Aditya Sinha is on top of the world—or at least as high as it gets when you’re 22 and about to graduate from the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad.
He’s just landed a job with an investment bank in London. But before the offer landed in his lap and sent his spirits soaring, his life consisted of all-consuming research into the world of finance, recruiter presentations and rehearsals of case studies. His experience this job placement season offers a window into the highs and lows of thousands of students across the country as companies fight to hire them.
For Sinha, the day before placements never really began, never really ended. He attended pre-placement talks throughout the week, mostly by finance companies outlining job profiles that lasted late into the night. Their pitches helped clinch his goal of working in investment banking.
“When Tatas merge with a Corus, they need an i-bank. When companies are floating an IPO, they need advice from an i-bank. When hedge funds want to know where to invest, it is i-banks they turn to,” Sinha says.
When Sinha returned to his room on Wednesday night, he tried to sleep. And couldn’t. One wrong move, one right move, might determine his career, his home, his future.
Eventually Sinha drifted off for three hours.
When he woke up on Thursday, the first day of placement interviews known as “Day 0,” he skipped breakfast.
He donned a three-button, cashmere wool Reid & Taylor business suit and headed towards the gray building on campus where placements were to be held. Here, Sinha retreated from a reporter’s questions and didn’t want to share too many more details of his journey. This year, the IIMs have been especially tight-lipped on disclosing the names of recruiters or the salary packages they offer—and students also have been advised to avoid the media.
The placements area has been closed to the public, and student volunteers escort applicants and recruiters around. The batch of 2007 sits in a large waiting room and watches a screen to see where they will be interviewed next.
Son of a surgeon, Sinha said investment banks look for versatile candidates with both practical and theoretical knowledge. Sinha’s big selling point is that he worked last summer at Goldman Sachs in New York.
The high number of foreign and domestic finance firms and consulting companies—among the most coveted employers—actually led IIM-A to hold two consecutive Day 0’s for the first time. Asked how long his interviews lasted, Sinha remained mum, except to say: “Some last five hours.”
It was, he confirmed, a long and gruelling day.
He didn’t eat lunch either.
But by the end, he knew he must have said something right: He had an offer. Not just any offer but one to work as an investment banker in London.
Keeping with IIMs’ official policy, Sinha wouldn’t disclose the pay. Generally IIM graduates who enter investment banking overseas command the top salaries of the batch, well over six figures in US dollars. Last year’s top IIM-A graduate received $185,000 to join Barclays bank as an associate.
“You just cannot refuse the salary. You are 22 years old and you say, ‘Why not?’” he says, swinging his thin body in happiness.
By 9 o’clock at night, Sinha is spent—hungry, tired, but visibly elated.
He tries hard to quell his excitement as he moves swiftly, almost running through the huge tree-lined campus, an institute that blends the old brick-style of architect Louis Kahn with a newer addition down the road. He is congratulated by groups of peers gathered near hostel rooms; there will be no celebrations at the institute until every student gets placed.
“For everyone who is happy, there are a few people who got rejected,” says Sinha, an economics graduate from St Stephens College in Delhi. “That keeps you on the ground.”
He should know. After sitting for the Combined Aptitude Test, or CAT, and earning a high score, he got calls from all the IIMs—except IIM-Kozhikode. “Rejection can hit you hard,” he says. “For a long time I wondered, why did IIM-K say no to me?”
By gaining admission at IIM-A, though, he overcome the greatest odds. More than 170,000 people apply each year for the entrance exam to secure roughly 250 seats.
Back in his small, untidy room, Sinha is, unlike his fellow students, reluctant to shed the Reid & Taylor business suit for the campus favourite uniform: a T-shirt and shorts.
“I love this suit,” he declares, throwing himself in a chair. He takes and makes several calls on his mobile phone.
He drops into friends’ rooms, one of whom is blasting cult rock musician Jim Morrison’s “The Ghost Song” at high volume. After muted discussions, Sinha is ready to hit the road and do something he has not done for 20 hours: eat.
He ventures back outside and opts for a McDonald’s meal of an aloo tikki burger, fries and a Coke.
“I need the fatty food,” he says with a boyish grin.
As he munches on the tangible signs of globalization, Sinha says he feels that India’s growth story will continue. Now that he is headed for London, he will miss much of his native country, he says.
But he still has some time to soak up India.
After IIM-A’s placements and parties are over, Sinha plans a trip to Goa.