The hot season for business schools is nearing—this is the time when potential entrants are preparing for their entrance tests and shortlisting colleges to apply to. At the same time, it’s placement season for B-school grads, who are looking out with a combination of hope and trepidation. Last year had seen a high in the placement season, which completed a two-year journey of growth. This was offset by some companies later being unable to absorb those whome they had made offers to.
My article in the last Outlook B-school ranking edition suggested that the improved job market in the 2015-16 season was based on recruiters’ expectations of better economic conditions, rather than the reality of superior corporate results. Most companies were expecting to need more managers in a future which looked better, even though the present was not that great. Last year’s placement season relied on the expectation of “achhe din” as well as scaling up in the new economy. These factors no longer operate. Start-ups are laying off people rather than recruiting heavily, and “achhe din” are still awaited. But most other companies are dealing with the current reality rather than planning on hope. These factors lead me to conclude that this placement season will be more difficult. So, is it all doom and gloom for the passing-out batches? I do not believe so. Recruiters are likely to be rational. There’ll be no fly-by-night offers. It’s a return to solidity. What are the implications? Recruiters are likely to be more picky. Candidates will have to prove value, be more prepared and project employability. There may be a premium on experience.
And what are the implications for those who are entering B-schools? Should there be greater caution in choosing to go to a business school? The short answer is yes. B-schools have proliferated, and do not all have the quality of course and faculty that are needed. Selectiveness in choosing a B-school is important. Students capable of making it to the top schools should enter the course happily—if they are not, then a stint at some job would probably improve their B-school entry prospects, as well as their post B-school salaries. Companies are more willing to hire graduates today than they have ever been, and it may be sensible for a potential B-school entrant to focus on getting in a couple of years of work before B-school. Recruiters also prefer B-schoolers with some experience (or would, if such candidates were available!).
Aspirants would do well to choose institutes that stress on both creativity and academic rigour, for ‘intrapreneurs’ will always be in demand.
So how does one decide on the top schools? There are a plethora of ranking exercises published. And B-school websites publish the course structure, faculty, key placement data and alumni feedback online. Choose carefully, based on all these factors. B-school location should also be an important factor in choice. Apart from the IIMs, XLRI/XIMs and a few other select private schools (TAPMI, GIM etc) that are of high quality, B-schools located in catchment areas with good employment (say Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune) are likely to have better industry interaction, more practical training possibilities, a more exposed faculty, and last but not least, better placements.
The B-school system is still relevant to industry. Industry has an ever increasing need for good, creative, problem-solving managers, as well as solid, systematic ones. Placements may have taken a step back, and the highs of last year may not be visible, but Indian industry still lacks managerial talent at many levels.
Senior managers are still convinced of the need for a more creative and entrepreneurial ecosystem in companies. These people argue for the creation of an ideation- and creativity-driven ecosystem within the confines of companies, so that ideas can be farmed in-house. Others argue for a strong link with a B-school ecosystem that would enable companies to farm relevant ideas, and maybe incubate them, with a view to absorbing them over time. The need for ‘intrapreneurship’ will always remain strong, especially in highly competitive industries, and during cycles of change.
There is a still a strong need for B-schools whose curriculums and infrastructure create a more imaginative and complete manager—without losing academic rigour—as well as the systematic manager. Therefore, B-schools that encourage creativity and imagination should also be high on the “apply” list.
The B-school elephant has to learn to dance, and even to adapt or change its dance regularly. The market may seem to have taken two steps back, but it actually has embraced a gravitational reality—all things have to come down to earth!
(A.K. Balaji Prasad is MD, Drshti Strategic Research Services.)