Last week I was at IIM Ahmedabad for my 20 year reunion. For two days and three nights we had non-stop fun reliving all the special memories from our times at IIM. Reunions, some say, can be quite a let down. Your classmates and you went down different walks of life, they’ll say, and you don’t quite have that connection anymore. Our reunion was, if possible, even better than the high expectations we came with. The reconnection was instant, as if no time had gone by. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.
During one of the few serious sessions on campus, we talked to some of the current PGPs and PGP Xs about careers and career choices. (PGP is the Post Graduate Program, which is the regular two year MBA. PGP X is a 12 month program akin to an Exec MBA). Given how bleak the job scene out there looks, and how concerned the students were, I thought I’d do a post for IIM A students graduating this year or the next.
First the bad news. The recession in the developed economies is not going away any time soon. Not this year, probably not even next year. Even when it comes back, it will be years before employment gets back to its peak before the recession. Asset prices may not regain their peaks for even longer.
Part b of the bad news is that India is not immune to what is happening in the western world. However, I remain optimistic about India. I think the size of its domestic market will cushion the downside. Growth rates may not get back to 9% in a rush, but then my graduating class didn’t see these growth rates for the first fifteen years of our careers and we did fine.
Finance jobs that accounted for most of the top quartile, will be the most impacted. [an earlier post]This includes Investment Banking, Asset Management, Private Equity, Research – not so much retail banking which will have a different trendline in India, I think.
In the US it is quite clear that landscape of Finance jobs has changed forever. Financial Services in the US went from accounting for 15% of all corporate profits to 30% in just 15 years. Even if its ‘true’ share is 20%, that means a massive deflation of the sector.
In India, the secular growth of the economy should mean that the capital markets should remain strong in job growth. However, even in India, there are some things that would have changed forever. The use of leverage, for instance, globally has undergone an overnight change to where you simply can’t amplify returns like you used to. That means there’s less available to pay the banker. FII capital flows will also take a long time to get back to their peaks. If asset prices are weak, finance jobs and compensation suffer.
That said, a finance job will always be the best paying job in the market. I can’t think of any other industry where a smart individual and a decent balance sheet can spin money like an investment banker can. There may be fewer jobs, but they will be the best ones. So if that’s what you want to do, go for it, but have a back up.
Oh, and one more thing. That bus that Lehman and a few other banks used to back up at the IIM gates to load them up for New York. Forget about it. Stick to India, that’s where the fortunes are going to be made. Build your networks in India because that’s what will help you be successful in your job as well as get a new one when you want it.
Well, that’s a big help, I hear you say. Finance covers about 2% of the graduating class this year. So if you are not in the lucky few who land a job in these sectors, what should you do? I won’t cover each industry individually, but here are a few guidelines:
- Pick companies with lots of staying power. Lot’s of cash or big consumer businesses, for example. If there was a time when big was beautiful, this is it. Shut your mind to the bureaucracy, the slow promotions, the mindless toiling in the basement before you get noticed or promoted. Be smart. Losing your job in a bad job market may not mean you go unemployed (the letters IIM still get the attention of recruiters). But you might lose control of the direction of your career.
- Pick companies with a history of hiring MBAs. If they have a management training program, that is a good sign. Think long-term. You want to get a solid grounding in the industry so that when the economy improves you have the skills to get ahead. If your employer is investing in you to train you, grab it with both hands. A management training program is also a good sign that the company will not ruin its reputation by not honoring an offer letter or doing a LIFO layoff.
- Don’t worry about getting locked into a sector. If you go into say FMCG, there is no reason why you can’t make a transition into any other sector when things turn around. These are unprecedented times and the old rules just don’t apply. In any case, a career is a long time and losing a year while shifting sectors (if indeed that happens) is just a blip in a long career. I know people who have done a second MBA or have sat for the Civil Services and then gone back to industry and have done phenomenally well.
- Don’t turn up your nose at sectors other than the usual top MBA employers. They may not pay as much to begin with and their interviewers may speak in accented English, but those industries will also grow with the rest of the economy and they will need your management skills more than the others. And don’t forget, the road to the top can be a lot easier if you are not competing with a bunch of high achievers from your batch.
But when all’s said and done, the biggest favour you can do to yourself is this – ignore my advice and follow your heart. For there is nothing worse than regretting a choice you made because it was the rational thing to do, not what you wanted to do. You are among the fortunate few that made it to IIM A. I don’t want this to go to your head, but there is no state of the economy where you will be left among the unemployed for any length of time. And take it from someone who has worked with MBAs from around the world – you are still the best.
Photo credit zimble thimble