How to launch a career in a sluggish job market.

Campus Journos

Globally weak economy, sliding Rupee, high inflation, policy paralysis, upcoming elections, etc, etc have slowed the growth in India and there are clear signs and forecasts that macro-economic outlook and GDP growth for 2014 will remain modest if not weak. Companies therefore, will be cautious in 2014 and are likely to focus more on managing and controlling costs as opposed to making big investments. As a result, hiring forecasts for 2014 might remain weak. Wise and progressive companies will continue to “invest cautiously” in hiring fresh engineering and MBA talent, however, there will be an unfavorable effect on the Engineering and MBA talent pool graduating in the summer of 2014.

How to best handle your career take-off in a sluggish job market, wherein fewer good opportunities will present themselves and chances of getting your dream job may not be that bright?

I have seen this about three times earlier in the past 24 years of my career where a major economic crisis has affected the fresh graduates (from a career take-off point of view). I have also learnt and observed how; some very smart students have dealt with it effectively. Based on my observations and experience, my 5 point advice is as follows:

1)      Don’t blame or doubt yourself and stay positive: It’s important to understand that this situation is not your creation and you are just a little bit unlucky to be graduating in these tough times. Stay emotionally strong and keep smiling. If you didn’t get a Pre-placement Offer or Pre-placement Interview from the organization where you interned as an MBA student this year – don’t get negative or cynical about that organization. In fact, thank that organization for what you learnt there and build and maintain good relations. Coz when the tough times are over that same organization could re-consider you. Most important when you are being hired by another company, your references will be checked with the company you interned in!!

 “Get going. Move forward. Aim High. Plan a takeoff. Don’t just sit on the runway and hope someone will come along and push the airplane. It simply won’t happen. Change your attitude and gain some altitude. Believe me, you’ll love it up here.” – Donald Trump

2)      Re-set and refine your goals and objectives: If you are amply clear that your dream job in your dream company isn’t going to happen – then re-configure your near term goals and objectives and identify and prepare yourself for the next best thing that’s possible and is lurking as an opportunity. Very important to have a Plan-B and more important to activate it.

“Re-setting goals and objectives doesn’t mean you are compromising with your vision and aspiration, in fact it means you are committed to achieving it” – iYash

3)      Don’t depend on your campus placement process alone: I have often said this before, the controlled and traditional methods of placing MBA students by running a campus placement process which is managed by a body of students and the school management is a big deterrent to the students prospects – coz, bright students are robbed of their choices and are forced into accepting offers from limited choice for the sake of placing other weaker students. Also the Indian MBA School’s campus placement process is not designed for sluggish times. It’s a socialist approach to ensure that everyone gets a job (assuming many companies are out there wanting to recruit from that campus) and then the college can boast of a placement record, instead of boasting of a top-class learning environment. Anyways, don’t depend on it and challenge it and change it, if you can!!

“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” – Mary Engelbreit

4)      Leverage Social Media: Be present on Social Media Platforms, especially the ones that are used by companies to identify and recruit talent. My top three platform recommendations are LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Make good profiles and be present on them with the objectives of connecting, sharing and learning. In addition leverage on the connections you have already built with executives and friends you have made in the corporate world and seek their help in sighting and applying for the right opportunities.

“Social media is your opportunity to reach a massive number of people with transparency, honesty, and integrity.” – Brian E. Boyd Sr., Social Media for the Executive

5)      Value what you get: Whatever opportunity you land up with – value it and give your best to the company that hires you, work hard and learn. If you don’t value what you get and keep thinking about why you didn’t get what you sought dearly, it won’t help. There is nothing such as a second grade organization. Leaders, employees and their values make an organization and if you are going to be one of them, then make it a top-notch company. Work with total commitment and passion and you won’t go wrong in making a career!!

“Anyone can dabble, but once you’ve made that commitment, your blood has that particular thing in it, and it’s very hard for people to stop you.”- Bill Cosby

Wishing all the MBA students on Indian campuses (who will graduate in 2014) all the very best and now that you are experiencing the real world and its challenges, I would encourage you have a constructive conversation with your junior batch students and share with them your wisdom and importance of summer internships, which they are seeking right now for the summer on 2014. Most points mentioned above are applicable to them as well.

“Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” -Joshua J. Marine

Astachal and My Art and Habit of Self-introspection

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I enjoyed this view almost every evening for about a decade (from 1975 to 1985) at the Gwalior Fort in India (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwalior). I was then studying at the prestigious boarding school in India, The Scindia School Gwalior (http://www.scindia.edu/). Whilst at school we had a very important and a beautiful ritual, which was the evening prayer congregation of fellow students. This congregation used to take place at “Astachal” the amphitheater of the school. The setting was very serene, scenic and simply beautiful, the amphitheater has a large size statue of Mahatma Gandhi which further overlooks the city of Gwalior with the hills and the sky in distant background (http://www.scindia.edu/asthachal.php). The timing of the evening prayer congregation at Astachal was usually synced with the sunset time of the season.

What I learnt and imbibed as a young student at Astachal was something unique, which serves me well even today and its become my daily habit of doing silent introspection. Whilst introspecting, I look within myself, get in touch with my own feelings and emotions and I ponder over my day; what went well, what didn’t go well, what I did for and to others, what others did for and to me, what made me laugh, happy, exited, sad, etc, etc. I hand over my sad and bad part of the day to my god and during the process of introspection I make resolutions, promises to self and plans for the next day. Every evening after the introspection, I feel the lightest and second best. The day after when i wake up and get ready for the day, I feel the best!!

Since I seem to have achieved some success (at-least my wife and children think so – coz we have grown up together!!) in my career. For the past one decade or so I have been operating as an senior executive in the corporate world – the pressures and stress has only increased and trust me, its always high. There are various things that help me deal with the pressure and stress and this ritual and habit of silent introspection that I imbibed at the Astachal is my daily antidote.

Today I live and work based out of three cities and two continents, every month at a minimum I travel to at least four countries in four different continents, I have a beautiful family that I love, a terrific team that I care for and a fantastic career that I value and to keep it like that, I have to work very hard, make efforts to stay physically and mentally fit and be sincere and true to myself and others. I guess, everybody needs a spiritual fix these days and may be this is my fix, which, I found and imbibed at the Astachal. Last week, when I was having a session with my coach and mentor, I was made to realize that this silent introspection habit is a strength and not many can do it effectively. When asked, how I do it well and effectively. I answered and gave the entire credit to my school, my fellow students, teachers and the ritual I picked up at the Astachal 28 years ago!! so what does this silent introspection help me achieve? it is helps me achieve the five following things:

1) In a meditative form in just 20 mins, I can re-cap my whole day and assess the positive and negative happenings and the related emotions (today not at Astachal but on a flight or in the back seat of my car). I get in touch with my feelings and emotions everyday. Hence, I let go off my negative feelings and emotions every day and I don’t carry them forward.

2) I feel chuffed about my positive feelings and emotions and plan to make them a part of my next day. Helps me stay positive and bright.

3) I apologies to people without any ego, if I have caused them grief and I thank and appreciate people who have helped me and made me feel good, and on almost a daily basis.

4) Most important, I am ready and prepared to have courageous conversation with people who have given me grief and have tried to erode my esteem. I don’t take it lying down!

5) I have a very peaceful and a light evening and enjoy my drink 🙂 and go to bed with reduced stress and pressure.

I dedicate this blog to Mr Chatterjee, our school music teacher who used to often lead us at the Astachal and sing songs such as “Door kahin jab din dhal jaye…” and “Surya asth ho gaya, gagan mast ho gaya…” I still know all these songs by heart. Simply beautiful!! 🙂

Here are a few more pics of Astachal (Courtesy some fellow school boy who clicked them and put them on the web. Thanks mate!!)
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How to Best Design and Manage Summer Internship Programs for Strengthening your Employer Brand – Part 2

Part 2 – What Students must do to make internships more valuable:

This is in continuation of the Part-1 which was published three weeks ago.

Today the first month of summer internships for MBA students in India is over and now remains only a month more to go, here are my perspectives and opinions on what the students should do to create value for the organization in which they are interning and also for themselves.

My advice is not on obvious things such as; work hard and stay on top of your project deliverables by making sure your project management skills are being honed, etc. This to me is basic, threshold and hence a given, my advice in particular is about the attitude and dos and don’ts that need to be adopted and exhibited by inerns to create more value:

1) If you haven’t yet started, then, make sure that you have the draft structure of your final presentation and report ready. Don’t leave it until the last weeks. This will help you to start converting you work into a good presentation and report. As you complete your project start to populate it into the draft PPT and report that you may have created.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ~ Dwight D Eisenhower    

2) In the past one month you must have met a lot of people in the company you are working and lot of other people in the industry coz of your interactions with them. Make a list of people with whom you would like to build solid connections and then work on building them. No harm in upfront telling those people, how much you value their support and how you would like to stay in contact with them, even after the internship. It will help if you can make time to have informal meetings and discussions with these people over a coffee or a lunch – tell them about yourself, your dreams and aspirations. One caution, don’t go overboard and spend most of your time; networking. Key is to have a nicely focused shortlist of people with whom you want to build solid connections and then spend some time in building those connections. This is also your opportunity to befriend and make solid connections with your fellow interns from other schools. Peer connections are as valuable as any other connections you make during your internship and MBA education.

 Start with the end in mind ~ Stephen Covey

 3) Take a balcony moment and assess what you are learning. At times we get so focused on what we are doing that we forget to hard wire what we are learning. Learning is the most important objective of any internship; ensure you stay focused on it. I recently learned that, to go faster at times you have to slow down, come out of the dance and take a balcony moment. This interval or mid-point of your (two months) internship is a perfect time to slow down a bit, review your progress, assess its effectiveness and re-plan the next phase of execution.

Taking a break for sharpening the saw at regular intervals helps you to cut more effectively and faster ~ Stephen Covey

 4) Your next big milestone is the final presentation that you will give to the senior management of the company. Most company’s give 50% weightage to your final presentation (solutions that you will recommend to the complex business challenge you are working on) and that’s the “what” part. Remaining 50% is for “how” you have worked, behaved and gone about completing your project. So if you are keen on getting placed in the company where you are doing your internship then give it your best shot and present yourself well on both parts; “what” you delivered and “how” you delivered it.

 Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about dancing in the rain ~ Unkown

5) This is my last and most important piece of advice. It’s about what you should do when you get an offer to join the company or what to do – if you don’t get that offer. Of course this should matter to you, only if you are keen to work with the company that you are interning with.

If you get the offer then it’s easy, you are delighted with yourself and congratulations will be in order from all quarters. Enjoy that moment, go back to your school focus on your remaining studies, pass with flying colors and you will most probably join that company, this time, next year. But, when you get that offer – do think hard if you really want to join that company and wish to make a career there. If in doubt discuss freely with your confidants and only if your are totally sure – accept that offer otherwise decline it and try for other jobs and companies that may be of interest to you. It has to be your decision!

What if you are very keen and you don’t get the offer? Now this is a difficult situation. I have often found many interns dismayed and are left feeling dejected and low. Some even get aggressive, angry and start to blame their mentors and guides for not being of much help etc. Some start arguing and disputing the feedback they get and some begin to plead for a reassessment and re-consideration.

Well, let me tell you one thing. Most progressive and professional companies have a very robust assessment process (which involves multiple people and data points) and their decision is often very objective and final. So, in my opinion those who do not accept the company’s decision and start to behave negatively – often land up denting their own image. Therefore,  resilience, maturity and dignity lies in and comes from internalizing the failure as compared to externalizing it. Adopting a positive attitude will help you overcome your disappointment and enhance your chances of greater success in times to come.

Remember one thing, your not getting that offer can be due to various reasons. I have seen many good interns, who despire their super performance on what and how – not getting an offer due to the recessionary economic cycles. During a depressed economic cycle, companies tend to hire fewer number of people. However after the economy bounces back the same companies and leaders go back and look for those interns who were good and are now placed and working somewhere else. Therefore, as explained above please remember the impressions and connections you make can and will serve you well throughout your career or vice versa.

Irrespective of the outcome, as they say; count your blessings and be grateful to the company , all the people who have helped you with your internship and internalize your failure and externalize your success. It’s a key characteristic of a good human being and an good professional. Wishing you great success and a big career. Like life, a career should be big and not necessarily long. So go out there and make it big!!

Dictionary is the only place where success comes before work ~ Mark Twain

My next and concluding part is on what the MBA Schools must do – and I am sure it will raise a good debate and discussion between the three key stake holders (Companies, Students and Schools). Please let me have your comments and feedback on this blog. Thanks 🙂