Business Today

Campus drought

Companies aren’t just laying off employees but have also become cautious with new hiring. The result? A steep fall in the quantity and quality of new offers on the campuses.

Print Edition: March 8, 2009

For the past five years, recruiting week at the country’s prominent, toptier business schools used to be a monumental affair. The air was charged with the electric excitement of hundreds of graduates chatting animatedly about the slew of offers they had in their kitty, the ones they were taking seriously as well as where and how they would celebrate all of this thanks to an overheating job market. In those days, recruitment would start on “day zero” and after torrid sessions of interviews with companies, would end seventy-two hours later with a flood of offers made to the graduating class.

Jobs crunch: Campuses are reporting fewer placements for their students
Campuses are reporting fewer placements for their students
Today, the scene couldn’t be more different. Instead of “day zero”, recent recruitment at a top business school took place over three consecutive weekends. Over 25 per cent of its graduating class has yet to find a job. Most B-school and engineering college heads continue to paint a rosy picture about the employment situation, saying that average offers are on pace with last year’s, or that average starting salaries haven’t dropped at all. Graduating B-schoolers and techies across the country, however, are reporting something entirely different. Campus recruitment, they say, has dropped precipitously— 30-40 per cent of their graduating class are currently offer-less in many cases. “In a good year, companies were vying for recruiting slots lest they missed out on the best candidates. Now companies are taking a lot more time. The game is now in their hands,” says Sharadh Manian, a final year student at one of India’s top B-schools.

That’s not all. In addition to the increasing jobless rates at these schools, the quality and nature of jobs have also declined significantly. Moreover, starting salaries have been slashed heavily. A professor at IIT Delhi, who did not want to be named, admits that while job offers didn’t decline quite so dramatically at the engineering college, there was, on average, a 50 per cent cut in starting salaries. In some cases, initial offers have been revised downwards by as much as Rs 5 lakh on B-school campuses, say prospective graduates. Most firms have even stopped disclosing the profile of the job when they come to campus.

IIT Mumbai has had the best opening placements this year so far but that doesn’t mean much when you factor in the fact that it has experienced a 69 per cent drop in recruitments. On the first day, 32 students were made offers (as opposed to 95 in the previous year). According to students on campus, pressure at the school is building because some visitin companies have not recruited a single student as yet. A student who got a job with a software company says that the offers made this year match the lowest offers made for the previous batch. Clearly, companies are in control now and they’re driving a hard bargain.

Rahul Kumar Singh, a final year student at IIT-Delhi, says that even erstwhile top recruiters seem to be tentative about beefing up their ranks during the slowdown. HUL, ITC and P&G together offered 10 jobs on campus last year. This time around, they’ve offered just one, he says. Similarly, McKinsey, which had recruited around four students a year ago, has so far picked up just one. Morgan Stanley, Citibank and other financial services have also slashed their hiring of newbies. Admits Prakash Sai, Placement Co-ordinator at IIT Madras: “The number of options for a student has reduced from three to less than one. It is clearly a seller’s market.”

Bleak times

  • Job offers have fallen by 30-40 per cent on some campuses

  • Quality and nature of jobs have also declined

  • Public sector companies have benefited from a talent glut

  • HR grapevines suggest things are going to get worse next year
So, who’s benefiting from the big job drought? Once spurned in favour of deep-pocketed banks, public sector companies have never had it so good. BHEL and NTPC have already snapped up around 40-45 students, says IIT-D’s Singh. “They’ve been a saviour for us,” he adds. Also eager to take advantage of this surfeit of jobless talent are small- and medium enterprises (SMEs) who have no significant HR practices.

The speed at which things have gone from boom to bust for ambitious college graduates in professional programmes has stunned almost every one. Students admit that things on campus have gotten gloomy pretty quickly. Adding to the gloom are unofficial reports through the college HR grapevine that things are going to get worse next year. Company boards, say students, have begun announcing hiring freezes, rendering even alumni networks useless.

Naturally, all of this has had a major impact on the attitudes of students toward employment and wages. “Students have toned down their expectations considerably. Earlier, we used to look at niche placements. For instance, a student would want to get into Equity Research and nowhere else. Today, he would be willing to compromise…” says Saarthak Malik, a second year MBA student at IIT Madras.

So, what do you do if you haven’t been signed up as yet? “Have a more practical approach,” says Manian. “Work for free on projects if you can and showcase your talent. It will come in handy when things turn around.” Sounds like smart advice worth listening to in these turbulent times.

Reported by E. Kumar Sharma, Anamika Butalia, Manu Kaushik And Nitya Varadarajan

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