New Delhi: With investment banks out of the picture, now’s your shot.
It’s the pitch many of India’s top business schools (B-schools) plan to make to firms that have stayed away from their campuses over the last few years.
After years of double-digit hires from companies such as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Merrill Lynch and Co., placement officials are reacting to the gloomy economic outlook, and trying to innovate.
From talking to foreign firms in other emerging markets to courting start-ups and smaller outfits, B-schools are looking beyond the usual recruiters to place this year’s crop of students into jobs.
The percentage of students placed—and where, and how much they earn—plays a big role in how B-schools are ranked by candidates.
Amid an explosion of opportunities in the past few years, elite schools, such as the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM), have actually turned away recruiters. Firms hungry for talent jockeyed to get on campus as early as possible, giving way to peculiar semantics as two “Day Zeros”, the prime first-day recruiting spot given to financial services companies, investment banks and consulting firms in the last few years.
TAPPING SOURCE (Graphic)
Thus, job placements at B-schools became a barometer for hot and growing sectors in the Indian and global economies.
Once upon a time, everyone flocked to IT. Then financial services heavyweights became the employer of choice. Last year brought a smattering of retail, real estate, logistics and infrastructure hires.
Nobody seems to know what the next placements season will look like—students with work experience will begin interviews as early as next month—so coordinators are doing their best to cushion the blow of a slowing economy.
At the IIMs, for example, Lehman Brothers used to be a top pick among students. This week, Lehman announced it expects a third-quarter loss of $3.9 billion (Rs17,862 crore) and began actively shopping for a potential buyer.
“The reality is, there is a global downturn,” says Sourav Mukherji, who heads placements at IIM Bangalore (IIM-B), “and also the reality is, we are seeing an impact in India.”
Mukherji and other placement officials say they don’t expect any company to skip out on a campus visit entirely, but many expect big employers to scale back their annual recruitments.
IIM-B, for example, usually invites around 100 of the 500 companies that request a slot at placements to come and speak to the students. This year, Mukherji says, he will probably bring 150 to Bangalore. “We are working harder to get other kinds of companies,” he says. For example, he says, marketing firms will be high on their list. “We’ll say, ‘this is the time to get a good bunch of students.’”
Although the main placement season comes into focus only in November and December, B-schools are making similar proactive moves.
Aruna Bedi, who heads placements at IILM Institute of Higher Education in Gurgaon near Delhi, says it’s too early to make specific predictions, but that IILM is talking to business process outsourcing and knowledge process outsourcing shops that haven’t taken many students in previous years, and is looking at other avenues for employment. “Some companies have said we are currently freezing” hiring, she says, “we are going to the international placement market for the first time this year”.
Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business’ placement head V.K. Menon says the school has recruiters coming in from Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, as well as from domestic industries such as real estate, media and health care that haven’t traditionally recruited from campus, to function as a hedge against the global slowdown.
“Take Dubai, for example,” Menon says, “there is so much financial activity there, while the subprime (crisis) is in the US. Some markets are hit, but some are in growth.”
At the Faculty of Management Studies in the Capital, placements director Madhu Vig says she is looking at bringing more marketing and consumer goods companies to campus to shore up against any downturn in the traditional financial recruiters.
“We do not have any cause for worry at this point,” Vig says, “but we are trying to hedge our risk, and get a bigger number of companies in our kitty.”
Other schools are even looking at different divisions within financial companies.
“Investment banking is slowing down,” says Jeevan Kumar R., who handles placements at XLRI School of Business and Human Resources in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, “but (banks) are expanding their markets and brokerage divisions, so we are looking to compensate numbers from that.”
Executives also expect the technology sector slowdown to affect business school placements, though not as dramatically as the tumult in the banking industry might.
Tech companies, which have reigned in engineering campus recruitments in recent months, plan to also put the brakes on business school hiring.
The Indian operations of US tech firm, Keane Inc., for example, only visited 60% of its usual business school campuses for the 2008 recruitment season, and expects similar numbers for the next year, according to S.G. Raja Sekharan, senior vice-president of Keane India.
But the expected slowdown might not be a bad thing for all management students.
“Everyone here thinks they should become an i-banker, or a consultant,” says IIM Bangalore’s Mukherji.
“I don’t explicitly persuade students to come to different industries,” he says, “but one of my purposes (is to make them) be realistic, and assess their own competence.”