Business Schools

Setting Off False Alarms


While waiting for an interview to begin, this MBA accidentally pulled the fire alarm. He didn't get the internship, but he certainly made an impression

It was supposed to be a normal Friday morning at one of the premier office buildings in downtown Boston. The clock showed 9:45 a.m. Things were beginning to settle down into what would have been another hours-before-the-weekend kind of business routine, when suddenly the blaring sound of the fire alarm tore through the silence. Within minutes, everybody had evacuated. The fire department in all its glory and urgency was soon all over the place. It didn't take them long, however, to realize this was a false alarm….

But this isn't where it all began.

The Boston office of one of the country's top consulting firms, where I happened to be interviewing on that beautiful but wet winter morning, was located in this pristine building on Batterymarch Street, close to the city's business hub. Although my internship interview was scheduled for 10 a.m., I had arrived—somewhat unexpectedly—a little too early.

As I waited in the lobby reading a magazine, I saw from the corner of my eye a class fellow, who had just finished interviewing and left, coming back and knocking at the glass door. He had come back to fetch something he had forgotten. The lady at the reception was, for some reason, not at her place. She had the controls to open the door.

No Cause for Alarm

Without giving it much thought, I reached out for the button next to the door that was supposed to unlock it. Instead, my hand ended up bringing down the lever that was supposed to be the "fire alarm," which, for some strange reason, was placed strategically right next to this door-unlocking button.

Before I knew it, the whole building was abuzz: first with the alarm going off, and then with people rushing out. As people filled the street outside, I could see the firefighters rush in. The whole place looked like mayhem. Not a pretty sight, I assure you!

If ever I was trying to make a memorable impression in an interview, I couldn't have asked for anything more impacting.

My interviewer—pressed for time as he was—decided to conduct the interview right at the building's entrance, almost on the stairway. Or at least he began the interview. However, out of sheer compassion, I guess, he then agreed to postpone it until lunch time. It was supposed to be a luncheon interview. And I thought it went off well too, despite the fact that I really didn't have any appetite left.

Not surprisingly, I didn't make the cut!

Late Starter

So much for my first internship interview experience! Having faced much worse accidents, both manmade and natural, I wasn't really ruffled. In fact, I was at my calmest. Although no one had seen me setting off the alarm, I was the first person to greet the firefighters and tell them I was responsible for everything.

Looking at the positive side of it—and here, being the die-hard optimist that I am helps—things can only get better. With our Module III exams just over, we now have some free time (a week of spring break actually) that I can use constructively for my internship search. I know I'm a bit late in the game. But that's more out of default than design.

Three interviews (the result of one of which I'm still awaiting) and another five companies (to hear from) later, I find things just warming up. My seniors at the school tell me April (and to some extent May) are the most hectic months for the internship search. But with all those speech, writing, and case-preparation classes behind me, along with countless edits of cover letters and résumés—thanks to the tireless efforts of our speech/writing and career-center experts—I feel good and ready.

Army Angle

However, my biggest challenge still remains translating my Indian army experience into something the corporate world would find valuable. And this is an area I'm still working on.

I'm looking for an internship in a consulting or a general-management role. Given my experience in the army in handling men and situations often calling for leadership skills beyond the mundane, I feel I can add value to any business seeking to bring structure and discipline to a world where the rules of the game are rewritten on an almost routine basis. Besides, I have also held positions requiring research and analysis that have had a significant role in deciding the overall strategic courses of action for the second-largest army in the world.

In my last assignment, as commanding officer of a newly raised (startup) electronic-warfare regiment—to help the security forces plan their next operations—I along with my team analyzed vast amounts of disparate data on a 24/7 basis. This required large doses of analytical skills, creativity, and innovation—subjects I'm truly passionate about—under very tight timeframes.

Handling stress, traveling a lot, and yet delivering quality results (that could mean a matter of life and death in some cases) while always maintaining our composure was thus a way of life for us. My classmates from the civvy street tell me this job description could well fit any consulting firm in the corporate world.

Soft Machine

Furthermore, having worked in a very large organization and at the same time having created and led new groups (startups), I have deep understanding of often conflicting dynamics of both interpersonal and operational issues that confront growing organizations. I can thus bring both the discipline and structure of an army life and the spirit of creativity, chaos, and innovation, into any situation. This again is something that should be of relevance to the business world.

Moreover, I have always been passionate about cracking machines. Somewhere along the line, I came to realize the toughest machine to crack, and therefore the most satisfying, is the human mind. Ever since then, I've been simply fascinated by cutting-edge practices that attempt to bridge the gap between the art and science of managing organizational change. Being an engineer, an artist, and a communicator, I bring a unique perspective to the entire spectrum of activities associated in bringing this complex act together.

So, hopefully, by the time my next journal appears, I should be well on my way to a satisfying and rewarding internship. Till then, the search continues….

Bright Future

Getting back to my last entry: I promised I would write about how creativity, puppetry, innovation, team building, etc., are related to an MBA course. While all the quantitative courses (finance, accounting, statistics, etc.) are integral to any foundational business program, the differentiating parts of any good MBA course are the "soft skills"—issues that—employers universally agree—are critical to a successful career in the corporate world.

These are the qualities that become increasingly important as one climbs the organizational ladder. And having dealt with them on an extensive—and almost regular—basis in my past career, I chose to talk about them over the "routine" classroom stuff. Hopefully, all my past posts make better sense now.

It's time for me to sign off. But before I do that, just one word to all those with more than average work experience and debating between a one-year, two-year, or executive MBA program: A regular (two-year) MBA is the only format that provides proper opportunity to intern. This becomes crucial for all those seeking a career change. I chose a regular two-year MBA for only this reason, in spite of much well-meaning advice that spoke otherwise.

I was looking for a truly immersive experience—something no other format could really capture or replicate. An internship with a company in an industry in which I would like to work after my MBA is the best way to explore my options. I have the will, motivation, and energy. What I may lack, I make up for with my desire to learn.

While I have no idea what the future has in store for me or where I'm headed come summer, one thing I am very certain about is what Rudyard Kipling wrote:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!

Till we meet next.

Cheers,

Vivek


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