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'In Delhi, the sahab will not reach before 11 am'

Last updated on: September 7, 2011 14:27 IST

'In Delhi, the sahab will not reach before 11 am'

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Prashant Gupta, a student of Department of Management Studies, IIT Delhi shares his experience of working as a summer intern in a leading chemical company and goes on to tell what he learnt about corporate behaviour from his field visits across various states in the country.

Illustrations by: Uttam Ghosh and Dominic Xavier

After bleak months of no internship in hand, attending parties of my just-placed batchmates and facing yet another person for an internship interview, the endless pursuit to get a first job after joining MBA was in itself looking like a test of patience and self-belief.

Big as they may sound, the importance of both words dawns upon those who are not fortunate enough to get an early pick during the campus summer placements. I happened to be one of them.

Trust me if you can -- or you would be compelled to, when I tell you how I eventually got my offer.

Let me tell you that a summer internship offer has little to do with one's reasoning skills or subject understanding (by the end of MBA one realises that the entire degree wasn't really meant to teach you either anyway!).

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Image: The endless pursuit to get a first job after joining MBA was in itself looking like a test of patience and self-belief

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Starting early does not matter; your luck does

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How I got the internship offer

Getting an internship offer is about selling oneself to the note the recruiter may choose to play, or being able to bring them to your tune and making them feel like you belong to their fraternity.

A 45-minutes-long telephonic interview about my interests and expectations from the internship followed my resume shortlist.

The job profile was clearly defined beforehand. The interview was supposed to establish my genuine interest and probable ability to deliver.

The final interview was taken by two of the company's employees, who were to also mentor me thereon. They explained the project details and asked for my inputs about the way forward.

I had to spell out the specific strategies I would use in the project. They interjected my responses with problems I would encounter in implementing those strategies and we talked about further possibilities.

They wanted to ensure that I knew how hot the stove would get and be ready to accept the responsibility.

And then the offer happened.

I was to do my summer internship with one of the biggest chemical companies in the world. I had managed a big name on my resume much to the envy of more than you would like to believe. So now you know that starting early does not matter; your luck does.

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Image: To get an internship offer, you need to sell your skills

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'My first job was to research and zero in on the target companies'

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Getting inducted

This company sold raw material for the manufacture of paints, coatings, dyes, inks, etc. My project was confined to the paints and coatings business segment of the company.

There are elaborate paint and coating uses and applications that I mastered in the very first week of my internship, but it is irrelevant to dwell about them here.

Interest in the subject of the business comes so naturally when you know your actions are making a difference to the company.

The pan-India project I was involved in included four of us, each responsible for the four directional zones of India.

My summer project involved identifying North Indian companies of a particular segment in paint and coating manufacturing and making a plan to increase the visibility and market share of my company among them.

Reporting to the National Sales Manager with four guys breathing down my neck at the local office seemed to be a very scary proposition. But things were about to change.

I was provided with a list of companies all over India dealing with paint and coatings one way or the other.

This list had distributors, dealers, manufacturers and even competitors. My first job was to research and sift the list to zero in on the target companies.

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Image: 'My first job was to research and sift the list to zero in on the target companies'

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'I had a list of about 500 companies in my domain to target'

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Things get bitter

The first two weeks passed by looking for information on the Internet about more companies and adding them to the list. I was simultaneously calling the companies I had information about to assure their existence and relevance for my project. The market plays its tricks.

Some traders misled me to believe that they were manufacturers so that they could collect information from me when I visited them.

Time, effort and resources went in vain as I visited every such location. One quickly learns not to get frustrated and react!

With week 2 over, I had a list of about 500 companies in my domain to target. In the next 15 days I visited companies situated in the remotest areas of Delhi, Faridabad and other nearby areas.

The project mid-review happened in the presence of all the four guides and their boss. We had to brief our progress in the bygone month and present the action plan for the next month.

The seniors were patient enough to provide a friendly ambience and offered advice in case someone was lacking somewhere.

My mid-review went better than my expectations. I had covered considerable ground in terms of numbers and a visit to six north Indian states was next on cards. I had to plan the entire schedule and complete the work in exactly one month.

One good thing: My company never interfered with what I wanted to do.

One bad thing: They didn't care to find out what I was upto.

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Image: 'I had a list of about 500 companies in my domain to target'

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'I lived out of my suitcase for a good 25 days'

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Corporate experience

The environment was very liberal but I had to show results in the end and thus work was mandatory. I had to be responsible for my own actions. I had been running away from such situations for 23 years!

I lived out of my suitcase for a good 25 days because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to complete the tour.

My visits to different states were very enriching. I was travelling to all the places for the first time in my life. I witnessed the difference in the working culture and behaviour in various regions.

I learned which states I would trade for, if I ever had an option.

For example, people in Rajasthan are disciplined and always start the work early with the owner being the first one to reach the factory whereas in Delhi work doesn't start till 10 am and the 'sahab' will not reach the office before 11 am.

People in Uttar Pradesh have no interest in market research but they very well know how to push their product into the market.

Companies in Madhya Pradesh are doing very well in their territory but they complain that the big companies have forgotten about the heart of India.

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Image: 'I lived out of my suitcase for a good 25 days'

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'I realised how difficult it was to face an actual customer'

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Experience with customers

Encounters with customers ended up being the most enriching.

A customer in Uttar Pradesh discussed politics and lamented about the terrible condition of our country for an hour but when I mentioned the project I was there for, he gave me a spiel about doing something better and worthwhile with my life for another half hour.

He never wanted to discourage me and he mentioned that a dozen times in those 30 minutes.

During this time, I realised how difficult it was to face an actual customer when you always have to be on your toes to acknowledge all his/her little comments and idiosyncrasies.

Once, a customer never asked me to sit down and I had to talk to him for an hour standing up even as my legs were actually killing me. In another case, a customer provided me a 20 kg paint distemper bucket to sit on because all the chairs were occupied by his friends.

Well, I had expected much worse but perhaps it was the reputation of my company that helped smoothen the visits.

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Image: 'You have to acknowledge the comments and idiosyncrasies of your customers'

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'I tasted life as never before'

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The final presentation

As I prepared for the final showdown it proved very cumbersome to include all my experiences in the presentation but I managed to share them during and after the presentation.

The final day saw us gearing up in anticipation of a pre-placement job offer, as we were told to create a timeline to apply the suggested plan.

Hope is a tricky word. It can put you on for no reason.

Eventually, I would like to believe that they liked what I suggested and the last day ended up being an interactive session with the seniors asking for clarifications and sharing their own experiences from the industry. The journey was worth its salt. I tasted life as never before.

With some myths broken and some new faiths created, I move on.

Reader invite

Have you completed your summer internship? Do you have an interesting summer internship experience to narrate?

If you have an interesting summer internship story to share, write in to us at getahead@rediff.co.in (subject line: 'My Summer Internship Experience') and we'll publish the best entries right here. Your request for privacy shall be respected.


Image: 'I tasted life as never before'

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