The first question that comes to the mind is what to prepare for? There are so many profiles and it’s not possible to prepare all of them. So how did you decide what profile to aim for?
Ok so I was preparing for consulting roles, product roles, and core companies. My decision was based on a lot of factors, the most crucial being my interest. I discussed with my seniors, tried to know more about the profile, what they actually expect from you once you join, and also about the exit opportunities. It also depended on my previous internship experiences. After analyzing all these factors it was more clear which of the profiles actually aligned with my interests and with my future plans. It is really important to decide beforehand which profile to aim for because you have to then divide your preparation time accordingly.
So for a good preparation and ample time to practice, by what year should the student finally decide about which profile to aim for?
It totally depends on student to student. If you realize your passion soon then it’s well and good. Even if you realize your passion in your final year then even that’s okay.
Alright. So my next question to you is what was the general interview process for the companies you aimed for?
For Flipkart, I applied for the Associate Product Manager role. There was a problem statement released and we had to submit our slide deck containing solutions within a time frame of 10 to 12 days. Based on that slide deck they shortlisted 16 candidates. It was followed by the buddy round. My buddy was an alumnus working in Flipkart. She helped us to prepare well for the interviews. Buddy round could be evaluative or non-evaluative depending on the company. Then after 3 weeks or so there was the final interview at Kharagpur. There were more product case interviews. There were a total of 5 rounds. The 1st round was problem solving, followed by two product thinking rounds. The 4th round was the fit round and the final round was the technical round.
Okay so in each round, what were the questions they asked and any FAQs which you prepared or which you suggest to prepare?
Questions were mostly cases. My 1st round was a problem solving round which was basically a case round. There they expect one to identify and solve the problem. The questions could be, for example, the number of users of Uber cabs is decreasing, figure out why and suggest recommendations. Some candidates were also asked to do a guesstimate in the first round where they check how good you are with numbers. In guesstimates, they require you to estimate a number by taking proper assumptions and using logic. So one example could be to estimate the number of shampoo bottles sold in India in a day. The next two rounds were product thinking rounds where they checked the ability to think creatively. One of my questions was to plan the subscription model for Flipkart. The next round was the fit round, a sort of HR round. There were general questions like why this company? Why this profile? Mention an instant where you showed leadership skills. And I was also given a few diplomatic situations where the interviewer wanted to know what I would do in those situations. Then the final round was the technical round. Here, they do not expect you to know coding, but yes you should definitely have a sound technical understanding. For example, how does WhatsApp messaging work? How does GPS work? I was asked questions based on applications of Machine Learning too.
Can you please elaborate a bit about selection procedure and questions asked during the HR round and the best strategy to prepare for them?
In HR rounds the questions are very general. I would advise students to be themself, be genuine, and confident. For this, I would suggest them to recall their memory and jot down all their experiences which they think they can share. And it is highly advised to be thorough with your CV because questions will definitely arise from your CV — Why this? And why not this? Why did you take this particular decision? For example — After interning in core companies why did you switch to a different role? So by HR round, the interviewer wants to judge whether you are actually fit for the role, and are you actually interested?
Okay so my next question is what advice would you give to the students who are going to sit for placements this year?
Yeah so first of all final year students should decide the profile he or she is targetting. Time is limited and preparation has to be specific. Deciding the profile is of utmost importance. Because preparing for all the profiles is likely very impossible. After that, once they have decided they should prepare their placement preparation schedule accordingly and stick to it for the rest of their semester. Generally, companies conduct a preliminary test to shortlist the candidates. The test usually consists of quant, logical reasoning, and English. For technical roles, coding too. Then for interviews, puzzles are most important for all job profiles as maximum companies include it in their interviews.
Alright, so what are the resources that one must refer to while preparing or rather which you used for your preparation?
For solving puzzles there are a few must do’s like Heard on The Street, Fifty Challenging Problems in Probability, and GeeksforGeeks. These are very good sources. And they must revise Probability and Statistics as it is really important. I would also advise juniors to do a bit of coding and now since because of the lockdown everyone has plenty of time they should start as soon as possible. This is for general preparation and specifically for the APM role the candidate needs to prepare guesstimates, problem solving cases, product thinking cases, technical, and HR. So, to prepare well for case interviews first you need to form a case group of 3 to 4 members and practice a good number of cases. The most important aspect of case solving is structuring. So for that, I started with Case Interviews Cracked(IIT Bombay book) to get a grip on structuring and then moved to product cases. The books which I referred to were Cracking The PM Interview, Decode and Conquer, and Preparing for Product Interviews. Also, the case practice should not be restricted within group members and they should try to do cases with other shortlisted candidates also because this is a way where you can exchange your ideas and once you are confident with your cases then they should do cases with alums too. You can find guesstimates in a lot of books such as guesstimate compendium, CIC, etc. For technical rounds they expect you to know the working of websites and apps in general. So start observing and reading more about apps’ functioning. A product manager should be aware of new upcoming technologies, so start reading blogs too.
So after you were shortlisted, did you alter your preparation like change the method of preparation/refer to some new material?
Frankly speaking, I started my product case prep only after I was shortlisted. Before getting shortlisted for Flipkart I was shortlisted for BCG and Parthenon so I did have an idea about case interviews. I had practiced consult cases. And after I was shortlisted I had to change my preparation. I did product cases more and prepared for the technical round after some time since I didn’t have much technical knowledge. So I started following more technical blogs. I started using more apps, developed a basic understanding of web development, and about ML-DL applications in general.
Alright. So now my last question to you is what advice would you give to students who are preparing keeping in view the present economic conditions due to CoViD-19?
o I would suggest the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year students explore as much as possible. This is a really good time to explore. There are a plethora of opportunities available in Kharagpur, make good use of it. Try to do courses, projects, grab internships, discuss with your seniors, and try to know which companies and profiles visit campus. It is necessary since most students aren’t aware of what the placements and internships and CDC all together look like. It’s only after exploring you will realize your passion, where does your interest lie? Also, I would suggest them to start coding because we have seen that maximum companies visit for tech roles during placements. Placements are very uncertain so you need to have a strong backup and it would not hurt to add one more skill. Coding is directly or indirectly required in all the fields, and it gives an upper hand too. It would definitely provide a very strong backup for placement. And to pre-final years I would say be calm, start early, and work really hard.