Compete or Perish

Manasi Mithel        Print Edition: Dec 9, 2012

Students graduating from business schools know the summer vacation that follows is anything but a holiday. It is placement season, when they must gear up to meet prospective employers. And companies visiting campuses are increasingly using competitions to recruit the best among them.

Take Mahindra & Mahindra, for instance. Since 2009, it has had a competition platform called 'War Room' which holds contests of job aspirants. These allow students with different specialisations to work on strategy solutions to real-life problems the group companies face.

"This is a very good way for us to source talent as we are able to gauge the candidates in an in-depth way," says Rajiv Dubey, HR Head at M&M. "It is not a substitute for other methods of campus recruitment but complements them."

Five of the many students who participated in last year's War Room are now part of the company's management training programme.

Vipul Manglik, 26, who pursued an MBA from Management Development Institute (MDI) Gurgaon, has joined a management training programme at Bharti Airtel and will be assigned a permanent role in January. Manglik was a runner-up at iCreate, a competition platform organised by Airtel.

"I was offered a per-placement interview with the company after my team won. This put me a big step ahead of my batchmates," he says.

Competing alongside more than 300 teams from India's top 15 B-schools, Manglik's three-member team worked on one of four case studies assigned by Airtel. In this case too, all four studies related to actual problems faced by the company. Manglik's team had to find a way to increase Airtel's 'Green SIM' service penetration in rural areas. Through this SMS and call service intended for farmers, registered subscribers get region-wise information on pesticides, crops and how to increase farmland production.

The project was extensive and required secondary research, as well as field visits to Haryana's Rewari district, about 60 km from the MDI campus. Manglik's team observed business transactions between farmers, vendors and middlemen at the local mandis and was able to draw connections between what they saw and heard and concepts they had read about. Their final proposal involved setting up a platform to bring vendors and farmers together.

"While the competition was launched in 2009, we started awarding students the pre-placement interview offers only from last year," says Krish Shankar, Executive Director, HR, Bharti Airtel. "We selected two students in this way." Manglik was one of them.

Many other companies have joined the fray, including PepsiCo India, whose platform - named after its global CEO, India-born Indra Nooyi - is called 'Become Indra's Advisors'. This is a new, trendy means companies have found to create a brand for themselves in colleges and hire quality talent, says MDI professor Kamal Kapil.

"While such platforms have been around for more than a decade, it is only now that this trend is catching on in recruitment," he adds.

So while companies use competitions to pick and implement new ideas proposed by the students and keep an eye on the potentials, students see them as a great opportunity to network with industry professionals, gain valuable insights and, of course, get job offers. It is a win-win situation for both.

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