Source: E-mail dt. 1.1.2012

Placements demystified……


Mr. Khagesh Agarwal

DE Shaw & Co., Hyderabad, India


This article is the third one in the row, discussing a little on the placement process when you are nearing the completion of your MBA course. Before I begin, let me warn the readers that I am not a head-hunter who has been a part of the recruitment process for a firm, but definitely have been on the other side (applicants), and as a matter of fact, have seen the process very closely. This article would shed some light on what the recruiters are actually looking for in a potential candidate.


Generally, any good corporate would begin the recruitment process by shortlisting the resumes of the applicants, followed by a written exam (not always, though), followed by a GD and a PI. The written exam will typically test you for your analytical skills, logical reasoning and verbal ability, pretty similar to the patter followed by MBA entrance exams like CAT and it’s like. However, a difference in the case of a recruitment process will be that there will be questions from the field which you are applying for, say for e.g., a marketing research co. may include a small caselet, while an analytics based company will probably give you some data and access to MS-Excel to analyze and interpret the data.


After the written exam, the next step is generally a Group Discussion, where topics may range from current affairs, an abstract topic (like ‘the number 10’) or at times, any topic worthy of a debate. In any GD, we must be very clear with the thumb rule that we are giving our opinion to lay ahead a constructive discussion, and not a debate. Essentially, we are not supposed to take a stand whatsoever. Recruiters generally look for spontaneity of thought process, how well we are able to contribute positively to the discussion (am I a team-player), whether or not one is capable to lead the group to a consensus (leadership abilities), and not to mention, communication skills and soft skills.


After the GD comes a Personal Interview. Now, that’s what I call a leveled playing field where an applicant has the freedom to bring the ball to his court and get to speak on areas where he is most comfortable. Generally, a PI will begin with your introduction, typical HR questions like why do you want to join our organization’,’ what are your strengths and weaknesses’ etc. You are, almost every time, asked to walk through your resume, so mentioning anything in the resume without having concrete knowledge may prove to be detrimental. In most situations, we are asked something which we have no clue of but at the same time, we are expected to know. In such situations, my typical approach has always been “Sir, I am not very sure on the answer but if I am allowed to make a guess out of my level of understanding and intuition to some extent, then I believe that given the recessionary trend re-emerging in the developed nations, and India’s resiliency as proved during the sub-prime crisis, the effect would be minimal, since our national growth has a greater dependence to the domestic demand when compared to foreign demand…. and so on.” A real life example of my campus recruitment process, where I was facing the interview panel who were from the top-management of the organization, essentially a hedge-fund, and with me, the other interviewees were people having diverse work-experience prior to joining MBA, with additional degrees like CFA & FRM, I knew for sure that it’s going to be a tough fight and I was happy that I was able to make it to the interview. I used to be interested in the technical analysis of stocks and all, so I was expecting at least one question on that front, but sadly it didn’t happen the same way. However, I was asked that if I had a sum of 100 Million, and I were to allocate among various investment avenues, what would be my allocation, and there, I knew I can speak on and on till I was stopped. So I began with the crude percentage allocation across stocks, term deposits, and commodities like gold, silver and copper, and began explaining the technicalities in the price movements and the interdependencies such that each asset class would provide a hedge against the others in some way or the other. I kept on speaking till I was asked to stop, hilarious. After joining this job profile, and during a course of interaction with my interview panelist, who happened to be the Associate Director heading my team, upon my inquisitiveness to know the premise on which he selected me for the job and my performance, he told me that generally, during the recruitment process, they look for candidates who have the following qualities:


-          Have a strong and clear vision, why are you applying for the job and whether this will lead you towards accomplishment of your long term career aspirations

-          Strong knowledge of the basics of what you are studying, as for e.g., for a finance profile, knowing basics like accounting principles, journal entries, capital budgeting techniques, definition and types of derivatives etc. would prove to be handy. From a marketing interview, 4P’s of marketing must be known and Please, Please, Please & Please won’t be of any help. During the induction process of any organization, the new recruits are generally trained on the business processes, and the knowledge of the basic managerial concepts would be the building blocks.

-          Seriousness about what you have been doing since you’ve joined your course, as, if you are not serious about your course, then you can’t be expected to be serious about the next step, the job which I would be offering you.


Of course, a good academic record, good projects and credible past employment history always comes in handy. However, don’t ever attempt to answer something you are not aware of, as the questions are asked to test your knowledge so it is a known fact that the interviewer knows the answer to the questions he has asked.


Coming to the crux of the article now, you may be thinking that these steps seem fairly easy to me. Success in an interview depends on the above few factors I have tried to outline, and reaching the interview is a function of the success in the GD, which will come from keeping abreast with the general happenings around you and clarity of thought, which comes from reading and interacting with your colleagues in fruitful discussions. Reaching the GD is a function of your performance in the written examination, which essentially tests you on your clarity of the subject and your basic skill-set. Getting selected for the written exam, as a matter of fact, depends on whether your resume meets the basic shortlisting criteria, your academic record and past work experience (if applicable, generally during campus recruitment, it is not a required factor but does carry a certain weightage). Good academic record will only come with two things, one, seriousness about what you are doing, and second, as my mentor always says, knowing or working upon knowing one’s purpose of life.


Get the first step right and you reach the solution to the problem, get the first step incorrect and the entire problem gets way too complicated. The choice is always yours, my friend!!!