Bangalore: Jobs will be harder to land for students graduating from management schools in 2009. The current economic slowdown has seriously added to placement uncertainties with at least one well-known B-school chain reporting a steep fall in the number of job offers.

“I don’t know if I will be placed through campus placements... Things are not good. Numbers are down and salary packets are also down," said Vishal Mehta, a second-year management student at Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM) in Pune.

The 24-year-old engineer is not even sure when he will get a job.

If placements at IBS—a chain of 18 B-schools run by the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India—are anything to go by, students have cause for worry. IBS, which starts placements as early as October, has said only 30% of a batch of 4,000 students have been placed, compared with 50% by this time last year.

Job prospects for B-school graduates darkened in the wake of the turmoil in global financial markets that accelerated with the mid-September collapse of Wall Street icon Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. In India, companies have slowed hiring as economic growth slows and they try to weather a credit crunch and market slump.

“The economic slowdown has affected the pace of placements at IBS as some of the recruiters have not firmed up their recruitment plans as yet and are adopting a wait-and-watch policy," said S.K. Sharma, director at IBS’ head office in Hyderabad which monitors placements at all its campuses.

Tough times: Students at the MDI campus in Gurgaon. Its placement coordinator says there are no job offers from finance companies this year, and the institute has called companies from West Asia for placements. Ramesh Pathania / Mint

At several B-schools getting ready for final placements this month, fewer companies are coming to campus and recruiting smaller numbers. Worse, some companies are not coming at all.

“Many of our regular recruiters in the banking and IT/ITeS (information technology and information technology enabled services) are not coming this year," said Arunesh Kumar, a coordinator of the placement advisory team at SIBM. He declined to name the companies as “we are still after them".

Very few companies have confirmed, Kumar said, adding that SIBM hopes to start placements next week. He said he expected January will be better when companies revise their number of hires. The mood on campuses is sombre. “People keep reading about layoffs in the newspapers and get worried," said SIBM’s Mehta.

Brokerages such as Karvy Stock Broking Ltd and Indiabulls Securities Ltd did not recruit this year from IBS, said C. Srinivas, dean for corporate relations at IBS Hyderabad.

Hyderabad-based Satyam Computer Services Ltd drastically reduced its intake from 50 last year to eight this year, Srinivas said, adding that knowledge process outsourcing units such as UBS India Service Centre, JPMorgan Services India Pvt. Ltd and DE Shaw India Software Pvt. Ltd also recruited fewer numbers this year.

Karvy said there was no hiring freeze but it was following “a need-based approach". “...we are still recruiting though the number of people could get smaller than last year due to the global meltdown," said M.S. Manohar, vice-president of human resources at Karvy Group.

Satyam, India’s fourth largest IT services provider by sales, scaled down its overall recruitment guidance (which includes freshers) to 8,000-10,000 from 12,000-15,000 when it announced its second-quarter results. “We have recruited 5,200 people in the first two quarters," a company spokesperson said, declining to put a number to B-school graduates being recruited this year.

However, some companies said that they are not cutting back on fresh hires. A DE Shaw spokesperson said: “We have been recruiting from B-schools for over five years... We expect the 2009 class to be similar in size as batch 2008."

Kavita Sonawala, vice-president of marketing and corporate communications at JPMorgan India, said there was no reduction in B-school hiring. “Over the last three-four years, our recruitment figures have been growing steadily and consistently at about 10-20% including recent college grads as well as B-school grads directly from campus," she said.

Given the situation, institutes are changing their placement timing and strategy. For instance, Bharathidasan Institute of Management (BIM) in Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, postponed its placement season from November to the end of December.

“We tried calling companies but they said they have not yet frozen requirements," said a student at the placement cell at BIM.

Goa Institute of Management (GIM) is seeing fewer pre-placement talks this year: 20 so far against 55 last year. Companies give pre-placement talks weeks or even months ahead of the placement season to position themselves in the minds of students.

“We have targeted 275 companies and also made several cold calls," said Anoop Fernandes, one of the five placement coordinators at GIM. The institute will start placements in mid-December.

Several institutes are targeting new and varied groups of companies from different geographies. Management Development Institute (MDI) at Gurgaon near Delhi is inviting companies from West Asia for placements, which will start in the middle of this month.

It is also going beyond the traditional staple of finance jobs. “This year, because of the financial meltdown, there are no jobs in finance and we have to target IT, marketing, public sector and infrastructure," said Shailendra Rai, placement coordinator at MDI.

Not everybody, however, is pessimistic about the outlook. About 52 students out of the batch of 110 at Mysore-based SDM Institute for Management Development have already got jobs. Placements started last month at the institute.

“The response has been encouraging... We are in touch with larger number of companies and tapping into personal contacts as well," director Ramesh Venkateswaran said. But he, too, said things are difficult for the remaining 50-odd students.

“Personal dreams won’t work. We will have to take what we get," said Mehta of SIBM.

Getting ready for tough times ahead, Mehta said fellow students are scaling back expectations. “People were earlier eyeing Rs10-12 lakh jobs. Now they are ready to settle for Rs8-9 lakh jobs."