A fresh look at placements bodes well for IIMs.

For years, the placement season at the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management has been a race of sorts. With each trying to outdo the other, using it as a yardstick for greater excellence, several parameters have been used to judge who fared better: slot zero figures (this slot would have the most coveted companies coming in), number of days over which the process was held, international offers, lateral placement figures, and, of course, the all-important and headline-generating pay packets.

IIM-Bangalore, a few years ago, decided to stop disclosing the salaries. While some say the reason behind this was to protect the privacy of students, IIM-B officials have reiterated that they had taken the decision because they did not want to give primacy to pay packets. Indeed, news reports about freshers and people with less than two years of work experience taking home mind-boggling pay packets — it was reported in a newspaper that at one of the IIMs the pay crossed Rs. 1 crore per month this year — was also projecting a wrong image about management education, and what the B-schools are all about.

While most other IIMs do mention the pay packets, many have stopped putting a face to the pay. Most reporting around this has been more or less vague and unsubstantiated. “It is the media that has an unholy obsession with the pay, not the management of the IIMs. While we want our students to do well, it has not dominated our discourse on jobs or placements,” says a professor from IIM-B, who did not wish to be named.

So in 2009, IIM-A decided to opt out of the fierce placements race by institutionalising what it called the cohort-based system. This means that previous yardsticks of slots and number of placement days could not be applied to it. In the cohort-based system, companies visit on weekends through a longer period, in clusters. These clusters could be based on company profiles such as consulting, finance or investment banking. Held over something like a month, students can be at ease.

New tweaks to old process

IIM-B, this year, in a smaller way opted out of the numbers game. Though it did not go the IIM-A way, it decided to fix the number of placement days before hand. Though in 2010, placements had been completed in five days, and every year is compared to the previous one (this is often closely watched as it is regarded as a measure of how the job market is doing), this year it was strung out over 10 days. Pre-fixed, the placements went on at a relaxed pace, points out P.D. Jose, Chairperson, Placements, at IIM-B.

Dismantling the ‘slot-based' classification process, where recruiters were clustered into slots depending on their demand amongst students of that batch, they went for a more relaxed process where all sort of recruiters were invited on all the placement days. Some prioritising was done; however, the rigorous slot system was removed. Besides being stressful for students, companies too compete fiercely for the top slot and institutes find it difficult to please them all.

Typically, 30 companies would come in slot zero, making it difficult for students to attend interviews and forcing them to make on-the-spot decisions. “After all, it is a huge career decision we are talking about here. We felt it is necessary to give students a bit of breathing space to be able to think it over, and also allow them to give multiple interviews and choose from their options. It shouldn't just be about the numbers, we took a decision,” explains a key IIM-B official.

They divided the bay into two and parallel interviews took place, and students were allowed to take a shot through the day. There was no pressure on them to hurry up, and in fact students were allowed to take as much time as they wanted.

“In the older system, because everyone was racing against a deadline to complete placements and to look good on the comparison charts, everybody was under pressure to finish fast. That had just vanished,” an IIM professor, who was not associated with the placements, commented. “It was certainly more relaxed and good to watch,” he added.

This year, all 332 students who sat for placements received offers, of which over 100 were placed beforehand during the lateral placement process. The ‘laterals' are students who have had prior work experience. Over the years the numbers of students with work experience has been on the rise. In the batch of 2011, only 28 per cent of the batch comprised freshers and another six per cent had worked for less than a year.

Of the batch of 348 (the largest ever at IIM), 16 had opted out of placements, and two groups among these (comprising around five students) are incubating an innovation or an innovative business idea with the NSR Cell that provides support to start-ups, sources told The Hindu.

Though the total placements was from 105 companies, 130 had evinced interest. As far as trends go, it was work as usual, with finance leading the pack at 36 per cent, followed by consulting at 31. Sales and marketing made up for 21 per cent.

How other IIMs did

IIM-Ahmedabad completed its placements in early March, having commenced in mid-February. Divided into four clusters held on four days, the placement has been successful and all students have been placed.

The others, which are still sticking to the traditional placement process, are more comparable. Among the older IIMs, IIM-Calcutta wrapped up its process in five days, placing all 388 students. Here, slot zero offers were up from 90 to 139.

IIM-Kozhikode saw the total offers go up to 305 from 265 last year (the number of offers per company rose to 3.37 from 2.66 in 2010, according to news reports). IIM-Indore, which wrapped up its placements last month, saw the number of offers increase to 241 this year, from 235 in the previous year.

However, the newer IIMs are still picking up and are yet to complete the placement process.

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