OCS and The Allegations
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
By and large, the Office of Career Services (formerly TnP) is the student body responsible for bringing companies to IIT Delhi for interns and placements as well as ensuring smooth conduct of further processes and subsequently, the interviews. Contextualizing the scenario, we write this piece at a time when there is widespread dissatisfaction in the student community on the modus operandi of the OCS and the recent events in that regard. A large part of the first phase of the internship season has passed, and the pre-processes for the placements have begun.
Many who have gone through phase one of the internship season in the past month have had a first-hand experience of the lackluster OCS has been often associated with. From not having their PORs and CGs updated on their resume, costing them potential interns, to battling out exams and elections while perfecting a CV that would decide whether they are shortlisted by companies, it would be an understatement to say that the students of IIT Delhi have a few grievances against the OCS. While the above-mentioned problems are exclusive to the rushed online semester that we leave behind us, there are a few problems that have been plaguing the student community for the past few years and have yet not been resolved. These include a lack of a proper verification mechanism for CV points, making it easy for people to lie on their resumes and putting the others who don’t at a grave disadvantage; clashing of interview slots wherein companies, with a blatant disregard for the candidates’ other interviews, exceed their 1-hour time slot; candidates having upwards of 5 tests/interviews a day towards the end of which they are exhausted and unable to perform their best; candidates’ having the interviews of companies they have specified to prefer less before the ones they prefer more. The aforementioned frustrations are incensed by what students believe to be an egregious lack of transparency between the OCS and the student body with delayed sharing of meeting links, no apparent feedback mechanism, or insight into the blacklisting process carried out by the OCS team members.
In this article, we aim to provide insight into the OCS and these issues. The first part of the article consists of an in-depth analysis of these problems, including comparing and contrasting OCS with similar bodies of other institutes wherever possible. The second part of the article gives the perspective of the OCS and explores the reasons behind the lack of resolution of some of the issues.
Let’s build the ‘Resume’
While applying for internships and placements through OCS, the first thing a student does is start building their resume. The resume is, after all, the only thing companies would know about a student before a test or an interview, and also probably what an interviewer looks at first. It makes sense, therefore, that anyone would want to have control over their resume and be assured that the process isn’t inherently unfair or arbitrary. Unfortunately, most students don’t feel so assured.
As per the current format, you are required to draft a 2-page Curriculum Vitae consisting of your scholastic achievements, internships, projects, extracurriculars, and PORs. The internships you write about could be self- arranged or provided for by the OCS. Similarly, the projects can be your course projects or projects you do with the professors inside or outside IIT. The extra-curricular activities also include both the ones inside and outside IIT.
A schematic representation of a typical resume. Most students use the second page to mention only the courseworks, a major reason why it’s labelled ‘redundant’ and ‘useless.’
The current (above) format has been in place for the past two years. It’s credibility though, is contentious at best. As per its provisions, the first page of the resume is to be ‘filled by the student’ and the second is auto-generated from the e-certification portal.
To understand the core of the issue, it’s imperative to look at the unfolding of events leading up to the introduction of this format in the last session i.e. 2019. The cracks began to emerge when a decision of the head of the OCS sparked a row among its student team and the general secretaries of various student boards. The decision was to forbid any form of resume verification whatsoever and allow only those points which were present in the IITD database, thus ensuring their genuinity. Concerns were raised regarding the non-existence of any such exhaustive database that held the entire set of information a student may want to enter. After multiple rounds of discussions, a new format was finalised: the two-page resume as you know it. A plan was initiated simultaneously to develop a new portal, let’s call it X, containing all the credentials (scholastic achievements, internships, projects, extracurriculars and PORs) a student may want to write in their CV; once created, it was to replace e-certification as the source of verified information. SAC was entrusted with finding the developer and overseeing the construction. Wondrous was though the purpose fulfillment of the new two-page format. Neither did it release the load of the verification from OCS (we’ll come to the mysteries of verification in a while); nor did the introduction of a second additional page add any value to the resume.
Cut to 2020, the two page format continues in its half-baked form. Faraz Mazhar (ex-Gsec. SAC), however confirmed that some significant progress had been made on the front of developing the new portal (X) before lockdown brought it to an abrupt halt. Pertinent questions are aplenty though: If the initial goal was to do away with the verification process, why did the OCS not wait until the replacement for the e-certification portal was ready? How did the introduction of a two page CV help the cause by any means?
The verification process, the sole thorn that OCS sought to pluck, continues to be a matter of obscurity as before. The E-certification portal is meant to keep track of a student’s PoRs and ECA achievements internal to IIT. OCS internships are also verified. But the students are free to write anything in relation to the other sections (scholastic achievements, internships outside of OCS, projects, extracurriculars that are external to IIT). Supporting documents are definitely asked for, but there is enormous uncertainty as to who checks the validity of the documents produced, and how strictly each point is verified. Without any sort of transparency about this, there is always a fear of arbitrariness in the mind of a student. You can’t help but wonder whether someone else was given a ‘better deal’ than you, whether you drew the short end of the stick. The timeline for this year is particularly telling of the possible overlooks in the verification process: the deadline for freezing internship CV this year was 16th August. Given that most of the candidates make their submissions at the eleventh hour, it’s a rather dubious event that nearly all the CV’s were verified by the the morning hours of 17th August. Not to forget that the haze was compounded by the deadlines given by OCS, that gave very short notice at a time when students were facing the heat of their major assignments and exams. IIT Bombay, in that sense, provides an excellent example. We reached out to a member of their Placement Cell to know how they go about verifying resumes. Here’s how their method looks like: There are two levels of checks. Each and every point in a resume is verified and validated twice to ensure little to no room for any error. This year, in particular, the student team had to work two days and nights straight to accomplish the task in a short span of time. The points which aren’t admissible are dealt with as per the guideline.
Before we proceed to the next set of problems, a ‘trivial’ point needs to be mentioned. This year, OCS allowed students to write achievements and accolades for which their certificates lay at their hostel room, asking them to sign an undertaking declaring the same. A welcome step considering the hodgepodge that would’ve ensued otherwise, but OCS did say their verification would take place once the campus reopens. We’ll be watching.
Post the glory of Day 1
After the companies shortlist the candidates based on the CVs and tests, the interviews begin. In the experience of people who have undergone the whole process, the first day is mostly streamlined. The most prestigious companies come in on the first day, and only the shortlisted candidates are allowed in the venue. While students do complain about the scheduling of the interviews, as many find themselves giving back to back interviews, the process proceeds with little to no mishaps on the first day. Here there is maybe something to be learned from the way IIM Ahmedabad conducts its placements, where students get to vote for the day on which an industry comes and also get to give a priority order for the companies they apply to. Their schedule is different to be fair (they have 3 clusters, each of 7 days), but voting and priority order seem like useful suggestions prima facie.
Things however, start to unravel a bit on the second day, when the companies throw open their avenues to ‘walk-ins’. A summary definition of walk-ins is as follows: If a company has been unable to fill the number of positions it came to recruit for, due to any possible reason, it opens up for all students at the venue who fulfill an objectively identifiable criteria (CG>7.5, for example). Students at the venue who qualify this metric are allowed to walk into the interview room, thus the name walk-ins. Most walk-ins are last moment decisions and aren’t declared beforehand, and the OCS does not recognize it as a formal event. Their conduct has long been fraught with unauthorised decisions and questionable fairness. A close look at the execution shall support the argument.
The organizational part of a walk-in rests completely in the hands of the OCS representative present around that venue, usually a freshman volunteer or, at best, a sophomore. Their tasks include collecting CVs, shortlisting eligible candidates, and sending them in for the interviews. A noteworthy and concerning aspect here is that in a walk-in, there is no demarcation between the students who clear the eligibility criteria. The OCS representative is given significant charge of the order in which a student goes into the interview room, which is crucial in a walk-in given the company closes as soon as its positions are filled up. While this does not happen in company HRs are proactive, misuse of this unchecked power is commonplace, and more often than not, representatives play with the order to benefit some seniors they are friends with/acquainted with. There are even cases where students ask the volunteers outright to help them with this. There have also been instances of hostel meetings being held days before placements to ask the OCS volunteers from that hostel to help the graduating seniors of the hostel by allowing them to go up in order for a walk-in, luring the volunteers with the prospect of a similar turn of events in their final year.
It’s difficult for us to examine the merit of the idea of a walk-in with an unbiased outlook, for truth be told, they provide jobs to a major chunk of the batch. The conflict as we see here is twofold: a part of students who benefit from this process happily walk-away after their walk-in, and the remaining who aren’t as lucky are left to bear the brunt. The lack of organization in the process is common to both and is the first level of problem. The end-result though ends up creating two different groups, the beneficiaries, and the sufferers, the latter being small in number. The beneficiaries and the sufferers arise out of one and the same problem, aggravated by irresponsible, oftentimes prejudiced, and unfair behaviour of their peers and juniors. Both the OCS and the student community need to pause and reflect here, for the burden to get rid of this specific problem falls equally on either shoulders.
The fault in their communication
Let us first try to understand the role that communication plays in the functioning of an organization like the OCS. The way the system is supposed to work is that the students raise issues and convey their point of view to the OCS. This should be followed by pushback from the organization, stating their constraints and obligations. The same process may then continue back and forth, and finally, an equilibrium be reached which sufficiently accommodates the students’ demands, and also takes into account the administrative constraints and the point of view of the administration. It is important to note that the point here is not for students to just be given whatever they ask for. The administration and, indeed the OCS have a lot of valid reasons and constraints under which they take decisions. But the reality is that without active feedback from the students’ point of view, these decisions just aren’t in the best interest of the students. If the students never even come to know about the point of view of the OCS, and vice-versa, there is bound to be alienation.
But why does the alienation and the communication gap exists? Firstly, the communication from OCS to the students is marred by a lack of clarity and a lackadaisical attitude. (This was illustrated by the fact that deadlines for CV verification were communicated just a few days earlier to students of the current session) No written or documented channel of communication exists, and some students don’t have anyone to reach out to during the placement process. A one-stop mail id does exist, but the responses from the central mail are often slow and inefficient.
If we are to look at the communication from students’ end to the OCS, the levels drop furthermore. A feedback form is circulated after the placements are over to register the problems that may have been faced by the students. We had a look at the feedback form for the previous academic session, and it seems grossly insufficient to cover even the problems that we’ve talked about in this short article.
Apart from 5 rankings of experience from 1-5, none of the other questions actually allowed students to raise grievances about the way OCS functioned. There was in fairness a ‘Any thoughts on an alternative placement process’. However, the whole form read a little bit like a deflection of responsibility. It was asking for students’ general preferences with some issues, but there was very little scope for questioning and talking about the tasks OCS was involved in: resume verification, pre-processes, interview scheduling, preference allocation. It’s also interesting to note that the question that asked students to rate their ‘experience’ did not seek to inquire about the changes that had taken place in that particular year (2019, when the format of resumes was changed).
Given how important communication is to their functioning, a well-designed feedback form that demands students to give their actual (and precise) opinions and does not limit questions to generic themes would probably give OCS more information and enable them to make better decisions. A final nail in the coffin is the haze over the conclusive nature of the feedback mechanism: Who draws the inference from the feedback form? What is the nature of responses received? What is the follow-up and so on...
The OCS Perspective
After reading the student’s perspective, we begin to think that there is something deviously wrong about the way OCS is operating. We won’t lie; we held a similar opinion. But upon talking to current and alumni student members who held executive, CTM and OC positions in the OCS, we were able to answer some of the common allegations that you might have towards the body. We’ve tried to compress our conversations in the form of a FAQ for an ordered read:
Why does it seem like there was no coordination between the OCS and the academic department in regards to the training and placement schedule this year?
In normal circumstances, the training and placement schedule is laid down well in advance, and so is the academic calendar. These schedules are set in close coordination with the recruitment seasons of other IITs. Most students are well aware of the tentative dates for training and placement as they rarely change from year to year, and thus start their preparations well before the semester begins.
This year, due to tremendous uncertainties about reopening college and facilitating all student needs, the Senate approved the revised semester schedule on 29th July. The calendar specified 6th to 20th September as the timeline for the Internship season. There is however some ambiguity over the specification of dates by the 'Senate' itself since the Minutes of Meeting of the Senate doesn't outline any such decision. And a student member of the Senate told us that it was never discussed in the Senate meeting. We couldn't check for any other ways the information might've flowed across.
OCS members claim that they could only plan and release the recruitment season timeline after receiving the semester schedule. In the short window that followed the release of semester schedule and until major examinations commenced, the OCS conducted an online orientation (9th August) and set 14th August, a mere five day period, for students to build and submit the CV on the portal. After receiving several student requests, OCS also granted a 2-day extension for the same.
No relaxations were possible because OCS had to close all activities at least five days before examinations started, as mandated by the administration, even after having been suggested an extension by the OCS. Although the process of laying down a concrete schedule for the internship season was shifted entirely to online methods this year, it was still tedious. Team members lost significant sleep to make the process as frictionless and well-ordered as possible. When it came to addressing student grievances, the OCS had no authority, and the general admin was at most indifferent.
Most students were counting on their updated CGPA and 3rd-year PORs to pass company cutoffs, so why was the internship season scheduled before the conclusion of the spring semester?
For students who were on tenterhooks about losing internships due to a non-accomodating plan, the OCS avers that if not for the crunched schedule, students would have been at risk of losing more companies. Owing to the late notification of the semester schedule (29th July) by IIT Delhi’s Academic department, OCS had to redesign the internship calendar on short notice. In August, several IITs had commenced or were already done with OCS
activities, and so, many companies had finished hiring. Many companies would not have allowed a more delayed recruitment schedule since they have strict deadlines concerning the same. Moreover, OCS claims that the last day to upload the CV was decided by the OCS Chairperson and the Dean of Academics this year.
In whatever way we choose to look at it, someone always loses. Conducting examinations before August would have made it impossible for a lot of students with poor or no internet connections to finish their semester. Safe arrangements needed to be made for these students to transfer back to campus. Shifting OCS deadlines till after major exams would’ve meant a lot of tier 1 one companies not attending placements.
Why isn’t there a full proof CV verification system so that no student gets away with false points? And who decides the CV blacklisting criterion?
The OCS maintains its position as a facilitation unit which is responsible only for providing training and employment opportunities to the students along with organising career workshops. According to ex overall coordinators, there is no real mechanism to check every point in a student CV. Many people have seen projects passed down year after year, and it’s left up to the recruiters to find out if students possess the requisite knowledge. When it comes to points ECAs and Scholastic Achievements, students are required to upload proof in the form of certificates for every point that they mention on their CV. Yet, even these documents can be falsely acquired or manipulated. The SAC is only responsible for verifying points for events that have been conducted by clubs in IIT Delhi itself.
The OCS does not verify these supporting documents for all the CVs; the rationale behind their decision is that the task of checking upward of 1000 CVs is exceptionally time-consuming. Therefore they resort to selective blacklisting, but the manner in which it is done is not disclosed. It appears that close to 10% of CVs are randomly blacklisted. This procedure is carried out by the staff employed at the OCS and is not in the hands of the student members. The blacklisted students are responsible for clearing their names by making sure the documents they uploaded to account for all the points in their CV. Ambiguous points that don’t have clear proof are removed from their CV. Failure to comply with these rules can result in expulsion from further OCS activities.
Another mechanism in use for keeping false points in check during placements is the flagging system. All student CVs are made public for peer verification, and students are allowed to non-anonymously flag points of their batchmates if they think they are incorrect. OCS then investigates the student CVs that have their points flagged numerous times. This procedure has often been looked down open for garnering a malicious spirit amongst students and was briefly discontinued two years ago.
The question of who is in charge of this verification process still stands, is it the administration, the OCS or the SAC?
Why do we find so many students complaining about missing their interview slots or test links? What is OCS doing about this?
According to OCS members, phase I of Internships went smoother this time than in past years. The primary reason for this was the distribution of interviews over four days as opposed to two. This move was facilitated because the internship season was conducted before semester II started. It also had two other significant affects - it resulted in less pressure on students because they no longer had to juggle classes and minors with intern preparation. The second was that day one and day two could accommodate more companies, and since most companies stress on getting a good slot during the first two days, participation from companies increased. OCS members report that interview slots usually clash for a small number of students generally from the CS department, who have a lot of shortlists on day 1. This time around far less slot clashes were reported and when interview slots did crash, the POCs (point of contact) for the particular company requested them to reschedule interviews, although this did not work out all the time.
One problem that arose this time was when test and interview links failed to reach students on time. OCS members reported that these mishaps mainly occurred when companies took charge of providing their own test links, and OCS had no role to play. Attempts were made to better communication between all participants of a particular test or shortlist by creating WhatsApp groups with one POC to the company.
During interviews, the OCS team facilitated MS team groups for all companies, but a lot of them preferred to conduct their interviews on other platforms.
What benefits do the OCS members experience during training and placement?
Many students believe that OCS members have a distinct advantage during the placement season. This is untrue as there is no way an OCS member can influence any part of the proceedings officially. We talked to alumni members of the OCS team, and they reflected that as an Overall Coordinator, they worked with students and recruiters alike, which provided them with valuable leadership experience. OCS members, mostly from 3rd year onwards, hold a lot of responsibility. As underlined in the OCS Work Timeline, members contact companies, allot rooms, manage accommodation, proctor tests, mediate between the companies and the students, among other things. Although CTMs and OCs know certain things beforehand like which companies are coming and which are not, there is no significant benefit from this. The significant harm, however, is real. Members receive 100s of text messages concerning OCS processes from students who expect them to respond promptly and politely. Right until interview days, many members are still in talks with companies convincing them to come and recruit. Managing companies, students, and all the trouble that a training and placement day can bring along with constant criticism is exhausting, and OCS has seen a lot of students leave the cell due to this pressure. The student community has been quick to point fingers at the students working at OCS in the past, but we need to see that these are students undergoing the same intern or job pressures as the rest of us.
CAN THERE BE A FINE BALANCE?
The solution to any and all problems that exist within OCS needs to come from the student community. Sure, the administration needs to take note as well and work in conjunction with the OCS to improve and improvise. Our aim with this article was not to thrash or defame a student body as most of us have in the past, hiding behind the veil of anonymity. We sought to compile the problems, look for possible reasons and determine the causes from the other side, the one our confirmation bias doesn’t let us see.
As to can there be a fine balance? ; can the OCS step up and deliver its best, work out rational and feasible solutions, and an effective feedback mechanism?; can the student community be fairer in their critique? We don’t know the straight answers, none of us do. Only time will tell.
Written By Shreya Singh, Suhani Gupta, Avyansh Katiyar, Ramneet Singh, Udita Mittal, Bhavuk, Raunaq & Maria. Interviews with ex-members/current members of OCS & senior batches taken by Mariya, Kshitiz, Victor and Anand. Illustrations by Aryan Choudhary & Ayesha Rafi.