IIT Bombay successfully concluded the placements of 2020-21 in virtual mode. This was a year fraught with unique and difficult challenges for all involved. While the grievances of the students have been documented, Insight got in touch with the Placement and Training Cell (PT Cell) of IIT Bombay, the body responsible for the complete execution of internships and placements, for their take on the proceedings.
Q1. Congratulations on successfully completing the placement season! What were some of the challenges (in terms of logistical or administrative constraints) that the PT Cell faced while conducting placements virtually from :
- The students’ side
- The recruiters’ side
- The institute’s side
How did you overcome these challenges?
A. The students’ side:
i. Since students were not present on campus, which hampered the usual mode of communication through in person interaction. Team dynamics and transparency were also affected due to the lack of visibility of any and every part of the placement process taking place on campus. This led to higher anxiety which hampered students’ preparation and consumed the team’s time to handle various queries and concerns solely due to anxiety.
ii. There were multiple issues faced due to the crunched academic timeline pertaining to resume deadline, resume verification (due to course re-tagging timeline).
iii. We had complaints from multiple recruiters regarding evidence of malpractices in tests from the students’ side which led to serious repercussions (hampering the relations with the placement cell, affecting the recruitment numbers on campus as well) and some companies had even planned to back out from the process.
iv. We received feedback from multiple companies and alumni in the respective firms citing poor performance of students in tests and interviews by the students as compared to other IITs. This led to a decrease in the shortlist size as well as final selections.
v. Students tend to apply to companies regardless of their interest and without proper thought. This led to a lot of shortlists with common students in them. Many such students get placed in the initial days and this automatically exhausts some of the remaining shortlists which previously included them. After that it becomes difficult to negotiate an alternate shortlist with the company in a limited timeframe.
B. The recruiters’ side:
The issues mainly arose due to the unforeseen pandemic and were broadly related to:
i. Delayed decision making: Companies could not straight away let us know of their status for recruitment due to the uncertainty by the pandemic. There were also some companies that had decided to participate in the process and had filled the JAF but had to back out due to a change in management’s decision.
ii. No/Fewer vacancies: A lot of the existing regular recruiters had denied coming for placements due to being affected by the pandemic resulting in either no vacancies or a hiring freeze. The new recruiters that were targeted had similarly denied campus placements as well.
iii. Less flexibility: Companies were also much less flexible to negotiable things like increase in salary (due to a cash crunch), less strict eligibility and opening for additional departments. Some companies were pessimistic about expanding the campuses they wanted to visit (not willing to explore new campuses) and hence could not be converted for campus placements.
iv. Logistical Issues: Due to the online nature of the process, certain things had to be done virtually for the first time. This resulted in the following issues:
- Little to no scope of a retest by a company in case some students faced internet issues. It required a lot of negotiation and convincing whenever re-tests were conducted.
- In an offline test, queries are resolved by either the company officials or the 3rd party vendor who conducts the test on behalf of the company and requires little effort by the placement team. This was extremely different for this year as the placement team had to be very actively involved in resolving the issues during tests which resulted in a much more increased workload as the team was already busy with the scheduling of tests along with contacting firms for placements.
- Company officials were not accommodating requests as they would normally since their stakes and resource investment had decreased considerably.
- This was also seen through a difficulty in conducting walk-ins for companies even if they would typically have higher vacancies.
C. The Institute’s side
The issues faced from the institute’s end were related to:
The institute timeline released in July was not compatible with the placement timeline followed every year (end-sems ending on 4th December) and approved by AIPC this year as well. The Placement Cell was not involved in the discussion and decision-making process of finalising the academic timeline and the placements were an afterthought once the timeline was fixed. The administration had asked the placement cell to delay phase 1 of placements which was not done due to the same being a competitive activity (other G-1 IITs were starting from December 1). The issue regarding the timeline was brought to the notice of the administration and the student representatives. Although the academic calendar was changed by late October (end-sems ending on 29th November), our request of ending end-sems at least a week prior to placements to make room for company tests and preparation was denied and termed untenable. A week gap was essential as there are companies that are dynamically converted late, while some prefer to have their tests during late November. The issue was brought to the notice of the student representatives along with Insight. Unfortunately, we were not able to garner enough support and the administration decided not to change the timeline which led to tests occurring during the end semester examinations and loss of opportunities as we couldn’t offer some companies any test slot.
ii. CPI updation issue:
Every year, ASC provides us with the data for updated CPIs for M.Tech students after the grades for their MTP stage 1 comes out. This year there was a major miscommunication between the ASC and academic section over a PGPC ruling that did not allow them to update the CPIs after the MTP stage 1, so ASC took a lot of time to provide us with the necessary data. We had to work to resolve this conflict, during the end of November, at the peak of work, when the students were under the impression that it was the responsibility of the placement cell to update their CPI and were stressed out.
Q2. PCAT issues :-
A) What is your take on how the PCAT was managed?
Historically, PCAT has been conducted offline using the SEB and institute’s infrastructure. Since it is an Institute-wide exam, PT Cell is not the sole stakeholder, there is heavy involvement of the institute professors. Hence, there were certain norms that needed to be adhered to. Due to the online nature of the semester, we realised it would be a challenge to conduct PCAT. The vendor was selected jointly with the administration responsible for PCAT in accordance with the budget set by the DD-FEA. Institute has classified the Placement Cell as a non-academic cost centre. This means that all the costs borne by the cell need to be generated through its own revenues.
B) Some tests were even held during endsems. Was there any workaround?
This was not due to PCAT but due to the academic timeline set by the institute (as explained in the answer to Q1 part C(i)). PCAT is meant to majorly reduce the number of tests that occur during the placement season day 4 onwards.
C) The first PCAT did not go smoothly at all, so what was done to improve this?
The problem was identified and turned out to be a server side issue from the vendor. It was resolved immediately and again a small scale testing was done which led to no issues.
Q3. Company authentication
A) Kindly explain the background check procedure to prevent suspicious companies from being part of the placement procedure.
In the case of relatively unknown companies or recent companies, we take into account alumni reviews, association with any other university recruitment process and past relations to get a sense of the company’s background. The JAF floated by the company is also verified by the executive officers.
B) There were such concerns about a particular company due to their rather makeshift website coupled with the unrealistic incentives offered by them.
The company has been registered under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. We also took reviews from an alumnus working in that company which weren’t indicative of fraud and hence there were no red flags. The above-mentioned factors lend credibility to the company. We would also like to highlight that the company participated in placements at IIT Delhi and Madras and recruited multiple students. We consulted with their placement cells and they had decided to move ahead with the company participating in the placement process.
We have to proceed very carefully before we raise any allegations towards any company as it might lead to permanent disruption of relations with the firm if the allegations are not backed by actual facts and turn out to be false. This is important as a subjective judgement over a company ultimately affects the students through job loss.
Q4. Regarding the composition of the PT Cell
A) Why is there very little professional involvement in the PT Cell?
A few advantages of having full-time professionals are better negotiation with companies, better continuity (which is hindered otherwise because an entirely new team is formed every year) and no conflict of interest (PMs have to focus on their own placements and it is only natural that there will be a compromise) which can help further increase the output.
There is an inherent conflict of interest with having such recruitment agencies and it would lead to more problems than the benefits that have been pointed out above. This is considering the fact that student involvement and perspective is absolutely necessary for the placement process, as an outsider cannot understand the culture of the institute along with the problems that students would be facing during the season. The absence of student interest safeguard, as well as a focus on a higher number of jobs regardless of the quality and a preference/bias towards certain firms over others, are some of the problems that would get ingrained in the placement process. This is also seen in private institutes which have a placement office structure similar to that of a job agency. Due to these reasons, such a structure is not present in any of the G-1 IITs. We do agree that having some individual professionals in the placement team is beneficial. We currently have a team of 4 placement staff (1 Training and Placement Officer, 1 Executive Officer, 2 Junior Assistants) who cater to the need of maintaining continuity. Last year, 1 of the 2 executive officers moved to join the placement staff at IIM Ahmedabad. The placement office has issued a circular through the institute regarding the vacancy but has not been able to fill the position yet.
B) Why aren’t more 4th year DD students actively promoted to PM, or at least allowed to apply for the post? This was done last year but not this time. Why so?
Firstly, the way the placement cell has been functioning, stakeholdership is one of the essential elements that come into play in most of the PoRs in the placement cell. Due to the demanding nature of the work that needs to be put in every day and the high stakes involved, it is essential that a person remains actively involved throughout the tenure. The following also holds true for most of the other IITs who have Placement Managers as final year students. Secondly, another important aspect that might be difficult to perceive for students is team dynamics. Considering that the Placement Manager team on average has to put in ~7-8 hours of teamwork every day alongside the individual effort that is needed, it is absolutely essential that the team functions in a smooth way otherwise it might lead to delayed decision making and poor team management. Having a person who would not be sitting for placements inherently creates unrealistic expectations which lead to issues later on hampering the functioning of the Placement Managers team. Through past experiences, it has been seen that placement managers who obtain PPO in the earlier months tend to get overburdened in the tenure which leads to instances of hampering the team working. While we do see the benefits of having dual degree students as Placement Managers, we are looking at a way to mitigate the existing problems so they can be offered to apply for further placement seasons.
Q5. Lack of flexibility
One of the major issues with the campus placement and internship model is that if students accept whichever offer they receive first, they cannot sit for more interviews after that. This causes a lot of insecurity and students end up forgoing a lot of opportunities just to secure the job in hand. Many major universities in India and abroad allow students to sit for multiple interviews even after receiving offers, which gives students greater flexibility. How can this situation be improved?
Allowing a student to avail multiple offers across the placement season would result in multiple job losses. Currently, the placement opportunities that exist are not enough to cater to all the students, hence empowering a select few over providing a chance to all students cannot be done in an institute level policy. Moreover, this would hamper our relations with companies where positions would go vacant even after hiring students from our institute (if multiple offers are allowed) and they might decide not to participate from the institute for subsequent placement seasons. The students are not completely aware of such consequences and hence do not understand the gravity of such issues. We, however, do understand the importance of providing flexibility and maintaining a balance with the consequences stated above. Therefore, students are provided with an option to give their preferences for the companies they are interviewing in, in a given slot. Moreover, there is a provision of a second job policy. Please refer to 4.1.d. of the placement policy. We do not have a dedicated 2nd job policy for internships due to the difference in the number of opportunities that exist for internships in the market compared to placements. Companies are also less flexible for internships regarding such policies. We do offer students flexibility with respect to doing an internship in a corporate firm vs under a professor with the provisions (3rd and 4th point under “RULES FOR SIGNING IAFs”) in Internship Policy.
(Under Important Links on the right-hand side you may find the Placement Policy 2020-21)
Q6. Transparency of shortlists
We received a complaint that the name of a student who was included in the shortlist of a company was not present in the shortlist released by the PT Cell. This was an honest mistake, but a very costly one nonetheless. How can the PT Cell ensure the transparency of shortlists to prevent such cases?
As can be verified from the placement blog, there is a very high number of shortlists which are released by the recruiters during placements. The shortlists which are released by the recruiters also come with various requests for filtering which are implemented by the placement cell and then made available to the students. The recruiters also have the option to check the list of unplaced students (who applied for their JAF) as the same is dynamically updated in the placements portal. All the shortlists are posted on the placement blog publicly as soon as received and not mailed personally to shortlisted candidates to maintain complete transparency in the placement process. This year as we had developed a new placement portal, we have included the option for companies to directly shortlist the students from the portal or upload the same on the portal so any human error can be minimised.
Q7. Accountability Measures
A) Why are PMs not mandated to organize Open Houses despite them playing a crucial role in students’ institute lives? Student feedback should go a long way in shaping the policies of the PT Cell.
Placement Managers are not elected by the general student body, unlike the general secretaries. These are the executive positions offered based on selections (this year by a committee of Professors; earlier by the PIC Placements). PMs are answerable only to the registered clientele of the Placement Office, such as students and companies registered for placements; and not the general public. Taking this into account we have multiple channels for communication for the students consisting of DPCs (which are elected by the students rather than a selection process), PMs and finally the PIC in case of any confidential or unresolved grievance. Regarding student feedback, the placement cell is always open to suggestions and feedback from the students that would benefit the overall placement process and students can approach the Placement Managers or PIC for the same or communicate their suggestions to the respective DPCs/ICs. The above-mentioned process is better suited to the nature of the placement/internship process as a lot of queries/issues are confidential in nature and hence are resolved in personal capacities and cannot be disclosed to the entire student community in an impromptu manner.
B) What is the role of the Placement Observation Committee?
The placement observation committee set up in 2019 was an ad-hoc committee formed to resolve a few specific issues (Academic clash and issues related to PPTs by the companies). The committee was dissolved once the agenda was resolved.