The Glamour of Business

March 21, 2007

business meetingAs a kid, I was suddenly fascinated by business and the world of superstar executives, not moviestars. I don’t remember when this happened, but I remember one particular image that seems to summarise my sudden fascination. It was a very simple shot of some CEO walking from one meeting to another, greeting someone from his office by name midway. This was for a segment in some business show on CNN. Suddenly, I started watching more business shows, and I decided that I wanted to be an executive, and even be a CEO one day.

The actual glamour of business is added on by people who are competent, confident, wealthy and charming. Executives are so rushed that their time is money, and actualy money can be frittered away to buy only the best and most expensive things in life. The people in this world are not only intelligent: they are respected, rich, and meet similar people all the time.

Of course, the actual corporate world is not nearly as glamorous.

For various reasons, I no longer want to be an executive, or even a CEO. I might need to “sell my soul for bread” a few days down the line and re-enter the corporate world, but it’s suddenly a world that no longer fascinates me in the way it used to.

I am still quite happy to look upon the world of business, and I do dream of having my own business, but the life of executives is far from glamarous: there’s too much undue stress and dirty politics involved.

But why am I still attracted to business ? I remember an interview for a State Dept exchange programme thing, where I was asked about why I thought business was important. I think the sincerity of my answer showed through: I answered that business was as important as politics these days. A large business can affect millions of people. A business can provide many with services that they really need, and with jobs and income.

The importance of business is very different from its glamour. The glamour is still there: the expense accounts, the charming, beautiful people, gorgeous computers and expensive cell-phones. But it’s also cubicles, ass-kissing, and dealing with insecure backbiters.


Joining a new job, Part 1: 4 ways to work hard

December 10, 2006

What do you need to do, to succeed at a new job? There are many routes to job success, but the core activity must be something quite unglamorous: working hard.

By working hard, I mean working hard at everything, and staying longer at your job in order to complete all that.

There are four basic aspects of working hard.

1. Conduct detailed background research of your area of work

When you first join, spend as much time as possible going through as many work-related documents as possible. Go through things even if they don’t seem directly related to your particular designation: visit competitors’ websites, read articles and news related to your niche, and go through reports that are lying round on your network. Make sure you understand your industry thoroughly. Try to read as many important company documents that you have access to.

A lot of this background work might seem superfluous at first. But it has quite a few benefits. First, you’ll feel at home in your new industry, or you’ll gain a different perspective of it. You’ll understand your new company better. When your boss or colleague talks about something, you won’t feel like much of an outsider; you’ll be able to instantly place acronyms and events. When you start working on something, you’ll have a feel of what information lies where. You won’t wind up duplicating work, or reinventing the wheel. And you’ll get a feel of how data is presented within your company, and how external events have historically influenced your company/industry.

2. Get to know your new co-workers

Always network like crazy. Don’t deride it as being fake, phony, pretentious, or any other such synonym. A network is like an investment in the future.

In any job, you’ll need a whole village of people to help you get ahead. Your co-worker is busy, lazy and selfish, and he/she is more likely to help you if you’re someone who they like better than the other ten people asking for their help. If you’re concerned about being phony, remember that people are always desperate to be liked, and considered interesting. Having said that, avoid someone if you can’t stand them: spend your time more wisely with people who don’t make you feel sick.

Start with your co-workers, the people you’ll see regularly, and who often sit near you. Try to spend some time with them during lunch, or coffee breaks. In some offices, it’s acceptable practice to visit another cubicle to “chat”; just make sure you don’t overstay your welcome.

Try to thank the people who helped you to get your job, from the HR guy, to the lady who took your interview. It’s a nice gesture, if you can pull it off.

Try to meet people from other departments. Take advantage of inter-department or corporate activities.

3. Work hard at your own work

Initially, you’ll be given boring, menial work. Unfortunately, the only way to prove that you can handle more difficult tasks, is to do the menial work very well.

You might try to work on the process, as well as the work, e.g. create a better format, or system for doing the work.

Create something that you can show off to your boss, and ask for more work in terms of quantity, as well as more challenging work.

4. Help others

Ask a few people if they’d like any help with anything, no matter how menial (but don’t offer to get them lunch). Not only will people start seeing you as someone who tries to help, and remember your help when you ask for something, but you can always mention to your boss that you helped so-and-so with such-and-such.

If you consistently work hard, you’ll be given more work, and more important work. And that’s when you’ll seek different types of advice: how to not burn yourself out by working too hard, how to get a raise, and how to get a promotion 🙂

Good luck!

Useless Office Tip

December 6, 2006

I think i’m in a bit of a blogging block.

 So here’s a useless office tip instead, honed from my extensive reading of Dilbert comics 😉

Tip: When walking from one place to another in your office, always carry a piece of paper, aka A Document, with you.

Employees walking around aimlessly are lazy and unproductive. Employees with A Document, or even An Important Document, in their hands are busy and efficient.

So next time you get up for water or coffee, don’t leave your Document behind.

How to ask for a higher starting salary

September 22, 2006

Over the course of your working life, you’ll receive a few raises.salary-negotiation.JPG

However, your annual raises will be pitiful, at just slightly over the inflation rate. Your major salary increases will only occur when you receive that rare promotion.

That’s why it’s so important to ask for a higher salary when you first begin working.

Few candidates actually ask for a higher salary, and I suppose shyness, and fear of appearing greedy, are the major reasons for this. However, you should definitely try to negotiate as high a salary as you can, when you first join your job. This is your most significant chance to try to earn more, and here are some tips for asking for higher starting pay:

  • Do your homework: Before asking for any sort of salary, know what you’re worth, in terms of your education, experience and work potential. What are people similar to you (in terms of career and accomplishments) earning? And what are your hiring company’s pay scales like? Research the company to find out how much it’s possible for them to pay. One of my friends wanted to work for a salary which was only offered to senior executives (entry level was the executive post), so he boldly claimed to be interested only in the senior exec position.
  • Delay a detailed salary discussion: Until your employers know more about you, they won’t be able to judge just how much you’re worth. Focus on getting hired first, and then on how much you’ll get. If you mention your desired salary in too much detail too early, that’s when you’ll come off as being either desperate or greedy. If you’re asked early on about how much you’d like, say something along the lines of “according to the salary scale”, “according to the industry rate” or “as much as you decide i’m worth”. Mention that salary is not the only thing that’s important: you’re also interested in how much you can contribute, how challenging the work will be, how fast you’ll be able to rise within the ranks, etc.
  • Take your time to accept a salary offer: Never accept something at a moment’s notice. No matter how tempting it is to say “yes”, always thank the recruiter, restate how much you’d love to work in that company, and ask for time to consider the offer. Later on, think about the offer calmly. Consider your other offers, what the industry typically pays, how much and how often the increments will be, how fast you’re likely to get promoted, and what other benefits this job will provide.
  • Ask for more: As long as you’re polite and respectful, no one will think that you’re greedy if you ask for a higher salary. In many cases, hiring officers have the discretion to offer upto 20% more, to get the right candidate. And often, the first salary offered is intentionally low, in order to keep the flexibility of possible increases.
  • Go step by step: When asking for more, first ask for a higher base pay. Since other forms of payment are usually linked to the base salary, this is the one you really want to increase. If this isn’t possible, ask for increases in other benefits, such as transport allowances, etc. You can try to ask for a signing bonus, and stock options or other incentives. Finally, you can ask for tuition reimbursement, more holidays and sick leaves, etc.
  • Always be honest: Never state something like “I won’t work for less than 30K”, unless you really, really mean it.
  • Know when to stop: Most hiring officers are flexible to some degree, and will offer you some concessions. However, in some companies, their first offer is really the only one that they’re allowed to make. And sometimes, you’ll see that concessions aren’t coming any more. That’s when you’ll know, it’s time to stop.

Good luck, and happy negotiating!

5 things you’ll need when you join a new job

September 18, 2006

After my posts about how to get a job, and what to do once you’ve gotten the job, I though I’d write another post about new job issues.

When I was first looking for a job, I got myself a set of interview clothes. I think we all do that. But what I really wanted was five new outfits to wear to office. I put off buying them because I was broke, and I was glad I waited: the work culture at my office is really laid back, and no-one bothers to dress up.

I’m not very materialistic, but we all want stuff. And when we join a new job, it’s easy to justify purchases in the name of “investments in our future” 😉

There are some things that you really need when you join a new job, and they are:

  1. Clothes: Wait till you join your new organization before you go out and get all the new outfits that you’re planning to buy. You should already own some decent clothes that you can wear to work. If you feel you absolutely must get something new, limit yourself to buying a maximum of one or two outfits before you join. During the interview process, you might have noted how the other people dressed (I didn’t) but that might still not be any indication. Even if attire guidelines are mentioned in a booklet, it might be the norm to not follow them strictly, or to dress even more conservatively than is implied. Wait till you’ve joined, and know the work culture, and the way people dress, before you buy new clothes. And when you do, a good rule is to try to dress a bit like someone in top management whose position you’d like to have, someday.
  2. Shoes: Shoes are part of your outfit, so I should’ve lumped them with clothes. But clothes are something you will really, really need. It may just be worth-while to purchase a pair, if you don’t have anything sufficiently formal and appropriate.
  3. Bag: If you’re a fresh graduate, it’s perfectly acceptable to carry a messenger or book bag to office for the first week. That’s the amount of time you should take to notice how much stuff you’ll need to take with you to office each day, what types of bags other people use, and what types of bags you like and can afford. Of course, needs and fashions change, so it might not be too wise to spend a lot on a bag. Perhaps, this is the time when you could try out those “rent a bag” type services that I’ve heard are available?

Of course, those are the things you’ll need if you’re a broke graduate. If you’re not, and you’re not the anti-materialistic type, you might like to have:

  1. Flashy accessories: Diamond jewelry and the latest cell phones might help if you’d like to create the impression that you’re not in it for the money 🙂
  2. Cool car: It’ll help you imagine that you’re giving your bosses an inferiority complex. And if you have a chauffeur, you’ll never even have to dislike a commute!

That’s all I could think of for now.

8 things that recruiters should let a candidate know

September 18, 2006

Over at they were nice enough to mention my post on 10 questions to ask before you join a new job!

The interesting thing is, they mentioned that the 10 questions that everyone should ask before they join a job, can easily be flipped to become the 10 things that a recruiter should let a candidate know. Or, they could be used to become the bare bones of a job description.

I think that’s an interesting concept. It would give recruiters a chance to assess the attractiveness of a job from a candidate’s perspective, and it would help in attracting the right candidates. After all, a job is so much more than just a source of salary (or at least, it should be). The fact that a really talented person is on the team might make the job more attractive for an ambitious person who’s looking for a mentor, maybe more so than a few dollars more in salary terms.

So, if I turn these questions around, here are… (drum roll…) 10 things that recruiters should let a candidate know:

  1. The type of work they will be doing. (Without great “exaggerations”, preferably.)
  2. If anyone special is on the team, or if the candidate would become the team’s “superstar”.
  3.  How will the candidate be able to contribute to the organization?
  4. What are the opportunities for the team that the candidate will be joining?
  5. What are the pay, benefits, etc?
  6. Will the candidate be expected to work long hours, travel, etc?  It’s better to establish this upfront, so that the candidate knows what he/she is entering into.
  7. What would be the future career path of someone entering into this position? (e.g. “Ms X joined this organization as a Media Executive 7 yrs ago, and now she is our current Head of Marketing.” And you’re sure that, with hard work, Candidate Y could do the same thing.)
  8. What type of experience will the candidate gain? Different from the kind of work he/she will be doing, in that you should stress on the skills that he/she will learn, e.g. “you will learn time management and organizational skills, and you’ll gain the ability to delegate effectively, since you will have to coordinate the various activities across the department”, etc.

You’ll notice that the original ten questions have been pared down to eight facts. That’s because I left out the unpleasant issues of whether the company will change ownership in the near future, or whether there are any issues facing the team.

I hope this is helpful for the recruiters out there 🙂

Advice on starting a new job

September 14, 2006

So, you’ve finally gotten the job you want. Now what?

A new job is a bit of a challenge. Here’s some advice to get you started…

The first day:

  • Don’t expect anyone to pay you too much attention. Unless you’ve joined an incredibly small organization, most people will be too busy to care that you’ve joined, much less welcome you. In fact, you might find many people who are too busy to even say hi to you, until a few days later.
  • No one will really expect you to do any work on the first day. Most likely, you will be running around for an ID card, internet and intranet access, a PABX, a PC, and filling out hundreds of forms.
  • Get your bearings. Find out where the washroom is, where the doors, various rooms, and emergency exits are.

Despite the apparant uselessness of the first day (and yes, it will seem useless compared to grand expectations of meeting the CEO and starting work on a top-level project), there are some things you should keep in mind:

  • Try to arrive a bit early, or at least be on time. Don’t be too early, since that would raise a few eyebrows, but make sure you’ve factored in your commute and any likely problems.
  • Lay out your clothes the night before, right down to shoes and accessories. Pack your bag, make sure nothing is missing. Choose an outfit that you look great in.
  • Start being nice to everyone, everywhere. You never know if your future boss will see you being rude to a salesperson or bad driver. Be friendly and polite to everyone in the office. Introduce yourself if you need to; most people will not ask you who are.
  • A day or two into your new job, you may be taken out to lunch or coffee by the CEO or someone from top management. Don’t think that this common practice. Take this rare opportunity to bond (at least try to). Be respectful and interested in him/her, don’t grovel, and try to act intelligent and funny. Impossible advice to follow when you’re nervous, but try your best anyway 🙂
  • If your company offers an orientation or introductory training program, try to pay attention and to not sleep through the entirety. (True confession: during my orientation programme, I spent my entire time reading a novel, playing games on my cell phone, and stealing all the chocolates displayed in the pretty bowl in front of me. All was not wasted. My friends got a lot of chocolates that day ;))

A few days into your new job:

  • Try to get a hang of the rules. Not just the ones written in the manual (though you should definitely know those ones too.) Observe what people wear, especially on casual Fridays, and to important meetings (in the hope that one day you, too, will attend such important meetings). How do people work? Is it common practice to take work home? During your first week, come to office a bit early, and leave late: how many people do the same thing? Is it acceptable practice to take long tea or lunch breaks? Where do most people have their lunch? How do people treat each other? Is there a lot of joking around, or is everyone very serious?
  • Get to know the people you’ll work with. Go to lunch with them, or to drinks after work (and don’t get drunk). Be careful in your interactions: be friendly and interested, but don’t offer any gossip or negative opinions. You won’t know immediately what the political undercurrents are.
  • Try to find out what the political undercurrents are. Who hates who? Which department is trying to outdo which other department? You get the idea…
  • Become friendly with strategically important people. This includes secretaries, especially, who have access to otherwise secret information.
  • Find out who the high-flyers in your company are. They are not necessarily people already in the top. There may be someone rising very fast. Try to pick these people’s brains. Hang out with them as often as you can.
  • Just so that people don’t think you’re cold-hearted, manipulative and ambitious, be friendly with everyone. An excellent way is to bring food to share. I found this out quite by accident: I’m always eating, and I don’t enjoy eating alone, so I used to bring snacks that could be shared by many. This won’t work with all food. But just try bringing freshly baked brownies or cookies one day 😉
  • Get to know your bosses. You should have been introduced to your immediate supervisor by know. Find out who you will be reporting to.
  • If you don’t have much work during the first few days, use your spare time to go through old company documents that you have access to. Marketing plans, business plans, competitor analysis, and such things may be very helpful information. Decide what things you’d like to find out, and search for them on your PC and intranet.
  • Find out your work priorities from your supervisor. Get some work to do. Do it. Get feedback. Initially, you should try to get feedback ASAP, so that you can make changes as needed.
  • If you’re not being given much work, ask for something to do. If you still don’t have much to do, ask your new colleagues if you can help them in any way. But don’t get sucked into the “I’d really appreciate it if you’d get me some coffee” trap. Unless it’s your boss that’s asking you to do that. (Which he shouldn’t, but still. Play along.)
  • Never refuse offers of  help.
  • During the first few days, try to never turn down an invite to an office party, or just an invite to “hang out with the guys”.
  • Never negatively compare your new job with your old job. If you do, people might think that you want your old job back, and that you don’t like your new one.

And finally:

  • Never interrupt someone who’s giving you advice. Nod along, and decide by yourself if you’ll take it or not 😉