Prepping for Placements in 2020

The million dollar question. This comes from a student at one of the colleges I taught at recently.

“How do you think the placement season will be? How can we train ourselves during this time to have better chances?”

  1. Things are going to be really bad this year. There’s no point in beating around the bush. You’ll be lucky to get placed, and even luckier to get a really good, high paying job. I don’t mean to be discouraging, but it is best we go into this season eyes wide open.
  2. That being said, let’s think about the second question more carefully, because there are things that I would recommend:
    1. I say this every placement season, but it is even more important this year. First, beware the streetlight effect. Second, never play cricket with Sachin Tendulkar.
    2. What is the streetlight effect? Here’s Wikipedia on the subject, but the gist is people search in the easiest, most obvious place. In an interview, that place is your CV.
    3. When, in an interview, you hand the interviewer your CV, it is literally the most perfect example there can be of the streetlight effect. The interviewer doesn’t know you from Adam (or Eve), and will therefore begin to ask you questions basis stuff you’ve written in your CV.
    4. Therefore, possess the ability to speak – thoroughly, meaningfully and concisely – about every single word on your CV.
      1. Thoroughly means you should know, and I mean really know, every single project, subject and achievement you have listed. No faffing!
      2. Meaningfully means you should be able to answer how a business might benefit because of the work you have done, or the topic you have learnt, or the internship you did. “I did XYZ in my internship” is a bad answer. “The business was able to achieve ABC, because of  I doing XYZ” is a good answer.
      3. Concisely means you should leave the interviewer with the feeling that you know what you’re talking about, but you shouldn’t overburden the listener with an endless stream of sentences. Practice by saying what you want to about a project, and then try to repeat the explanation in literally half the time. Keep at it!
    5. So if you are going to be subjected to the streetlight effect during an interview, be prepared for it. Or, and even better, give the interviewer something other than your CV to talk about.
    6. Which brings me to the most important thing you can do right now, and it not training yourself. It is training others.
      1. You’re not going to be the only one saying I did a course on Coursera | I learnt MS Excel | I did project XYZ with firm PQR
      2. But you could end up being the only one saying I taught kids in my society math using videos from 3Blue1Brown | I taught my batchmates Excel, and so learnt it better | I mentored a bunch of people online on <insert subject of your choice here>
      3. I’ll say this more concisely. Try and utilize this time to do, not learn. It is vastly underrated.
    7. Which brings me to my final point, about never playing cricket with Sachin Tendulkar. Here’s what I mean: if I ever met Sachin, and got to be in a contest with him, I would have to be stark raving mad to choose a contest involving bat and ball. But I’m fairly confident I can beat him in, say, a quiz on economics.
      What is the point? The point is that in an interview about analytics, for example, good luck trying to be better than the interviewer on machine learning algorithms. That is literally that person’s job! With your experience, learning and age, it’s like playing cricket with Sachin. But what if the interviewer learns that you put up videos on, say, photography, and you have been doing so for three months? And that of the 100 videos you shared, 50 got more than 10,000 views? And that you got to interact with people the world over as a consequence? You didn’t learn a course. Instead, you put yourself out there, you shipped a product that other people could benefit from, you were a mentor to other people. Now Sachin is playing your sport – and your chances just got a whole lot better. (Example: my CV is this blog, not a piece of paper)
  3. So my advice would be to identify a skill at which you are genuinely good, and to teach other people that skill, in public. Blogs, YouTube videos, Zoom sessions, whatever. Make that your CV, and crack that interview.

I hope this helps! Thank you to said student for asking the question, and if anybody has any follow-up queries, don’t hesitate to write in.



Video for 14th April, 2019

Video for 7th April, 2019


A quick note: Mark Knopfler is my favorite guitarist and lyricist. But read the lyrics to find out why I am putting up this song on EFE!

Video for 24th February, 2019

Video for 17th February, 2019

An excellent series that helps you understand business on the ground – it’s perfect momo weather right now, and hence this video – but there are many others as well.

Tweets for 16th February, 2019

Links for 13th October, 2018

  1. Bagehot and Il&FS. Great read.
  2. Harsh Vardhan on the rise of the NBFC’s in India. Equally great read (and is linked to in the first piece above)
  3. Education, stratification, gender and signaling.
  4. Brilliant ideas have difficult journeys.
  5. Data done right.

Beh Econ Update: The Framing Effect

Would your choice (or answer) be impacted by the way a particular question was framed?

Econs, to use a word coined by Richard Thaler, would scoff at such a notion. Reality, of course, indicates otherwise. Should a price be framed as a discount during a sale, should it be offered at a premium for the rest of the year? Should an insurance firm advertise how dangerous a disease is or how effective the treatment is? And should a hospital take the opposite route?

Again, in the world of the Econ, each of these questions do not matter, one’s answer should change. Work done over years, and the intuition of all us Humans indicate that it does matter. That, in a nutshell, is the framing effect.

And where the second case study I spoke of yesterday is concerned: I’ll just outsource the job to Dan Ariely.

Beh Econ Update, Day 2

Yesterday was all about fallacies: the gambler’s fallacy, the conjunctive and disjunctive fallacy, the base rate fallacy, the framing effect (which, if you think about it, is a kind of fallacy) and one of my favorite stories from behavioral economics: the organ donation case from Europe. We’ll get to each one in turn.

The word fallacy comes from the Latin word fallere, which means to be decieved – also making me wonder if the phrase “to fall for” is related to the same word. The story with the three “fallacies” that we’re talking about in this post is the same: our brain falls prey to some errors that are in retrospect irritatingly obvious.

The Gambler’s Fallacy

Have you ever felt you were on a lucky streak while playing a game of cards – felt as if you were invincible while rolling a pair of die? That’s the hot hand fallacy. On the other hand, have you ever felt tempted to continue playing a game because you have been losing for a while, and feel like your luck is due to turn for the better? That’s the reverse of the hot hand fallacy – but both are really (excuse the pun) two sides of the same coin: you think the next outcome is a function of the previous ones, whereas basic probability teaches you that they are independent events.

The Conjunctive (and Disjunctive) Fallacy

Say a person is introduced to me at a party, and I learn that this person has done her education in finance and investing, and is very enthusiastic about Picasso’s paintings. Which of the two options I describe below is likelier?

One, that she is in banking. Two, that she is in banking and has some Picasso prints hanging on her wall at home.

Most people (myself included) would be tempted to go with the second option. But again, basic probability teaches us that this is wrong, because we are talking about the intersection of two things (the probability that she is a banker AND the probability that she has Picasso prints hanging at home) – and two things happening at the same time is unlikelier than either of these things happening individually.

The disjunctive fallacy is the same idea in reverse. Meet my friend Rahul. Rahul is six and a half feet tall, is built like a bull, and can demolish multiple plates of food at the same sitting. He spends a couple of hours a day (at least!) at the gym. What is likelier:

  • Rahul is a wrestler
  • Rahul is a wrestler or a classical singer

The point is that once should always choose the second option because it includes the first in any case.

The Base Rate Fallacy

I’ll not get into the math in this case, but just give you the short description of the idea: false positives are going to be overwhelmingly likely if the base rate is very low, and the human brain has trouble understanding this idea.

Here’s what this means:

Of the millions of people who transit through airports the world over, a vanishingly small minority will actually be terrorists. If the algorithms used to detect them are even slightly inaccurate, they are likely to err on the side of over-identifying potential terrorists. We would therefore be wrong to assume that every person who is flagged as a potential terrorist actually is a terrorist.

(Note that it is way more complicated than this, but that’s the shortest version I could manage).

This post is already a fairly dense one in terms of ideas, so I’ll split this one into two, and cover the rest tomorrow: the framing effect, and the European organ donation saga.

Update from Day 1, Beh Econ

Teaching undergraduates is a whole lot of fun, because generally speaking, their curiosity hasn’t been completely killed just yet. And this seems to be true with the people who have chosen to attend the behavioral economics workshop as well – they’ve (hopefully voluntarily) chosen to spend their afternoons attending a workshop over the course of every workday this week. Catch ’em young!

We kickstarted things yesterday by speaking about ways and means to think about microeconomics in a rather conventional sense. I chose to not bore them to death by talking about utility functions and all of that, firstly because it is the worst way on the planet to get people thinking about economics, and secondly because they are all economics students to begin with – the indoctrination has been done by their colleges already.

I spoke instead about the Choices, Costs, Incentives and Horizons framework, which I have spoken about earlier on the blog. Within each of these concepts, however, I added a sprinkling of behavioral economics. What, for example, are your choices when confronted with a buffet spread?

And how long before you realize, if at all, that not eating it is also a choice? Sometimes, being presented with a choice to consume blinds us to the option of not doing so – which explains why checkout counters at supermarkets tend to have chewing gum on sale.

When it comes to costs, we spoke about opportunity costs and how it is often misunderstood – the people attending the workshop are paying me the fees of the program, plus they are paying fifteen hours of their time. Fifteen hours that they could have spent doing something else.

In addition, we spoke about sunk costs. My favorite example is of how I and my wife were finally able to go out for a movie together after the birth of our daughter – and we ended up watching Happy New Year. And yet, even though the movie was tripe of exceptional quality, we chose to sit through the whole thing. Neither of us enjoyed the movie, and by the end, every second was exquisite torture, but we went through the whole experience. This after I’ve been teaching the concept of the sunk cost fallacy for over a decade.

Incentives are both fairly well understood and applied in conventional economics – but how about negative incentives? Rather than reward yourself with a nice shirt if you lose weight, how about allowing a friend of yours to post a picture of you on Facebook where the paunch is especially noticeable? Which is likelier to be more effective?

Finally, horizons: exercise today evening, or finish an episode of your favorite series on Netflix? We tend to go for short term pleasure over long term gains – and that is to our detriment in the long run. But our brain, unfortunately, is not trained to think about long term consequences.

Finally, we spoke a little bit about signaling and it’s importance to us. That’s a topic deserving of a separate blog post entirely, but I will ask you guys a question I asked everybody in class:

Imagine you are able to attend the best college in the world, and are able to handpick the people who will teach you whatever courses you want. The ideal education, structured just the way you want it. The only problem is, you won’t get a degree at the end of it. Or, you could get, right here and now, a degree of your choice from whichever college you like – but you will not be able to attend a single class. Which of these options would you pick?

The question is based, of course, on a question that Bryan Caplan asks in his excellent book: The Case Against Education. Let me know your answer, I am genuinely interested.

Finally, we spoke about Kahneman’s “fast and slow” thinking. How and why it evolved the way it did, why it may have been of help in the fast, but isn’t much use in the world we live in today.

It was an exceptionally fun session, and hopefully it will continue in a similar vein for the rest of the week.