Location matters

The other day in my office we were discussing recruitment. I pointed out that placements this year in the IITs have been particularly screwed. We haven’t decided if we can wait till July for the new recruits to join, but if we agree that it’s ok, we might recruit from IIT. Given our size and meagre requirements, if we do recruit, it’s likely to be from IIT Delhi. The CEO happens to be from there, but that won’t be the reason we might be  going there. It is simply to do with cost.

A number of people think that good colleges can lead development. I’m not sure if that is the case. Unless there is a massive cluster of colleges that comes up in some place which makes it attractive for people to set up industries, which can then recruit from the colleges. Until that happens, and you never know how long it will take for that to happen, the students in these colleges are effectively screwed. At least much more screwed than those in colleges in better locations.

For big companies it doesn’t matter. Their recruitments are such that they can’t possibly make do with taking people from the closest IIT (since we’ve started talking about IITs, let’s keep that as the standard). They will need to go to every IIT. And recruit from all  the places, irrespective of how much it costs them to recruit from there. So you will have people talking about big names that go to different IITs. Big companies with big names. I don’t think there will be significant inter-IIT difference in there.

However, where the students of remotely-placed IITs will miss out on is in terms of small, and maybe growing companies. Companies such as ours. We are located in Gurgaon, and might not need more than a couple of people. And from a simple cost perspective, there is no reason we should step out of Delhi for our IIT Campus recruitment. If we were located in Bangalore or Madras, and wanted to recruit from an IIT, we would’ve gone to IITM. It is about cost. Total cost of recruitment, measured against expected quality of candidates. So we go to the closest and most accessible IIT.

During my time at IITM (2000-2004), there were hardly any non-software companies that came to recruit. There were a few “big boys” that came (McKinsey, Levers, etc.) but they were large enough to go to every IIT. Not-so-large financial sector companies that were based in Bombay would simply just recruit from IITB. Outsourcing companies based in Gurgaon would go to IITD. The south had (and has) mostly software companies, and they would recruit from Madras.

Then there is the accessibility factor. Now, if I were to decide that my requirements won’t be fully met at IITD, and I want to recruit from a couple of more IITs, I would probably intuitively go to Bombay and Madras. Simply because they are well connected by flight from Delhi, and have good hotels to stay at if I want to interview over a couple of days. I’m not even sure if Kanpur and Kharagpur have airports. And I definitely don’t fancy staying at hotels in either of these places.

Popular notion is that IITs at Bombay and Delhi have traditionally had superior placements compared to other IITs. It is simply because they are located in superior places (Madras might have also been there but for some reason has historically shown a tendency to send most of its graduates to the US, because of which local recruiters don’t fancy it too much). Even if you are the smartest guy in Kanpur or Kharagpur, there is a good chance that you might lose out to a much less smart and much less hardworking guy than you in Bombay or Delhi. Simply because they are more accessible.

There is of course the contrarian viewpoint. Low supply of jobs at the less urban IITs means that as a recruiter, I should find it easier to get better people there, than I would in the IITs in the big cities. Again, it depends on how much incremental value I place on the “better students” at the less urban IITs. In most cases, however, it is likely that I would find that this incremental value wouldn’t justify my costs, and end up going to an urban IIT.

So who would recruit from the urban IITs? Apart from the big guns, of course. Think of institutions that don’t require a face-to-face interview for recruitment. Graduate schools. Large software companies which recruit without interviews (based on a test, etc.). Foreign companies that interview via videoconference. And I hear that nowadays, McKinsey has started flying down its shortlisted students from non-Bombay non-Delhi IITs to its own office and interviewing them there – maybe a few other extremely quality-conscious companies might emulate this model.

So if you have just passed the JEE, and don’t know which IIT to go to, you might want to keep this in mind. I know that at 17, you want to go to the IIT closest to home (at least, that is the reason I picked Madras). But keep this at the back of your mind – going to an IIT in a bigger city is definitely going to give you better options after your engineering. If you are extremely sure that you want to do a PhD in your chosen branch of engineering, then it doesn’t matter. Go anywhere. But if you want to keep your options open, go to the big cities. Bombay. Delhi. Madras.

PS1: In this post I have used IITs as only an indicative example. This applies to all colleges, irrespective of area of study. Basic moral of this essay is that if you have a choice between similar colleges of similar reputation, choose the one in the bigger city

PS2: I have no clue about our recruitment plans. I don’t even know if we will recruit. If you are a placement representative, please DON’T bombard me with “can you recruit from my IIT” mails. If we want to recruit from your college, we will get in touch with you.

PS3: Has any of you observed that if you consider Kharagpur as being close to Calcutta, the location of the 5 IITs are the same as the five cities where Test cricket was played in India in the 1950s. Maybe if Kharagpur hadn’t come up in 1950 itself, it would’ve been set up somewhere close to Eden Gardens.

6 thoughts on “Location matters”

  1. Taking engineering colleges in general clustered all over India, we had worked on an idea where SME units could collaborate with local engineering colleges for talent management / internship / projects etc. However, given the spread of institutions across the country and a lack of any kind of organised set up, it was difficult to take it forward. The idea and basic model is still there in the drawing plan.

    Of course, IITs have their own drawing power but if one is willing to broadbase one’s search, then considerations of cost and time can be better served with non-IIT tier 1 (the NITs, DCE, VJTI, CoEP, etc) tier 2 and even tier 3 colleges – quite reasonable since if as a company, you need only two competent high energy young people and if you are able to identify them in your neighbouring X College of Engineering, then what’s the big issue?

    1. yes
      if your requirement is small, it is very likely to find a lot of good people in the tier 2 and tier 3 engineering colleges (forget DCE/RVCE types; i’m talking about the XYZ institutes of technology here).

      i don’t think you can say that about MBA colleges though. there, it’s like an ocean floor. go beyond the top 20 colleges or so and the drop in quality is steep. and quality clustering is much more than in engineering colleges (it’s much harder to find very good people in tier 3 B-schools, as compared to tier 3 engineering colleges)

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