As the placements season looms, some thoughts on expectations in changed times.
Do any of you remember the recent Virgin mobile commercial? Let me refresh your memory. A pretty young thing is talking to her parents and telling them that boys put her off and she just cannot handle them. Her parents are completely flustered and their imagination runs riot thinking about all the horrific implications of her statement. At which point of time a boy rings and the girl tells him brusquely that she cannot come to Goa. When the parents ask who is calling, she says it is Tensing, her MBA classmate who wants her to go to Goa with him, and her parents immediately pile on and tell her how she has to socialise and meet boys and she reluctantly agrees. Tensing calls back when she is alone and she tells him triumphantly that the Goa trip is on. The commercial ends with a cheeky line “think zhara hatke”. For those who do not share my prowess in Hindi (!), it simply means “think differently” which incidentally is an old Apple Computers line. No, this piece is not about advertising, but about the value of thinking differently for the class of 2009 which is probably looking at the placement scene with some sense of foreboding, given the overall sense of doom and gloom that seems to be top of mind for the economy and corporate India and indeed for the whole world at this particular point in time. Here are a few thoughts worth considering.
Don’t live in the past
Management students have a heritage which is guided by the experience of the institute whose portals they pass through and the jobs that their seniors have got, particularly over the last few boom years. There was a time when companies would come in and pick up students in hordes and if there were not a few weeks left for the completion of the course, I am quite sure they would have bundled all the recruits into a tempo and taken them away for induction! Those days are not likely to come back in a hurry and this is the first sobering realisation that youngsters must understand, accept and get ready to deal with.
The same applies to compensation packages as well, which may not have the same heady ring as in earlier years. It might not be a bad idea to read the business papers, to get a feel for the market and tone down expectations and maybe placement cells will have to cast their net much wider than ever before.
I was pleasantly surprised to get a placement brochure from IIM Ahmedabad, which has never happened in our company’s 10-year existence even though we have a reasonable track record and a team of 80 people. Maybe it is an indication of the times that we live in rather than any special achievement by us.
Management school often has debates about being a specialist or a generalist and that is not something to be sneered at. I remember that when we passed out of management school we did specialise in two streams, I personally specialised in both finance and marketing and ended up in advertising because I was passionate about the profession. I know for a fact that more and more students over the last few years have been looking at finance as a profession and some of them have achieved phenomenal success and earnings in a very short period in time. The reality, however, is that students cannot afford to strait-jacket themselves into particular disciplines in this era of uncertainty. They need the flexibility and the courage to look at their own skill sets differently and look at it also from the company’s point of view. It could also mean that they need to look at companies that are perhaps smaller and whose needs from MBAs could be very different from that of large well-established and well structured companies that usually come to campus.
Youngsters in general and young MBAs in particular place a great importance on the brand. The schools they go to, the college that they pass out of and the management institution that they graduate out of, all have value. Yet despite my preoccupation with brands, both as a profession and as an interest, I must caution youngsters, particularly those who pass out of institutes that are rated less by employers, to neither devalue themselves nor their institutes... Each and every one of us has the capability to become a brand and the tag of the institution that we pass through is just one aspect, albeit an important one, of the overall brand that each one of us ultimately becomes.
I have seen enough of life to know that the institution generally is important only for the first job, after that most management graduates move on based on their performance in the job. So don’t be disheartened if you are from a less reputed school, or become cocky just because you are from a famous school. You are the difference. And branding is all about being different even as you are relevant to your prospective employer.
I know for a fact that institutes and placement cells have the capability to behave arrogantly towards employers and have done it in the past. We too have experienced this is in the recent past. I know of big companies too who have been treated badly at placement time. But remember this is all a question of demand and supply.
In 2009 I suspect the supply of good management students is far more than the jobs that are likely to be on offer. Even large corporations are contemplating a recruitment freeze and sectors such as financial services, investment banking, and equity research are all likely to be recruiting only at their peril. Individually students too need to scan the net and look for wider opportunities than the institutes have been hitherto looking at.
Managers and management education is preoccupied with quarterly performance and the immediate short-term. I have a sobering thought for the class of 2009. They have to work for a small matter of 35 years more at least, so why worry unduly about the first one. Remember a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush so just take the job that comes your way and work your way upwards. Remember that neither good times nor bad times last for ever. And finally remember the words of Rudyard Kipling:
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too…
If you can still fill the unforgiving sixty seconds worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And which is more - you’ll be a Man my son”
I am sure the class of 2009 will have a fair share of men and women who will take Indian business to new heights and I wish each and every one of them the very best of luck.
(The writer is CEO of brand-comm and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)