Campus interviewing in engineering colleges in India has already begun for students who will graduate in summer of 2006. For those graduating in May 2005 the recruiting season is almost getting over. A broad spectrum of emotions can be observed among the various categories of students out there. The fourth year students should be eagerly looking forward to their first job interview. Many graduates are probably excited to join their first job. There are also the unfortunate few who are silently suffering in nervous tension as they watch the recruiting season wind up with no job offer in sight and final hurdle, the 8th semester exam results looms large before their eyes. For all three categories of students there is still a lot of work still to be done. In fact the journey has just begun. Here are some vital tips packed with information for each of these three categories that will hopefully enrich their decision making process.
The 7th semester students are obviously gaping in surprise. Companies interviewing 6th and 7th semester engineering students is not a common phenomena. It is a reflection of the much talked about “boom” that is now prevalent in the IT sector. Companies want raw talent and they intend to grab the best Computer Science, Electronics, and Electrical engineering students available in the academic market. While this is obviously good news, I would also like to point out two of the most common pitfalls related to aggressive college recruiting that students should be aware of; or rather beware of.
1. The first company that arrives on campus is not necessarily the best company for YOU.
Welcome to the era where the employee is the king. You are indeed lucky to be in undergrad college now. Job interview is the first step in a person’s maturing process. So here is the first lesson. Companies want people to do a specific job and they will recruit people who can do that job. However, consider this question -- Before making an offer, is it the responsibility of the company to make sure whether you like the job and whether the job will suit your career ambitions and talents? The answer is an emphatic No. Welcome to the big bad professional world. While, you -- as a resource are important to the company. You -- as a person may not be that important. It is your responsibility to find out the details of the job before accepting the offer. It is up to you to find out whether you will like the job or not. The company will recruit you if they feel you can do the job that they have open. They cannot know, do not have the time to know and they are least interested in knowing if the job will do justice to your talents.
The companies that usually attract fewer candidates from the lateral entry (people with prior work-experience) market are the ones who vie hard for the first few campus interview slots. The reason being, at the very beginning of the recruiting season when no one has a job offer in hand, everybody is anxious to get a job. This includes first rankers, gold medalist, whiz kids et. all. These students like all other students are also insecure and unaware of their potential in the job market. The common pitfall that happens here is that these students compete hard to somehow secure a job offer and commit themselves to a company that may not be their number one choice (they may not know this at that time). Furthermore, colleges forbid a student, with a job offer from attending any further campus interviews. Some colleges also force students to decide between applying to US universities and attending campus interview in his or her third year itself. Such colleges forbid teachers from giving students, with campus job offers, recommendation letters required for applying to US universities. Most or all colleges go one step further and limit the number of job offers a student can compete for - to just one. So in effect the moment you accept one job offer, your options are all closed. As to how this practice is allowed in a democratic country and a free world is beyond anybody’s imagination. However, as undemocratic as this may sound, this is the reality. So students should try and play by these rules and smartly attend the campus interviews of companies they are reasonably sure they want to join. There is no point in accepting a job offer regretting the decision once you see a better company arrive at the campus for interviews.
Solution: Asking the interviewer about the company and job profile is a good idea. If you find the interviewer to be someone who has been unwillingly dragged into this recruiting safari (something not uncommon) please talk to the accompanying HR representative and let them know that you are interested in knowing more about the kind of job you would be doing. Talking to industry professionals is also an excellent idea.
2. Know thyself and know thy wants, needs and limitations.
Knowing what a person wants in life is an outcome of intense introspection and research. The first job after graduation is often a vital factor in determining a person’s career direction and his professional happiness. For example -- if you work for one year in mainframes you will find that two years later you cannot move to a networking or embedded software related field. If nobody tells you I will - mainframe related jobs suck. Four years into working in mainframes kind of jobs you wont need anybody to tell you that the jobs sucks. You will sort of know :-) After that you can only tell college kids that your job is cool coz' nobody else will pay a lot of attention. So in effect your first job determines the next 6 to 8 years of your life. That such a huge decision is taken when a person has the least amount of professional maturity makes this decision all the more daunting and important. Self-discovery and identifying your talents & goals are easier said than done. Students who are just looking out for a big fat paycheck usually brush this important step aside.
The pitfall is that students in India usually define success or quality of job offer based on the salary package and brand of the company. These are the students who typically say “as long as I am getting paid a lot, I can keep typing characters into a keyboard.” The third year students and final year students, who already have a job offer, must understand this; nothing could be farther than the truth. Salary is the least important criteria for a person attending campus interviews. Learn to refuse money now otherwise you wont have anything to refuse later. You will just take whatever comes your way. I am not suggesting you live life like a hermit or a sanyasi and say "money is maaya". No thats not it. Two to three years into a professional career when everybody is earning a lot, job satisfaction and positioning oneself for the future become top priorities. It is during these times that many people regret making decisions when the only two designations they knew in the software industry was Project Manager and CEO. There are intangible things like dignity, style, reputation and class that comes into play. Long-term benefits are extremely important and if money distracts you from that then money should become secondary. It is extremely common to see people ruing a decision they made at a time when they did not know the difference between Embedded Systems and Mainframes. Nobody then will remember that you were first dude to get a job offer. The happiest moment of your academic career, the campus job offer, later becomes the biggest mistake of your professional career.
Solution: The interviewer will always ask your area of interest during the interview. From my experiences visiting college campuses, I have often seen students blinking when asked this question. The whole career part of the interview is a black box to them. They ask "field.. what all fields are there?" When the students are unable to answer this question, I have often seen interviewers pencil in their own department’s name (which could be mainframes) as the student’s career interest. It is staggering to see such an important decision being made so casually. It is extremely important to know thyself and find your interests clearly and make a choice that justifies your engineering degree and intellect. Ask yourself “is this an engineering job or could anybody with a training certificate from a private software institute do this job?” and then decide. If you are intent on working in a specific technical field, taking a job offer from a product company (such as Microsoft, Oracle, Sun etc) is more reliable than a services company (TCS, Infosys, HCL etc). This is because the priorities and projects that a Services Company handles changes drastically from the time you were made the offer till the time you join the company. While you may have been promised a particular job profile at the time of the interview, you may find yourself assigned to a completely different field/department/planet on the day of joining. Usually services companies decide your job assignment 3 days after you join. Is it unprofessional? Yes! it is. But market forces are more powerful than professionalism. Money needs to be earned and that is more important than the stupid career aspirations of a whining campus recruit. If market dictates that your job assignment decision should be deferred until the last minute then that is what will happen. If it is your interest to gain the advantages that a services company offers, such as onsite/abroad opportunities etc, it is better to work in a product company for two years and then transition to a services company. This way you would have acquired reasonable professional maturity and insight to have your cake and eat it too. I may have Forrest Gumped my way into this path but I can also tell with reasonable authority that this algorithm works. Plus! Product companies have better reliability in job assignments. If you were told that you would be writing device drivers at the time of interviewing, chances are -- you will be doing just that in your first assignment. After two years, once you have garnered a reputation of being a ‘specialist’ in a particular technology there is no way a service company can wrongly assign you to an unwanted field. Always have these questions in mind – Is the job you are doing worth the time and effort spent on your degree? Is there some logical connection? If you are an engineer, are you really doing engineering? At the time of my graduation, I was not smart enough to ask these question on my own but people around me often wondered about such questions. I was at least smart enough to copy them.
To the last category of students who are still awaiting a job offer, your hope is not over yet. Many companies recruit fresh graduates outside of campus. You should network with software industry professionals and find out about walk-ins and other avenues where such recruitment happens. Planning for a post-graduate degree in India or abroad is an excellent recourse. However, joining a Call Center is not such a bright idea. Call Center experience are usually not looked upon favorably by technology companies (in fact it is looked down upon) and the unbearable working hours leave you with little time to prepare for competitive exams or search for other jobs.
In this boom era one can be reasonably confident of securing a job that matches one’s interest and liking. As the immortal saying goes, “We live in exciting times”. And since the sun is shining we might as well make some hay.