August 26, 2010

Campus Recruitment as a B2B Exchange


Every year, corporates have to spend a significant amount of money and management time to visit engineering and business schools and select candidates for recruitment. Competition for talent is intense at the few, well-known and popular schools and corporates are not sure of being able to attract the good students. On the other hand, good candidates are available at a large number of lesser-known schools but the cost of reaching, evaluating and selecting them is very high. The Campus Recruitment Exchange (CRX) could be to a way to avoid the these horns of a dilemma.

The 12 Step Process

Conceptually, the CRX is nothing but a labour market, where students will sell themselves to the companies that bid the highest, or offer the best opportunities in terms of pay and job profiles. However restrictions are necessary so that the normal rules of campus recruitment, like single offers to each candidate and the sequence in which students are allowed to interact with a company ( “day 1” etc ) are followed. Without these restrictions the market will degenerate into a common job portal like naukri.com or timesjobs.com.  To avoid this, the following sequence of activities should be followed

  1. A company will register on the CRX through an authorised principal HR representative (HR manager) who in turn will introduce other authorised representatives (HR executives) into the CRX.
  2. Company HR reps will be responsible for creating various job profiles to be offered by the company -- each with its own job description and corresponding CTC. However these profiles will not be  visible until step 6.
  3. A college will register on the CRX through an authorised and duly validated faculty member who in turn will introduce the student members of the school placement team into the CRX.
  4. Students of the college will register and upload their CVs into the CRX. These CVs will be validated by the placement team of the college but will not be visible to companies until step 9.
  5. College placement team members will interact with company HR representatives until specific company ( say Company A ) agrees to consider specific school  ( say School T )
  6. Job profiles created by Company A will now be made available to placement team of School T.
  7. School T placement team will now make Company A profiles available to general students of School T.
    1. A Pre-Placement talk can be delivered on Skype and shown on a projected screen at School T
    2. HR reps of Company A can be available on chat  or on forums to answer FAQs about the company.
  8. Students of School T will decide whether they wish to apply for Company A or not -- this can be done through the CRX itself or even offline on school premises.
  9. Placement team of School T will select students from School T and make specific profiles visible to Company A. The date on which Company A gets access to the student profiles will depend on the discretion of the placement team of School T.
    1. It could so happen that Company X could access to shortlisted profiles of School T before Company A -- if School T believes that Company X is a better option than Company A. [ Company X gets a better “slot” than Company A]
    2. It could also happen that not all student profiles from School T may be made available to Company A. The decision will be based on match of profiles or on whether specific student has got one or more jobs as defined by placement rules of School T.
  10. Company A will create its own shortlist from the list of students provided by the campus team from School T. This could be based on a simple study of the data provided or could be through an online test. [ Identity of individual students participating in the online test will be validated by placement team of School T. If necessary a trusted third party could be used as well at additional cost]
    1. If necessary Company A can conduct Group Discussion on a standard teleconference bridge. [ Identity of individuals participating in the GD will be confirmed as in the previous step ] -- this is perhaps the weakest link in the process  because Company HR reps may not be able to identify individual speakers by voice but with some effort, for example two webcams placed in the GD room, this can be overcome as well to an extent.
  11. Final shortlisted candidates will be interviewed on Skype video. Multiple video interviews can be scheduled for the same candidate to address technical and HR concerns.
  12. Company A will inform School T of final selections and issue appointment letters through the CRX. School T placement team will remove selected candidates  from shortlists of any company that comes after Company A unless
    1. School T rules allow a student to get multiple offers
    2. There are special cases like “dream company”
This is a first cut outline that provides a high level view of the process. Details can be filled in if necessary.


The trust factor

Developing the software to create the CRX engine would not be difficult -- far more complex exchanges, typically B2B exchanges,  have been created in the past but to make it work one would need :
  1. Market players who will have to inject the appropriate amount of liquidity into the exchange. This means that
    1. There should be a minimum number of recruiting companies (“buyers”)  who together will offer a certain number of job vacancies, and in parallel
    2. There should be minimum number of schools (“sellers”) who will put up a significant number of students who are available for recruitment
  2. A trusted, neutral market operator -- like a Stock Exchange or Commodity Exchange -- who will ensure that market rules are followed.
It is possible there could be some behind-the-back or below-the-table activities. Some students may directly approach companies of their choice bypassing the CRX

However if most companies and schools participate honestly -- as in the case of the regular campus recruitment -- then that should not be viewed as a major problem. The benefits accrued in terms of time and cost savings would more than compensate for the cost of aberrant behaviour exhibited by a small number of players.

While getting a neutral market operator may not be too difficult to get -- in fact, some of the existing job portals may be more than willing to play the role, earning the trust of a certain number of market players who will be willing to adapt to this new way of doing things may be more difficult. The real challenge would be to sell this idea to some big, anchor companies who would be willing to try out this new way of reaching an otherwise difficult market.

August 10, 2010

Delinking Placements from Education


People should go to college for education, to learn,  but the unfortunate fact is that they do so for getting jobs. The net result of this situation is that colleges and universities in general and b-schools in particular continue to be obsessed with placements. Potential students, and those who 'honestly' advise them, and this includes the media, both print and digital, have a religious faith in the holiness of the placement data -- percentage placed and the quantum of solace offered -- and this data has a very high weightage in the rankings that are published every now and then.

Curiously enough, the companies that hire graduates are less enthused with with placement data -- in fact they view this data with wariness and weariness because the better these are, the more they must pay and less sure they are of being ensured of a recruit. Nevertheless they do look at these rankings for the simple reason that the 'best' students would, probabilistically speaking, go to the 'top ranking' colleges, and so the probability of the recruitment team picking up a dud lemon is relatively less. As they used to say in the past, "No one was ever fired for buying from IBM" so is the case now that "No one can be faulted for recruiting from IIM".

Totally lost in all this complication is the fact that most colleges hardly teach anything of value nor are the students terribly interested in learning anything. They have come for a job and if they must tolerate two to four years of misery they would rather grin and bear it if there is a job at the end.

Which is a truly sorry state of affairs and this why despite having the "third largest scientific and technical manpower pool in the world" there is nothing substantial that comes out of our scientists and engineers and despite having a huge pool, or ocean, of computer programmers we cannot come out with any significant software product that is a best-seller even in our own country. All we have is ill trained 'engineers' desperate to cut code in software companies that pretend to be consultancy organisations and smart-ass MBAs who believe that presentations and spreadsheets are all that is required to run a business.

Can this change ? It could if we would muster the courage to shut down all placement cells in all colleges and remove all placement data from college rankings.

But would that not be insane ? It might seem so but it need not be. Robert Pirsig in his quasi-autobiographical book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about which I have written in my earlier post has explored a very similar idea as a part of his inquiry into the metaphysics of Quality. Pirsig, or rather his alter ego Phaedrus was a teacher of English composition and in his quest to improve the quality of work that his students produced came to the conclusion that grades or marks should be removed and then, and only then, will true quality emerge !

Obviously this was challenged by everyone. "Of course, you cannot eliminate the degree and the grade. After all that is what we are here for" said a student, who represented the general body. She spoke the complete truth  because the idea that a the majority of students attend the university for an education independent of the degree and grades is a little hypocrisy that no one wants to expose. [ ZAMM, Part 3, Chapter 16 ]

In the section quoted above, if we were to replace degree and grade with placement, the statement would very accurately reflect the situation that we are referring to in this post !

It would be futile for me to go through the entire logic that Phaedrus, nee Pirsig, used to justify his stance on the irrelevence of grades to education -- the reader may just as well read the chapter in its original but there are two things that we should remember here : (a) Phaedrus was fired from his job, declared insane, was given electro-shock therapy to make him forget his ideas ... BUT recovered enough to write the book which went on to become one of the greatest best sellers of the last century and earned him an iconic cult status all across the world ! and (b) Phaedrus conducted an experiment with one class where he withheld grades from the students for one whole semester and observed their behaviour, that is described in detail in the book. What is interesting is that when he polled his students BEFORE  eventually revealing the grades,  about the value or utility of this approach -- the majority of the top students, who eventually got A, favoured the system. The middle guys, B and C grades, were equally split and the worst students, those who got D and F, were vehemently opposed to the system. Which is paradoxical and contra-intuitive ! You would think that if the grade was all that really mattered then those who got A will value the grade more than those who got an F !

Phaedrus' hypothesis was that grades are inconsistent with, or at least not correlated to the quality of a students work. My hypothesis here is that placements are inconsistent with, or at least not corelated to the quality of education offered in a school or college.

In fact my personal and professional experience with CAT and JEE scores is that under the malignant influence of coaching classes these scores have lost all relevence as indicators of academic merit. In fact, some of the high scorers in the JEE can barely pass their semester exams while some of the students with high CAT scores are generally the bottom of the class. In  another post,  I have suggested an alternative approach but that is a different matter altogether. What this lack of correlation -- between CAT scores and actual ability  -- means is that the vicious nexus between "best students" going to the "best ranked" schools that ensure "best placements" can be broken once and for all.

If the really good students do not care about placements ( just as the Pirsig's good students did not care for their grades) then they will not be motivated to follow the placement-based rankings. Colleges will be under no pressure to hard-sell their students, improve their placement data and use the same to get the so called best students. Recruiting companies will feel no competitive compulsion to select students from this so called best-ranked schools. The entire artificial edifice of a placement driven education will, or should, crumble.

In a sense, the artificial and unnecessary "stress" induced in the system will, to borrow a phrase from a long forgotten subject called metallurgy, will be get relieved by a natural process of annealing and colleges will go back to doing what they were initially expected to do : provide good education through a model that encourages creativity and research.

August 08, 2010

ZAMM and the Spirit of Vedanta



Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM) by Robert M Pirsig is an iconic book on philosophy that has developed a cult following since its publication in the late 1970s. It talks about a man who travels across North America with his son ( see picture above ) on a motorcyle and the description of his journey is interspersed with his discourse on philosophy. I was in high school at that time and did try to read it but failed to get past the first 30 pages. Today, nearly 30 years later, I finally managed to finish it and believe me ( unless you have read it already ) it is well worth the two weeks that I spent with it.

ZAMM is an exploration of that elusive 'thing' or 'animal' called Quality whose presence, or lack of, is easily evident but a definition of which is nearly impossible. In his metaphysical inquiry into Quality, ZAMM shows that it lies not in Art nor in Science but somewhere in between, neither in matter, nor in the mind but again somewhere in between and finally, not in the subject nor in the object but again somewhere in between. ZAMM misses the horns of the dilemma and drives  into the bulls eye when he identifies Quality as the third entity in the holy trinity of  Subjectivity ( as in art and intuition ) and Objectivity ( as in science and analysis ).

Having been brought up in the tradition of the perennial philosophy of Vedanta, it is easy for me to relate to the philosophy of ZAMM. After all in the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the word Shiva or Shivam can be directly translated as Good or by extension Quality. This is all the more evident in the title of the Raj Kapoor film Satyam Shivam Sundaram -- which can be translated as the True, the Good, and the Beautiful ( and not as erroneously translated in the wikipedia articleon the same ).

But ZAMM comes closer to the Vedantic worldview when it claims that Quality is the primordial entity from which emerges the other two -- the subject and the object. In this observation, ZAMM states that Quality is shapeless, formless and indescribable and this is but an echo of the Vedanta's description of the Brahman -- that which is without form, without shape and that which cannot be described except in terms of negations. And from Brahman emerges, as its first differential, the Purusha and the Prakriti -- the subject and the object, the seer and the seen ! The coincidence is not unlikely because the author did spend time at the Benaras Hindu University learning Vedanta but somehow could not reconcile himself totally with the idea of the world being an illusion or error, that is Maya.

ZAMM has been criticised for purveying pop philosophy and for being anti-science but I like it because it agrees with my own, personal view of a world whose laws cannot be arrived, not by analytical logic, but by mystical intuition. The only personality, and idea, whose absence in this book is really surprising is Godel and his Theorem of Incompleteness.

Net-net, a book worth buying, keeping and referring to every now and then.

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