Why Campus Placements Aren’t Always Happily-Ever-After

Life is unfair:  if you are part of the 1.3 billion Indians who hustle it out everyday in this highly overcrowded and competitive country, you must have heard these 3 words a million times. You know it’s true. But in the same breath as life-is-unfair, you are sold a bunch of lies about how to succeed at the game of life.

For a middle-class Indian kid like me, the first lie began even before kindergarten. You know that awfully familiar trope. Work hard in school, and you will get to enjoy all your life. I grew up thinking straight ‘A’s were the quick fix to every problem in life. Although school ended some 10 years back, I somehow continued to believe in the mantra ‘work hard now, you will get to enjoy later’. In a fool’s paradise, I spent nights weeping over LRDI sets, sanguine that converting a prestigious B-School would be the ultimate victory. And once that was sorted, I started all over again, convinced that my hard work all these years would finally land me my dream job during placements.

But that isn’t how it works.

You see, campus placements are a universe of their own. But this universe operates in pretty much the same way that the actual world does. So you cruise into placements, riding on the steady wave of self-confidence and hard work, only to be completely derailed by destiny, the law of randomness, circumstances…or however else you would like to describe campus placements.

Having passed out of a B-School where I was part of the Placement Committee, I could spend hours telling you the inside story-how a certain organization might impose a blanket ban on male engineers, how a particular recruiter has an affinity for pretty female candidates…the tales would only be as scandalous as society is. Like I said, placements are a parallel universe, but the rules, biases and determining factors are pretty much universal standards.

In the rush job of matching candidates to companies, entire lives are reduced to a few columns on a spreadsheet. Your dream company could put in one small filter on that sheet to end all your hopes of a shortlist. And why these seemingly bizarre rules of shortlisting? It’s because in this absurd universe, there seems to be a penalty to everything. Have work experience? That’s a problem. Don’t have work experience? That can also be a problem. Studied engineering? Sorry, we can’t take you. But if you aren’t an engineer, we will give you deeply analytical tasks that maybe an engineer could have done more easily!

However, all said and done, what you need to understand is that there are no villains or underdogs in this story. Neither the company, nor your PComm is the enemy here. Admittedly, B-School placements are highly flawed and problematic. But this is the fault of the entire system. Many companies have a very warped understanding of diversity, making them hire candidates for meeting some demographic tick marks rather than for their intrinsic fit with the organization. Companies do this under the pressure of meeting up to the expectations of being an inclusive workplace. Managers look for the quickest way to hire good people on campus, even if that means letting slip some good students. Because they operate under the pressure of deadlines, of efficiency metrics that might actually be antithetical to what they’re trying to achieve, and of course, the childish desire to beat competitors!

In a batch of 200 or 300 students, very seldom will you see the most meritorious student getting placed first. Similarly, the person who hasn’t gotten a job till the last day of placements isn’t necessarily the laziest person on the bench. On campus, the finishing line is the same for all. But where each of us starts depends on what level of privilege we have walked in with. Placements isn’t social justice, so don’t expect it to play out that way. And if you are joining a B-School, then you don’t have the option to whine about the unfairness of the whole thing. Neither, can you just give up and succumb to your destiny (then you’re not getting placed!). Instead, here’s a few things that you really should be doing, to make this whole thing work out in your favour:

  1. Maximize your chances: You will get only a few chances to get a job, especially if you are part of a large batch with good profiles. So anytime you walk into an interview, do it with a determination that you are acing this one!
  2. Create opportunities: Set aside time to participate in case study competitions and extra-curricular activities that will help you bag PPIs or company interaction chances. Rather than depending on campus placements, make sure you do amazing work that make companies sit up and take notice of you.
  3. Build your network: Build up contacts with alumni and others who operate in your future line of work. This way, even if you haven’t gotten a job on campus, you will have some people who will like you enough to pass around your CV in circles you yourself can’t access yet.
  4. Transform your summer internship into a job: PPO. ‘Nuff said!
  5. Keep up the hard work: Sorry to be ending with the delusion that I started with. But even though life is unfair and hard work doesn’t always pay off, you would be worse off being lazy. Whichever college you are in, it’s because you worked for it. Maybe it isn’t your dream school, but it’s still something. And that’s how it is with placements. You would rather get a job than none, So keep working hard, so that it shows!

And finally, if nothing works out, you could accept that a 9-to-5 isn’t your groove and maybe you were meant for greater things (entrepreneurship? opening a sports bar? Recording an album?) Whatever it is, you’ll get there!

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