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Monday, November 28, 2011

So what makes IIM-A different?

Earlier, I touched upon this point in a post on IIM-A's criteria for sending students on exchange(http://iimaexperiences.blogspot.com/2011/07/iim-ahmedabads-2010-exchange-criteria.html), and thought I'll update it after reading Prof TT Rammohan's book 'Brick by Brick', which was about Ravi Mathai, and his legacy on IIM-A. Though a few rankings may disparage IIM-A to get that elusive media byte, the fact remains that both the student community(perception poll, aspirations) and recruiters(quality and offers) still view IIM-A as India's No1 Bschool. But beyond that, the mystique still remains. And while one may attribute it to the unique architecture, alumni network, academic autonomy etc, those factors would not be enough in themselves. So, the student governance is a critical aspect of it, and the factors below
  • Integrity in everything:-Be it placements, academics or other activities, it is NOT ok to cheat/pad CV/engage in plagiarism etc. That rubs off on the person in general even during internship, where IIM-A students do not badmouth others despite being victims of it themselves.
  • Transparent and fair event organizing:- Anecdotal evidence shows that IIM-A students win very few inter-college events at their own college. Contrast this to other colleges, where there is an undisputed host advantage. But here, IIM-A organizers go to the extent of atleast 50% external judges, random team names, limiting entries to 1/college for some events etc
  • Fair selection process in clubs:-There is very little nepotism in club selections, with multiple interactions and a fair process. The clique culture of regionalism/college/community is not prevalent here,in general
  • Wide latitude to clubs and associations:-The student body and clubs have a wide discretion to carry out their activities, with minimal faculty supervision.
  • Cooperative administration:-Whether it comes to booking classrooms, Audio-Visual staff remaining late to ensure events go off flawlessly etc, the administration is usually quite cooperative for student run events.
There could be many other such factors, but these were the ones that caught my attention. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why a moneyball/inclusive approach to MBA recruiting is impractical in India

Recently, I read an article which propounded professionally run placement services teams on Indian MBA campuses(http://insideiim.com/5-reasons-why-student-run-placements-should-give-way-to-cdc-at-iim/). For the uninitiated, most top Indian Bschools placement processes are run by students and not by 'professionals'. While that debate is still open, some of the comments below caught my attention because they expoused the commonly held view that MBA job openings are still the property of a small clique. While that may be true(why else would alumni network be so heavily valued?),  one must also examine the logic behind the same before tarring that with the brush of nepotism. In an ideal world, all candidates should be given the same level of consideration irrespective of their background. But that is not practical for the following reasons.
  • Lies, more Lies and resumes:-As any experienced head hunter would know, CVs are filled with quite a few lies. And that is more true at the student level, where 'padding' is not that easy to detect. While campuses like IIM-A have a rigorous CV checking process where each line on the CV is scrutinized for evidence and wording, that is not true for many other campuses. So instead of trying to sort the chaff from the wheat, recruiters would prefer a campus where the integrity of the process is beyond dispute. And by being the first campus to release an audited detailed placement report, IIM-A again showed why it is considered as the numero-uno. This is true for some other good colleges as well, which do not permit padding
  • Quality of class interaction/group work:-What distinguishes a fulltime MBA from a distance education one is the quality of classroom participation, group work, industry interface and faculty-student interaction. On all these, the higher ranked institutes do perform better, and that shows in the quality of students. 
  • Information overload:-The younger generation simply do not know how to use the internet effectively, let alone net etiquette. The unfortunate recruiter who posts a job opening on a site with a CLEAR instruction to email the resume, is inundated with plenty of comments below the post in barely passable English, asking to be considered for the same! And like how there are many applicants for CAT who do not do their homework, the same is true for many job applicants as well. While sites like naukri.com now offer automated screening and resume matching, the understaffed HR would prefer prequalified applicants and relevant ones.
  • Difficult metrics:-Whatever metric one can think of beyond the CAT score, chances are that it can be gamed. Whether it be B-school competition wins(inconsistent quality of participation and judging), intra campus academic achievement(again does not reflect the person's ability to work well) etc, few metrics are fair, reliable and relevant. Some companies like PurpleLeap are designing post MBA tests, but even those are doubtful. At the end of the day, the decision is largely non measurable.
  • Assessment centre culture also like a lottery:-Abroad, especially in Europe, companies invite their top ranked candidates to a day long assessment centre and administer them tests, give them group tasks and have them make individual presentations. While that is a form of work samping and testing their potential work skills, that approach may fail in India because it would fall prey to coaching, and give the extroverts an undue advantage. Indeed, that is why some IIMs scrapped the Group Discussion stage, because that is not just how things happen in real life. And then, as the NDA/SSB assessment centre testing experience shows, this will lead to mushrooming of academies, and the potential scope to game the system.
So where would this work? ICICI-NIIT MBA program is a 2yr partime MBA for professionals with 3yrs+ workexp, which assures them a 15lakh+ CTC at the end of that program. of course, the selection process is rigourous and the program is selective with the goal to build a middle management cadre to fill the expansion driven need. Unless companies do an Infosys with large scale quality testing and validation, they would probably fail in the effort to expand the applicant pool. But a key difference between a technical role(Infosys, TCS.>) and a managerial role is that the latter skills are not readily testable. And that leaves room for subjectivity. 

Diversification-the best advice from a career perspective also?

Scott Adams(the creator of Dilbert) has some awesome career advice(really!) out there. One of his posts really struck home(http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/07/career-advice.html) that
you can either choose to hyper-specialize and become the best in the world (top 1%) at doing one very specific thing, or you can try to become very good (top 25%) in as many different areas as possible, which you then can use in combination. 

In short, prefer the generalist over specialist approach. Now, from the MBA perspective, management is a skill which can be taught to any graduate-therefore the generalist approach works. For the headline making jobs(consulting, investment banking etc), prior specialist experience is rarely counted, atleast on an Indian campus. Still, let me try to state the pros and cons of each as objectively as possible. Pros are
  • Uncertainty:-One never knows whether the chosen career will go boom or kaput. Think of a person who studied till 2009 to become a prop trader. What would s(he) do once the desks are shut down post Basel III? Hence, the importance of multiple areas.
  • Unlearn and relearn:-The pace of change(local, regional, national, global) is so much that often the very basic mental models need to be reexamined periodically. And some old skill sets/requirements may just become obsolete/destroyed. For example, real estate agents/human travel agents are going that way due to the internet. So those with realistic other career options can unlearn and relearn with a more secure feeling.
  • Multi task & network:-Combining multiple skills gives a good synergy(hopefully!) and also allows getting the best from various fields. For example, Indian finance professionals in the corporate world often have multiple credentials(MBA+CFA), (CA+CS/CWA) to signal their knowledge/mastery of multiple fields. And it does help in terms of membership and reach
However, the disadvantage of that approach would be
  • Contrary to the increasingly specific Googlized world:-Customization, specific search results etc have spoilt the generation brought up on a diet of getting exactly what they wanted. And a specialist credential fits in that culture.
  • Being perceived as less competent:-It is often joked that a Phd teaches the person everything about nothing. However, the significance of a Phd is the social signalling credential in the academic community that the person can withstand the gruelling grind for 4yrs(or more) and have that academic discipline. Even the best teachers(in style/ability) encounter that glass ceiling without a Phd. Similarly, a very competent generalist may not command that same respect from his specialist peers.
  • Not being the 'best' in any field:-Being the best needs 10,000 hours or more, as Gladwell puts it. Those who prefer to be good at many things, may not be the best in that. And for those used to being at the top of their game, that would hurt. Also, generalists may not be needed if the organizational culture is to find a near perfect match rather than to bet on someone.
 To conclude therefore, having a second skill set/career option is always great. That not only gives greater career security, but also helps to ward of midlife crisis/empty nest syndrome.