Campus Placements: An Incomplete Choice

by Harsha “JUMBA” Ravichandran (DD/CE/2011)

JumbaCampus placement is often considered the culmination of one’s journey in insti, the fruit of many years of labour spent getting through JEE and surviving the competition within insti itself. With the exception of some people who may have made up their minds to pursue alternative career paths, such as higher education, most people take placement very seriously.

There is good reason for this hallowed status that is bestowed upon placement. After all, the ultimate purpose of education is (for a good majority of us) to access jobs. And while your first job may not matter much in the course of your lifetime, it certainly is helpful to have a good first job. The placement process is designed to help students realize that goal. Companies come to the campus, they are prioritized based on a number of factors, students pick the companies that they wish to apply for, and if all goes well, they end up with a job that they are satisfied with.

Why then do I say that placement represents an ‘incomplete’ choice? It is because most students are merely choosing among the companies that turn up on campus and among the jobs that they are hiring for. Rather than asking ourselves the question “What is it that I want to do after insti?”, the question that is often asked is “Which of these companies (that are coming to insti to hire) do I want to work for?” Rather than looking at the universe of companies that we are interested in and making a choice between them, we are choosing between the jobs that are presented to us.

It is possible that the type of companies that you are interested in are already coming to insti for placements. It is possible that, in hindsight, the outcome of your placement process was exactly the same as what it would have been if there had been no placement process at all – you ended up in the job you would have wanted. Regardless, there is value in probing yourself to try and figure out what you want to do in life, and what kind of job therefore suits you best.

I think the closest people come to doing this is when people have to write Statements of Purpose while ‘apping’ to Universities. The Statement of Purpose is just that – a statement of what you want to do in life, why applying to this program helps you achieve those goals, and what you have done in preparation. The true utility of the SoP comes from the process of writing it. To do a good job of it, you need to sit down and figure out what it is that you want from life. What do you see yourself doing in the long term, and in the short term? What are the qualities that are important to you in a job or in an academic program? These questions are not easy to answer, and in fact, the answer to those questions might well change with time.

I know from my experience while apping, that this question was not easy to answer. Over a year-long period before I apped, I vacillated between applying for a PhD, or for just a Master’s degree. Between sitting for placements or opting out. I finally settled on applying for a Master’s degree and not bothering with placements, but the process of reaching that decision was tortuous. Now that I am close to finishing my MS, I am once again placed in the same situation. Most American universities don’t have an equivalent of campus placement (B-schools being the notable exception), and I was left to my own devices to find myself a job.

The absence of any kind of campus placement meant that I had to figure out what jobs to apply to. To do this, I first had to figure out what kind of work I wanted to do, and what companies engage in that kind of work. I have finally settled on a transportation consulting firm based in Auckland, NZ (not least because of the location). How good a decision it is remains to be seen. What was really rewarding, though, was the process of self-inquiry that led to the decision. I am fairly sure that if I had restricted myself to looking only for firms where my seniors are employed, or firms that turn up at career fairs (the closest American universities get to campus placements) I would never have encountered this firm.

Yet, that is precisely what happens during campus placement. Most students do not look beyond the firms that turn up for placement. Even among those firms, the decision of which is the better firm is often determined by what people did in previous years and what other people are thinking now. In doing so, many students are missing out on the opportunity to try and figure out what they really want, and finding a job that lets them achieve that. Sure, there is some risk involved in the process. But there is scarcely a better time to take risks. Imagine taking those same risks a decade later when you might be married, supporting a family, and have limited flexibility in terms of where you can work.

I myself would probably have done the same if I had decided to work after graduating from insti. It is only because I came to the US to study, and because I do not have the luxury of campus placement here, that I was forced to take this path. And having taken the path, I can attest to the fact that it is rewarding. I am not advocating that students boycott campus placements. I am merely suggesting that it is a useful exercise to try and figure out independently for oneself what one wants to do, and then working to find the right opportunities to do that.

Placements are far too lucrative to give up, and they make an excellent fall back option. But there is no reason to restrict your job search there. Try and find at least 10-20 companies that do not come to insti for placements and whose work you find interesting. And make a genuine effort to get in touch with them, either through alumni, or professors, or attending events where they are present, or a whole number of ingenious ways that will occur to you once you set yourself to that task. You may eventually find that you have a job that is very different from anything that you would have found on campus, and which you find tremendously exciting. And that is a good thing.

Harsha, better known as Jumba, graduated from insti in 2011 with a Dual Degree in Civil Engineering. He is now finishing up a Master’s degree in Transportation Planning from MIT. Jumba spent his five years in Mandak, one of them as its lit-sec. He can be reached at harshavardhan1989@gmail.com

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