Edited by L Calvin
Design by Prashanth
When the class of ‘22 first walked through the gates of IIT Madras four or five years ago, they didn’t anticipate their journey culminating in this fashion. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning on the 1st of December 2021, in the comfort of their own homes, ready to sit in front of a computer screen and face what would possibly be the most important set of interviews they’d ever given. Their IITM experience was unlike anything preceding batches had experienced: they were yanked away from campus almost exactly in the middle of their journey with a cloud of uncertainty shrouding their future in darkness. Still, they made the best of the hand they’d been dealt while having a lot of fun along the way.
This is their story.
For Aayush(MM18), placements only became a serious target after experiencing his third year internship. Talking about his state of mind, he said, “It was around mid-July when I realized I’m not liking my internship. I wasn’t enjoying it at all. That’s when I decided to sit for placements and made my resume, which took 10-15 days.”
However, it wasn’t all that straightforward. Around the same time, he received a PPO from the company he was interning at and consequently got confused. It took until the last week of August for him to successfully wrestle free from this dilemma and fully commit to placement preparation.
The placement season is a nearly four-month long grueling process from August to December. Amidst all the placement tests and interviews, the regular semester goes on as usual, providing no respite for students who are already stressed from the daily grind of preparation.
When asked to explain how he tried to manage his schedule around semester exams, Aayush laughed. “There’s nothing you can do. Tests are bound to happen. I just made sure I only took light courses for my final (placement) semester. Even then, when the endsems finally rolled around I hardly had any idea about some of the courses I had taken or even the slots they were in and had to do a lot of jugaad to get up to speed in a week.”
Even Frodo needed Samwise for company on his long and arduous journey to destroy the ring at Mount Doom and Aayush likewise talks about friends and their support as perhaps the most valuable thing he’s received over the placement season.
“Consulting preparation can never happen alone,” he said. “I had a group of 3 friends and we’d practice cases among ourselves daily. I was on-call, practising for almost 6 hours a day with my case-group, seniors and others who’d been shortlisted for the same profiles. One of my closest friends was applying for software-based roles and even though our preparation had no overlap, we’d still talk to each other daily and share updates. We’d rant about companies, weird tests we’d given and even help each other in planning our day. There was a week when the quant-side of his preparation wasn’t going too well and I’d call him up every morning at 7:30 to talk to him about it. He did the same for me when I went through a phase when none of my practice cases were going well.”
Elaborating on the emotional support offered by friends, he shared another personal story, “I was practicing cases with a friend of mine over a meeting when a company that we’d both applied for released their shortlist. I made the cut but she didn’t and we had to stop the case right then. She couldn’t prepare for the next two days after that and I realized how stressful this whole thing can be.”
It wasn’t always tedious. Aayush looks back fondly on the actual preparation because he enjoyed what he was doing. “Whenever one of us would go on rants about companies or their own predicament, it would always be funny. We’d laugh and watch funny videos together. You need to be open and just have that time where you just enjoy and don’t really think about placements.”
With the process being entirely online this year, students were sitting for interviews and tests in their own bedrooms rather than their hostel rooms. Speaking about online placements, Aayush said, “I definitely see it as a positive. I was able to just open up my laptop five minutes before a meeting and sit down on my own table-chair with my legs folded. Just being in your own room gives you an extra sense of comfort. I would be in meetings for 5-6 hours everyday and my Mom would just come in and leave fruits and milk in the middle. I didn’t even have to move. I really enjoy food and my parents always ensured that they would either take me out or order-in almost daily. Whenever my friends were busy, I’d go rant in front of my mom; whenever I needed a break, I’d go down and take a walk in my society. I’d meet my society friends or my school friends: an entirely different set of people who had no relation to consulting whatsoever.”
Summarizing it all, he offered his own opinion on what he saw as highs and lows of his journey.
“My high point was definitely when I got shortlisted in all the three main consult companies.
On the other hand, my low point came when in a row, 4 companies didn’t shortlist me, 4 days before Day-1. It wasn’t even like I wanted to seriously apply for those companies. But it still came as a sort of ego-shock as I thought the tests had gone really well. I was already very stressed as hotlists for consulting companies hadn’t been finalized yet either. Thankfully, it just came 4 days before Day-1 so I was able to move past it quickly. If it had come in the middle of my prep, it could’ve ruined it.”
“I think confidence matters a lot. There are way too many companies for you to not get placed, it’s ultimately about how confidently you present yourself,” he signed off.
Haindavi(ME18) was very clear cut about what she wanted from the process. She only applied for 9 companies. Talking about this, she said, “Going into interns as well, I was very picky and choosy: I only applied to three companies. So, for me the mindset was always to only apply to a profile which actually fits with what I want to do. There’s no point in forcing yourself to do things just because everyone else seems to think that’s the right thing to do.”
Like Aayush, who was in the same case-group as her, she too emphasized the importance of a supportive friend circle. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in the placement process: whether or not you’re getting a shortlist, whether or not you’re getting on a hotlist later and finally, offers. It’s an uncertainty that’s on everyone’s mind and if you’re left alone it feels like you’re the only person who’s going through it, which is not true! So, talking it out will probably just make you realize that everyone else is also stressed or unsure about the outcome of the whole thing which calms you down a bit overall. You also realize it’s not the end of the world if your Day-1 placement doesn’t work out.”
She shared her own experience to bring her point home,
“My friend and I were solving a case and I’d had two bad cases before it. I was really stressed because I kept thinking ‘Why am I suddenly getting bad at this?’ I ended up making a really silly mistake and it left me extremely flustered when it was pointed out to me. That was the point when I thought it wasn’t going to work out and he had to take a step back and try to calm me down. We had to take a break for three days and start over again. Even the buddies allotted to me by the various consulting companies were very understanding during this time. Some of them took time out to talk to me and share their own experience of the same and told me that it happened to everyone.”
She also spoke fondly about the day before Day-1 when her whole case-group got on a call and hyped each other up.
Talking about the Day-1 interviews themselves, Haindavi recalled having gone through a roller coaster of emotions over a period of 5 hours.
“I had a BCG hotlist so I interviewed there at 7am. I had two rounds which were decent but my offer didn’t get confirmed. This worried me because some other people I know had received offers. I then went and gave two rounds of interviews in Bain and got an offer there. At that point, I was still a little worried so I also went and interviewed at Dalberg but before getting any offer from them, I was able to go back and give two rounds of interviews at BCG again to secure my offer there. Day-1 was definitely a roller-coaster overall and wasn’t as straightforward as I expected it to be.”
Looking back, she recalled her high points in the whole process and also things she’d look back and laugh at.
“When the first shortlist comes out and you think ‘Yay, at least I’m not a total screw-up.’ You could get shortlisted in multiple companies later but that first shortlist is special. You finally have one foot in the door”
“There’s a lot of things I’d look back on and laugh at now. I’d get extremely annoyed whenever any part of a case didn’t go well; I’d panic about shortlists a lot more than I’d have liked. I was too hard on myself even when something was only mildly imperfect. I only applied to around 9 companies seriously while most people apply to at least 20-30 companies. So whenever I’d tell someone this, they’d immediately go ‘WHY?’ “
She ended by giving some sound parting advice,
“When I was getting my resume reviewed in the beginning of the process, I got a lot of negative feedback from seniors about a particular section of my resume that wasn’t ‘standard’. It talked about things like my semester-exchange, summer school and international case-studies which isn’t really conventional. Eventually, when I did get shortlisted into companies, a lot of them cited this section of my resume as something that made me stand out. What I want to convey is that there really is no specific path for you to follow. I only had one insti PoR during my three years and the rest of my resume was based on things I did outside of the institute. So don’t limit yourself or feel forced to walk down one path just because other people say it’s the way to go. Do what you’re comfortable with and feel confident about it.”
Ram Balaji(EP18) targeted core Electrical companies for his placement preparation. Talking about his decision to prepare for placements, he said, “At the beginning of August, I decided to sit for placements looking for Electrical Core offers after exploring my interests in various fields over the last three years. I started to prepare slowly after that and got serious with my preparation by September.”
“Since it was an online semester, I spent most of my time preparing alone. My friend and I would often interview each other and practice introducing ourselves and answering other standard HR questions. It hardly ever went perfectly and we’d end up blabbering nonsense and laughing at each other which was especially memorable.”
Ram Balaji’s final interview on Day-1 didn’t go quite as planned. He’d prioritized preparing for end-semester examinations in the final week over adding some final touches to his placement preparation and he wasn’t feeling nearly as confident as he would’ve liked.
“The last 2-3 days before Day-1 were probably my lowest point. I kept feeling like I hadn’t done enough. My first interview was at 6 in the morning. I had to wake up at 4am to get ready. Time flew by and by the time it ended at around 7:15 am, I was already tired and exhausted. It certainly didn’t help that I had botched it and had lost all hopes of getting selected. I was totally nervous and had completely lost my confidence after the first few questions. It was only later that I realized that I was actually going on the right track and answering the questions correctly.
I was extremely upset but started to halfheartedly prepare for my other interviews scheduled in the afternoon after a while. It was incredibly stressful for me until I got an HR call from my first company which boosted my confidence. I still had to wait for 2-3 more hours before I saw my name on a list, which felt like an eternity.
Talking about the atmosphere in his house after he revealed the news, he said, “I was overjoyed. My parents got really emotional too. I called my best friend and she was very happy for me. Later, we went to the temple and contributed to Annadhana.”
Pranav Hari (CE17 DD) had an especially eventful Day-1. Chennai experienced heavy rains in November, making power cuts more frequent than was comfortable, especially if you’re sitting for your final placement interview. Murphy’s law was in full effect and everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Day-1 happened to be the day the vendor on the street decided to use a loudspeaker to advertise his products. There was a power cut right in the middle of an interview. Luckily, Pranav had bought a UPS for his router and could remain connected. Unfortunately, that meant the fan was no longer working and the lighting was subpar. Dressed in a blazer, this became uncomfortable very quickly and Pranav had to ask the interviewer for permission to keep his video off to conserve bandwidth.
Somehow, he powered through all this and secured the offer he wanted.
Recalling the preparation period, Pranav talked about the daily meetups he had with friends for preparation which often extended to 2:30 am at night as they just continued talking to each other about everything going on.
Despite only seriously preparing for consulting profiles, he still gave tests for other profiles without preparation only because everyone else was doing it. Even though he didn’t actually want to be selected, he couldn’t help but feel despondent when he wouldn’t get shortlisted.
A particularly funny incident he recalled from his preparation was about the time when some companies would send gifts to shortlisted students. Most companies don’t do this so his parents would automatically assume this meant he was already selected for all intents and purposes because they couldn’t imagine a company sending gifts to everyone. He would then have to convince them that it wasn’t actually the case, which wouldn’t always be easy.
Talking about preparation as a whole, he mentioned the role of luck,
“I think if given enough time, at least in consulting, everyone can get to the same level of preparation. At that point, it’s really nerves and confidence that make a difference. Luck also plays a huge part. You can’t control your interviewer’s mood on that day or the power going off in your house. Unlike most other profiles that simply have a test followed by interviews, consult profiles are a marathon over four months with regular evaluation. The wait is tiring.”
Chirag(CH18) started preparing for placements in coding and quant roles in the summer of 2021.
“Before starting, I read the book ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear. It really helped me in planning and executing my preparation for placements.
My preparation was a do-it-yourself thing in the beginning and I guess that worked out as I kept trying to solve problems on my own without any help. Later, I started discussing problems asked in placement tests with some of my friends since there wasn’t much time to spend on every problem.”
He didn’t face too much stress academically during this period because he’d only chosen courses that were either easy or he was already familiar with. Fortunately, a few of his exams ended up being take-home assignments which significantly lightened his load.
Describing his interviews, Chirag talked about one particularly awkward experience,
“During a round-2 interview for a company (not Amazon) there was a data structure about which me and my interviewer had very different understandings. Both of us were confident that we were correct. He ended up fixating on this topic and kept trying to make me accept his idea. Ultimately, I had to keep saying yes to whatever he said.”
Talking about Day-1 in specific, Chirag remembered the anxiety he went through in the period between giving his interview and getting the offer.
“On the evening of day 1, I had a headache and had to take medicine for it. On top of that, Amazon didn’t roll out their offers on day 1 itself. When I woke up in the morning on day 2, the first thing I saw was a lot of missed calls(my phone was on silent) from my friend who somehow got the list of offers from Amazon. He gave me the good news. Honestly, I was extremely tired and spent from the multiple rounds of interviews on day 1 and was ready to just accept the offer. But I still sat for Walmart’s round 1 as I still didn’t have an official document in hand. I was over the moon after I got my official offer and it felt amazing to just say “ho gaya” to my parents.”
He shed a little light on one’s family’s role during this time. “It was good that I was with my family. After numerous placement tests, I used to just talk to my family about entirely unrelated topics which I think helped me to relax.
There were instances when I felt family pressure too. My parents’ expectations were obviously high but I tried to take it positively.”
Chirag too mentioned the importance of confidence when it comes to the interview rounds. “I’d planned to do a lot of things for interview preparation in the last week of November. Having a long list of unchecked boxes in front of me regarding something I was supposed to be well-prepared for in a week naturally made me feel less confident. Fortunately, I realized that it’s better to only do a few important things like HR prep and possible resume questions. I think feeling confident is the most important thing to excel in interview rounds so I convinced myself that I had done things and was prepared enough.”
Sari(NA18) was at home 3500 km away in Saudi Arabia throughout the placement process. While Day-1 interviews began at 7 am for others, they began at 4:30 am for her.
When asked about a memorable interview moment she immediately brings up something that happened only 4-5 days before Day-1.
“I had stopped preparing around this time but had to solve this case for the hotlisting process. I absolutely bombed it. It was an hour-and-a-half long interview and I couldn’t grasp what was even going on.It wasn’t like what I’d usually done and I had no idea what the interviewer wanted me to do.
But I think I’m glad that happened because then over the next 4 days, I decided to get all the bombing out of my system. I did a lot of cases in those 4 days and told myself that all the cases I did could be bad but I’d be getting all of it out of my system before Day-1. I know it doesn’t logically make any sense but I very strongly believed in it at that point.
Ultimately, I was calm before every Day-1 interview I sat for because nothing wrong could happen now!”
She further painted the picture of Day-1 starting right from the night before.
“I was initially very tense but after dinner I went out for a walk and calmed myself. I said to myself that it was all right even if I don’t land a job on Day-1. I woke up with that same calmness and felt absolutely stress free even though I encountered some entirely new scenarios in my final interviews.
I cried after I got my offer because I didn’t know how much stress was actually pent up inside me. I told my parents and called up each and every person who had helped me. Our friend circle had decided that we’d update each other at the end of the day so as to not cause unnecessary distractions in case things weren’t going well. Fortunately, most of my friends were placed by the afternoon and it felt extremely fulfilling”
She too gave some parting advice,
“I think it really matters how nice of a person you are. You’ll need help from a lot of people and you will have to help a lot of people and I think that pays. I saw the best in so many people who went out of their way to help me even though they had no stakes involved in the whole process. The learning curve is really high during these 4 months and it really pays to take all the help that you can get.
Use all the support systems that you can have and don’t be afraid to approach anyone. I was a little scared to talk to seniors who I hadn’t spoken to before. The reality is, everyone is rooting for you. Just knowing that everyone is there to help you get through the process makes it a whole lot easier.”