Diversity and campus placements

I graduated from IIMB in 2006. As was a sort of habit around that time in all IIMs, many recruiters who were supposed to come to campus for recruitment in the third or fourth slot were asked to not turn up – everyone who was in the market for a job had been placed by then.

The situation was very different when my wife was graduating from IESE Business School in 2016. There, barring consulting firms and a handful of other firms, campus placements was nonexistent.

Given the diversity of her class (the 200 odd students came from 60 different countries, and had vastly different experience), it didn’t make sense for a recruiter to come to campus. The ones that turned up like the McKinseys and Amazons of the world were looking for “generic management talent”, or to put it less charitably, “perfectly replaceable people”.

When companies were looking for perfectly replaceable people, background and experience didn’t matter that much. What mattered was the candidate’s aptitude for the job at hand, which was tested in a series of gruelling interviews.

However, when the jobs were a tad more specialised, a highly diverse campus population didn’t help. The specialisation in the job would mean that the recruiters would have a very strong preference for certain people in the class rather than others, and the risk of not getting the most preferred candidates was high. For specialised recruiters to turn up to campus, it was all or nothing, since the people in the class were so unlike one another.

People in the class were so unlike one another for good reason, and by design – they would be able to add significantly better value to one another in class by dint of their varied experience. When it came to placements, however, it was a problem.

My IIMB class was hardly diverse. Some 130 out of 180 of us were engineers, if I remember correctly. More than a 100 of us had a year or less of real work experience. About 150 out of 180 were male. Whatever dimension you looked at us from, there was little to differentiate us. We were a homogeneous block. That also meant that in class, we had little to add to each other (apart from wisecracks and “challenges”).

This, however, worked out beautifully when it came to us getting jobs. Because we were so similar to one another, for a recruiter coming in, it didn’t really matter which of us joined them. While every recruiter might have come in with a shortlist of highly preferred candidates, not getting people from this shortlist wouldn’t have hurt them as much – whoever else they got was not very dissimilar to the ones in their original shortlist.

This also meant that the arbitrarily short interviews (firms had to make a decision after two or three interviews that together lasted an hour) didn’t matter that much. Yes, it was a highly random process that I came to hate from both sides (interviewee and interviewer), but in the larger scheme of things, thanks to the lack of diversity, it didn’t matter to the interviewer.

And so with the students being more or less commoditised, the incentive for a recruiter to come and recruit was greater. And so they came in droves, and in at least my batch and the next, several of them had to be requested to not come since “everyone was already placed” (after that came to Global Financial Crisis, so I don’t know how things were).

Batch sizes at IIM have increased and diversity, too, on some counts (there are more women now). However, at a larger level I still think IIM classes are homogeneous enough to attract campus recruiters. I don’t know what the situation this year is with the pandemic, but I would be surprised if placements in the last few years was anything short of stellar.

So this is a tradeoffs that business schools (and other schools) need to deal with – the more diverse the class, the richer will be the peer learning, but lesser the incentive for campus recruitment.

Of late I’ve got into this habit of throwing ideas randomly at twitter, and then expanding them into blog posts. This is one of those posts. While this post has been brewing for five years now (ever since my wife started her placement process at IESE), the immediate trigger was some discussion on twitter regarding liberal arts courses.

 

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