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Brand new recruiters

Not Goldman Sachs, not McKinsey, not Infosys. The top recruiters on business and engineering college campuses were all new names.

Saumya Bhattacharya | Print Edition: July 12, 2009

In 2005, when Nishant Kumar got a rank of 496 in the joint entrance exam for admission to the Indian Institutes of Technology, his dream of becoming a robotics engineer looked every inch plausible. At IIT Delhi’s Kumaon Hostel, Kumar nurtured his dream day and night, studying to be a mechanical engineer. The same year, in Kumar’s hometown Jalandhar, businessman Ashok Mittal was busy tidying up the loose ends to begin what is now arguably one of India’s largest private universities, Lovely Professional University (LPU).

Four years and a slowdown later, Kumar, 24, has decided to put the slowdown-battered plans in robotics on hold and instead wants to focus on building his resume for higher studies via teaching. Kumar, a mechanical engineer from IIT Delhi’s Class of 2009, has opted to join LPU, Jalandhar, as faculty and is actively considering a long career in teaching. Siddharth Mishra, 23, his batchmate at IIT Delhi, is also headed to Jalandhar to teach at LPU, which was a first-time recruiter at IIT and hired more than 200 graduate and postgraduate students from IITs.

Maiden forays marked the campus placement season of 2009 across the length and breadth of premier business and engineering schools. “The slowdown helped us, otherwise students at IIT are not known to opt for teaching,” says Mittal, Chancellor, LPU.

The first BT-Synovate Top Campus Recruiter Survey of 21 B-schools and engineering colleges has thrown up names that were unheard of in past placement seasons. Sample the top two at IIM Ahmedabad—Union Bank of India, which has hired 14 and Jaypee Capital Services, which has recruited 12. Both the first-timers recruited more than traditional biggies like McKinsey & Co. and Tata Administrative Services. The top recruiter at Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT) was Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL), which is again a first-timer at premier schools. Education newbie ICFAI Tech snapped up a 17-strong contingent from IIT Kanpur.

Ashok Mittal
Ashok Mittal, Chancellor, Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar
Hired more than 200 from IIT campuses
 
Saurav Arora
Saurav Arora, Senior VP, Jaypee Capital
Took 62 in the first year of hiring from IIMs
 
M.V Nair
M.V. Nair, CMD, Union Bank of India
Top recruiter at IIM-A; Total IIMs tally: 56

The survey, which will be an annual feature, decodes campus recruitments: who is recruiting, what numbers they are hiring and at what cost. Campus placements this year were a long haul. In one of the toughest placement seasons, we received participation from 21 business and engineering schools across India; some that were approached and decided to stay away were still in the midst of placing their students in May.

The elongated placement winter is a first for these premier institutes. For several years now, placements at India’s premier schools have typically been a question of a day or two. You start off in the morning and by evening a major chunk of the batch is sitting on multiple plum offers. Last year’s top five at IIM-A was a predictable mix of finance and consultancies with McKinsey and Lehman Brothers taking the first two spots. However, the collapse of Lehman and the subsequent financial tsunami meant that the Class of 2009 failed to quite time it right. From the days when students were spoilt for choice, this year the recruiter was the king. And if numbers are to be believed, first-timers ruled.

The new face of the recruiter
About one year ago, at an interactive session with the students of Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, Union Bank of India CMD M.V. Nair asked the students a question that was bothering him for a long time: What can Union Bank do to become the top choice of B-school grads? While the feedback from ISB students shaped what Nair calls the skill strategy of the bank, Union Bank didn’t really need to do a thing to become the top choice of the much-sought-after grads of IIM Ahmedabad. Riding on the global meltdown, Union Bank snapped up 14 at IIM-A to become the largest single recruiter in its maiden foray into the campus in 2009. The bank has cherry-picked more than 200 grads across top 20 business and engineering institutes. “We had decided to recruit from B-schools one year back. This is in line with the overall transformation plan. The slowdown worked in our favour,” says Nair.

It sure did, according to Saral Mukherjee, Chairperson, Placement Committee, IIM-A. Every placement season differs from the previous ones as the economic environment changes, but the 2009 placement season was eerily different. Mukherjee recalls by January-end most firms that IIM-A contacted had ordered a hiring freeze across all verticals and hiring levels and some were even retrenching.

The school has seen situations of downturn in the past, like the dotcom bust in 2001. Typically, a downturn in one sector like technology would have very little to do with seemingly unrelated sector like agriculture or manufacturing. “This time the situation was unprecedented as all sectors were reporting hiring freezes simultaneously,” says Mukherjee.

Subsequently, the story of first-time recruiters, starting with a bang at campuses, was replicated across the business and engineering schools. “Students would not touch PSU banks earlier; this year these banks have swept placements,” says Uday Salunkhe, Group Director, Welingkar Institute of Management, Mumbai. Thanks to PSU banks, banking and finance accounted for 36 per cent of Welingkar placements. Manufacturing also found willing takers.

Yet another first-timer, Jaypee Capital, hired 62 from the IIMs. Jaypee Capital claims to be India’s largest derivatives trading firm. Last year, it, along with 16 other partners, floated a new company, United Stock Exchange of India Ltd, which will be the fourth stock exchange in India. Says Saurav Arora, Senior VP, Jaypee Capital: “We have been acquiring talent from B-schools worldwide. However, this was the first time we went to the IIMs.”

BHEL was back at the IIMs, NITIE and XLRI “after a very long gap”. “IIFT was visited first time. Campus selections at the IITs are continuing for a long time. Yes, we have seen greater interest in the students of IITs/ NITs in joining BHEL,” says a company spokesperson.

Big and bigger
The spectre of a slowdown followed hiring plans of traditional big recruiters at campuses. Consultancies that hired 20-25 last year cut their intake to single digits this year. Reason: The key focus of talent acquisition changed from hiring resources as buffers for future expansion to meeting the demand for skills just-in-time.

Some, like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Deloitte and Citibank, managed to beat the slowdown blues. TCS, which was the top recruiter at BITS Mesra, Ranchi, with 264 hirings against 369 last year, made over 24,000 offers in campus for fiscal years 2010 vis-à-vis 22,000 for FY09. However, “the joining of these trainees will be aligned to the recovery in demand for our services,” says Ajoy Mukherjee, VP & Head, Global HR, TCS.

Infosys curiously claims to have already extended 20,000 campus offers at engineering schools for fiscal year 2010. At B-schools (IIMs, ISB and XLRI), it went with a specific hiring programme for its global sales requirements to bring in 15 new hires this year. Last year, the company had 13,399 recruits from engineering schools and 282 recruits from B-schools.

This placement season Dhananjay Bansod, Chief People Officer, Deloitte India, got the opportunity to hire “better people from better campuses”. Deloitte is the top recruiter at IIT Chennai. The top recruiter at Department of Management Studies, IIT Delhi, Citibank found the campus applicants cautious, and with significantly lower negotiating power, signing on immediately to the first attractive offer. “We hired a total of 98 students, 20 per cent higher than the number recruited last year,” says Ian Gore, Head-HR, Citi South Asia.

India’s largest power company NTPC snapped up more than 500 from premier engineering schools. “In the year 2008-09, we have recruited 511 from IITs, NITs and other premier engineering colleges of the country,” says R.C. Shrivastav, Director-HR, NTPC.

Compensation carrot
In their hunt for good talent at low prices, the first-timers also re-wrote some of the compensation rules. Union Bank offered a money vs security trade-off. “You could either opt for a three-year contract with market salaries (Rs 9 lakh per annum) or move to Scale 3 (at Rs 5 lakh plus other benefits) that effectively means a 12-year fast-forward to your career,” says Nair. Most opted for the second option.

As more and more companies realised the value-formoney deals they were getting at the campuses, scramble for acquiring talent grew. At IIM-A, the placement office received a lot of queries for availability of postgraduate students for recruitment after it announced the closure of placements and provided the average salary for the batch. “Several firms which were deterred by high salary packages in previous years suddenly realised that they could pick up quality talent at a reasonable salary this year,” says Saral Mukherjee.

But there is more to a job offer than salaries. Many students are choosy about the roles on offer and the sectors they want to work in and frequently have location preferences. Some of the students who had prepared for a career in finance had to make adjustments in their career choice as financial firms were few and far between. It was easier to recruit people this year, but the challenge lies in holding them back when things improve. As Deloitte’s Bansod says, “The risk of subsequent high attrition is more in a downturn.” Today’s value picks could be tomorrow’s HR challenge.

With Rahul Sachitanand, K.R. Balasubramanyam And Anumeha Chaturvedi

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