Interview with a Vice-President

3 Apr

We get this supplement employment news along with Times of India every Wednesday, with advice on career development and job opportunities and ads. I like to know what opportunities exist – you know, keep abreast of the market and stuff. Today’s front-page article was about how Senior Executives in India would answer if they were the interviewees instead of interviewers.

I am panicking. I will never get a job, ever!

I would not say I am suave or sophisticated but I am not a barbarian either. I have a degree in engineering from a reputable university and consider myself passably eloquent. I can do etiquette and have tea with the Queen, if I have to or pretend to be intelligent and give a power point presentation on any subject with some amount of research (books and Google are not unknown to me). But what I cannot do is bullshit at a level expected by these ‘Senior Executives’. Although my not-so-secret power is, indeed, bullshitting, I have to draw the line somewhere.

What one of the VP suggested as an answer to the question “If selected, can you describe your strategy for the first 60 days” (remember the answer has to be generic enough to fit any company)

“In the first 60 days, I would try and understand my role in the context of its contribution to the overall profitability and growth of the company. I would like to progressively work with my line manager on understanding the things that have been done in the past and formulating a forward-looking plan to accomplish set goals or targets with specific time-lines”

No, I did not forget the commas or full-stops – this was the answer, without a comma, a pause. It made me gag – I see that I am just not going to be able to cut it in the market today.

(A small intermission to tell you of my work profile till date – I joined a small software start-up in 2000 and stayed with them till 2012, I left the company because we had the chance to come to India as part of my husband’s job and India is my native country and I want my children to have a bit of India in them. I loved my job and had great colleagues and it was pure fun. I got to learn and try out new things and rise through the ranks to be the “department head” at a place that had a flat hierarchy. I got the job over a chat with my ex-boss who hired me based less on my very sparse CV at that time, more on my willingness to work and learn. I got lucky and they never regretted it)

Here I am, after gathering 12-years of work experience in various positions and yet at a loss of how to ever come up with such answers, at an interview. I have been on the other side of the table and have hired freshers for my company but never expected an answer like that, now I see that I have been all wrong all along. If only I had had a proper education in such things or been in a more ‘traditional’ company, I would have come up with such an answer. My idea of interview answers till now, were based on Dilbert comics and that, I am beginning to believe is, not a good idea.

One other Q&A that shook me up- “Would you be willing to take a salary cut?”. The answer is as follows

“Yes. Salary is a notional number. I expect a job to have several dimensions: a learning environment; great people to work with; respect and a pay package- in that order. A great package without the other three is a mirage. I believe that a good company ensures its people are paid well”

After reading the last sentence, I was thoroughly confused – did I now say Y”es, I will readily take a pay cut or did I just say, I expect you to give me loads and loads of money because otherwise you are the bad guys”?!? And what is a notional number when it comes to salary? Do you get imaginary payments? So the cut would be imaginary too? Do they pay you in ideas? or ideals?

Being a mother of two young children, I, more than appreciate any additional perks at a job, like home-office, flexible hours, in-house daycare, an encouraging work environment etc. But how can I ask for great colleagues when I am just starting at a company? Can they assure me that? Wow, where do I sign up for this place?

Then there was this question “What do you think your previous boss”? The answer as recommended:

“My boss had some great skills, which I leveraged. I have chosen to learn from my bosses. The present one is no exception”.

That sounds like the last boss was someone who ate babies for breakfast! ‘some great skills’ – really?!?!? Like what, reverse parking in a narrow-slot? make kick-ass coffee with your latest Espresso machine? What then? And how did you leverage it? And what do you mean you have ‘chosen to learn from my bosses’ – is he Dalai Lama?

And when someone says ‘The present one is no exception’ – that sounds bitter!

By the time the question about ‘Do you have any questions’ was listed, I was wringing my hands hard and hyperventilating. After a while, I calmed down and thought of strategies to overcome my shortcomings. I realized I was totally out of my depth here, so I thought I will ask my husband for help; he is a sort of a senior executive in one of the world’s largest companies.

 Oh, no, wait a minute, he is an engineer and a Dilbert reader too. I am doomed!

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