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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Why and how to do MBA?

Rancho, the hero of 3 Idiots, says to the heroine 'Your prospective bridegroom is a fool. He did Engineering, then MBA and now he is working for a Bank. If he had to work for Bank, why did he do Engineering?'. Is Rancho right in his criticism?

Let us delve deeper to understand the two forces at work that has made the above possible: Demand of MBA skill set and pipeline of graduates that feeds the demand.

Demand of MBA skill set has been growing

Demand of MBA skill set has been growing because the 2-year course in MBA produced three speciality skills ( especially in India) : Finance,Marketing and HR that were required by growing private sector companies.

The boom of investment banking (increasing mergers, share market access, and disintermediation of funds) specifically fuelled the need of finance skill sets. Even though courses like CFA have sprung up to meet the demand gap, the organisational 'angle' of MBA still make MBA the favourites. If you observe the salaries offered at MBA Campuses, you will still find 'Finance' hogs the limelight. Sales and Marketing jobs in companies today are still filled mainly by these MBA's. Personnel jobs, inside India, are still filled by HR MBA's.

It is a myth that MBA course is meant to develop the skill of 'Management' ( Managing people and business operations). As Management is a 'doing skill-set', short courses of Executive MBA are more suitable to develop this skill-set than the 2- year full time course of MBA.

Options for graduates ( the pipeline doing MBA ) are shrinking

While the demand for MBA skill set has been growing, the options for graduates - the pipeline that supplies graduates to MBA course for post graduation - have been shrinking.

On the one hand, the jobs for graduates have been shrinking because companies can afford to get post graduates at the same price. Company prefers to give a job to MSc instead of BSc, if it has choice. Jobs for graduates are also not growing at the same pace. For instance, while Engineering graduates have increased in number ( Every year more than 2.5 lakhs graduate as Engineers in India), jobs for technology skills have not kept pace with this number. Therefore, for average graduates, option of MBA has been a ticket for a safe job. Why should graduates not prefer to do MBA?

Rancho will ask me: Why do above-average Engineering graduates join MBA when they can get better technology jobs? They do it because they realise their mistake of choosing technology as their graduating path. As i have discussed in my blog for students, thinking competency folds in unpredictable ways.Even Noble prize winners move from physics to biology to chemistry. How can a engineering graduate know that he will stick to technology?

Scenarios of doing MBA course

In my coaching, i have observed four different scenarios of graduates doing MBA. I am narrating Engineering examples below because they face this dilemma strongly than other professionals:

Scenario 1: A IIT student wants to do MBA to change his graduating path, because he is sure technology path is not meant for him. Follow this approach, if you can manage to get admission in Grade I MBA Institutes - the top 10 institutes - like IIM's. If however you cannot get admission in Grade I Institute, work for few years, and change over to MBA. This is a better approach, because it is far easy to 'assimilate' the teachings of MBA after work-experience.

Scenario 2: A student from top Engineering institute doing Electrical Engineering is not very sure of his choices - whether to do post graduation in Electrical or do MBA. This student should work for 2-3 years in Electrical Engineering and take a decision later to continue with Electrical or change to MBA. Only 'Engagement' with the activity tells us what we want. Morever, moving from Electrical to MBA is possible after 3 years; the reverse movement is not available after 3 years.

Scenario 3:
A student from an average Engineering Institute cannot get admission in Grade I MBA institute after finishing his graduation. In such a scenario, it is better to get admission in Grade II MBA institute with niche speciality. For instance, find a niche MBA, such as Rural Management.

Scenerio 4 ( alternative to scenario 3): If generic MBA is the only option, then you will have to do numerous things to exploit the advantage of doing MBA, such as focusing on specific industry like Banking or FMCG right from start, finding assignments with a live company and so on.This approach requires high degree of Career intelligence than other approaches.

Where do you fit?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Do not choose options for money?

While choosing their graduating paths, many students ask me if 'software' has a better future in terms of money, or if 'Accounts' has better potential of earning money? This is a wrong question to ask due to two reasons. One, money in a profession depends on the development of 'skill market' that are outside one's control or influence and two, future of a profession cannot be predicted in advance. Let me give you two examples.

Cricket was a non-earning game till 1980's. Even the best of the test-playing cricketers worked in companies to have the second income. I was quite surprised to see Eknath Solkar on a scooter in 1980 in Mumbai. The advent of TV and the success of world up in 1983 brought sea change in the revenues of cricket. Now even a player,like Yusuf Pathan or Rohit Sharma, earns enough from cricket without playing a single test. Even Sunil Gavaskar would be earning more money now than what he earned from his cricketing accomplishments.

Today, in the newspaper, i was reading about M.F Hussain's early life as artist. In 1950's, MF Hussain writes " ....we could not afford tea, so initially we used to order for two cups, then one of us would say that he wasn't in the real mood for tea and we used to cancel our one order". Post 1995, with the arrival of auction houses, picture has changed by 180 degrees. In 2008, MF Hussain's one painting sold at more than 1 million dollar !

This is what happens with any development of any market,be it product marke or skill market.

You are however lucky to be born in this era. Because, with globalisation & internet, the two drivers of growth, an individual with as narrow a skill as "teaching' alone can make enough money. Have you heard the story of Khan Academy? With penchant of teaching, this young man has got a funding of 1 million dollar. I know of a teacher in Vashi who trains mathematics to US students sitting in his house. Have you heard of man called Bansal who has changed the landscape of IIT coaching in a town called KOTA? His efforts has set up a coaching eco-system where a 'good teacher' can get a salary of 60 Lakhs pa in Kota..

Skill market today has undergone a significant transformation. Today, one can monetise a narrow 'skill' without depending on intermediary, such as organisation. Internet access has enabled one to cost-effectively 'reach' a very limited audience for a narrow 'skill'. This means that you can become 'best' in your area and expect the 'market' to fetch you the right revenue. You can do what you want without sacrificing 'money'.

Isn't that a huge advantage as compared to your grandfathers? My father waited for his retirement to do what he loved ( writing poetry) because he was born at the wrong time. You are twice lucky: one, because your father has created a platform for you to think beyond survival ( house and food!) and two, because the environment ( skill market) around you has changed to help you do what you like.

So, instead of thinking money as a criteria to decide your future path after graduation, either understand (your current strengths) what you are good at. Or understand what you like so much ( your current passion) that you will spare no efforts to be good at. Of course, i understand that finding both your passion or strengths is not a straightforward exercise. (We will discuss about 'how to do this' in the future.)

If you happen to possess a narrow skill, to monetise it well enough, you may face stiffer challenges and overcome taller humps ( which is possible to negotiate with higher career intelligence). But i can guarantee you one outcome: You will also be more happy with your life. If you however happen to possess a generic skill of technology, you still have to adequate career intelligence to ensure that , in you career, you will be 'happy' and have enough 'money'.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Post graduate options for Technology and Science graduates

I read Dipankar Gupta's article in TOI of 3rd June on why IIT's cannot be blamed for having a world class research set up.

Basically the article points out difficulty in setting an eco-system that research requires. It is not about having research budgets. IIT's, howsoever good it may be, cannot set up the eco-system by itself. It requires to work with industry. It is about working with other universities on topics of common interest. It is about getting the best talent, both as professors and students, to channelise the research. In short, those of you who wish to pursue PG options ( MS, Phd etc) after doing BE, BTech or MSC, have to pursue these options in other countries.

Who should pursue PG options

I have found it very easy to find which students are likely to pursue PG options. These students are the students who enjoy doing their graduation, who have a 'friend group' who like to take up challenges in a subject, who are amongst the 'top 20%' of the student in the class, and whose questions get answered diligently by the teachers.

Surprisingly, i have discovered that these students may not be the students who 'topped' in CET. Most of the time, they are in the 50%-70% percentile. Sometimes they seem to be 'ordinary' students. I know of a young student who was considered to be the last in the family in terms of his CET marks. ( By the way, Einstein could not get admission to Electrical Engineering course because of low marks ) But when he joined Engineering, he simply found his 'space'. I also know of a girl who was an average girl till BSC. While doing MSC, she found her footing, and went on to do PHD in Physics from US university. In short, your marks and earlier scholastic record may not give you any indication that you will pursue PG option.

How should one pursue PG option

More importantly, when you decide to plan for PG, plan on all the three items:

I. You need to find which university and college is right for your speciality.
II. You need to get adequate references to ensure that you will get admitted in the right college/universities.
III. You need to prepare adequately for GRE to get good score.

Adequate preparation is a key that makes a big difference in getting a PG degree versus getting an effective and useful PG degree.

I have seen students jumping to the easiest available option to join a course in not-so-good college, that they find it difficult even to get a job, leave alone PG research position. Sometimes, i have seen students, complete degrees by paying so much of money that they require another 5-10 years to repay the loan. Infact, you will find many students who live very very difficult lives in foreign countries because they are in this catch-22: neither can they find good jobs, nor can they return due to huge debts.

Out of these three items, students find lot of help on item III through coaching institutes. Many metro and Tier-I towns have GRE & Toeffel coaching institutes that can help student get good scores in these tests. They also advise in matters like writing a good 'brief', that is compulsory for getting a good admission. But they cannot provide specific assistance on item I and II.

However, students rarely work on item I, which makes it difficult for them to work on item II. This are the two items that make a big difference in the quality of PG option that you may pursue.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Difficulties in making engineering versus medical choices

Last week i found this data in the newspaper for the students who appeared for CET test in Karnataka. Out of the total 1,07,820 HSC students,

- 24,892 students appeared for PCM
- 1773 students appeared for PCB
- 81,155 students appeared for both PCB and PCM

Against this background,

- 13,197 qualified for medical ranks
- 54,804 qualified for Other medicine disciplines like Homeopathy
- 64963 qualified for Engineering ranks
- 728 qualified for Architecture ranks

This data shows one truth clearly: Most of the HSC students appear for both PCB and PCM and do not choose the discipline ( Engineering or Medicine) till the last moment. Many teachers and parents find this confusing, however if you pause and analyse, you will not be surprised.

You will find that some SSC & HSC students ( not just HSC students) can choose their disciplines easily. These are the students who are 'unidimensional'( who possess better skills in a specific area - be it engineering or medicine). For them, choosing the discipline is not difficult at all. However, my guess is that these students are not more than 5% of the total.

Rest of 95% students are multidimensional; who are good in many areas. For these students , choosing their discipline at the age of 15-17 is mighty difficult ! Because, for them, it is like choosing a chocolate from a tray of chocolates by only seeing the chocolates. If you have not tasted any of these chocolates earlier, how will you choose the chocolate to eat? Any amount of information on the chocolate, be it from internet, friends or experts, cannot give you the experience of 'taste' of a chocolate. Only way to choose is through recommendations of friends, advice of parents and elders, or simply by the attractive wrapper of the chocolate. This is what students do when they choose the discipline, be it after 10th or 12th class!

Some parents believe that one can choose the discipline by going through a battery of 'aptitude tests' ! Unfortunately, this is not possible due to two reasons. One, aptitude tests identify 'generic' aptitude and therefore not useful in choosing a 'discipline'. For instance, an aptitude test may tell a student that he is good in 'logical' , 'analytical' or 'mathematical' subjects. But with this aptitude, he can potentially become an engineer, economist, accountant and even a mathematician. Two, these aptitudes identify the 'potential' one has in a chosen subject or area. Whether the 'potential' will be converted into 'actual' skill depends on variety of factors, most of which are outside one's control. Not all cricketers, for instance, can convert their 'potential cricketing talent' into 'performance' ! ( Vinod Kambli's example in cricket is one unfortunate example!) In short, aptitude tests are not useful in helping a student make this difficult choice.

So what can a student at age 15/17 realistically do? First of all, he must understand that 'graduating path' may not become the 'career path'. In my career research, i have found that very few engineers, for instant, continue with the same path in their future career. I have seen engineers go into finance, management, public service, software and many other paths which do not use their 'engineering' background. This is very common in India, because of the constraints of Indian education system! A student studying in West ( US and Europe), for instance, does not face this constraint! He can graduate with multiple subjects and can choose a specific discipline only after he has finished graduation.

A student, having chosen a 'graduating path', either by design or by default, should then engage in 'self-exploration' to find what 'path' he should take next. Should he remain in the same graduating path ( of engineering, for instance) or should he find some other path ( say of finance or management)? .

Self-exploration involves knowing oneself as much as one can. It involves finding one's characteristics way of thinking and responding to situations, one's stock of beliefs and emotions, one's unique way of managing stress, and above all what one values in life.

As a graduate, you have to gain enough self-understanding that will help you choose your next path. For graduates, who find that the chosen path is right for them, self-exploration can be postponed. For graduates, who find that the chosen path of graduation has to be changed, self- exploration is a must. In a way, these graduates are lucky, because they will learn this essential skill of career-making earlier than others.