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MUMBAI : Business school graduates in India faced questions on their humility, empathy and willingness to work from small towns instead of plush city-based offices by potential employers in a covid-induced shift in hiring by India Inc. as the placement season drew to a close this year.

Companies also queried candidates on mental health awareness, cryptocurrency, blockchain and innovative and effective vaccination strategy, unlike before when the discussions largely centred around career goals.

Kumar Gaurav from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Indore was tasked with preparing a go-to-market covid insurance product while his classmates were asked to devise a vaccine strategy that caused little wastage and included more age groups. “I was a teacher earlier, and the recruiter discussed the National Education Policy with me and asked my take on the future of cryptocurrency and blockchain," said the 34-year-old student from Bengaluru. Gaurav will start working for a leading tech management consulting firm in May.

For the batch of 2022, the questions in IIMs and other top B-schools have shifted from the five-year career trajectory or learnings from projects and classroom teachings. Students experienced virtual placements, but companies went beyond the usual group discussions and personal interviews that have typically been the norm.

This year, Mumbai-based conglomerate RPG Group introduced psychometric tests while hiring 40-45 students from B-schools. The aim was to gauge if the candidates are flexible, open to working from remote places, and can shift between companies and roles.

“The best of the batch may not be the right fit for us, and we do not want employees who are used to certain work life and are not willing to move out of cities. We tested their willingness to work for frontline jobs and what we call the “trenches" instead of preferring only the plush office work," said S. Venkatesh, group president-HR, RPG Group.

Mental health and self-awareness featured prominently in questions across campuses, noting the impact of covid-related stress.

“We actively surface discussions on how they managed physical and mental wellness, along with managing academic expectations/performance during the challenging times of the last few months," said Shahine Ardeshir, people and organisation director, Mars Wrigley, India.

The chocolate and confectionery maker said such questions gave the hiring team insights into a student’s coping mechanisms at a personal and community level, their resilience and ability to work with teams virtually while staying engaged.

The placement season at top B-schools is over, and students are expected to join in April or May. With the tussle between work from home and office plaguing the corporate sector, many recruiters wanted to check leadership skills from across distances. “Questions coming in would centre around how a student can show work leadership from a distance. In the post-covid workplace, one may have to work without sufficient communication and connectivity with team members," said Debashis Chatterjee, director of IIM-Kozhikode. He said such questions were important since remote working may feel like sitting in a virtual classroom with no one to nudge or prompt with the right answers.

Consumer electronics firm Panasonic has set a three-by-three matrix to judge candidates on ambition, resilience and humility. “I would like to judge these three attributes of their personality, how much ambition they carry, what specifically is their ambition under tough circumstances," said Manish Sharma, chief executive officer, Panasonic India and South Asia.

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