Having invested a small fortune to get an MBA from one of the top business schools, it is only natural that a high starting salary is high on the wish list of job aspirants. There are loans to be repaid, and the bragging rights which go with a high placement offer are something to die for! No wonder then that there are beelines for the highest paying jobs and no takers for those at the lower end of the scale. The premium First Day placement slot at B-schools is reserved only for the best (read highest paying) organizations!
But have you ever stopped to think whether going for the company which provides the highest campus salary is the wisest thing to do? True, the highest paying jobs are also associated with the most well-known global companies, but how many, barring a very few, offer a conducive work environment? What are the prospects for learning which will impact your long-term career, far beyond the first job? Is there leeway to make decisions which impact the organization, or are you only a foot soldier doing a glorified internship? In other words, how rich is the job profile?
Having worked in the corporate sector for over 25 years, I can say with certainty that the best on-the-job learning comes from startup environments, where you are building something from scratch. If you join a well-oiled and established organization, you are merely a cog in the wheel. Somebody in the distant past did all the hard work in building the organization and your role is merely sustaining the momentum.
The ground reality
This is exactly what happened to me. Fresh out of IIM-B, I took a job with ITC in their tobacco business, and for the next 10 years moved from a Management Trainee (Marketing Pupil in ITC lingo) to an Assistant Branch Manager to a role in Brand Management, and finally to a position of Branch Manager. During those 10 years, I became familiar with ITC’s vast distribution network, set up over decades, but could never appreciate how difficult it was to set up such a network from zero. Things changed dramatically when I joined Pepsi in 1989 and was put in charge of starting up the beverage business in Western India.
The entire distribution infrastructure had to be started from scratch, the product delivery had to change from wooden crates to plastic, special delivery vehicles had to be designed and ordered, and a beverage plant had to be commissioned in record time! What a learning experience that was – in two years, I was exposed to all aspects of setting up a business from scratch, and my career from thereon was on an upward trajectory.
Getting your basics right
That’s why my advice to those looking for a job fresh out of business school is to take a chance with organizations which offer you a great learning experience, rather than merely the highest salary. Believe me, 10 years later, your salary will take care of itself. That is why the best business schools are ranked not by the starting salary of their students, but the packages they command 5-10 years down the road.
Look for organizations which offer exposure in all functional areas of a business and where you are required to take decisions rather than merely follow orders. Look for startups which operate in ambiguity – where data is limited, and doing something is the only way to learn about it. Look for promoters who have a vision and are willing to take risks to achieve it. As long as you earn enough money to maintain a decent lifestyle, you don’t need any more to take your career in the one direction that matters – upwards.
Dr Tarun Pasricha is a Professor of Marketing & Strategy at the S.P. Jain School of Global Management, Mumbai.