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Think before you sign up for that dream job!

August 18, 2009 10:18 IST

With the Indian economy affected by the global economic slowdown and recession, the single biggest concern at all business schools seems to be placement. In fact, many critics of the business school system would argue that the primary concern of the average Indian business school has always been placement. Glance through the print ads of most Indian B-schools -- you will notice the overwhelming emphasis on '100 per cent placement' or the 'terrific placement assistance'. Most media reports on business schools too focus on their placement record and the average or the highest salaries that their students command every year. Is this overarching concern with placements in business schools appropriate and healthy?

Placing its students well is certainly one of the important responsibilities of a business school. The efforts of former Kellogg dean Dipak C Jain in placing Kellogg's students in the troubled year of 2001 are by now well known. However, in my opinion, placement should not be the driving force of business schools as is turning out to be for many schools in India. It should be remembered that the placement rates in the best of US business schools such as Harvard does not often exceed 90 per cent. So it is not an attraction for placement alone, but a perceived value of the wholesome experience and education that draws students to the MBA programmes of top business schools.

Unfortunately, a majority of the students enrolling for an MBA in India today are interested in placement alone, as reflected by their apathy to what goes on in the classroom once they land a job. In a recent interview, the Dean of ISB, Hyderabad Ajit Rangnekar, warns against the trend of business schools becoming placement agencies instead of developing as educational institutions. He believes that business schools should not be judged on the basis of their placements, but on the basis of their contribution to knowledge creation and on the basis of the contributions of their faculty and alumni to industry and society at large.

A crucial contribution that business schools could make in relation to placement is through professional career advisory and counselling services. While most placement cells in business schools have 'career development' or 'career advancement' as a suffix or a prefix, they often pay no more than lip service to it.

Consider this e-mail that I got some time ago from one of my former students from an IIM. "I joined XYZ Corporation after graduation and managed to survive so far. But I am getting increasingly frustrated with investment banking and increasingly have the feeling that I am wasting myself". He goes on in this vein and concludes, "I am increasingly thinking about doing a PhD and need your advice". He was academically a brilliant student, but is a case of square peg in a round hole, which is often the critical issue with most placements in business schools.

Students are driven by social and peer pressures towards careers that hardly match their aptitude and skills. Someone who could be a brilliant security analyst, would probably make a lousy general manager (or vice versa), but is often driven to it as it is considered to be more glamorous by friends or family.

The problem is compounded by the fact that a majority of the students in Indian business schools are fresh from college with no work experience. Hence they often lack the experience and judgment to evaluate careers vis-a-vis their strengths and weaknesses. It is believed that a majority of the students of any given graduated batch of an IIM change jobs within two-three years.

Apart from the huge associated social costs, this often results in an irreversible loss of opportunities and a severe setback in career advancement for the graduates concerned. The second manifestation of the peer pressure in placements is the lemming-like behaviour and obsession towards a few sectors.

Nearly two-thirds of a graduating batch of any top business school in India joins one of the two sectors -- consulting and finance/investment banking. It is not a coincidence that these sectors tend to be high-paying in the short term. This trend is distinctly different from the one witnessed in the eighties and early nineties when graduates used to prefer firms that offer long-term career development and growth (Hindustan Lever and Asian Paints, to give some examples), even though they were not the pay masters and involved tough job conditions like rural postings.

My intention here is not to evaluate and judge one sector as superior to the other, but rather to point to the acute need for career counselling and advisory services whereby graduates make informed choices about their careers. Graduates should be made sensitive to the need to evaluate the short-term monetary benefits offered by some careers against the long-term career benefits and growth offered by others so that they can make an informed choice.

In my view, with the aid of professional career counseling such as this the crowding-out effect currently experienced by sectors like manufacturing and public enterprises in most business schools is likely to decline. Also many new and sunrise sectors like media, technology, retail and infrastructure with tremendous potential in the long run, will be able to get the much needed management talent in a manner that is a win-win for the industry as well as the management graduates.

To sum up, while placement is an important responsibility of business schools, it should not become their paramount focus. The emphasis of the placement cells in business schools should shift from pure placement services to career planning and guidance services, which is an acute, unfulfilled need even in the best of business schools in India.

Careers360, is a complete career magazine.

Raveendra Chittoor, Assistant Professor of Strategy, ISB, Hyderabad

Careers360 is a complete education and career magazine offering campus and course reviews, career features, scholarships, expert advisories, entrance exam preparation & solved papers, admission alerts and more.