An ode to the most Popular Committee in B schools – The Placement Committee
Before I start, let me clarify that I am not and have never been a member of the Placement Committee (henceforth referred to as the revered ‘PlaceComm’) and the perspective I provide here is simply that of a student who has seen the committee function and conduct the process, as a participant. Although I am grateful to my PlaceComm for ensuring that I got a good Summer Placement, upon giving it a thought, there are certain things that I find fishy.
Now where did this idea of talking about the all ‘hush-hush’ committee of campus came to me? It was while I was interviewing a junior during committee selections. Upon being questioned about which committee on campus he admires the most, he said that PlaceComm is the f***ing committee on campus. This is when it struck me that a committee that had been elected as the facilitator of the placement process project themselves as the gods of the process and therefore, the beneficiaries become the subjects and they themselves become the ‘f***ing committee’.
This prompted me to analyse how I felt when I had my first interaction with PlaceComm. Was I scared? Yes. Did I feel intimidated? Yes. Did I find them supercilious? Yes. But then why did I put up with them? Simply because I was very afraid about whether I would get placed or not if I get on the wrong side of this committee. Now having lived on a B-school campus for a year and learning a bit more, I realise that my fear was unfounded. Companies do not come on campus because a certain PlaceComm made the best presentation on the planet to them. They come to hire from B-schools due to two reasons; first, the alumni base of the institute in the said organisation plays an important role. It is a well-known fact that colleges like IIM-A, B, C and XLRI thrive not only because of the quality of their students but also because of the quality of their alumni networks. Second, companies are assured of a certain minimum amount of raw talent and intelligence in students of these institutions. Since these students clear highly competitive examinations and selection process to reserve a seat in the said B-schools, even if the value add is zero in two years of education, they remain talented and companies may train them as per their requirement; the same actually does happen since most companies today have extensive training programs for new hires.
From this perspective, the job of PlaceComm looks like that of ‘relationship managers’. The other thing they do is pull in new companies to recruit an ever-increasing number of students in the colleges. Again, the job of the Placecommers is to look for potential good companies and persuade them to hire from the campus. As the number of students increase across campuses and the number of jobs (with expected pay) remain more or less the same, the PlaceComm has no option but to approach start-ups and other relatively unknown companies; these companies will anyway be happy to hire from prestigious B-schools. Say for example XLRI; the past year saw the advent of companies like Xperqz and Jabong on the scene. The trend is expected to get exacerbated in the future with the HR batch being increased by 60 students. And as far as attracting top notch companies/roles is concerned, well if the boutique shops (finance domain) have traditionally gone to IIM-C, they continue to go there; if Goldman Sachs’ front-end IBD (London Office) goes to IIM-A to hire, they continue to do so. Successive placement committees in colleges like IIM-B have failed to poach these jobs.
So this brings us back to square one. What is the great thing that these Placecommers do? Turns out that one exceptional thing that they actually manage to do is to balance the extremely demanding B-school curriculum with this extra work of coordinating with ‘n’ number of companies. But come to critically analyse this, it was a choice that they made themselves. So why are so many of them found guilty of throwing their weight around and behaving as if they are doing a favor to the rest of the student body by merely existing? The fact of the matter is that most people join PlaceComm because it is a HUGE CV POINT and the stint enhances their personality-in some cases provides them with contacts of C-level executives in various companies; hardly any of them is concerned about ‘Social Service’. Also, in terms of privileges there is very little that is not provided. In IIM-L, the Placecommers are given attendance for classes that they miss out on while they work for placements (mind you, attendance still carries weightage in our archaic B-school curriculums) and the individual members are paid expenses by the college placement offices. Also, during the placement process, the Placecommers are sometimes asked by the company representatives (when they are confused between two candidates on who to hire) as to who is a better candidate; certainly a lot of bias and subjectivity creeps in here!
Also, if we compare the placement process in Indian B-schools with B-schools abroad the difference is stark. Top notch B-schools abroad hold student job fairs where the recruiters interact directly with the students and both the parties can gauge each other first hand. Most students there end up applying independently, i.e. they approach companies outside of the placement process by forwarding their CVs to the HR departments of the firms. If Indian B-schools wish to reach the standards of B-schools abroad, why not start with adopting a similar placement process. This will also remove the tag of ‘placement agencies’ that is currently stuck upon Indian B-schools.
Over and above anything student-run placements create a pool of 10-12 students (i.e. Placecommers that are on the edges of the student community and create an environment of fear, sometimes even inspire sycophantic admiration. In my opinion, this isn’t exactly healthy. A potent question that surfaces is, do the Placecommers do any job that they ALONE are capable of doing and no one else on campus? They are selected by a rigorous process (students are even made to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements before they enter the process!) but isn’t there a lot of subjectivity/margin of error in any process?
Now a lot of people might say that I am misunderstanding the issue and quote Ralph Waldo Emerson that ‘To be great is to be misunderstood’; for their benefit I will re-iterate my question- is the Placecomm really doing something so great that justifies the fear they create?