learned men, Tanishq Goyal IIM Ahmedabad Q: Please share your WAT/PI experience in detail.
A: I got calls from all 13 IIMs, but I gave interviews for the top four only. In IIM Ahmedabad, the WAT topic was In today’s world, business and ethics don’t go hand in hand. The questions ranged from my work experience, solving math problem, my hobby tennis to politics. The entire interview was like a candid conversation with learned men on some random topics. There was no stress at all.
A personal interview is aimed at knowing a candidate more intimately – assessing the clarity of thinking process, future goals and the ‘fit’ with the B-school. A personal interview is aimed at knowing a candidate more intimately – assessing the clarity of thinking process, future goals and the ‘fit’ with the B-school. Personal Interview – What does it test?
• During the personal interview, Interviewer will check the analytical skills of the candidate in ways that cannot be done with a written test. Certain questions during the personal interview are devised to see how the candidate can analyze a situation and create a solution. For example, an employer may ask a candidate to explain a time when the candidate had to work quickly against a pending deadline. In the personal interview, the employer can ask follow-up questions to dig deeper into the candidate’s critical thinking process, to see if he/she fits to be a part of the Institute/organization Goal Clarity
• Why do want to do an MBA? How does it fit into your career goals? What do you wish to do after your MBA? These are some hard questions that you will have to answer almost invariably in all Interviews. These questions search the ‘inner motivations’ of a candidate, and there are no ‘right answers’. The only way to answer these questions is to introspect: what excites and motivates you; what makes you perform your best; what would you really like to do in your life, and how do you genuinely see an MBA helping. Tough questions, but answering them honestly is critical for your success! ‘Why MBA?’ is the most important question that MBA aspirants need to answer. There is no “good answer” for this. The answer needs to be your answer. In other words, you need to think deeply, introspect and find out what it is that really drives you. So put on your thinking cap, do some soul searching and then jot down the answers to ‘what’s your goal’ questions.
• When an employer is engaged in a personal interview with a candidate, he will listen to hear how the candidate gives answers to questions, watch for body language that can indicate the candidate is not being truthful or is uncomfortable; determine confidence by gauging eye contact. Is the student is able to effectively communicate using his entire body, etc and these skills can only be judged during a personal interview.
• Given that a good MBA is a demanding programme, B-schools would like to know how you will be able to cope up with the academics and the extra-curricular 24 x 7 demands of your new campus. They are also keen to assess how you have utilized the earlier learning opportunities. Be prepared to discuss different specialty areas in business and their responsibilities. Interviewers will also expect you to discuss current issues in business, including the economy, taxation, foreign competition, the role of technology and ethical challenges in the field. So be careful about the gates you open, and be very sure you have in-depth knowledge about whatever you mention.
For e.g. if you say you have an avid interest in Badminton, be ready for questions pertaining to Prakash Padukone, Deepika Padukone, plastic shuttles v/s feather shuttles, Saina Nehwal etc. It is advisable to brush up 2-3 subjects from your graduation thoroughly if you are a student fresh out of college. Also, contextual knowledge of the environment around you as well as “general knowledge” comes quite handy.
• Candidates who do not take the time to create a professional presentation for a personal interview can hurt their chances for getting the job. A personal interview gives the employer the opportunity to see what the candidate considers to be professional grooming, professional attire and a professional attitude. A candidate’s resume may be impressive, but if he shows up to the interview 30 minutes late and is not dressed in professional interview attire, then he may not be the candidate you are looking for.
• In a personal interview it is not always the answer you give to a question that is important, but how you give that answer. An interviewer is well aware of the corporate culture within his institute and a personal interview gives the interviewer a chance to gauge the candidate’s attitude to see if there is a match with the institute.
Importance of an Interview:
Who Conducts MBA Interviews?
Every business school has different policies when it comes to MBA interviews. Typically, an MBA interview is conducted by one or more members of the admissions committee. However, it is not unusual to be interviewed by current students or alumni. Professors do not normally conduct admissions interviews, but there are a few schools who do assign faculty members to the task. No matter who interviews you, expect a lot of questions and an evaluation. Most admissions committees have a form that they work off.
They will ask you specific questions from the form. If you are being interviewed by other students or alumni, don’t expect anything different. They have probably been trained by the admissions committee to use the form or ask specific questions. Read more about the different types of MBA interviews. Personal Interview can also turn out to be an opportunity to ‘sell’ yourself. While intimidating for some MBA-hopefuls, the personal interview represents a prime opportunity. Interviews allow you the chance to not only put a face and personality to the name and credentials on your application file, but also to express your academic, personal, and professional accomplishments, experiences, and intentions.