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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

10 tips to decide a career during campus placements

Ordinarily, I hesitate to write articles on topics that a simple Google Search/ reading books will throw more light on. However, I've endured a week of advising people on their career choices, taking mock HR interviews, giving interview 'guidelines' etc-and thereby got an insight into what makes the best aspiring managers of future tick. And I strongly believe that campus dynamics may influence the process with false choices/'hype and herd mentality'/misinformation/speed dating etc. Hence, I decided to capture all those insights/suggestions below, based on that week, and also interactions with alumni/faculty/some recruiters etc.
  1. Job versus career:-Remember that although you are interviewing for a job, it is just the starting of a number of roles in your eventual career. So do take the long term view and try to think what next/how will your career grow from here. 
  2. Summers vs Finals:-The recruiting dynamics are quite different between summer internships and final internships. During the summers, recruiters have less to lose(since only 2 month commitment) and may not grill as much, and tend to look for general HR fit/skills reasoning that the candidates-especially those without prior experience-may not have much technical insight/company awareness. Hence, those with the swiftest tongue may win out here. However, the final placement dynamics ensure it is more grueling as fit+interest in company+technicals+assessed tendency to 'remain' is assessed, and there are more application forms/SOPs/assessment tests/GDs/presentations and what not, and fit is usually better. Of course, companies may fear the lemons problem while interviewing those without that coveted PPO(pre placement offer), so that is another factor. Some tips are
    1. Summer stipend not necessarily prorated for final salary:- During summer internships, investment banks/consulting firms tend to prorate the stipends resulting in lakhs/month, while many other roles which may pay equally well(say 18-25lakh) may give a nominal stipend which is not prorated, but on confirmation, the final pay is much better. Hence, before dismissing a firm outright, find out the final pay structure as well. 
    2. Be clear on company PPO policy:-Some companies(can't name them here) have a clear policy of not awarding PPOs(!), others award just PPIs and convert them to PPOs towards year end, while yet others boast of a 100% PPO policy. See the historical trends on campus and general company/sector health before assessing this, especially if you are the sort who wants a secured job rather than say a challenging internship w/o 'assured' PPO
  3. Compensation:- While this may seem the no brainer, one should remember that Gross does not matter, net saving does. High pay is accompanied by high variable component, high tax, more incidental expenses like rent/dining etc, so depending on one's lifestyle/location, the net savings  would vary drastically as per the role and location. For instance, a person with a residence in Mumbai would save around 20,000+pm(minimum) by working there as opposed to Gurgaon. 
  4. Quality of work/learning opportunities:- Some roles have a great pay but are kind of 'brain dead' i.e very little personal/professional growth. So if you are someone who values mental challenge, new kinds of work and intellectual stimulation, then some high paying roles are not apt for you as they may get monotonous.  So ceteris paribus, do what you like
  5. Location/Travel/Work life balance constraints:-Family responsibilities(NOT only women-even for men) may make some reluctant to go abroad/travel extensively. While some value worklife balance more than those extra zeros in the pay check. Find out the pros and cons of the role you are taking.
  6. Exit options/Career Growth:-Anecdotal evidence holds that 60% of all IIM graduates quit their first job within the first 2 years. But exit options goes far beyond that. It depends on the quality of work you have done, the employer brand, skills learnt on the job etc. And some careers like consulting have great exit options, while some companies like HUL, ICICI, GE, TAS have typically spawned great managers for India Inc. So people who value an enhanced choice of exits may go for those roles which enhance their employability(as opposed to just more pay) 
  7. Do you have what it takes to reach the top? Most people do aspire to reach the top of their chosen profession. Though the skills vary, generally lower level roles need more technical skills while higher level roles need more selling(internal and external), people and organization building skills. Hence, even if one would make a great analyst(for example), it is better to introspect whether they have the required zeal/qualities to make it to the top(these are necessary not sufficient!). Of course, not all wish to make it to the top, in which case this point is not for them.  This is where speaking to alumni and networking helps to get data points for making that call.
  8. Sync with eventual goals:-Some people nurture the dream of being entrepreneurs some day, in which case general management roles/rotations during career etc would be appropriate, as opposed to a desk based role/advisory role-or even better taking that career plunge directly. While others may plan on becoming global thought leaders/academics some day, in which case research/consulting roles may be good. Yet others may want to settle abroad, in which case working in roles offering that mobility is better. While one can never plan even 5yrs ahead(let alone 10-30yrs), the core goals/objectives/motivators(be it fame/money/responsibility/giving back to society/family size) tend to stay unchanged, and can be that navigating compass to decide between choices. 
  9. Your competitive advantage/Blue Ocean Strategy:-It is not for nothing that people advice 'do what you love and the money will follow'. If someone is really good in something, the market does notice it eventually-be it the same industry/foreign roles/cross functional stints etc. And working in nascent industries has its merits of ESOPs/first mover advantage/not competing with other IIM graduates etc. Some examples of this are film industry, commodities trading, SME banking etc. The highest networth individuals among alumni are typically entrepreneurs..
  10. Don't fall prey to 'false choices' during campus placements:-Sometimes under the Cluster system with companies confirming their participation late, it may so happen that a company coming under a later cluster may be much better fit for you than a 'Cluster 1/Day0' company in terms of pay etc. So especially if there is a chance of your dream employer coming to company(like Zynga/Groupon/Facebook/Linkedlin etc), don't compromise on your choices. And off campus, there is a whole new world out there. So don't adopt the frog in the well approach that the universe of choices is only the campus jobs, and nothing beyond that. Also, following the herd is not a good idea, even if you are a topper etc throughout.
This is all for now, hope it helps those who are sitting for any campus placements-even though largely written from the IIM-A vantage standpoint.

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