Should you quit your job to prepare for the CAT?

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Quitting your job to prepare?

Under what circumstances is it a good idea to quit your job and prepare for CAT?

This is one of those essay topics that can ideally feature in competitions seeking ultra-short contributions. The one-word response would be, 'None'! However, having told my boss that I definitely want to comment on this topic, I cannot get away with the ultra-short version. So, here goes.

Thanks to my earlier avatar as an investment research analyst, I have acquired this habit of getting my disclaimers in early. I am not going to sit on the fence. It is NEVER a good idea to quit your job. So, if you are among the group of people that has decided to quit and you do not want to hear anything against that decision, skip this article and move ahead to the next one.

Every week, I get at least two enquiries from students who are keen to take a step up by focusing exclusively on the CAT preparation. This roughly translates to, "I hate my job. I want to have a decent-sounding reason to quit". Beware! there are two major pitfalls in quitting a job to prepare for CAT.

1. The personal interview phase becomes trickier:
You will lose scores for work experience, and might face uncomfortable questions in the interview. Sample this:

1. "Quitting a job at an MNC to prepare for CAT makes me doubt your ability to weigh risk-reward. I think I would be fueling your foolhardy decision-making if I gave you a seat here. What are your thoughts on this?"
2. "I met eight candidates before you, all of whom have managed busy work schedules and squeezed in CAT preparation while you have focused exclusively on CAT. All other things being equal, why should I select you over them?"
3. "So, you cannot hold a job and prepare for a competitive exam at the same time? After MBA, you will have to multitask at an even greater level. You are basically telling me you are not equipped to handle that. Thoughts?"

Do not think that it is a smart idea to say that you have not quit your job but taken a break to pursue your passion of working in industry X and therefore joined your cousin. As a general rule, professors do not think it is a great idea to take a break for the sake of CAT preparation and will interpret any shift to a 'small company in a preferred industry' on your resume as a proxy for this.

2. Pressure increases:
Bear in mind that if you take a break in June, you do not take a six-month break for CAT preparation, but rather a nearly 12-month break. CAT is not an exam that one needs to prepare for 50 hours a week; it calls for intensity over two-three hours a day. A longer preparation time could easily lead to a plateau in results performance. A large number of candidates run out of practice material that really tests them but can never cross 90th percentile. This is essentially because the intensity disappears from preparation. If you set yourself a target of preparing for eight hours a day for 180 days, you are creating a recipe for losing intensity within weeks. All these factors will intensify the pressure on the day of the exam. Importantly, this plays a role in affecting decision-making after CAT as well. If you do not have a viable plan B, the temptation to join a college ranked 60th (because this is the only decent admit) will be high. The assurance that comes with having a viable plan B is vital for cracking this exam.

There are many other reasons for not taking this decision, but the two mentioned above are the most important.

Compared to 10 years ago, the admission processes for the IIMs have changed dramatically. When I took my CAT in 2000, the admission process was extremely CAT score oriented. If you had a decent CAT score, all else was pretty much forgotten (particularly true for IIMC). In the current era, the CAT score is taken as but one metric in a broad basket of input variables. Ten years ago, it might have been a decent (if still risky) idea to trade 2 percentile points for one year of work experience. In the current era, the trade-off is not even worth the discussion.

Do not try to use CAT as an excuse for getting out of a taxing/boring job. Even after your MBA, odds are that you will go through a few bad jobs (and bosses!) If you must quit, do so in August, have a job in hand that you plan to join by Nov 1st. Take a six-to-eight-week break, have a go at CAT in this time window and hope for the best.