Lessons learned from my MBA internship
Smriti Chopra, an MBA student shares her experience of working as a brand manager for a leading watch-maker. She would like to keep the name of the company she interned at confidential. Read on.
Ever imagined a 21-year-old being the temporary brand manager of a leading watch-making company and working on their newest launched brand? That lucky girl was me.
My summer internship turned out to be the most adventurous two months of my life but looking back, I realise that the adventure had started much earlier.During the first week of summer placements at my b-school, I was shortlisted by more than 10 companies but couldn't get past even a single group discussion. And then came my dream company a leading watch-maker of India.
Smriti Chopra is a B.Com (hons) graduate from Indraprastha College, Delhi University and is pursuing a MBA in Marketing from Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad. Besides writing, she loves reading fiction and listening to music. She is also a member of the International Relations Committee at IMT Ghaziabad.
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Photographs: Rediff Archives
'I was the only one selected'
The selection process had two rounds of group discussions and surprisingly, I outshined both (though I still can't figure out the reasons!). And then I found myself sitting in front of the first corporate interviewer after entering IMT Ghaziabad.
The interviewer asked me a question I had anticipated -- which branch of marketing would I prefer to intern in? With a confident expression and the fastest beating heart, this is what I answered, "Marketing wouldn't be the first step for me. I would like to begin with a sales profile, to first dirty my hands in the market and then put my foot ahead to use the experience in marketing."
As the smile on his face grew larger, my heart shrunk. The interview ended a little later with the HR representative of the company asking me if I was comfortable working outside Delhi since my resume revealed that I have never lived outside the city.
Although I wouldn't have liked anything but Delhi, considering the circumstances, I had to settle for a "I would be comfortable outside Delhi but would prefer my hometown" reply.
Turned out that I was the only one selected. But I was placed in Bangalore, certainly not the best outcome I'd have liked to have!
'The training began with an entire week of market visits'
April 7, 2011 -- My first day in office.
A group of 12 well dressed B-school students, waiting in the conference room for the HR representative to address them. After an hour long wait, the HR arrived, explained the code of conduct (office timings, dress code, etc) and directed us to our departments. Mine was on the 7th floor.
Work started from Day 1. My project guide explained at length what the aesthetics of this watch brand were all about. It was a brand that manufactured and sold kids' watches, incubated primarily to inculcate a watch wearing habit among children.
The training began with an entire week of market visits. I visited various watch stores across Bangalore, talking to the store managers and sales representatives about how the sales of that brand were doing. Yes, you truly need to dirty your hands in the market before you set your foot ahead to tap it.
After getting an essence of the market, the actual project began. The company wanted to tap the period during which schools reopen after the summer vacations.
It is during this period that the sales of kids' products reach their very peak -- perfect time for kids' brands to run marketing campaigns and drive buying.
My project was to build one such marketing campaign for the kids' watches brand.
'The ability to face challenges brings out the real manager in you'
Although my project guide was supportive and encouraging, like every other boss, she wasn't too open to ideas from juniors.
About 15 days into the project, I realised that I would face certain hardships not just for the next two months but even as an actual fulltime brand manager.
The 'marketing' profession is sold to us as one that involves creativity and open mindedness. Though marketing managers accept this fact, few are very creative in practice.
New ideas would need to pass the test of facing a battery of criticism and disgrace before they are even considered worthy of being evaluated. But then, it's the ability to face such challenges that brings out the real manager in you.
I soon learned that the best way to overcome this problem was to approach my project guide with a well-planned and somewhat-authenticated idea. Before you present the idea to your boss, try to be as thorough as possible.
You must have a complete plan of action describing its implementation from scratch and should have thought through the obstacles it will encounter.Not to forget the fact that being the youngest (and apparently the most unimportant) part of the team, you would have to have face strong glares from the management team in case you did have a brilliant idea.
'You are expected to perform as much as a permanent employee '
Another phenomenon I noticed was the omnipresent tussle between the sales manager and the brand manager. Both have conflicting interests and these sometimes come in the way of each other.
While a sales manager is concerned with immediate figures and units, a brand manager has a longer term goal involving brand building and recall instead of simply focusing on sales.
It is far more difficult to get things done than to do them yourself. I learned this after interacting with the advertising and event management agencies which support promotional campaigns.
Though these agencies make a brand manager's job a lot easier, it takes great effort to make them work in-sync with you and meet deadlines.
As interns, you are expected to perform as much as a permanent employee does but the resources available to you shall be nowhere near comparable. What should one do? Build acquaintance with as many employees as possible and seek their help.
Not only will this make you a faster learner, it will help you get things done in a smoother fashion.
The fruits of hard work lie not just in the appreciation you receive from your project guide, but also in all that you learn. Here are some more insights from my summer internship experience:
Learn to communicate well. Communication (such as through e-mail) forms the backbone of every business operation. Pay attention to how you address individuals in your e-mails keeping in mind the level you operate at. The art of writing e-mails includes being businesslike in your communication while not being disrespectful.
Your boss is not always right! While proposing an idea/approach, try not to lose to your boss's arguments. As managers, they sometimes fail to appreciate radically new approaches. It's part of your job to bring something new to the organization. So go ahead and do it!
Your boss is not always wrong too! Summer interns commonly complain that their busy project guides do not give them enough attention. If you face such a situation, do not let go. Keep pestering your guide with e-mails or text messages and extract the maximum possible from them. Remember, your guide is the best source of information about your firm and you need to learn how to get things out from them.
Do not approach employees for help randomly. Be humble and pay attention to how you approach them. Pestering people is alright, as long as you do it the right way and with humility.
Try and explore as much as possible. Try and develop an emotional connect with the brand you work for. Gather a lot of information about the brand (Google NOT being your primary source this time) and try to learn why the brand evolved the way it did and what the reasons behind early-stage decisions were.In the end, my suggestion to next year's MBA summer interns is -- treat your internship as an opportunity to learn rather than a source of prep-placement interviews or offers, or else you will not have fun doing it. And who knows, at the end, an offer might come too!