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Five Questions for an Incoming MBA Student: Dr Rajesh K Pillania

Harvard Business School has reported the lowest job placement rates in over five years, with only 86% of recent MBA graduates securing offers, signaling a broader trend of reduced hiring (The Economic Times, 2024)

EPN Desk11 April 2024 07:53

Image: Dr Rajesh K Pillania

Image: Dr Rajesh K Pillania

Harvard Business School has reported the lowest job placement rates in over five years, with only 86% of recent MBA graduates securing offers, signaling a broader trend of reduced hiring (The Economic Times, 2024). 
This year is turning out to be one of the most difficult ever for placements at the top IIMs of Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Lucknow, Indore and Kozhikode, officials and students across institutes told The Economic Times ( Verma and Basu, 2024).

These are only two of the many news items about the placement challenges in business schools in India and abroad in 2024. How does an incoming MBA student look at these? What can he/she do about it?

The new academic session will start soon in the Indian business schools. Like every year, a couple of lakh students will join MBA programs in the business schools in India. The incoming students will come with their own set of assumptions, expectations, hopes and dreams. 

It is a reasonable assumption that many of these students will have this goal: Making a successful career in business management starting with a good placement from the business school after completing the course. How does the incoming MBA student ensure the achievement of this goal? An incoming MBA student needs to ask herself /himself five questions.

What are her/his assumptions about – the environment, her/his key competencies, and vision? 

i.e. what are his assumptions about the various dimensions of the environment such as industry, technology, government, society, and so on, which he/she needs to operate in; what are his/her assumptions about key competencies, including resources and skill set that he/she needs to navigate this environment; and what are his/her assumptions about what he/she aspires to be in near and distant future. This is what the great Peter Drucker, father of business management, suggests asking businesses to focus on in the Theory of Business (Drucker, 2017). And it is very relevant to incoming MBA students. Why? Because if our assumptions are wrong, everything else does not matter! It might be a worthy exercise to re-look not only at assumptions but also at various beliefs and possible biases the incoming MBA students might carry with them.

What value does he/she plan to add to the company/industry/society once he/she graduates from business school? 

Each individual is unique. Each needs to decide for himself or herself what he/she is good at and what value one can add, and how to improve upon it while in business school. Which knowledge to build upon? Which skill set to develop? What attitude to develop? Individuals and organisations need to add value. It is only through value addition that one can survive and create an impact in the long run. Anyone who knows how to add value will always be in demand and never short of placements or work.

How to have a happy campus life? 

The MBA life is full of challenges, and stress can be a big issue. An incoming student needs to figure out the possible challenges and how to deal with them. How to maintain a work-life balance? How do you also enjoy life and build great friendships and relationships while working hard on various things of campus life? For an incoming MBA student, it is important to know that the right model for hard work, success and happiness is to be happy first, then work hard, and one would be more successful as happy people are more productive and innovative. Ironically, many people focus too much on success and making money in their 20s and 30s and, unfortunately, break relationships or lose health or both and use the same money to regain health and relationships in their late 40s and 50s, which is not always possible.

How to contribute to a sustainable planet?

An incoming MBA student would already be somewhat aware of the need for a sustainable planet. He/she needs to figure out more about why we need sustainability, what recent developments have occurred, and how he/she can contribute to it. This is not only a social or ethical consideration but also a business case. Sustainability is already a big business opportunity and is going to be a much bigger one.

What impact does one want to create, or what legacy does one want to leave behind?

It is important to be happy and successful and to support sustainability. And so is thinking about and acting on what impact one wants to create or what legacy one wants to leave behind. Like the cumulative impact of investment, students need to start asking this question and its possible answers as soon as possible to be able to create a good impact and leave a legacy because life does not come with a guarantee card of its longevity. Any day can be the last day! Don’t wait for your last day or deathbed to think about the impact! Start now.


(The author is Professor of Strategy at Management Development Institute, Gurgaon. He is ranked jointly #1 in average research productivity in India, awarded top strategy professor in India, and popularly known as India’s Happiness Professor. His expertise is in making strategy, innovation, and happiness as simple, humorous, and applicable.)


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