2 APRIL 2006
I HAVE DONE IT! I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD! THE UNIVERSE EVEN!
Bow to me, Diary! I am now officially a Business Process Analyst—Trainee.
Who knew, three months ago, when I got a C minus in advanced business strategy that I would join the elite international strategy consulting firm of Dufresne Partners one day? The world mocked me when I sent my résumés to consulting firms and investment banks. Rahul Gupta’s exact words were: ‘Einstein, you are a complete idiot!’
IN YOUR FACE, RAHUL GUPTA! PODA PATTI!
Bastard. Just because you topped the batch does NOT mean you can screw around with Einstein.
Illustrations by Jayachandran / Mint
Phew. Wow. I need to hold my breath. This is a big moment—my first job. And that too a Day Zero job. Wow.
I called Dad on his cell three times but he cut the call each time. He’s started taking tantric yoga classes in the evenings. Perhaps I caught him during his ‘Sensory Deprivation Kriya’.
Listen to first-time author Sidin Vadukut sharing his theorems as he introduces us to his protagonist Robert ‘Einstein’ Varghese. We also chat with the musicians of the Black Mozart Ensemble, who are touring India, and the Tokyo-based founders of PechaKucha.
Okay, now let me describe everything that happened after I updated you last week and told you I’d been shortlisted for interviews by Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Co., JP Morgan and Dufresne Partners. I know I haven’t written entries since then, but you know how it is with placements and the pressure to get a job on Day Zero.
Oh! My fingertips tingle with earnestness.
At the time, I may have told everyone that I was all set to join Goldman Sachs, the greatest bank in the world. I may also have suggested that Dufresne Partners was my ‘safety application’ and I had no intention of joining a ‘second-grade consulting firm of questionable pedigree’.
Diary, I was deeply mistaken. Little did I know that Dufresne Partners, despite the lower revenues, lower profile, and near global bankruptcy in 2001, stood shoulders and head above the others when you considered the job in a holistic fashion. Especially with that exciting and sensible ‘performance and global marketplace dependent variable bonus payout scheme’ that was introduced earlier this year.
My impression of firms was corrupted by the likes of Rahul Gupta. By the way, that pig made it into Goldman Sachs. His work–life balance is so screwed. Does he even know how many more hours bankers have to put in compared to consultants? In a way I feel sorry for him, my arch-nemesis. I look forward to hearing from him soon with a request to refer him for a vacancy at Dufresne. I will first promise to help him. Assure him that I hold no grudge.
And then I will ignore him and dash his hopes. Awesome.
Now, onward I go with my tales of triumphant employment.
My first interview for the day was with JP Morgan.
I had sat up all night watching CNBC in the common room, trying to keep myself up to date with the bleeding edge of news and information from the global financial markets. Unfortunately I fell asleep on the wooden bench in front of the TV and woke up only at nine after Shashank from the placement office rolled me off the bench on to the floor and kicked me in the underbelly.
Apparently JPM had started interviews at 8 a.m. as scheduled and if I didn’t get my first interview started in ten minutes they would skip me entirely for the second round. I tried to calm Shashank down by telling him that this was part of my optimal interview preparation programme whereby I reduce my metabolism to impossible lows just before peak performance. He walked away shaking his head in disbelief at my nerves of solid steel.
I had approximately eight minutes to be interview ready. Which meant I had to prioritize: Brush teeth? bathe? shave? loo?
I decided to go to the loo, brush and change into my suit. My hair had been crushed into the armrests of the stupid bench and pressed into a reverse Mohawk: nothing in the middle, nice stiff peaks on both sides. It was embarrassing.
BUT I HAD NO TIME FOR A BLOW DRY!
With one minute left in my deadline I ran to the classroom block with my tie flapping around my neck and the twin peaks of my hair rock-solid.
I was gasping for breath when I reached the student pool, but once I entered the room I acted nonchalant and relaxed. This was a little psychological warfare to weaken the morale of the competition. Most guys get nervous when they see people like me take it so cool.
The atmosphere in the pool was sombre. People were beginning to get eliminated. A cold shiver passed down my spine. Shashank stood in the centre of the pool screaming out instructions. And then he saw me, looked at my head and went completely silent.
He came up to me and said I had ten minutes to get my hair straightened out. Or they would debar me from campus placements under the ‘Potential cause of institutional ill-repute’ clause.
I ran to the water cooler outside in the hallway and stood in line behind Bardan, Suddu and a somewhat short, skinny girl in a suit. I figured she must be one of those first-year kids who were hanging around to help us seniors. I made a mental note to seek her out later and chat her up Einstein-style.
When it was my turn I took the cup, filled it with water and then tried to splash a little with my palm into my hair. I managed to get the back of my suit wet and ticklishly cold. So I walked over to the girl in the suit and asked her if she could tip the glass of water gently over my head so I could pat my hair down.
She was taken aback and looked a little lost in the way women do when they’ve been asked to do something and hope that someone else will do it for them. (Remember carpentry practicals in engineering college?) But I grabbed her hand, gave her the glass and bent over. She dutifully poured the water while I patted my hair down. It took a few minutes but I finally managed to get my mop into some sort of order.
I thanked her profusely but she walked away without a word. I think I felt a certain spark of chemistry . . .
Just then I heard Shashank call my name and I ran into the pool without delay.
He immediately sent one of his minions to take me to the JP Morgan interview room. There was no one outside the room except Pathak, the student coordinator, who wished me best of luck (not necessary) and then turned away quickly with a magazine over his face. Bad breath?
I walked into a particularly cold and harshly lit room. That and the water in my shirt made me shiver a little. But I took a couple of deep breaths and focussed all my energy in my kundalini point on the tip of my nose.
There were two gentlemen in the room—very sharply dressed in shirts and ties and with shiny BlackBerrys on the table. The very sight of the gleaming Berrys—that’s what all the bankers and corporate types call them—made my heart race and my pulse pound.
For a brief moment I imagined myself sitting in my office at JPM and typing a very professional message on my own Berry: ‘Okay. We will buy General Motors in all cash . . .’ or something like that.
They asked me to wait a second till a colleague joined them. I sat quietly in my chair, looking at them while they fiddled with their Berrys.
Ten seconds later the third member of the group walked in.
And at that moment I knew that my immediate future as a young management professional would probably not involve toiling in the venerable corridors of JP Morgan and earning obscenely large salaries in a foreign currency.
The third member on the panel was the same girl whom I had accosted at the water cooler and asked to pour water over my head. I tried to make a little joke of it by smiling at her and smoothing my hair down. She looked at me with eyes like those of a black widow spider about to eat its mate.
They asked me a few questions about my résumé and then invited me to talk about the state of the global economy. While I spoke, the lady passed around a small sheet of paper. The gentlemen looked at it, then at me and then at each other. Then at me again. And then at my hair.
I made a little joke about inflation being a serious problem for ‘both the Economy and Mahima Choudhury!’ which was followed by laughter. Mostly my own.
The JPM people wished me best of luck and asked me to leave. As I left I heard laughter. When Pathak asked me how I did, I told him I answered everything and I felt positive.
I actually did.
Humour, Prof. Kumar had told us in our interview techniques lectures, was a powerful way to shine in an interview. Had it been good enough to get me a second round with JPM? Only time would tell.
I walked back to the pool mildly optimistic and waited for my next call: McKinsey & Co. Prince among recruiters, king among consultants, er . . . emperor among employers. Half the people in the institute would give an arm and perhaps a leg to be shortlisted by McKinsey & Co.
But not me.
I, Robin ‘Einstein’ Varghese, merely had to submit my résumé with full academic qualifications and the shortlist came looking for me. After all I was ranked forty-first in the batch. As I sat waiting for Shashank to shout the magic words—‘Einstein! McKinsey needs you right now!’—I mentally patted myself on the back and tried to think of all the possible questions they might throw at me. These consulting interviews could be tricky.
I focussed and went into a somewhat zen-like state.
Suddenly Shashank came and stood next to me. I straightened my tie, took a long pranayamic breath and stood up. I felt a pulse of positive energy thrum through my body. And the taste of adrenalin in my mouth; metallic with a hint of red wine.
‘Is it time?’ I asked him.
‘Dude, McKinsey have finalized their people and they’ve stopped all interviews. They wanted me to inform everyone who was left on their shortlist. Sorry, man.’
For a brief moment the room began to spin around me. Then I instantly collected my emotions admirably and stopped sobbing in another thirty seconds or so. Shashank didn’t say anything but he put his arm around me. ‘Don’t worry, Einstein. You have more interviews lined up. And besides, Pathak told me that JP Morgan were very happy after you left them.’
I said nothing. I tried to think happy thoughts. I tried to think of Chandler Bing. It always helps.
Shashank walked away and I decided to step outside for a cup of coffee and one of those terrible sandwiches they supply every year during placements.
As I went down the stairs to the snacks counters I began to wish, just a little bit, I had converted my summer internship into a job like Shashank. He had interned with UBS in London. They liked him so much that they had offered him a full-time job.
Shashank is a good egg though. None of the airs that those banker types put on as soon as they smell an offer letter from London or New York. Not like the Rahul Guptas of the world.
There was a girl giving away sandwiches behind the counter. I approached her and gratefully accepted two sandwiches. Of course I accepted them only after she insisted that she did not work with Goldman Sachs or Dufresne Partners in a Human Resources capacity.
Once bitten twice shy has been one of my lifelong mottoes, as you know.
I had barely settled into a quiet corner of the adjacent lawn with my sandwich and a machine-churned coffee when a placement committee member approached me at a fair clip and told me to go ‘at once’ to the Dufresne Partners panel for my first round interview.
I took a couple of deep pranayamic breaths and told positive things to myself, as Deepak Chopra tells us to in his weekly email newsletter. ‘Dufresne Partners needs you, Einstein. Dufresne Partners needs you, Einstein. You don’t need them. They need you. They want you.’
I kept repeating that mantra to myself till I reached the Dufresne interview room. There was nobody around. Not a single soul. Not even the student representative. I stood around awkwardly for a while before deciding to grab the initiative and create some momentum: I walked up to the door, knocked twice and then walked in, a look of determination on my face.
Inside there was a gentleman with his back to me, facing a corner of the room with his pants down around his knees. His shirt, thankfully, was long enough to cover his behind. There was a tube of some sort of ointment on the table next to him. He turned his head around and looked at me. Oddly enough, he looked calm and cool, collected even.
I nodded at him solemnly and walked back out closing the door behind me.
And then I tried to completely erase the previous seven seconds from my life.
A moment or two later the door opened and the gentleman stepped out and asked me if I was Robin Varghese. I nodded. He walked up to me and extended his hand. I shook it, and made a mental note:
‘Hi Robin. I am Swami. Great to meet you. Why don’t you go through this material while I prepare for our interview, eh? It will help and won’t take more than ten minutes. Okay?’
I nodded. He walked away. I vigorously rubbed my palm on the seat of my trousers and then opened the file Swami had given me. I immediately felt much better.
Dufresne had prepared individualized material for each candidate and the file had my name emblazoned in bold letters across the top of each page:
ROBIN WERE GEESE—WIMWI
Swami popped his head out of the door. ‘Come on in, Robin!’ he said with a flick of his head.
When I entered the room and did not see the tube of ointment on the table, I let out a quite audible sigh of relief.
‘Don’t be nervous, Robin. We are all nice people here at Dufresne. Relax. Sit down and chill, won’t you?’