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Talking smart

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“What is Tata Consultancy Services [TCS’] turnover?” “Don’t know, Sir.” “Who is the company’s CEO?” “Sorry, Sir.”

“What is the name of the organisation that functions as the umbrella body for the IT [information technology] sector?” “I am not really interested in IT.” “Then why are you sitting for this interview?” “I got selected, so...”

“What are you interested in?”

“Telecom.”

“So, if tomorrow comes to campus, will you ditch us?” “Yes, Sir.”

You know how that went. To be fair, the candidate claims she heard “adjust” instead of “ditch us”. Thankfully, this was not a real interview, but merely a preparation for the actual thing. are the first time students face interview panels, and if it were not for coaching institutes – such as ours – several of them would end up saying the darnedest things before the panelists.

The first rule: You are grown-ups, so you need to understand that truthfulness does not pay. Sure, you are interested in telecom. You imagine yourself working for a big-ticket firm that has Airtel emblazoned on your visiting card. But honey, what if you don’t make it? Worse, what if Airtel declines to visit your campus? Chances are you will end up in IT. Infosys picked up 45,000 people from campus last year, 40,000, 28,000 (never mind they keep delaying the actual joining because of a dry order pipeline). Which other sector would unleash itself so generously and take away graduates in hordes?

So no, you never say you are not interested in IT. I don’t blame you if you aren’t (I hated the prospect of writing code when I graduated engineering, so I know where that is coming from), but you must keep your reservations to yourself. You take up an IT job, fry your brains out for three years and then like a good citizen of your age, do an (Master of Business Administration), preferably in finance, and then join Hindustan Unilever, Tata Administrative Services or McKinsey. That is when you have arrived.

But my poor students, they are so wet behind the ears. It’s shocking to realise that one was like them not too long ago. I continue, in recollected horror: You tell companies what they like to hear. You said “telecom”, never mind. They ask: “Why us then?” Say: “Because you are TCS, house of the Tatas. Who would not want to work for you? Infy and Wipro, their order books are drying up. Cognizant is not based out of India. But TCS? TCS is Indian, heart and soul, the oldest IT company. If there is one IT company I am willing to give up for, it’s TCS.”

“You say that,” I tell my students, “and the panel starts smiling again. That simple! Be smart, not virtuous.”

I hope I am not going to hell.

After the fiasco with the first candidate, the next one is a relief. To the first question: “Tell me something about yourself,” Niranjan says, among other things, “I am interested in the flamenco, which is a Spanish guitar that is played without the plectrum because it has nylon strings.” That’s rule number 2. Mention something uncommon — an interest, hobby or passion that gets the panel’s ears pricked up. Niranjan is also a fan of old Hindi music and Sourav Ganguly.

He says all the right things and the interview keeps moving up several notches until it feels like I am interviewing him not for an IT job, but an IIM (Indian Institute of Management) admission. Sample this: “Which is the last film you saw?”
Shanghai.”
“How did you like it?”
“It was very good. The more things change, the more they remain the same. In the end, the wife of the slain activist becomes a chief ministerial candidate. It was dark.”
“Do you agree with its politics?”
“Yes I do.”

“Don’t you think there are inconsistencies in adapting a Greek novel to the India of today? The paradigm is completely different. In Singur, it was the farmers who threw Tatas out. Is it not inauthentic to show the locals blackening the face of a publisher of Communist material?”

“No Sir, I don’t think it was inauthentic. It shows how hunger trumps everything, even morality. Give a poor man hard cash and he will do what you ask of him, even blacken faces of those who speak for him. So long as that he is assured the next meal, he does not care for tomorrow.”

That was unequivocally smart — and eminently sensible. I look at him with admiration and say, “Niranjan, you are hired.” Loud cheers and a fat smile. Applause all around. Later, I tell him: “Take the [common admission test] this year. Why do you want to waste two-three years in IT? At your level of preparation, the would be happy to admit you.” “Really?” he says. “Of course. Come over for a session with me at the office. I will tell you how to prepare.”

“Sure, sir. Thank you!”

In my mind, I tick another success for the coming year.


The author has switched too many jobs in the past and hopes he can hold down this one

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