Summer Shopping – (An article on Summer Placements at IIM)
First year Bschool students all over India are busy dusting their shopping bags, looking around the job marketplace, and deciding what fancy brands to handpick and apply for; which ones to aggressively aim for and make sure they have in their kitty at the end. It isn’t very different from a supermarket, in that you set out with a shopping list, but are dazzled by what’s on display, and often come back with things you’d never set out to shop for in the first place! (Do I see many second year-ites nodding their head vigorously?)
In hindsight, I daresay choosing which firms to apply for and finally zeroing in on one that you want (assuming they want you too) is quite a distorted process for most while on campus. Summers is a near-terrifying time, with seniors scrutinizing your CV with X-ray eyes, tsk-tsking over your monochromatic undergraduate life and asking you to utilize your every waking (and sleeping) hour to do case-interviews and mug-up fin formulae. Sure, not the best of times to take a step back to ‘reflect’ and ‘think’ (‘hell, is there time to do that’?!) but I would urge you to. Because the stakes are higher than they seem. Firstly, the company you intern with will shape your perception about scope of working in that particular sector as well, especially if you are a fresher. Secondly, if it is a company that doles out PPOs – Pre Placement Offers (don’t we love those!), you might be getting into a longer commitment than 8 summer weeks. It is both, an opportunity to seal-an-early-deal, as well as a threat of binding yourself to a company you may not see yourself working with after passing out. It is very difficult to refuse a PPO, in my opinion.
Of course, you will convince every company you interview with how badly you’ve always wanted to be there. There’s a joke that goes ‘They lied about the job, I lied about my skills; now we’re both even.’ Fair enough, and very likely. But in the long run, both parties will stand to lose.
Here’s what happened to me, and maybe there’s a thing or two for you to learn as well, especially in what not to do. In my first term, I asked a placement committee member whether the United Nations came to recruit, because I wanted to work there. By October, any attempt to apply to them independently was forgotten. I applied to a lot of finance companies because I was told banks shortlist commerce graduates very easily, and my strong extra-curricular record helped this cause. It was such a warped time that I didn’t sit and think through what it would actually be like to work as an investment banker, on a day-to-day basis. The companies seemed prestigious, and so I applied. Of course, I applied to many consulting firms as well, with the usual, starry-eyed dream of getting into Mckinsey. Without, again, really thinking whether I would fit into an intensely competitive setup, or whether I would even like consulting. With every shortlist from a finance company, there was relief of an available option; with no Mckinsey, there was heartbreak (I should’ve known I had low chances because I was not an academic topper or a national level sportswoman). A shortlist from Bain & Co. was like my prayers answered, and I got cracking on practice cases.
Enter Day Zero. The day everyone in the world wants to get placed, even if the company of their choice is not around (and you’d have me believe there is no distortion). I made it to Citi global markets, with a trading-cum-sales role in Hong Kong. It was such a whoop of relief to get out of the system; I grabbed the offer. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was not made for the role at all, given that I was not particularly interested in the markets, let alone follow them for a living. I should’ve known this beforehand and not even applied, right? Right. But it never struck me, nor did anyone ask me that sort of a question. People just told me to apply, no one advised me to think of ‘what I really like/want’. It was a broad ‘What sector are you interested in?’ You are a Fin, Consulting, Marketing, General Management person, or if none of these, you must be an ‘Entrepreneur-type’ of person. You know what? I was none of those. I’m still finding out what ‘type’ of a person I am.
I played a dream on Hindustan Unilever (a concept we had at A where you could apply to any one firm even if you have accepted an offer on an earlier day, with the condition that if you make it to your dream company, you must accept it and sign out of the process) and made it. My two months at Unilever, Philippines were great – I loved the people, and enjoyed the creative work I got to do as a Sales and Marketing intern. But, I kept pushing aside my instinct to work in the social sector, my reason for doing an MBA in the first place, because HUL was a great place to belong, with smart, bright people, and a buzzing atmosphere. All well, only that I accepted the PPO, joined HUL, but left it in 6 months because I did not find meaning in my work. From then on, I have been working in the social sector, education specifically, in different capacities, with different organizations.
The statistics are startling. With every batch, the number of people who switch jobs in the first year itself is rising. It points to an anomaly in the system itself (not just the rules, but also the people in your own and the senior batch), which is not necessarily geared to help people make the right choices. Or there could be other reasons. If I was you, here’s what I would do first – understand my own strengths, inclinations, and constraints (an education loan, family responsibilities etc.). Then, look at the opportunities available (some institutes allow you to apply outside the system, to start-ups etc. as well), understand from people in that sector (not just the recruiters who come to campus) what working in that sector is like. Get objective views. Then find out about the company itself. What is the culture there like? Do you see yourself working there day in and out for longer than a year at least? Be honest with yourself here. You have the luxury of experimenting in summers, because it is not the same as finals. Many people will tell you to just go ahead and take up a firm even if you don’t see yourself there – ‘after all it’s just summers.’ But like I said, it is more significant a decision than it seems right now. Many companies are also viewing you from the lens of a potential long-term employee. And so, be honest.
It takes effort. But you will find the process worthwhile if you are looking for a job that truly fulfills your expectations and fits within your constraints as well. When I look at my batch-mates who love what they do, it feels great that they have chosen well for themselves. The best brands will also be the glitziest and most popular, but wouldn’t you rather find what you want consume, what you’d entered the marketplace for in the first place? You have your chance, now.