A ‘not so’ dream run! – Satish Charjan, IIMA, Class of 2024

I am Satish Charjan and I am just as much an ambitious, aspiring person as any of you must be, Just like most of you, I grew up through multitudes of mindsets, ideas, plans and dreams.

Just like most of you, I learnt the realities and logic of life in a hard and strong way. And just like you, I had to fight my own battle. It’s definitely not as hard as some of yours, or I definitely must not have attained the victory in the grandest fashion. But I ran in this race! And I have reached a milestone. This is the story of reaching that milestone and what lies next!! I have divided this journey in parts so that I don’t bore people with unnecessary parts. Please dive into the topic where you may find my experience useful.


Profile of Satish Charjan


Agragami High School, Wardha
Class X : 91.87% (SSC)

Jankidevi Bajaj College of Science, Wardha
Class XII : 84.33%

Grad: College of Engineering, Pune
CGPA – 7.09% (Metallurgical Engineering)

Work ex: 52 months
Last worked: ZS Associates (40 months)
GKN Sinter Metals (12 months)
Percentile – 97.89

Calls received:

A, B, C, L, K, I, FMS

Calls Converted:

A, B, L, K, I, C(WL), FMS(WL)

Joining: IIM Ahmedabad, PGP Class of 2024

Content of this journey shared

  • Who Am I?
  • Why MBA?
  • When to do an MBA and from where?
  • ZS and seriousness towards CAT
  • CAT grind and interview season
  • ‘The’ result, sweetest dilemma and what next?

Who Am I?

Kahani shuru hoti hai from small town of Wardha where I was born in year 1995. My father worked with the State Cotton Federation and my mother is a housewife. I would be lying if I say that I had a challenging life growing up. Because I was guarded by tenacious parents. With conservative extended family, there were shackles around every progressive step they took. Putting myself and my sister through English medium school, making us participate in all school competitions, ensuring our comfort even in drought prone years of our life. I was privileged with all the necessary comforts and opportunities of life that a normal child deserves to get. However, we humans have this tendency, which builds and breaks the humanity among us- That we are never content!! This unsatiable desire to earn, learn and win more has brought about the enormous progress and huge blunders in human history! If we scale it down, this tendency also dictates our history. And it dictated my history!!

I grew up in relatively confined towns of Maharashtra, where the cutthroat competition to get better had not yet set its foot. And due to this I was able to pursue some beautiful hobbies like reading Marathi literature, history books and composing poetry. There was a point in life where I thought these hobbies are my passion and this is what I should pursue as my career. As a matter of fact, even my father thought that I should pursue an art degree in in History literature. And here came the reality of life; or I would say the reality of a middle-class boy’s life! Does History really have any scope in terms of career? Would I make enough money? Will it command have enough respect in society? All these questions set up a cartwheel of doubts in my mind and also of my parents!

And just like any other middle-class guy I chose the most sought-after career option- Engineering! I always had an aptitude must survive any type of conventional career choice. But I was not sure if engineering was something I would be best at. However, now that I made the choice, I decided to excel at it as well. I got admission at prestigious College of Engineering Pune under Metallurgical Engineering course. And this was my first leg of not so dream run! Because I had to face 2 roadblocks-I had to choose a career option which I was not inclined heavily towards and second, I had to choose a branch which was never in my consideration. But when life gives you lemon you better make a lemonade out of it. And so did I! It’s also interesting how this span of engineering clarified my mind on why I should be doing an MBA.

Why MBA?

As I was pursuing my engineering, I witnessed the first harsh reality of life. Career Security! Even after belonging to a prestigious institute, the opportunities to attain a stable and substantial career path were meagre, especially for a student of core engineering faculty. I saw several of my seniors struggle to get their placements and continue their struggle even after completing their engineering. I understood that the college brand can only help me as much and I will have to develop some skills and some rapport of my own. And this is where I decided to join COEP Baja club which was an automobile club of our college. This was a complete project which had activities ranging from raising funds to build a prototype till designing completely functional single seater vehicle and presenting it under a sales pitch. A major appeal behind joining this group was also its international participation in US based competitions. I visited US twice during my college tenure for this competition and managed to receive lots of accolades and technical expertise. While working on this project, I also understood the importance of business management and analytical approach to any task. I also understood the importance of accrediting your skills, as I observed that people with better academic performance also received better opportunities. It framed my mind map and gave me a clear path about why I should be doing an MBA-to validate my management skills, to put myself in a decision-making authority and give myself a space to work on things which can actually create impact on me and my surrounding life. And this was my second leg of not so dream run because I got this clarity from a place of insecurity of my career!

When to do an MBA and from where?

As the path ahead of me was clear, I did extensive research on when and from where to do an MBA. Considering my family situation, I was certain that I will be doing my MBA from India only. Now the question was, from where? From my previous experience I understood one thing-that the choices we make should not live a mark of regret on our mind. Due to circumstances I had to compromise during under graduation. I decided I won’t be compromising during this crucial juncture of my life. And so, it was decided-it has to be IIM ABC or ISB! I knew these institutes were ambitious targets, and I also knew that attaining them would require not just efforts but a good timing and lot of patience. I prepared my guts and started with first step towards this journey by joining GKN Sinter Metals as a Graduate Engineering Trainee. I know that developing a good work experience will make my life easy during MBA journey.

I worked for one year at GKN and suddenly contracted lung infection. For the sake of treatment, I had to take 6 months of break from my work. Unfortunately, my company couldn’t afford assigning me 6 months of sabbatical. So, I had to resign and take a complete break to recover my health. And during the same. I attempted my first CAT. And I bungled it like anything! I managed to score 99 percentile in VARC, but couldn’t even clear the cut off for DILR. Two simultaneous setbacks-and no visible way of returning on the track. The job market was extremely weak for core sector, and I was not sure how to go ahead. These 2 setbacks marked the end of my 3rd leg of not so dream run. It was in the next step that I realised how important it is to be patient and wait for what you deserve.

ZS and seriousness towards CAT

It was now time to recover from these setbacks. I understood preparing for CAT without any stable source of income would be difficult for me. Also, I wanted to keep a backup in case I fail to attain my real objective. Hence, I started searching for job while also preparing myself mentally for CAT. But job market was extremely weak for core industry, and I was not finding good opportunities even after passing my resume to multiple companies. As problems were taking turn towards despair, I came across job opening at ZS Associates. The criteria were an absolute fit with my profile. Also, the kind of work ZS does and their work culture enticed my interest a lot. I knew this was a different exposure all together compared to core industry, but I was desperate and interested at the same time. I applied for it and managed to secure the job after an extensive process of aptitude test, case interview and personal interview.

And there ushered a sense of security! I entered the comfort zone. I started liking the perks and benefits that comes to working professional. I started liking the new learnings at the workplace. But at the same time, CAT was burning at the back of my mind. And it was eating me up! Should I continue to remain in this comfort zone and keep aside my target objective? If not, then how should I manage a challenging work environment along with studies? Focusing on work and studies both started becoming difficult. I could visibly feel that my quality of work was not to the best and my studies were hampered too.

Eventually I decided to introspect. It was not going to work this way! It was essential to develop a system where I could focus both on studies and work. And this would be possible only if I gain expertise at my work and will be able to achieve my commitments in an effective and timely manner. And hence I decided to keep the CAT dream on back burner in 2020 and solely focused on the work front. I diligently sought mentorship and worked hard on developing skills around business context and technicalities. Things started improving. I was started getting a much-needed expertise on professional front. I started feeling confident that with my productivity improved, I can now target CAT prep with utmost determination.

And there dropped a big bomb: COVID!!!

Things disrupted like anything. I had to change my project as the previous project was heavily impacted by COVID issues. On new project, I had to spend equal, or rather more time to gain the technical expertise. A switch from hospitality consulting to pharma consulting was challenging. The skill set I attained in my previous project was of little relevance to the new one. My excel skills were redundant, my segmentation skills were redundant, my mathematical skills were redundant. Unlearning and relearning was taxing. And there was a constant pressure of expectation. How would I justify learning at such pace even after spending 1 year in ZS? It took me another year and here comes the CAT 2021! With new format! 2-hour speed run. 5 mins lost and you will have to look at next year! Focusing on work obviously took its toll on studies. I appeared for the CAT and it was a disaster! 81 percentile! 35 percentile in DiLR! I cannot explain the low I hit that day. The dream of IIM was fading away in front of my eyes. I was satisfied on professional front, but mind was in chaos. More problematic was the ticking clock. I was already 4 years out of graduation. I was losing time on “ideal timeline” of 2-year IIM MBA.

So again, I decided to create a backup. I went ahead and appeared for GMAT. In my second attempt, I managed to score decently and felt a sense of failsafe relief. ISB was flashing Infront of my eyes now. But again, I decided to calm myself down and asked myself to set my priorities straight. Did I want 1 year MBA? Was I sure about handling the academic fast track in 1 year course? Weren’t ABC my first priorities? Thinking around this gave me the clarity I wanted. CAT it is! Cannot give up on red brick/stone wall/ lake campus dream! And that’s how ended the 4th leg of my not so dream run. COVID, professional challenges and dilemma after crushing failure instilled tremendous patience in me.

CAT grind and interview season

I finally managed to settle in work and got hang of things on personal and professional front. Now I decided to focus on CAT prep. I knew this was in ways a do or die attempt. Till now I patiently faced the missed attempts and failures. But now I had a safety net of GMAT. So, I decided to focus on CAT prep and make sure to give my 100%.

I started the preparation around month of April and continued to focus on mock tests. I had a good exposure to CAT exam format and was now wiser with last year’s disastrous attempt. I started figuring out how to approach DILR and Quant. Short time duration means one must pick correct questions/sets and that too quickly. 5 mins stuck in a set and its game over!! I conditioned myself to let the tough ones go, even if I invested some time on it.

On D-Day, I was super relived to find a relatively easy VARC section. I was able to solve all RCs. VA was as usual and a gamble for me. I was content with my VARC section overall. Even in DILR, I was able to pick 2 very easy set in first 10 min and was able to solve one more medium level set. My confidence was sky high. But then in Quant, even after all that preparation, I was not able to get rid of those tough questions and fidgeted around them. I barely managed to make a substantial attempt. I felt bit dull after the exam and was constantly thinking about why I wasted my time on tough nuts.

The official answer key reflected the same picture. I managed to get all RC questions correct, missed 2 questions in DILR and barely managed to get through the Quant. But after going through predictions from different CAT coaching classes, I saw a dim ray of hope that the performance might be enough to sail me through. Disappointing, but enough.

And then came in the result! 97.89 percentile overall. VARC: 99.29, DILR: 93.27, Quant: 87.59. 4 more questions attempted correctly, and I would have breached 99 percentile. But that was the past story and future was calling with a ray of hope. For NC OBC category, there was a good chance that I might get some good IIM interview calls, possibly Bangalore too! I decided to not waste any time and joined in the GDPI classes. I wanted to make sure that I flip every stone over for interview prep.

Joining GDPI session was a strong and much needed revelation for me. I was expecting an interview preparation. A set of questions to expect and how to answer them. Little did I know that I was looking forward to a personality grooming; a career clarity that I possibly was not even aware I had. As soon as I joined CL, I was put in Sreeni sir’s group for PDP prep. I was excited for what was to come. The very first task we got was to write down 3000 words essay and answer about 10 questions regarding my life so far and my future ambitions. Sreeni sir told us that we won’t be able to appear for our mock interviews without these write ups. No matter how long it takes!!

Now it may seem easy. Like I can write down things. But when I hit the keyboard that I realized, I never pondered into my own life in this level of detail. I always valued my life in terms of academic and professional profile. 10th, 12th, Graduation, Work Ex and Extra curriculars. It was answering the write up questions that finally forced me to look beyond these metrics and find the value of what I have done in my life. What triggers my negative patterns? What makes me inspirational? It took me about a week to make these write ups and submit it. My first mock interview with Sreeni sir cannot be more insightful. With his experience, he deciphered all my personality traits and my weak points. He didn’t mince his words and gave me straight pointers to work upon. The task was cut out for me!

And while this preparation was on, I received my first call- IIM Kozhikode!! The excitement begins! And the interview date was just 1 week in. Later I came to know that it was the very first session of this year’s IIM interview season. I was prepared. Surprisingly, the interview revolved around my academics! I thought 4 years of work ex would cut me come slack. Well…It was all about Metallurgy for first 10 min. I maintained my calm throughout and was well prepared with most important topics and general knowledge points. The first interview went decent!!

And then I received the big call……IIM Calcutta!! And I cannot explain the surge of motivation it gave me. Few days later, IIM Bangalore was in too. I started feeling that amazing sense of urgency! I was sure that with this, Lucknow, Indore and FMS are also on the way. I geared up my preparation. I started looking into every nook and corner of my past. From basic calculus to what is the current steelmaking capacity, from hypothesis testing to time series analysis, I was making notes for everything that could be remotely related to my past. Of course it is difficult to understand everything in complete details in such short time, but I was making sure that I know something about everything to at least not close the conversation before it starts. The grind was real.

IIM Bangalore SOP making has been one of the most detailed exercise I conducted in my life. The checking and counter checking of each sentence was grueling. I had to make sure that I communicate every interesting fact of my life while covering my purpose for MBA in 600 words. However, the clarity and motivation it imparted to me was tremendous. And during this hustle, I received my dream call, IIM Ahmedabad!

I had interview calls from all 3 of my dream IIMs. And so, I prepared as if there is no tomorrow! IIM Calcutta interview was a mix bag. A typical math and academic intensive approach. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t answer calculus questions at all. However, I was able to tackle alternate hypothesis testing discussion and later had a great discussion on 2008 Global Economic Crisis. I was not sure whether the interview was good enough for my work ex laden profile to sail through, but I was sure that I had given my 100% in that moment.

IIM Ahmedabad was a dream interview. Right from AWT to interview panel, I felt I was cruising through my comfort zone. I had an AWT on trustworthiness in professional life and though it was generic caselet, I was able to find some points which could make the argument better. When I went for the interview, I found myself facing the most cordial interview panel, and we started off on a great point where they showed interest in my career progression from metallurgy to consulting. In contrary with the established premise of maintaining short and precise responses, they expected details in the interaction. Couple of simple calculus questions, lot of discussion on work ex and lot of insightful discussion on personality aspects. The best interview I had ever given!

IIM Bangalore was exact opposite, the grillfest nightmare! The interview I had most hopes from considering my profile turned out to be Pandora’s box! The interview panel was super confident and exuded wisdom. I knew that single kink in my integrity and they will put me down like anything. The interview was a series of sarcastic and condescending volleys of questions and comments. They threw politics, advanced analytics, and ethics to press me. Complex and intricate topics which test your patience and sensibility to its maximum. The only positives I could find was my composure and at no point interview panel discarded my ideas completely.

I was feeling a bit nervous now. Calcutta seemed bleak due to profile issue, Ahmedabad seemed like a dream and best hope Bangalore was a stress interview. Would I make it? Was I good enough? That’s when Sreeni sir boosted me. Told me to not worry about results as there are several other factors and my interviews went well. I was able to hit all the bases which I tried to hone in last 2 months. In this anxiety, I also attempted my Indore, Lucknow and FMS interviews. Indore and Lucknow felt as if they were just sense checks. 7-8 min interviews with basic inquiry. FMS was the most different experience due to its in-person interview nature. But even that interview was a basic, neutral in nature and relatively short.

And that’s how I ended 5th and final leg of the ‘not so dream run’. Even with utmost preparation and dedication, I was still facing the anxiety; a slight hint of doubt was lurking at the back of my head. I learnt one thing though; it’s better to learn from your mistakes than from your guilt or regret. The regret of missing three questions in CAT or guilt of not pushing more in academics, it’s difficult to digest the past. Instead learning form mistakes in preparatory period help me become more nuanced, more confident for interviews.

‘The’ result, sweetest dilemma and what next?

It was 22nd April! I was in the middle of client seminar. Relatively boring, but the client might come up with question at any point of time. I was dully attending the session and suddenly I received a missed call. I just took a glimpse at my phone and saw 4 messages from one contact. The messages were from Shivam, a close friend who also appeared for the interviews. My heartbeats suddenly hit the roof! Message and phone call together, it only meant one thing!! Some big result is out! I checked the message and saw his screenshot of conversion…..for IIM Bangalore! My hands started shaking. I dropped out of the meeting asking for few minutes and opened the portal nervously. Anxiety was paramount. And then word flashed- Congratulations!

That’s it. I made it. The ambition, hustle and patience paid off! The door to innumerable opportunities was now open. I cannot explain the feeling. The words are not enough!

IIM Calcutta results came in with a waitlist; convertible, but a waitlist. Though I was content with what I have, a slight tinge was inevitable. Whether I put all efforts or not?

I think my luck wanted me to pay respect to work ethics which paved THE path for me till now. Because just 2 weeks out, I was in another meeting, when same thing happened. A message and a phone call!! A sudden realization creeped through my spine. THE result. THE dream. I opened the portal and saw the word again. Congratulations! IIM Ahmedabad. I understood that day what it means to phase out for a sec!

2 out 3 holy trinity! Never in my life did I imagine that I will have a choice among some most coveted institutes in the eastern hemisphere! A sweet dilemma everyone should get to face in their life. Ahmedabad or Bangalore??

And the decision was not easy. I contacted dozens of people from these and other premier institutes, inquiring about which option would be better. I tried analyzing my profile and its compatibility. I tried checking which location would be a better suit for me. I went in an absolute consulting mode.

I zeroed down to ‘dilemma’ again! Yes! Everyone I talked to told me, “If anyone advice you that B is better than A or A is better than B, then they are shallow and have no understanding of MBA scenario in India! Both of these institutes have unmatched legacy, and their cons are negated by their pros in a profuse way. You have already made it and your decision cannot go wrong now. If push comes to shove, go with your gut feeling! Won’t go wrong!”

Bangalore has great high work ex peer group, but Ahmedabad has diversity! Bangalore has better infrastructure, but Ahmedabad has strong learning base! Bangalore has amazing location, but Ahmedabad has proximity with Mumbai and core industry! And all these points about each institute gave them a negligible edge in each of these factors. Statistical data showed almost equal opportunities in both colleges, and an equal uncertainty. Data was putting me in the dilemma!

That’s when I decided to let my heart and emotions take the reign! Since 2016, when I learnt about CAT and MBA, IIMs collectively had a red brick image in my mind! I always imagined myself clicking picture in front of the wall emblazoned with words “Vikram Sarabhai Library”. I started on this path of perseverance for this institute. My mind was not ready to let go this dream. Symbolic of “Something I wanted, and I managed to reach”. A positive, “red” milestone of my ‘not so dream run”. Things clarified like in an instant and I decided. IIM Ahmedabad it is!

What lies next? Well, every time we think that we have hit the mark, a new target is ready peering at us! Humans never stop, they just move from one peak to other. For me, the next peak is to prove my worth among the fiercest and sharpest group of peers. And since this is not going to be a 2 hr game, its going to be ever more challenging. At the same time, I will push to become a better version of myself! I want to become the leader I saw and got inspired by.

The biggest take away from the journey is the humility it instilled in me. The more I struggled, the more patient I became, and I started appreciating the help and motivation I received from others. I have not achieved anything grand like 99+percentile in 2 weeks, but I respect my patience and perseverance. Failures make you stronger! But keep searching for opportunities, the plan B. The safety net gives you the courage to make the bigger jump. And finally, deep dive into yourself and find your self-worth. Nothing is more enriching!

Gearing up for next leg of the run…. And this time…I am determined to make it a dream one!!

Posted by www.sreeni.org

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