Home / Opinion / Columns /  India Inc’s dissonance over top B-school recruitment

Forget strategizing, that will come later. Tell me how the rubber smells on the road," said an exasperated second-in- command human resource manager of a large manufacturing company. “There has to be more executive presence. They are divorced from reality. They want to become CXO in their next promotion, but have never worked in the trenches," said another talent recruitment head at one of India’s largest business houses.

One can detect an increasing murmur that suggests India Inc is unhappy with the expensive talent being recruited at B-school campus placement exercises, especially since many of these recruits don’t even last with such recruiters for more than a year. The problem gets accentuated when early-phase interview slots are dominated mostly by consultancy firms and investment banks, which tend to get day-1 and day-2 invitations by student preference on account of their reputedly large pay packets.

“We hired 30 from the best of B-schools, and within a year, barely 15 remain. They all want to strategize, but when you are in your early twenties, have no attention to detail, have no work experience besides two internships, how do you expect to get plum assignments because you are from a certain college?" So complained a senior executive at another business house.

Disappointment in campus picks is often brushed under the carpet by corporates because netting a few students from top management colleges is important for their business image. Their pre-placement offers are not always accepted and competition among recruiters for the top of the class can be fierce, even ugly.

India Inc has a few options up its sleeves. Instead of chasing only the top B-school graduates, which lets them meet their bare minimum intake requirements, they shift focus to second-rung management schools. “[We’d] rather take the best of the second rung than chase students with multiple offers from the leading colleges," in the words of another campus recruiter.

So, what is going wrong with hiring from India’s leading B-schools? Recruiters have no single answer. Some recruiters who have been going to these hallowed campuses for a few years say these B-schools face an acute faculty shortage. Also, theory often crowds out practice. “The directors move from one B-school to another, teachers have theoretical knowledge, but more case studies need to be taught," according to a recruiter. Global, he adds, the industry interface with colleges is greater: “When a case study is taught, then either representatives of the company or those who were part of it, or tracked the case closely, are invited to talk to students. It makes all the difference."

Today, a host of colleges are counted as tier-1 B-schools in India, including 20 Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). The difference between newer IIMs and the older ones are also pronounced, say HR executives.

For years, these management colleges have said they are not mere placement agencies and instead spot and groom leaders, aided by a strong alumni base that has its tentacles spread wide. But this pitch is not cutting it anymore with many corporates. The top brass has been asking talent acquisition teams where top-rated B-school graduates are going.

Startups is one answer. Established firms have been jolted by the shock of a fuddy-duddy image they’ve acquired among many ambitious students. With their flexible work arrangements, array of stock options, other incentive plans, work-life-balance benefits and steeper career paths, startups have become a big lure. It has become common for students to use offer letters to negotiate further during the placement process and get better deals.

According to a senior executive in a retail company, it is difficult for big legacy firms to match the fancy designations and sweat equity offers of startups. Until recently, B-school graduates were made to work on shop-floors for months before they were allowed into the decision-making spaces of offices. Stories abound of the grind that recruits are put to as soon as they join; of how a paint company, for example, made its recruits wait for hours on roads in remote areas to count vehicles passing by, just to check if its roadside billboards were worth the money spent. Consumer product marketers have for long packed would-be managers from B-schools off to the Indian countryside to acquaint them with rural reality.

But do B-school recruiters need to relook at their classic moulds and adapt their usual check-lists to changing circumstances?

The ones I spoke to were unconvinced. “We don’t hire them for what they know," said a Mumbai-based senior HR executive, “Right when a candidate walks in, there needs to be a spit and polish about him. In group discussions, [we need] perspectives which show he or she can look at a problem from many [angles]. Instead, we are sifting through candidates who want to be the next Elon Musk, but have applied for a job in a component manufacturing firm."

Roaring placements at India’s premier B-schools, it seems, are no indication of how good India Inc’s leadership pipeline is.

Devina Sengupta writes on workplaces and education at Mint


Devina Sengupta

Devina Sengupta reports on the shifts in India Inc’s workplaces, HR policies and writes about the developments at India’s biggest conglomerates. Her stories over the last decade have been picked up and followed by Indian and international news outlets. She joined Mint in 2022 and previously worked with The Economic Times and DNA-Money.
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