Sunday, November 15, 2009


I was helping a friend out with mock MBA interviews, and read this somewhere when doing my research:
I'm Asian-American woman, and the school actually got an interviewer who was the same ethnicity and gender as I was, which was a little surprising. It was very comforting, and I really appreciated the effort on the school's part to ease my stress.

I was petrified when I read this. I would any day opt for a non-desi interviewer without batting an eyelid. It has nothing to do with liking or not liking people - it's the judgment that gets me all queasy. Intellectually, it's all about the job/application, and there's really no difference who conducts the interview. Instinctively though, there's tremendous discomfort, suspicion, sizing up, one-up-manship and double guessing. I should be the last person to complain about this, because all the interviewers I have ever faced have been exceptionally warm, friendly and willing to listen. But come now, it's no fun being not hypocritical :P


Perhaps it has to do with an abundance of Indian Crab stories we're inundated with. A representative , possibly apocryphal and correlation-causation-confused example: Circa 2003, X was a highly rated university for Computer Science in the US, though not in the top 4. Like nearly every university, it had senior grad students (3rd+ year) actively involved in their admission process, especially in gauging the achievements of the applicants given that there were so many country-specific factors like entrance exams, merit scholarships, etc. Y was a highly rated university in India, and many people from Y routinely got into universities ranked higher than X. For some reason though, during a 2 year period every single applicant from Y was bumped. This happened to coincide with the time a certain student from Y who had joined X happened to be on the admissions committee. No other university showed this trend, and there was no development in the CS department in X (known from other people from Y in X) that could explain this. It was later learnt that no application from Y managed to get into the final tabling by the profs.


There's a very common held belief among most desis that Statements of Purpose are 'full of cock' and that all resumes are lies. Which may be true many times, but that is not a comforting observation when you consider that your interviewer or the person reading your application has that  self-same impression in mind. Your 'unquenchable thirst for knowledge' and 'firm belief that my work should have an impact' - even if they are absolutely true statements you came up with yourself - don't seem as sincere when you know the guy you're pitching to  knows that the very same words have been recycled a million times. It is almost as if knowing that a dishonest SoP can exist invalidates all honest SoPs. It is not as if desis carry a special overcriticality gene - it happens even if they are perfectly fair in isolation, but just know that such dishonesty can exist. The common knowledge causes the situation to degenerate into a suboptimal Nash equilibrium.


Even apart from that, suffering-inflation ensures that even if you have a truly wonderful story of having overcome suffering and difficulty in your life - like having virtually no meaningful academic education from your school - it is so commonplace in India that they seem much less of a challenge to a desi interviewer. It is not fair to say "Look, every desi has been through that, there's nothing special about you". If you're looking for initiave, every desi is more likely to be better then, and that is no reason to be setting the bar artificially high!    


In general, wherever multiple groups of people are to be found, there is a tension between two poles. The first one is an instinct to help someone of your own kind. The second is a sadistic self-group-hate, the classic Indian Crab. If it's not full-blown hate, it is at least a pervasive discomfort or negative opinion. It's present among all races, and people have made a lot of money just observing that. But this takes on a fractal, chaotic dimension when you include things like language, religion, caste, or any of the million other turtles that go all the way down. An instinctive fear - and this may be due purely to pessimism - is that important encounters like an MBA interview may be closer to the crab end of the continuum.

1 comment:

AJ said...

What a cracker of a post KV!