Off-Campus Placement Experience - Monark Moolchandani

Consulting Aug 17, 2020

The BITS Hyderabad Consulting Group interviewed Monark Moolchandani, a 2020 graduate of MSc. Physics + B.E Manufacturing from BITS Pilani, Hyderabad.

Monark was one of the founding members of BHCG on the campus and currently works as a Product Analyst at GlowRoad.com — a reseller network based in Bangalore.

We spoke to him about his journey through college and his experience in finding an off-campus product role.

Interview by: Sanket Bhatt

Q1. When did you realize that you wanted to make a career in non-tech? Why did you choose to pick non-tech roles in particular?

A. I tried to work into multiple roles before I found a perfect fit for myself. I had close to 6 internships through my college life — spanning across fields from core manufacturing to Digital Marketing to Supply Chain Management to Business Ops to Vendor Management to Vendor Management and Strategy Consulting roles. I tried to explore every domain that a fresher could enter. While I was never a person interested in coding, I believe that some knack at knowing basic coding operations is helpful for most roles (even those in non-tech fields) that you would work in.

If you get into non-tech positions and are required to work on projects, some ability to automate processes or data analysis would take you a long way. While I was in college, the trend for product roles hadn’t yet swept through the market. I realized then that I had to see what opportunities came towards me and work towards achieving those.

I preferred product roles over consulting roles as I felt I was better suited towards B2C roles rather than B2B consulting roles. I also wanted to get into a field where I could see my actions directly affecting the product we put out for consumers.

Q2. What would your position be as a Product Analyst? How is a Product Role different from that of a Consultant or a Business Analyst?

A. The role of a consultant is usually more closely related to dealing with the upper level of management. It is related to finding the most cost-efficient method to optimize performance. Their consideration is solely increasing the client’s KPIs, the client’s performance, and the client’s value. On the other hand, a P.A. works towards creating and analyzing a product that would enhance the customer experience. Customer obsession and customer experience are paramount over any other consideration.

The first question I used to ask during interviews was my team’s objective and what my role as a part of that team would entail. In consulting, you don’t know who your customers are, and you don’t know whether your solution would be ultimately considered or not. On the other hand, a P.A. role directly impacts the product, the business, and the end customer.

My role at GlowRoad.com would involve checking our regular business matrices. My organization hires freshers in the standard progression of PA/APM/PM. However, we all work together on the same team. My role also involves working on new features to determine what is going on in the market and performing category analysis to figure out market sentiments about our product. It’s more of a think-and-build role wherein we analyze a lot of data and make hypotheses about the product — similar to what’s done in case studies. In short, my role is in two phases — building new features to generate positive customer experiences and taking in data and public opinion to solve what already exists within the platform.

Q3. What other companies did you interview for in the on-campus and off-campus placement process?

A. I had a Pre-Placement Offer with Tesco — and hence, the number of on-campus roles I could sit for was reduced (due to the placement rules). I knew then that I had to crack off-campus roles if I wanted to get into product roles. I started applying for jobs in February before the COVID outbreak — but, post-March, I put a hold on applying for jobs as I felt it was not the right time to enter the market. I started applying for companies in May again. I already had a Business Analyst role, and I wanted to focus on Product roles. I sat down and jotted down all my interests — I saw that I preferred Retail, E-Commerce, and the FoodTech arenas (due to my positive internship experiences with Tesco and Swiggy).

I applied to 6 product roles, and I managed to convert 3 of them (2 of the other processes were left incomplete) — and I selected GlowRoad.com as being the best fit for me. I decided that I would play it a bit safe and try to be in the domain where I knew I could succeed, leaving the exploration of other fields for a stabler time.

Q4. How did you find and prepare for these off-campus roles?

A. My LinkedIn profile was definitely a significant driving force for the same. I have close to 6000 connections on LinkedIn — so I was able to see a lot of places with job openings through my network. There are usually two methods to land jobs off-campus. The first is the portals like Naukri.com and IIM jobs — however, the problem with these portals is that the number of fresher openings is severely limited. The way I used to find roles — was to find people on LinkedIn who are in the same or similar positions. I had a vast network due to my internships — therefore, I could get a lot of job opening notifications through my network. The problem with the first approach was that companies are unwilling to post job openings online — as the sheer number of applicants makes it difficult for them to screen candidates.

My friends in H.R. told me that the best way to get a job is to talk to or reach out to people who are directly hiring from your network or to ask them to put in a word for you when they do start hiring. I went forth with this to find people in the hiring team — preferably a BITSian or a non-BITSian who would put in a word for me and start a casual conversation with them, leading to questions about their job and their requirements. Post that — I would be able to understand the role, the team, and whether it was a good fit for me, and I would have developed some personal rapport as well. It was after that that I would ask for a role, mentorship, or the like. I also got a few calls from people approaching me for jobs when they found my profile on LinkedIn — however, those roles weren’t suited to me. So, my LinkedIn was a great asset in helping me get through to these openings. In my opinion — applying on job portals is similar to throwing your resume into an empty void.

If you have good coverage on LinkedIn — you should be able to get a fairly decent number of responses. I would recommend building up a strong network from your 2nd or 3rd year. Make it a habit to talk to a large variety of people, especially over those two years — as these openings are just about building good strong connections. Moreover, don’t restrict yourself in niches — talk to people who work in departments which are not always at the forefront of job openings we see like H.R. — they would be able to give you great insights into their job and the company culture.

Q5. How would you rank your CGPA, your Internships/Work Experience, your Extracurricular Activities, and your college PoRs in the order of importance to the interview process and the general job application process?

A. I will just describe all of these four parameters in my experience.

CGPA — I had a CGPA of 7.85 when I graduated. A good profile with a circa 8 CGPA should get you through most roles in non-tech. For product, B.A., and Data Analyst roles — your GPA isn’t given that hefty of a weightage. 7 is a reasonably safe zone wherein you should be able to tackle most interviews. Below 7 is where it can bet slightly trickier to defend.

On the other hand, consulting roles do care about your CGPA and would often ask for a higher GPA. Most recruiters were at the top of their game academically, and hence, the higher the GPA you have — the more of a positive impression you would generate. With a good profile and a good C.G. — you also show that you can handle building your profile and focusing on other things while remaining committed to your day job — your academics.

Everyone in the industry knows that BITS manages to give out a slight boost vis a vis its P.S. system, and hence a 7+ is generally looked at favorably. A 9+ CGPA is seen as a major spike and will make you stand out as a candidate.

Internships — In my opinion, these are the most important characteristics of any resume or any profile. If you have good internships — no one will care about your college PoRs. Moreover, the actual industry experience is invaluable for any interview process — as non-tech roles are entirely about the scope of learning. I mention 3 out of my internships on my resume (at Swiggy, Tesco, and Truebill), and those were deeply impactful opportunities that I managed to receive.

Extra-Curriculars — While I worked with a few startups and a non-profit organization called COVID SOS — they were never a part of any interview process that I underwent. So, I don’t weigh them that heavily in your job application process. However, my case study competitions were immensely beneficial in preparing for interviews and providing a talking point within the interviews.

Position of Responsibilities — I weight this the least amongst all four of these aspects. PoRs never played any role in my interviews — they were only mentioned briefly when I had to introduce myself in the first few minutes of the interview. I did hold 3 PoRs — all in 3-tiered impactful clubs (BHCG, BITS Embryo, TEDx BITS Hyderabad) on campus — but those came due to a passion for the work that those clubs did, and I never considered them to be the swaying decision for my roles. In short, you will not be hampered in any interview process if you get through college without any PoRs, either. For product roles — your mentality and problem-solving and data-crunching skills are rated higher than any PoR.

To answer the question in a nutshell, I would rate Internships and Work Experience as the most important factor, followed by your academic CGPA and projects (both on-campus projects and personal pet projects), followed distantly by your Extracurricular activities and your PoRs.

Q6. BITS Pilani offers a Practice School Internship system — with PS-1 and PS-2. Could you explain your roles at the same and how they affected your profile?

A. My PS-1 was at a core manufacturing company. It’s not very relevant to what I do now — and I don’t mention it in my resume either. My PS-2, on the other hand, was very important.

My first sem PS-2 was with Tesco — the U.K. grocery conglomerate. Tesco was one of the best corporate experiences I had. It was a great company to work for, and it had a great work environment — coupled with the fact that many BITSians were working at the company. At Tesco, I worked with the team that focused on the store insights of the offline U.K. stores. I worked with the Data Analytics part of the stores — dealing with decisions related to discounting or implementing a new strategy or performing customer retention/reactivation analysis. My role was pretty much in line with what the team did — in bridging the gap between the people who manage the stores and the business team. My big project at Tesco was starting up, working on and automating a process to let store managers on the ground know how their store was doing. Post that — I also did work analyzing Tesco’s customer base and improving the performance of specific sub-sectors within this base. I was also offered a PPO in the same team post my work there.

Following that, my second sem PS-2 was with Swiggy. At Swiggy, my main role was working with the strategy department on the ground concerning Swiggy’s Cloud Kitchens. I worked towards switching to and scaling up the ERP software that they used. I also developed a product for Swiggy’s Central Kitchen — and spent about a month on this project.

When I talk about the impact my PS-2 had on my resume — it was massive. I picked up a lot of analytics skills that I have due to my work at Tesco — especially with SQL, Tableau, and the like. It was a proper Business Analyst role, and I really enjoyed my work there. Swiggy also gave me a great experience vis a vis the insights into the day-to-day operations of the FoodTech/Start-up sector in India.

Together, my PS-2 was probably the most important year of my college life, and Swiggy and Tesco were the selling point for my profile. The net P.S. experience helped me in 3 ways. Firstly, it provided me with great brand-backed internships that really pushed up my profile and gave me great experiences to talk about in my interviews. I was asked about Tesco’s business model quite a lot in my interviews — due to its unique position of dominance in the U.K. market. Secondly, I managed to pick up a lot of soft and hard tech skills from both internships, from a B.A. role perspective and an Operations perspective. Thirdly, it exposed me to some great corporate knowledge platforms and gave me a strong work ethic culture.

Q7. BITS Pilani offers students the opportunity to complete a finance minor in their time in college. Did you attempt the same? If yes, how did you feel it helped you through your non-tech job application experiences? What other courses in college did you think helped you through while attempting to bag internships or jobs?

A. I did not do a finance minor. It was pretty clear to me that I wanted to finish up my courses and go for a dual sem PS-2 in my final year. To be perfectly honest, not a lot of my courses were particularly helpful in bagging non-tech roles for me. Supply Chain Management (a manufacturing course) was the only course that I felt was remotely relevant to my ambitions. But, that course isn’t taught at the level at which the industry operates. So, in a nutshell — I did not feel that many courses helped me through my non-tech aspirations.

Q8. You spoke about projects in the first few questions. Could you talk about what projects you did in college that you felt were useful?

A. Projects could refer to any type of project. Projects are just basically a way for you to project your skill and open it up to the general public. These could be college projects — or they could be apps that you’ve built, websites, blogs, or any other form of expression wherein you can show your talent to the outside world. Create products and projects that the world can use and find utility in. They don’t even have to be technically intensive projects. If you are just starting up app development or web development — you could work on ideating towards solving problems that you would typically not think of using a website or app for. If you aren’t a coder — you can use simple no-coder platforms that would allow you to leverage technology in the same way towards solving problems. Similarly, even if you don’t want to achieve operational level growth and want something manageable and small — as long as you can put it out and find utility in the same — you would have been successful with your project venture.

You needn’t go for college projects for the same. If you have the bandwidth towards doing a DoP, LoP, or SoP — then you can definitely attempt the same for experience and grades — but your projects would work fine. All projects serve to do is prove that you are a self-builder and that you are motivated to either work alone or as part of a team to get the job done.

Q9. While we’re all in lockdown for the considerable future — would you recommend any online resources or MOOCs that would serve towards improving any skills that we would need for non-tech roles?

A. I am not the biggest fan of MOOCs — I have managed to complete fairly few over my college life. If I had to suggest something — it would be this. I would recommend people to deep-dive into their interests and figure out what aspect of engineering or non-tech they are interested in. Moreover, I would strongly recommend people to network and build connections. That takes genuine effort and is hard to do concurrently with your academics. Talk to the maximum number of people that you can on LinkedIn — build meaningful relationships with them and maintain a master list of this information on Excel. Put feedback on a sheet so that you have contacts you can talk to after your 4/5 years of college who would serve as your referral networks, your potential mentors, and personal networks. The more people you can talk to — the better you’ll understand the market you’re entering into, and the better you’ll be able to tap into the opportunities when they arise. You’ll be able to leverage these contacts into finding you a better job or a different career path or the like. I cannot strongly recommend the importance of LinkedIn as a social networking platform enough.

I managed to get through to the last few rounds of Flipkart APM — but I couldn’t make it through. Even though I was rejected from the same — the experience was significant for me. It was important from both a technical standpoint — wherein you learn a lot through the interview process. It was also important from a psychological perspective — because it teaches you how to deal with rejection. It’ll depend on whether you use rejections to throw in the towel and decide that product roles aren’t for you or whether you pull yourself up to get the next opportunity.

While I agree that brand names matter — especially in the initial stages of one’s career, growth, learning, and exposure opportunities are equally important, the opportunities for product roles and non-tech roles are there (companies want to encourage the growth of these fields in the country), you just need to know when to tap into them. For that, you need to build connections. Be ambitious with LinkedIn — exploit it and use it to your benefit.

So, I would suggest that better than MOOCs — talk to people who are working in the fields you are interested in. Create a list of the skills that your top companies require from you — both soft and hard skills. Subsequently — work on mastering those skills and working towards using them from a practical standpoint. Beyond that, you can start buffing up your profile with case studies, projects, and internship opportunities.

Q10. How did you go about preparing for your internships with particular reference to the case study competitions?

A. During my prep for the Flipkart APM process — I used to do Mock Case Studies with an APM from IIT Madras. I am not really a book person. I preferred doing mock case studies with people from campus and people from other campuses and preferred working with them. You need people to teach you new approaches — the approaches that are looked favorably in the market right now. All the IIT’s have a fairly strong case study preparation culture as they start their placement cycle earlier than us. You need to keep doing mocks to point out the flaws that you are making. I would also recommend talking to people from other campuses — as they would have a different approach than you.

Moreover, you need to find people who would be brutally honest about your performance as case studies are fairly subjective and conversation-based. I would not recommend book level preparation as it can get quite monotonous, and the content in those books is old and would rarely reflect the current market approaches. I felt that it was super important to be consistent with your preparation. Case studies have a great learning curve — if you can do 10 mocks, it will be your 11th mock case study that will teach you a new approach that you can use.

Lastly, I would recommend being varied in your preparation — as interview case studies are never of one type. I would recommend doing different case studies in your preparation — It may be a P/L case study one day with an Ops case study the next with a Guesstimate on the next day. Just remember that Case Studies are more like a conversation between you and the interviewer wherein the interviewer just wants to see how you think and approach a strategic business problem. Hence, variety and dynamism are key.

Q11. Do you have any plans to give CAT or go for an MBA at any time in the near future?

A. My focus is to go on an MBA abroad after 3–4 years of work experience. I am a people person — I enjoy meeting new people, and hence my idea for an MBA would be centered around networking and building connections with different people. CAT is a bit of a problematic situation for me — it gets tougher every year — especially for Engineering background General Male Candidates, and I would not prefer to set myself up for failure for the same. Even if I get a 99.5 %ile, there is no guarantee of me getting a call-up from IIM A, B, C.

My current plan would be to give GMAT a few years later — with an option to give CAT too as 3+ years of work experience would be looked favorably upon. But, I believe I can survive easily in the industry for another few years without an MBA before I have to worry about that aspect.

Q12. Starting from 2–1, could you give us a detailed description of how you went about building your profile?

A. I started with a CGPA of 6.1 — so, my first priority was moving that upwards so that I don’t get rejected just because of my CGPA. Post that — I started focusing on acquiring Internships and Work Experience — as I felt that would be an essential part of driving my profile. My PoRs came out of passion — I was really attached to the clubs that I worked for, and I wanted to grow and expand them to the extent that we could actually showcase the work we were doing on a bigger scale. I started BHCG because I wanted to build a consulting culture on campus — I felt that neither did companies know that there was a consulting culture on campus and nor did the students know that an opportunity called consulting exists.

My Extracurricular activities also started naturally — I just wanted to go in with the mindset of exploring as many fields as possible so that I could find an appropriate fit for me. Until you find the proper fit for yourself, you won’t enjoy the job or the company’s culture. I feel the worst part of on-campus recruiting is that you don’t know what you’re signing up for as most people are just lured by the CTC and headliner figures. Do a lot of research to determine if you would be a good fit for the role you’re applying for.

It is not compulsory that if you have a finance minor that you have to go to a bank-related P.S. station and do some form of reporting work. That is a common mistake people make — especially when they are armed with a finance minor. You can always do an MBA if you choose to enter into an I.B. or Corporate Finance — but, if you think a reporting or analysis job is not for you — then you are better off staying out of it. While a brand matters greatly on your resume, having a productive, positive, and educational work experience is even more important. Everyone knows that BITSians get a PS-2 internship based on their CGPA — so maintaining a level of understanding over your job and your fit is essential. If you are interested in product roles or non-tech roles and can’t find anything on campus, you should try for off-campus roles because you would have a clear understanding of what you need to do and what the J.D. would ask from you.

Q13. If you had to give some advice to your juniors, what would it be?

A. If you can code or if there’s even a small chance that you can enter into I.T. — give it a decent shot. Give 6 months of focused and dedicated work towards fields like Competitive Coding. Even if you choose not to enter into I.T. later, it will definitely help you throughout your career. CC improves the way you think about problems from more than a C.S. standpoint, and the pay-off is immense. Irrespective of whether it’s App Development, Web Development, Competitive Coding, or Data Analytics — if you have a shot, try to code.

It makes you more tech-savvy, adds a point of conversation to your networking, and equips you with some necessary tech skills that are almost becoming a ubiquitous requirement in any industry these days. Lastly, and again, exploit LinkedIn to whatever extent you can — even if it’s within your campus, and capitalize on it towards gaining information about yourself, the market requirements and the market’s job descriptions. Code committedly and network extensively — those would be my two suggestions.

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BHCG brings together the Consulting enthusiasts from BITS Pilani Hyderabad.

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