Before I dive into this let me acknowledge the role played by student-run placement committees over the years and across the spectrum. It is an extremely challenging task and I really admire people who have taken it up. However, as times change it is only natural that new ideas will emerge and systems set in place over a decade ago may need some overhauling.
For the uninitiated, placements in over 90% top business schools in India are conducted by students. Though you read quotes in the newspapers by Placement Chairpersons (mostly professors), the role played by them is very small as compared to the slogging the students do.
In my view, it is time that the entire placement process at IIMs is handled by professionals and not students. I am not suggesting that the students are less competent but there are a lot of reasons why it could be done.
1) Primary purpose at a B-School should be to learn and acquire knowledge and not woo companies
While there is no doubt that a placement committee stint is a great learning experience, I do not think that it needs to become the focus or the highlight of one’s b-school tenure. We come to business schools to learn and get a perspective on business in general and not on how recruitment consulting is done. Yes, there are exceptions and all-rounders who manage to accomplish both (I know people who have been in the top 10 at the end of both the years and still worked in the placement committee!). However, exceptions do not make a rule and in general most placecommers will admit that their classroom learning and academics in general took a hit. Placement seasons last all year long these days after enhanced batch sizes and I don’t see how a placement committee member can do justice to academic coursework.
2) It may help in ending nepotism
It is a known fact across the business school community about the role the alumni factor plays in placements in India. While it exists even abroad, in India it has been taken to a completely different level. There is a high dependence on alumni in influential positions to push company recruitment policy towards visiting the campus they hail from. And a typical Indian pattern of creating an elitist circle develops. There are certain roles in top MNCs with subsidiaries in India where if you are not from a particular campus you will never break through irrespective of whether you’re good. While these companies talk about being equal opportunities employer on their website, at least in India they do not follow it. Even interview opportunities are not given. Individual merit goes out of the picture. I believe having a professional agency handle the placements will help break this nexus and culture of elitism and there will be more focus on individual achievement and merit.
No matter which business school you talk of, there is always talk of placement committee members influencing companies, shortlists, selections etc. There is always talk about how friends of committee members are ‘pushed’. In times of supply of quality jobs being scarce, the talk becomes shriller. I have personally seen both sides, people talking even when the committee is doing the job honestly (grapes are sour syndrome) and also times when incompetent people are being pushed only because they are someone’s friends.
I feel that a highly professional team of experts can help reduce such cases. No potential beneficiary will be conducting the process and incentive to unduly influence the process does not exist. It may not eliminate the issues completely but the system will be much better.
4) Informed choice for jobseekers
The way the placement process is conducted currently in most top business schools, very little information is available about the job except for a misleading PowerPoint presentation where companies just gloat about themselves. Job description sheets are cryptic and leave you to figure out what you will be doing exactly. There is a lot of smoke and there are countless stories of misinformation, unmatched expectations and unhappiness 15 days into the job.
Ideally, companies should interact with job seekers before the interview process and it should happen in an informal environment.
I had always heard about how campus placements happen abroad but it was at University of St.Gallen, Switzerland on my exchange term that I really understood the power of the process. Everyone in Switzerland knows which companies are visiting the university on which day as details are available of the career website. No university tries to hide the kind of companies they are expecting. Contrast that to India, where placement committees of top institutes are trying every trick in the book to get information about companies ‘rival’ campuses are in touch with. (There is this classic case of two Mumbai MBA institutes where one hacked the accounts of the other). However, what I really liked about the process is the time one got to spend with the company officials. There was a dedicated 2 hour session where you could meet the company over drinks and snacks, discuss stuff you would not do on public forum and clear your doubts about the exact nature of the job. Applications also had to be made only after the session was over. It was a much better approach according to me. I believe they could do it because of a dedicated career development centre. I am not saying it is a full proof system. But infinitely better than deciding without complete information, with 100 doubts and hoping that your luck will take you somewhere.
5) Complete information for companies
Companies are lied to. A lot of institutes do not allow job seekers to reveal their CAT percentiles in their resume or in the interview. Companies desperately want to know that for obvious reasons (read: government regulations). Companies are told they are on Day 0 when there have already been 5 companies before them and all have been told they are Day 0. Two rival companies are not aware that the other is also on campus at the same time. Candidates are whisked away from one location of the campus to another to ensure no one sees them going from one interview room to another. There has to be an end to this nonsense. It is so ironical that you are doing a course on ethics and fair management practices exactly while this nonsense is going on around you. And this happens across most campuses. It got accentuated over the last 2-3 years due to the meltdown and it seems to have become a habit now. Someday someone has to put his/her foot down and tell a company that they will come on Day 1 only because better companies will come on Day 0. If they don’t come after that, so be it.
Professionally run career development centres cannot afford to fool companies as their reputation will be at stake. While students could be pardoned for being liars, professional agencies cannot be.
Let both the sides the companies and the institutes put forward what they can offer on the table in a clean transparent manner. In the long run it is a win-win for all stakeholders and most importantly for the candidate taking the job.
I think the cohort system at IIM Ahmedabad is a great step forward. I don’t see any reason why other IIMs should not follow a similar system. You cannot become world –class on the back of fragile systems that are a relic of the past. In my opinion it is much more important to help students get a job of their choice and interest rather than the most high-paying one.
The argument about the cost of setting up a career development centre being too high just does not ring in. Take most top business schools in India. The flagship PGP programme costs upwards of Rs.1 million. We are not even talking about the peripheral courses and the MDPs. I don’t think any IIM director can give this argument anymore.
- Ankit Doshi