Home College Life A response to “An Open Letter to India’s Graduating Classes”

A response to “An Open Letter to India’s Graduating Classes”


India Ink new york timesIndia Ink, the Indian blog at New York Times offers a good read. More often than not, it is delightfully the chicken soup for reader’s mind. Last week, Mohit Chandra, partner with KPMG, penned down his thoughts on fresh graduates and post graduates seeking job in the market. His views fell a bit hard on the ears of the excited students.

Here is a response to his points. I am quoting the points he has mentioned and the response are below them.

Dear Graduates and Post-Graduates,

This is your new employer. We are an Indian company, a bank, a consulting firm, a multinational corporation, a public sector utility and everything in between. We are the givers of your paycheck, of the brand name you covet, of the references you will rely on for years to come and of the training that will shape your professional path.

Millions of you have recently graduated or will graduate over the next few weeks. Many of you are probably feeling quite proud – you’ve landed your first job, discussions around salaries and job titles are over, and you’re ready to contribute.

So far, so good. He is just building the tempo. He has very well put into words the thoughts in minds of a student when he graduates, ready to conquer the world almost!

Life is good – except that it’s not. Not for us, your employers, at least. Most of your contributions will be substandard and lack ambition, frustrating and of limited productivity. We are gearing ourselves up for broken promises and unmet expectations. Sorry to be the messenger of bad news.

And here we go! According to the letter, the employers face a harder time than the job seekers. This might be true as I recall very well from my own experience; a company who had come to recruit COE students in our college went back so frustrated and they said “Do you actually claim to be engineering graduates? That too COE!!!” Sorry employers, but frankly, our graduation subjects was not exactly a great learning experience. The best colleges have quite old syllabi, old teachers who are least interested in teaching and young students, who are least interested in studying. So there lies your problem. The graduation/pg studies do not prepare us for the market, rather just tests us enough to hand over a degree.

Today, we regret to inform you that you are spoiled. You are spoiled by the “India growth story”; by an illusion that the Indian education system is capable of producing the talent that we, your companies, most crave; by the imbalance of demand and supply for real talent; by the deceleration of economic growth in the mature West; and by the law of large numbers in India, which creates pockets of highly skilled people who are justly feted but ultimately make up less than 10 percent of all of you.

The “India Growth Story” is definitely not a myth. And we know better than anyone else that Indian market has a huge huge scope. Indian Education system is very well capable of producing talents. But of course, talent isn’t something you get delivered at your doorstep. The “talents” do not join any and every company. Mostly, they prefer not to join traditionally-considered-to-be-good companies. They rather join places where they feel their “talent” will be given independence to work. The lesser mortals, who are not so well endowed with “talent” help the market to flow steadily. Every person has an important role to play in the machinery of the system.

An Open Letter to India's Graduating ClassesSo why this letter, and why should you read on? Well, because based on collective experience of hiring and developing young people like you over the years, some truths have become apparent. This is a guide for you and the 15- to 20-year-olds following in your footsteps – the next productive generation of our country. Read on to understand what your employers really want and how your ability to match these wants can enrich you professionally.

There are five key attributes employers typically seek and, in fact, will value more and more in the future. Unfortunately, these are often lacking in you and your colleagues.

Let us have a look at the 5 key attributes.

1.You speak and write English fluently: We know this is rarely the case. Even graduates from better-known institutions can be hard to understand.

Exhibit No. 1: Below is an actual excerpt from a résumé we received from a “highly qualified and educated” person. This is the applicant’s “objective statement:”

“To be a part of an organization wherein I could cherish my erudite dexterity to learn the nitigrities of consulting”

Huh? Anyone know what that means? We certainly don’t.

And in spoken English, the outcomes are no better. Whether it is a strong mother tongue influence, or a belief (mistakenly) that the faster one speaks the more mastery one has, there is much room for improvement. Well over half of the pre-screened résumés lack the English ability to effectively communicate in business.

So the onus, dear reader, is on you – to develop comprehensive English skills, both written and oral.

Here he has raised a good point. Though we keep debating about English and Hindi in India (Should English be India’s national language?), but the truth remains that you have to be good in this language to comfortably get a dream job. Some of my friends would say this is not true, but trust me, if you dont know good english, you better have some damn good talent to make up for it.

2. You are good at problem solving, thinking outside the box, seeking new ways of doing things: Hard to find. Too often, there is a tendency to simply wait for detailed instructions and then execute the tasks – not come up with creative suggestions or alternatives.

Exhibit No. 2: I was speaking with a colleague of mine who is a chartered accountant from Britain and a senior professional. I asked him why the pass percentage in the Indian chartered accountant exam was so low and why it was perceived as such a difficult exam.

Interestingly (and he hires dozens of Indian chartered accountants each year), his take is as follows: the Indian exam is no harder than the British exam. Both focus on the application of concepts, but since the Indian education system is so rote-memorization oriented, Indian students have a much more difficult time passing it than their British counterparts.

Problem-solving abilities, which are rarely taught in our schooling system, are understandably weak among India’s graduates, even though India is the home of the famous “jugadu,” the inveterate problem solver who uses what’s on hand to find a solution. Let’s translate this intrinsic ability to the workforce.

Now that’s a blow, coz its a bitter truth. The same people who pride in being “jugaadus” in their college life, suddenly become slaves to spoon feeding when they enter the professional world. But there is another bitter truth that your employers often want you to NOT think outside the box. Their motto is often “Do as much as you are told and stop being meddling”. Given such circumstances, you easily kill the creativity and talents of a n individual. So the workplace is as much responsible as the worker himself!

3. You ask questions, engage deeply and question hierarchy: How we wish!

Exhibit No. 3: Consistently, managers say that newly graduated hires are too passive, that they are order-takers and that they are too hesitant to ask questions. “Why can’t they pick up the phone and call when they do not understand something?” is a commonly asked question.
You are also unduly impressed by titles and perceived hierarchy. While there is a strong cultural bias of deference and subservience to titles in India, it is as much your responsibility as it is ours to challenge this view.

Like I said above, questioning is not something promoted by the organisation itself. Why shold someone challenge hierarchy if they know it is supposed to be suicidal?

4. You take responsibility for your career and for your learning and invest in new skills: Many of you feel that once you have got the requisite degree, you can go into cruise control. The desire to learn new tools and techniques and new sector knowledge disappears. And we are talking about you 25- to 30-year-olds – typically the age when inquisitiveness and hunger for knowledge in the workplace is at its peak.

Exhibit No. 4: Recently, our new hires were clamoring for training. Much effort went into creating a learning path, outlining specific courses (online, self-study) for each team. With much fanfare, an e-mail was sent to the entire team outlining the courses.

How many took the trainings? Less than 15 percent. How many actually read the e-mail? Less than 20 percent.

The desire to be spoon-fed, to be directed down a straight and narrow path with each career step neatly laid out, is leading you toward extinction, just like the dinosaurs. Your career starts and ends with you. Our role, as your employer, is to ensure you have the tools, resources and opportunities you need to be successful. The rest is up to you.

True and Untrue. Firstly, it is a fact that after the journey of enlightenment aka the education period of an average Indian is 18 to 20 years. After these laborious years, I doubt how many people would actually like to get back to a “learning environment” There is obviously a reason why college dropouts like Steve Jobs and rest like him were more inclined to learning things they liked – it was because they did not have to learn things they did not like!

5. You are professional and ethical: Everyone loves to be considered a professional. But when you exhibit behavior like job hopping every year, demanding double-digit pay increases for no increase in ability, accepting job offers and not appearing on the first day, taking one company’s offer letter to shop around to another company for more money — well, don’t expect to be treated like a professional.
Similarly, stretching yourself to work longer hours when needed, feeling vested in the success of your employer, being ethical about expense claims and leaves and vacation time are all part of being a consummate professional. Such behavior is not ingrained in new graduates, we have found, and has to be developed.

Job hopping definitely creates a bad impression. And here, the individual is to be blamed. But the employer should also consider why the step was taken. Many a times the step is calculated and necessary. Many of my batch mates who had been recruited a year back have already applied to different jobs and are ready to “switch”. Though the reasons vary from dumb ones like we did not get a good boss (if you cannot handle a bad boss for one year, you can actually never keep any job!) to actually genuine reasons like The work profile as promised has not been given and this particular profile does not suit me! (Well, I agree that if the job you do is not making you or your employer happy, and it is the employer’s fault that they have misled you, its good for both the parties that you switch.)

All in all, the author though has tried to convey a good message, but has put too much blame on the job seekers. I wonder how he was when he was a fresh graduate and out seeking for job!