AIM Professor Interview

Here is an interview of Professor HORACIO BORROMEO. 


You recently arrived from India where you interviewed candidates for the MBA program. How were the candidates?
Well, in India one can certainly expect to find good candidates. But for the most part I was, as in previous years, disappointed that they all seemed so alike.
For one, the vast majority were in their early to mid-twenties, with 2 to 3 years of work experience in the IT domain, a software engineering background, and looking to shift to investment banking or finance. This is understandable because it seems India’s best and brightest have, over the last so many years, moved to IT where the best-paying entry level jobs are found. And now that the multinational investment banks and consulting companies are paying top dollar for the best MBA graduates, the best and brightest want to leave IT, get an MBA, and move to investment banking. All that hype about the kinds of offers that top graduates of IIMs and ISB are getting keeps fuelling this phenomenon. This sameness is disappointing because while a good MBA classroom should have a high average IQ, GMAT or CAT; it also needs students from a wide variety of backgrounds, experience and motivations. 
But they were also alike in their answers to the interview questions. For one thing, they obviously prepare for the interviews—as well they should—but they prepare as if they were preparing for a test like the CAT or GMAT or any of the tests that any ambitious Indian must take from the time he starts his schooling. These kinds of tests consist of questions that demand “the right answers.” Preparation therefore involves getting to know what the questions and their corresponding correct answers are. This means to practice answering the sorts of questions that are likely or even known to be asked in these tests, and this requires investing time and money in GMAT or CAT reviewer books or courses. And most will make an effort to get as much advice and “tips” as possible. This includes following Pagalguy religiously, or any other source (website, blog, twitter, Facebook) where those with experience in taking these tests provide “tips” if not the actual questions and answers. 
Now if they are all going to the same sources for help in passing the tests, it stands to reason that they will all have pretty much the same answers. This brings me to our interviews.
The main purpose of our interviews is not to determine how much a candidate knows, but how he thinks. We already have their GMAT or AIMAT scores and that gives us a fair idea of their intellectual or cognitive abilities. How they use their head is another matter, and this is more important to us. Therefore the questions we ask will have no right or wrong answers.
For instance, we would not ask (not seriously anyway, ha-ha) if a candidate knows the number of cricket fans in Maharashtra state. That would be testing their knowledge of facts. Since a census or survey of this sort has probably never been done, no one would have a factual number. So what we would ask is HOW our candidates might arrive at a reasonable estimate. And because there could be any number of ways to arrive at a reasonable estimate, we get our candidates to discuss, or argue if you like, which way is the best. 
This group discussion allows us to see not only how they think, but also how they present and argue their position, how they interact with others, whether they can work with others, accept others’ views, manage a productive discussion, work with a team, modify and adapt their thinking, and so on. We look to see if the candidate has, or is capable of, the kinds of behaviour we feel are necessary to learn, and contribute to learning, in our kind of case method environment. 
But in a group discussion where a candidate is trying to show that he or she is better than the rest, wouldn’t you get a dog-eat-dog, knock down-drag out, fight?
As a matter of fact that’s what tends to happen. And it happens because everyone wants to show that he or she has the right answer and the others are wrong. That’s fine, but you don’t have to get to the top by stepping on someone else. And you don’t want to hog air time and ignore what others are saying, or not give others a chance to be heard. This does not say anything good about your leadership potential, which is another trait that we look for in the candidate during the interview. Note that in your application you can write everything you did in school or on the job that suggests your leadership qualities, but that’s not easily verifiable. What’s evident to us is the leadership behaviour we see, or don’t see, during the group discussion and interview. Again, you want to show that you’re better than the others. The question is, better at what? Most candidates want to show they have the louder voice, are faster on the draw, or can intimidate others. That’s a turn-off. 
Well, how about the candidate who adopts a low profile and lets the others do all or most of the talking?
Now while that tells us that they are not the domineering kind, it doesn’t tell us much else about them either. We try to see if they’re good listeners (always a good thing) or if they’re intimidated by the whole process (bad news, and almost sure to get them rejected). We observe how they try to get themselves heard, how they time their contribution, how they try to influence the discussion, and so on. 
During the interview, we will give the candidate a chance to think and talk about his or her behaviour during the group discussion, and thereby validate or invalidate our observations. But we go beyond that to explore other things. Again we like to see how they think. We might ask a question like, “From this group discussion, which two candidates would you most want to be your classmates at AIM, and why?” Obviously there are no right or wrong answers since at that point we ourselves haven’t decided who we think should be in that classroom. But it tells us a little more about the interviewee himself. 

So how does someone know if he or she has a chance to get into AIM’s MBA program, aside from the basic qualifications like intellectual ability, work experience, and so on?
Let’s agree from the outset that someone wants to get an MBA in order to get a better job than what he or she has now. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? As a management professor in a graduate school, teaching graduate students, I prefer to think that I’m educating my students for a lifetime career in management, not training them for their first job. There is a special meaning to “Master” when you say “Master in Business Administration” that anyone familiar with the academe understands. 
But today’s MBA aspirant isn’t thinking about that so long as he can claim later that he’s got “an MBA.”They’re just thinking about getting the kind of job and salary that they read about in Times of India after the recruiters have descended on the IIMs and made an offer to the best graduating student. By the way, even the placement director of IIM Ahmedabad noted last year in the Times of India that those figures are over-inflated because they include everything plus the kitchen sinks. Meaning that it’s really the total amount that the company is going to pay the person in the form of a gross salary, before taxes and so on, AND everything that the company will spend for that person in the first year. This really inflates the figure that is reported in the Times of India and other media because it would include, for example, the return airfare from Mumbai to London or wherever his mandatory six months training will be, the cost of his hotel or other accommodations, the meal allowances, even his laptop, mobile phone, and calculator. The really meaningful number is the amount of take-home pay and none of the IIMs talk about this figure. 
AIM’s numbers suffer badly in comparison because what we report is the actual salary offered. We don’t embellish or inflate the numbers with all the other perks and total cost to the recruiting company.
But to get back on track, If an MBA aspirant wants to know if he’s got what it takes, he should look at himself in the mirror, and I mean this quite literally, and ask himself, If I were a recruiter for HSBC, StanChart, or JP Morgan, would I hire this guy ahead of anyone else? Do you see a confident face, or a wimp? Or maybe you see someone cocky and arrogant? And let’s not kid ourselves. Those recruiters have the pick of the litter—notice that they always start with a shortlist, which means they already picked the top performers, the dean’s listers. So all things being equal (brains, experience, academic performance, etcetera), why do you think the company will choose one hotshot over another hotshot? I will not be indelicate or politically incorrect here, but keep looking at that mirror and the answer will come to you. 
Recruiters will never admit this, of course, but all things being equal, they will always choose the handsome guy or the pretty girl, with the “charm,” the “right” family background, the ones who know which spoon or fork to use first at a formal dinner, the ones who feel comfortable at a cocktail, who carry their clothes well, who give the impression they just got out of the shower. 
Which is why whether you come for a job interview or our interview, you are well advised to get a haircut, or at least comb your hair, tie that Windsor knot correctly, and dress spiffy without being stiff? You know what I mean—wear your best and most appropriate clothes for the occasion. And don’t forget to shine your shoes. If you walked through dusty roads to get to the interview, go to the restroom first, grab a tissue, and wipe the dust and grime off your shoes.
And instead of taking those GMAT reviewers or those coaching courses that guarantee admission to the best schools, go to charm school instead. Or take a Dale Carnegie program. 
Then you should reflect on your experience at work and in school. Were you active or passive? Here’s a simple test of leadership. At work and in school, did you have any followers? Admirers? Fans? Did people notice you not only for your brains, but for your initiative and creativity? If you have a Facebook account, do lots of people want to be your friend? By the way, recruiters like to go through Facebook to check out people before they interview them. 
Lastly, how’s your EQ? If you don’t know what that is, Google it. If you had followers at work and in school, there’s a better than even chance you’ve got a high EQ. If you don’t, it will show up in the GD and interview for sure.





How important is a GMAT or AIMAT score?
It’s a good starting benchmark because, as I said, it’s a measure of intellectual ability, which is basic if you want to get an MBA. But it’s not always a reliable benchmark because people can study for it, take it several times, and keep increasing their scores with practice, and so on. There was even a website that listed the GMAT questions for the month. The GMAT questions are held constant for one month. Some people remember the questions so after they take the test they would share these on a website. So people who took the GMAT towards the end of the month got higher scores. The folks in New Jersey who administer the GMAT and track the scores discovered this, investigated it, and caught the perpetrators and beneficiaries. 
If someone takes the GMAT, it’s because he wants to go to the US or Singapore. It used to be Australia also but Indians have had problems with racism there. US and Singaporean schools require GMAT; AIM doesn’t because we have our own AIMAT as you know. So if someone gives a GMAT score to us, in all probability it’s because he had to specify several schools to send the scores to and he put in AIM as a third choice after a US or Singaporean school. If he was looking exclusively at AIM then he would have taken the AIMAT because it’s cheaper and probably Pagalguy or some other website told him it’s easier. Now, while we wish we were the preferred school, we don’t hold it against a candidate who wants to try and get into a top-tier US school. But someone whose first choice is an unrated school in the US has a lot of explaining to do. I think our AACSB accreditation and the success of our graduates speak for itself. We know we’re better than many, and I mean many, US schools. In fact, when our exchange students return from the US or Europe, invariably they tell us that the only difference, in terms of academics, was the fact that a few professors over there are well known through the books they’ve written. But the quality of teaching, the level of classroom interaction, well…you better ask them because obviously I’m biased, he he. And when I was running the exchange programs, the Deans of top schools in North America, like Wharton, Columbia, Tuck and McGill, would always comment positively about the quality of students I sent them. So our top students are as good as the top North American students also. 

The surveys that rank the B-schools like to look at average GMAT scores of the schools’ cohorts. I myself am not too enthused by very high GMAT scores. And by the way, AIM’s average GMAT scores are higher than a number of schools that you’re probably familiar with, in Asia and Australia. Anyway, all that practice and coaching courses means that score in the 700s are getting commonplace. Of course it’s still impressive. But when I interview candidates like these I find they tend to be high IQ and low EQ. It’s almost as if they devoted their entire lives learning to become 700-plus GMATs, as I like to call them, and nothing else. It’s what I said at the start of this interview: it’s not about what you know but how you think and how you work with others. While I haven’t kept count, I suspect I’ve rejected more of these 700-plus GMATs than I’ve accepted. 
We won’t tell you your AIMAT scores as a matter of policy, but we know your score when we do the interviews. I don’t know if you are told your CAT results. I think you will only know how well you did if you are called by the IIMs or ISB for interview. If you gave the CAT, all we know about you is that you didn’t make the 99.7 percentile. Otherwise you wouldn’t be applying for AIM, isn’t it?. Let’s face it. The typical Indian aspirant would prefer the IIMs (especially the ABCs) to AIM if he could meet the CAT hurdle. Now if you didn’t give the CAT at all, we might conclude that you didn’t think you’d do well enough. This might suggest you don’t have enough self-confidence and we don’t like that. It’s a Catch-22. 
My problem with CAT is that unlike GMAT the candidate can’t seem to show some official document that indicates his score. He may tell me that he was 96 percentile but how do I verify that? 
During the interview, do you try to imagine the candidate sitting in your class at AIM? In short, what kind of student do you, Professor Borromeo, like to have in your classroom?
Whether I’m teaching Human Behaviour in Organizations, which I’ve taught for many, many years, or Management Communication, which I’ve started teaching last year, and I can think of my early years at AIM when I taught Marketing, and Business Policy—which you call General Management or (Strategic Management and Ethics ) today—I always enjoy my class when my students and I can be partners in the learning process. I don’t like someone sitting in my class waiting for me to tell him things while he sits there like a sponge waiting to soak gems of wisdom from me. He’ll be disappointed, hehe. 
So what does it take for a student to be a partner? First of all, they have to have sufficient brain power. After all, we’re going to be tackling complex problems of management and business. I don’t want them nerdy, I want them smart. And as I said, they also have to be emotionally smart—meaning they can work with other people as a leader and as a follower and as a team member. They must have energy and motivation because the work is hard. There’s a lot they have to do. . And even if we’ve cut the calendar from 22 months to 16, it is a long haul. It’s not enough to read and analyze the cases we give them. They have to exhaust the resources available to them (their teachers, classmates, Internet, library, and so on). Then they come to the class really prepared to contribute to an intelligent and stimulating discussion.
In all this, they need to push themselves way out of their comfort zones. A partner in learning can’t drag others down. If they like to think one way and are uncomfortable thinking another way, they have to try that other way and then some more. If they are used to sleeping 8 hours a day, they have to get used to 3 because their initiative and motivation should drive them to exhaust themselves. This they do because they want to take advantage of all the opportunities for learning and personal development that each assignment offers. If they prefer to talk one-on-one or in small groups, they better be ready to face much larger audiences, and on a more regular basis. In fact if they prefer to keep quiet, they will have to learn to speak up and be heard, meaning they have to get used to people looking at them and listening to them and get over the self-consciousness quickly. And as we love to say amongst the faculty, “No talk, no pass.” And they have to be good listeners as well.
The students must always contribute to the learning process; that’s what’s expected of them as partners. It is this act of contributing that discombobulates a student who is used to taking tests. He expects that “learning” is about preparing for the next test. So he’s on the lookout for picking up the answers to the questions the test might ask. But learning is less about absorbing facts and knowledge as it is about changing one’s behaviour towards what he hopes to become. Managers are not test takers. They’re problem solvers and decision makers. And since we’re developing managers, we want our students to behave, to act, think and feel like managers. And because managers deal with uncertainty and constant change, there are no right or wrong answers that will work for all the problems they have to solve and all the decisions they have to make. There is only the ability to think through the problems and opportunities that uncertainty and change present, and then decide and act on them. That ability is what we learn in my class, indeed in all AIM classes. And that ability is acquired and honed through active involvement—partnership—in a very participative learning process.
So if you have what it takes to be an active partner in learning, if you have the smarts, the experience, the motivation and energy, and you’re not afraid to stick your neck out and have it chopped off, figuratively of course, then I want you in my class. 
Are you still recruiting for this year’s intake?
Yes we are. I hope to return to India in mid-May so if any of you think they’re the kind of student I want in my class, I hope they’ll give me the privilege of interviewing them. Or they can email me (junbo@aim.edu) and tell me why they think they would want to be in my class at AIM.


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