A Story Untold: The PlaceComm Saga

In September 2020, the world witnessed a severe economic crisis as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown. Recruiters were indecisive, timelines were uncertain and panic was in the air. How did 13 placement coordinators ensure a successful placement season amidst the unprecedented situation ?

A Story Untold: The PlaceComm Saga

In September 2020, the world witnessed a severe economic crisis as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown. In the backdrop of this larger crisis, some of us were at that stage in our lives where we had to prove our mettle and kickstart our careers. To facilitate this, 13 students had taken it upon themselves to ensure that more students than ever secured jobs, and internships. Their responsibility was to fight against all odds to give us the best possible opportunity.

In the beginning, there was the SOP. Oh wait, there wasn’t.

The first massive challenge was in coming up with an entirely new set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), from the ground-up to account for a virtual internship and placement drive. COVID-19 had caught the world off guard.

In an offline semester, there are usually standard procedures followed to host the various companies that visit campus and engage them with regard to recruitments throughout the day. However, an online scenario upended all previously developed structures.

The unprecedented scenario that faced the team was to conduct online placements and internships in a manner that ensured crisp and clear communication with all stakeholders involved in the process, while also accounting for the limited manpower and technology capabilities.

The existing procedures had to be augmented to factor in the uncertainty arising from a virtual process. After much deliberation, and several iterations, the final process as it was conducted came to be. Whatsapp groups were formed to convey timely notifications and undercut the difficulties of virtual communication.

Additionally, several adaptations had to be made, in order to host multiple firms parallelly with as many as 29 panels ongoing for a single company at a given instance. For example, the database containing contact details of 2000+ students had to be updated by checking in with each student.

To be (online) or not to be ?

However, the online placement process was not all doom and gloom. It allowed the team to leverage the lack of logistical challenges such as accommodation. Despite COVID being an unfortunate truth, it did have a few rays of sunshine when it comes to recruitment.

For example, various cost cutting measures in recruitment adopted by companies that traditionally look for more experienced candidates were now inclined to recruit freshers from the IIT ecosystem. While many industries saw a decline in revenue due to COVID, there were some who capitalised on the opportunity and performed well. For example, SaaS businesses within the media and entertainment sector, OTT platforms, cloud services, etc. In turn, these sectors saw an increase in vacancies, which the placement team leveraged to increase the number of companies visiting campus.

On the flip side, a company makes a significant investment in an offline hiring process, both in terms of travel as well as time. This allows the coordinators to ensure that the company stays as long as possible to interview as many candidates as they can. In an online scenario, this advantage, unfortunately, was lost. Additionally, firms had plans to hire from multiple campuses at the same time, leading to decreased time investment.

If you believe that attending classes requires a substantial amount of screen time, try attending classes and regular meetings stretching into the early hours of the morning with reduced sleep time, only to have a repeat on the next day. That’s what an average day probably looked like, with extremes going up to 17 working hours a day. Furthermore, several coordinators had their own internships to prepare for, imposing additional constraints on their sleeping hours and workloads.

As a lot of you may have also experienced, home environments may not always be conducive to such a hectic workload hence, not providing a favourable work environment.

“But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep”

Before we go any further, it would be remiss if we didn’t mention the fact that several placement coordinators continued to work relentlessly despite severely taking ill. Just let that sink in.

There was no room for error. A single mistake would come at the cost of a student’s career and a family’s dream. With constant layoffs and bankruptcy around the world, the toughest nut to crack was convincing companies to recruit. Given the delayed timeline, the 7–8 month period of preparation was reduced to a mere 4 months. 9 people handling 30 companies in a single slot when each of them is a demanding entity would have been impossible to manage without additional support that was provided by former placement coordinators and department representatives who stepped in to ease any bottlenecks that arose.

We are very much aware that the word “uncertainty” has probably been used very liberally. But one cannot overstate the impact of the pandemic. Developing robust relationships with companies in order to onboard them as recruiters became of paramount importance. And even after onboarding them, several changes to recruitment procedures and department eligibility had to be negotiated, given budget constraints faced by the company.

In fact, one reason for restricting eligibility to certain departments was that expensive online proctoring solutions had to be deployed by companies which included video, audio and image capture functionalities. This software was charged per user per hour and the unit economics increased manifold in order to enable the full suite of features. This led to a cap on the number of eligible students for these tests.

And negotiating all of these changes to the optimal extent, led to additional sourcing, increased calls, resolving roadblocks, etc.

This being the larger context, students were also understandably anxious about their prospects. And placement coordinators had to be available around the clock in order to clarify any queries and provide support. In isolation, these tasks may just seem doable; Taken together, the task is almost herculean, as is evident by the fact that the only time to have meals is along with the team, over a meeting.

The Social Contract

Placements and internships constitute a critical timeline in any student’s life. However, it is important for both students as well as placement coordinators to be cognizant of each other’s obligations and workloads, in order to ensure clear communication:

  1. Many missteps can occur, (such as a student connecting to an unauthorised GD/PI) if a clear channel of communication is not maintained.
    On the same note, it is not appropriate to disburse unverified content with regard to placements and placement coordinators over confessions pages. While the frustration may be understandable, it is factually unverified when posted over Confessions pages. It has the ability to influence student opinion and induce panic, while maintaining anonymity.
    To this effect, it was not responsible of the administrators of these pages to publicise unverified content with the ability to generate rumours.
  2. In a virtual scenario, effective communication becomes a hurdle, even with all the steps taken to safeguard against this. Especially during the placement process, both students as well as placement coordinators must ensure open communication channels so that the students’ preferences and concerns are taken into account.
  3. Placement Coordinators are not aware of shortlisting and selection criteria. These are unique and up to the discretion of the respective companies. Asking them for this information is not of productive use, since internal hiring policies aren’t shared with a placement coordinator.
  4. Please do not use unfair means. This will only eventually result in a collective loss for all of us, since companies tend to spot these patterns, and hence will be disincentivized from visiting campus.
  5. Please check your spam folder thoroughly before contacting a representative. It is highly likely that certain emails are labelled as spam.
  6. Please keep in mind MFTP is not an official platform and the CDC notice board, which can be accessed through ERP, must be checked for accurate information.
  7. Placement coordinators often have to prioritise multiple parallel engagements in order to communicate with companies in an optimal manner. Please be mindful of this fact when expecting immediate response to queries.

Veritaserum: The Serum of Truth

However, none of this implies that the placement coordinators could make no mistake. There were several areas where processes and other factors could have been improved:

  1. It’s no mystery that everyone has quite a few queries when it comes to internships as well as placements. And a lot of them went unanswered by the coordinators due to the volume of the queries. Better response times would have instilled confidence and alleviated concerns of the students. Going forward, we hope that coordinators are more cognizant of the anxiety amongst the student community.
  2. This time around, interviews of a few candidates could not be conducted since too many candidates were shortlisted and the company had a limit of 8 hours to interview as many of them as possible. This is not an issue that is unique to the online semester, but like other elements, the virtual nature of the process has exacerbated it.
  3. There were several technical issues with regard to online tests with students being unable to log in, submit, access certain links, etc. If these were accounted for ahead of time, a greater proportion of students would have had a fair chance to prove their mettle.
  4. Given the extra load on academics due to a shorter semester, certain placement and internship tests were closely packed with regular classes allowing the students little time to breathe. Better scheduling of CDC-specific events could have improved the time pressure on students.
  5. It’s always difficult to anticipate accurate timings for interviews. However, in a virtual scenario, this situation is worsened due to lack of clear communication. The placement coordinators could have strategised better in order to ensure that all students receive live updates.

A lot of these problems could have been undercut if the strength of the placement team was increased to its usual numbers or higher, around 17 members. Department representatives could have also been involved in the process early on, say, during the internships, in order to ensure seamless execution.

Fruits of Labour

All the efforts of the placement committee would be unappreciated had the numbers not turned up. The well analysed statistics and strategic planning helped them turn predictions to reality. The first 2 days of the internship drive witnessed nearly 200 offers, giving the team a massive boost and instilling confidence in students with regard to the efforts of the placement committee. Since the internship drive brought about the shortcomings of the existing procedure to light, it was possible for the team to use this information to improve the placement process.

IIT KGP bagged the maximum number of offers across all IITs crossing 1000 offers by Day 8 despite the fact that companies do not factor in the student population of a college in its hiring decisions.

Every year, the placement team adds a percentage of new recruiters to improve the placement season. This time around, 25% of the companies in the first 4 days were new recruiters to IIT KGP, thanks to aggressive outreach from the coordinators.

This is not to induce a sense of complacency in how far we’ve come but is instead a recognition of a milestone we have achieved during a global pandemic. Going forward, we hope to see these numbers swell up as more of the KGP family kick start their careers.

In an Alternate Universe

A significant amount of manpower, resources, time and other factors were simply drained by the virtual mode of communication, which led to increased working hours.

The scenario in an offline environment would be vastly different, given the proximity of team members, the immediate support available and the encouragement from peers in working together.

One more interesting thing to consider could be the development of a hybrid model of both on-campus as well as online recruitment process in a post-COVID scenario, in order to increase our reach

Hopefully, the proverbial veil has now been lifted;

We feel that an attempt to shed light on the other side of the CDC process has been long overdue.The next team of placement coordinators which is currently in the process of being formed will certainly benefit from the labours and the able guidance of the current team. We, at the Technology Students’ Gymkhana wish them the best of luck and convey a heartfelt vote of thanks to the current team, for taking out the time to walk us through their journey as well as all their efforts!

As of date, nearly 1300 students have been placed and 600 students have received internship offers through CDC.