Early MBA placements is not a good idea

Early MBA placements is not a good idea

The placement boom at India’s B-schools—the fifth year in a row—has some negative side effects, too. One of the main problems is the advancement of the placement season for second-rung B-schools.

Until two years ago, most of the second-rung B-schools started placements in January or February. These days, it’s in November or, in some cases, even earlier. In some such schools, such as SIES in Navi Mumbai, or IIMM in Pune, at least 90% of the 2008 graduating class have already been placed, about seven months before they could graduate in May. In various campuses of the Indian Institute of Management, however, the campus placement season has not changed from its February-March window.

Our engineering colleges and B-schools have never had it so good. Companies such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd hire, on average, 300 students per day or some 100,000 each year, including engineers.

For MBAs alone, the overall demand is estimated to be at least 100,000 per year across all sectors. This sudden growth in demand for professionals is the reason why the placement season has been advanced by few months in many B–schools.

Companies want to be there to pick up the best before their competitors get in. Students like super early placements so that they are available for recruiters before their competitor B-school announces day zero, the first day of placement season.

But what has gone unreported is that once the students get placed, most of them take academics lightly. The final term is all about placements. This is mirrored in their learning outcomes as a result of which often the industry has to train them for another few months on the job.

The other day, I was in Mumbai at a conference where heads of some top local B-schools were present. Almost everyone was bemoaning how placements have trivialized everything else, especially research in management education. In the final term, it seems, the faculty has to literally search for students who are everywhere but in the classroom.

Effectively, on an average, a B-school student of a top rated B-school is available for learning in the classroom for about 170 days of the two-year programme.

No wonder many in the industry complain of the unfinished product they get.

Both recruiters and business schools have to work jointly to redress this unfinished product phenomenon. Yet, historically, most of India’s corporate sector has been parasitic in nature. They want the best MBA graduates without giving anything back to the system.

In terms of sponsoring research projects or establishing research chairs in B-schools, Indian corporate sector’s track record is dismal. Now, with rescheduling of the placement season, they have further accentuated the learning crisis in our institutes.

Maybe, after they have gone ahead and made job offers, at least in the final term companies can work with B-schools to develop relevant competencies among those hired. The institutes, for their part, should structure the curriculum accordingly so that the education imparted to students should be specific to the industry that hires them in the final term.

Meanwhile, the placement rush has also fanned opportunistic and short-term values. One recruiter recently told me that the oft-repeated line that he gets to hear from students during interviews is: “I already have two offers, how much more are you giving me?"

Loyalty is no more a cherished virtue, it now sounds like a prehistoric word to students. Another trend that is catching on in the campuses during placement season is of ditching companies. In such a case, a student, even after committing to a recruiter, suddenly backs off and accepts another better offer. Of course this is happening in many jobs at companies as well that have nothing to do with B-schools.

Some IIM graduates are increasingly gaining the reputation of not sticking to a job for more than a year. Many banks have in fact stopped going to IIM campuses because of this reason.

How much one is getting has become the success measure, not what one is doing. The media is partly to blame for this new mindset. Every placement season in IIMs produces stories on a Rs1 crore annual salary offer, often from a foreign company. I have already written in one of my earlier Business Case columns how misleading these salary figures are. If we take into account the purchasing power parity and take out cost-to-company gimmicks, the salary turns out to be about Rs15 lakh per annum.

It would be good if India’s newspapers report with enthusiasm how much venture capital fund a B-school has attracted or innovative businesses that B-school graduates have got into. In my view, if students dare to join start-ups, it is a better measure of the stuff they are made of, than getting fat starting salaries in big companies.

Premchand Palety is director of Centre for Forecasting & Research (C-fore) in New Delhi, from where he keeps a close eye on India’s business schools. Comments are welcome at businesscase@livemint.com