Sanjay “Pojo” Guruprasad did his B.Tech in Engineering Physics from insti in 2008-12. LitSoc crazy and Apple obsessed with spurts of basky enthu, he thoroughly enjoyed insti and never missed an opportunity to talk about how Saras won the LitSoc 5 times in a row (see what he just did there?)
Campus placements are probably not the ideal way to find your dream job. In my opinion, you’re better of hunting down your dream job off campus or through internships. Or just starting up. Or working for a start up. But that’s my personal bias.
At the same time, since many great opportunities are presented on a platter on campus, there’s no harm in lining up some job offers. The idea I’m trying to push here is that placements are only a *useful option* and not the *only way* to get a job. Also, whether a job is “good” or not is highly subjective. Don’t fall for that brilliant sales pitch or go with the herd – let’s face it, corporates are evil and want just that :p
One of the best things internships and placements make you do is build your story. Why? The process of concocting a convincing story for why you’re awesome even though your GPA sucks and all you ever cared about was Robotics/Footer/Drams/<insert item> leads to something more. Finally you have the opportunity to pause and figure out who you are. You spend more and more time hunting for a pattern in your life so far and if you do it long enough, you might actually discover something about yourself that will shape your career and your life. Your LinkedIn summary is worth constantly updating – Who are you today? Where are you headed? Don’t just list your achievements – search for that pattern!
One of the reasons consulting jobs are so popular is because they sell you this exact dream. You get insights into so many different industries blah blah blah that you can figure out what you want to do later. That doesn’t mean you just go join McK/BCG and then figure out what next. You talk to your seniors and find out what consulting is actually about. If it becomes clear that consulting is an important step in the direction you are headed, then start practicing those cases.
You’ll have a lot of decisions ahead of you. Core vs Non-core. Large company vs startup. Job or app. How do you gain clarity on what to choose? Find out what people do everyday at these companies – this is a BIG one.
They help “price structured products”, they’ll say. What does that mean? It might mean hitting refresh on an excel sheet after plugging in some values and then emailing the result. Or it might mean developing your own models and using your deep understanding of markets to do exciting work.
They help “companies make important decisions”. What does that mean? It might mean interviewing a bunch of people, filling out a questionnaire and making presentations that no one cares about. Or it might mean helping a company figure out why nobody is buying their product in Kerala and coming up with an amazing fix that involved thinking out of the box. Which is it? Ask them for real stories and find out the exact role that individual played in the story.
If you want the real answers, you need to talk to a senior who’s worked at the company for 1-2 years. Seniors who’ve just graduated have barely worked a few months when they come back for placements. And you shouldn’t accept generic answers. Find out when they go in to work. How often have they travelled in the last two years. Their worst week at work. Their best week at work. Don’t ask them easy “good” questions and try to impress them. That won’t help at all.
Explore the multitude of options available to you off campus. LinkedIn places a lot of power in your hands. Find alums doing interesting things and talk to them. You have recent alums in every space – startups, the restaurant businesses, professional photography, teaching children, IAS officers, journalists – all you need to do is pick up the phone and talk to them. Some of my peers really understood this job game, clinched a “good” company at placements, then went out there and hunted down their dream jobs off campus. And there are so many interesting jobs out there. There are game companies like Zynga that hire English majors to design storylines/narratives for their games. There’s a startup out there making crores of revenue selling idli batter. There are so many non-tech roles in startups around you. Pick a company in the world and I bet you’ll find an alum there who’s excited to talk to you.
What about my own placement story? I didn’t do any of this off campus business unfortunately. I’d done an internship with Schlum and had a PPO, so things were pretty simple in my head. I have a “core” job, get a non-core offer on the table and then decide. But this was a pretty bad way to do things. I hadn’t even considered other options – startups for example. I probably rewrote my resume over a hundred times searching for what I really wanted to do, but I was unclear – this lead me to consulting. I was gunning for a consult, ended up in the final 5 and then got bumped, ran to the investment bank interviews that I’d been neglecting and got myself a job there instead. I didn’t know the first thing about finance. Everyone was congratulating us – fancy job with fat salaries. If you are interested in finance, it’s probably a great job. But I had no clue about finance and I told myself this would be a good way to find out if I liked it.
I then worked there for 15 months and was lucky enough to work at the commodities desk. It had a great team that gave me a lot of exposure – I got to spend 4 months in Singapore, and I learnt a lot about how big companies work and my ABCs in finance. This is the side of the story everyone talks about. But I’d also like to tell you that a lot of the work I did could’ve been done when I was still in 10th grade – pitch decks (PPTs), analytics and tracking (excel) and calling people. Still more number crunching. In the corporate world, everyone works for themselves. The whole setup is the binary opposite of the open culture I was used to in insti. But most importantly, I didn’t feel challenged at all. I longed to build something and ended up spending evenings coding. I started exploring what I really wanted to do and as it became increasingly clear, I quit, moved to Bangalore and got into the startup ecosystem here.
I looked back at everything I had done and found the truth almost shouting back at me. I had my own computer in the 4th grade. I was fascinated by LOGO (sigh, those were the days!). I was an EP student but I was doing courses in the CS department. I evangelised Apple like a religion. I convinced my Profs to let me do my BTP in the CS department. I was on codecademy whenever there was a lull in trading flow at work. Clearly I liked to build stuff with code. So I freelanced with my best friend from college. I worked at an iOT startup founded by two insti alums. And now I’m in the process of starting up myself.
Many of my friends love investment banking and have found their dream jobs. One of my best friends from insti has moved to Birmingham within two years and is on his way to becoming a hotshot trader. But many others are now “stuck” in finance – they like everything about it except their job. Same goes with many other jobs you get on campus. Get as many job offers as you can. But don’t take up any of them until you’re completely convinced you’ve explored every avenue and decided this is the best one.
People sometimes end up finding their story backwards. Instead of doing what they love on campus, they do things that build a story. And suddenly your story looks like its just full of achievements. Instead of looking like James Bond, you look like 50-Cent – lots of bling all over the place accompanied by a sheepish grin. Everyone falls prey to this at some point, to varying degrees.
As you build your resume, focus on your story. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, focus means saying no to a 100 good resume points. If you want to build the story of how you loved math all your life, then talk about how you could recite the value of pi to the 300th decimal place in middle school. On the other hand, if your story talks about someone who’s passionate about the environment, you’re probably better off leaving this point out since it only distracts.
I won’t go all idealistic on you and say don’t do anything to build your resume. Instead I’ll say this – don’t miss out on something you love because you’re lazy or you don’t see it’s “resume value”. And don’t do anything you don’t really care about just because it’ll give your resume some bling. Many people become “studs” at insti. Very few take this to the next level and become a “stud” in the real world too. My wingmate went from playing a tiny role in a hostel play in his first year, to acting in a Madras Players production in his final year. He also learnt to play the guitar in those 4 years. Now that’s a role model.
For juniors who have time on their hands, make use of your summers and winters. Go work at an NGO. Go work at a startup. Try writing an android app. Intern at a laboratory. Try teaching somewhere. Think you’ve found your dream job? Go visit a senior/friend who works there and shadow them for a day. You’d be surprised how different the story is when you see it unfold before your eyes. Use the safety net that the IIT brand brings you and try different things! Take a gap year and discover yourself. It isn’t socially accepted yet in India, but times are changing. Apply to random jobs on LinkedIn and talk to interesting people, learn what they do. That way, come placement season, you’ll know exactly what you’re walking into!
I finally conclude all this gyaan, but nothing I’ve told you so far will help you “hack” placements and “crack” that job. That’s a whole other story. But hopefully, as you sit through PPTs of company after company, you’ll evaluate them on things other than salaries. You’ll ask your seniors offline what they do on an average day. You’ll ask them where they see themselves in five years time. You’ll find out about that big mistake they made during their placements. You won’t be lazy. You’ll look for opportunities outside of placements. You’ll find a company that you love, one that really challenges and values you. You won’t waste time on a gen internship to earn two credits. You’ll find yourself as you write your resume. You’ll sit in on the plethora of interesting courses happening in insti, outside your department. You’ll go on stage and make a fool of yourself but come out ten times better. And if you do everything right, hopefully you’ll end up shaping the world we’ll be living in. From now on, you’ll spend half the time you are awake working. Might as well love what you’re doing, right?