What I learned from my First Job (A Short Story)

After struggling 3 years to get into Guantanamo Bay, aka a top B-School, and another 2 years to stay in one, I’ve finally managed to get my reward – Placement in an Investment Banking Firm that pays a 6-figure salary.

Like a Spartan dressed for war, I’m geared up to conquer the ‘Corporate Jungle’. My file, containing the sacred papers sanctified by my B-School seal, would be the shield, and the innumerable hours of investment banking theories that my alma mater has imparted in me would be the double-edged sword. With these, I, Rahul, the new intern at JW Associates, would fight my way into the C-suite.

“Rahul we’re so proud of you. Can’t believe my little boy is starting to go to the office,” Mom said.

“Thanks, Ma. Dad, can you please drop me at my office?” I said.

“Sure Rahul, give me 5 minutes to get ready,” Dad said.

I reached JW Associates at sharp 8:00 AM, half an hour ahead of the scheduled time.

The receptionist escorted me into the conference hall booked for the new interns joining that day. To my disappointment, a few of my fellow new interns were already in the conference room putting ‘Amul’ over Shilpa, the HR lady.

“Hello Ma’am, how are you today,” I said as I entered the room.

“No...No... In JW Associates there is no ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’ culture,” Shilpa said, looking at all the interns gathered. “Each time anyone of you uses those forbidden words, you have to drop 100 Rupees into the Charity Box kept near the reception.”

“Sorry Shilpa,” I said.

“That’s much better,” she said.

As time went by, the remaining interns also joined us. We greeted each other with ‘rehearsed pleasantries, fake complements, and lukewarm handshakes’. It was as though we were all chosen gladiators, designated to fight each other to death, to please the Emperor – Mr. Sharma, the Global Lead Partner of JW Associates.

Shilpa asked us to be seated and said that, Mr. Sharma would be joining us soon.

Tie–checked, suit–checked, hair–checked, breath–check- failed. I immediately swallowed a Mentos. This is the man who is going to determine my career; there is no way I’m going to screw up the first impression.

“Welcome to JW Associates,” Mr. Sharma said. “From over 200 candidates interviewed, you have been handpicked by us to be the next generation of this prestigious company.”

For the next 10 minutes, our Global Lead Partner gave global Gyan that not only inspired us, but also reinforced our faith in the broken and crumbling world economy.

Finally Mr. Sharma ended his speech with a well-enforced caveat in the corporate world.

“… and yes to help us achieve this goal, in exceptional cases you may need to put in some extra hours.”

This was followed by a round of applause across the round table.

“Thank you Sharma sir for that inspiring speech,” Shilpa said. Hope she deposits those 100 bucks.

After the meeting, Shilpa assigned each of us to different Managers. I was assigned to a Senior Manager called Pratyush Chandra, nicknamed PC.

“Hello Pratyush, I’m Rahul and I have been assigned to work with you,” I said.

PC kept staring at his PC without the slightest acknowledgement of my presence.

I stood there for a whole 60 seconds before the guy looked up and said, “We have to attend a client meeting tomorrow, I’ll send you a report I drafted, review the spelling and grammar and get it printed and bound. Ramu, the Office Boy, is on leave for a few weeks, so you’ll have to do the printing and binding yourself.”

I barely heard the words ‘review the spelling and grammar’ and ‘Printing and binding’. I only heard the words ‘We have to attend a client meeting’. I must be one of those lucky interns who get to face the client on the very second day of work. WOW.

I went back to my cubicle, all excited to get the work started. I found my fellow interns, sitting nearby, chitchatting.

Jobless-people; I thought to myself.

“Hey Rahul, did you meet your Manager? Did he give you any work?” asked a beautiful intern.

I normally don’t like to brag; however, I could not resist this red apple.

“Yes I did and he asked me to prepare a report for a client meeting tomorrow,” I said.

“Are Wah, Rahul is already on his way to become the best intern of our batch,” another fellow intern said smiling and trying extremely hard to hide his frown.

I didn’t bother to respond. I’d no time for these frivolous conversations.

It took me 3 hours to read the 100 plus page report. The language was pure blaspheme and required a lot of rework.

Along with correcting the language, I also read the report thoroughly to get myself up to speed for the client meeting.

At 6PM in the evening I was ready with the printed report. But there was a problem.

The last time I bound something, I used a stapler, to my disappointment the binding machine wasn’t a BIG STAPLER. How am I supposed to figure out how to operate this machine?

A chill ran down my spine. I could imagine the look on PC’s face when he sees the unbound report; I could visualize him complaining to Mr. Sharma; I could picture the other interns laughing at me; I could see me not getting promoted; I could … STOP. Think Rahul, think.

Although the B-School syllabus didn’t include ‘binding’, it had taught me ‘where to look for information’. Thank God for Google and YouTube.

There are over 8 lakh YouTube video results on ‘How to bind a report’. Guess I’m not the first intern to search for this.

It took me 2 hours to figure out the model of the office binding machine, and another 2 hours to learn the binding technique. Now I’m all set to bind.

My first attempt wasn’t bad, but not perfect. Since I was determined to make an impression on PC, I was aiming for nirvana. I tore the bound report and decided to give it another try.

The subsequent attempts were duds. The quality of my binding was decreasing with the increasing amount of attempts (Economics happen to be a liked subject). Mostly I punched the holes in the wrong places and whenever I got that right, the pages in the report were wrongly ordered. I should have stuck with my first attempt – my ‘beginners luck’. Alas.

At 2 AM, I hit perfection. Bingo! What a feeling. Manual labor does give you some ecstasy.

I kept the report on PC’s table and rushed home. As soon as I reached, I went straight to bed. I wanted to ensure that I was all fresh for the client meeting.

Same as the previous day, my dad dropped me at the office.

As I approached my cubicle, I could see PC in his cabin reading the report I had bound. I was a bit nervous about the feedback that I might get on my first paid work.

“So when is your client meeting?” asked the beautiful intern.

“It should be soon, PC is currently reviewing the report.”

At 11 AM, PC got up from his seat, wore his coat, and headed towards me. I also got up and wore my coat. I was excited to go to the meeting.

“I’m going for the client meeting. You needn’t join. There are 2 printed reports on my table, bind them,” He said with a straight face as he headed out the office door.

stood there numb. Maybe a small tear escaped my left eye.

“Why is PC not taking you to the client meeting?” asked the same intern who had christened me ‘all set to be the best intern’. He must have got a sadistic pleasure from that.

That day, with my previous experience, I finished binding the reports faster. I wasn’t asked to read the report this time, but I still did as I wanted to keep my mind busy and my senses away from my mocking counterparts.

This wasn’t the end of my printing and binding journey. For the next few weeks, PC made me print and bind, at least a dozen reports. To make matters worse, in the absence of the office boy, other Mangers also started giving me the same task.

This wasn’t what I had slogged all these years in B-School for. Instead of writing reports, I was merely printing them, instead of advising clients on mergers, I was merging papers. This isn’t what I learned. I felt like a glorified brick worker.

One night as I was staring into the darkness and feeling miserable, my dad came to me.

“Rahul, I’ve noticed that over the past few weeks something is bothering you. Is everything all right at work?”

“It’s fine,” I said.

“It’s a cliché, but I’d like to repeat it – You’ll feel much better if you talk to someone,” Dad said.

“And whom do I talk to? You? You’re an old man dad, and you have no idea about the challenges we youngsters face in this ruthless corporate world,” I shouted.

“Well, then you should tell me, at least an old person like me can learn something new about the ways of the young,” He said smiling.

I felt guilty for shouting at dad.

“Dad, I’m sorry for raising my voice,” I said.

For the next 1 hour, I told my miserable story to Dad. I cribbed and wept. Dad was right, I did feel better.

Dad listened patiently. I could see in his eyes, that he genuinely understood my situation.

“I was a ‘nobody’ in school,” Dad Said. “I was average at studies, miserable in sports, zero at cultural activities and, to make matters worse, didn’t have the looks that you got from your Mother.”

“Well the looks don’t seem to amuse PC,” I said.

Dad smiled and continued.

“One day, when I was standing in the school assembly, I was randomly asked by a teacher to help out the school Pion to set up the microphone and speakers for the assembly. I had to oblige. However soon I was the designated person for this job and had to do it every day. It took me a few weeks to learn the skill. Unlike today, microphones those days weren’t codeless and speakers weren’t lite. Also you need to learn to control the ‘Bass’ and ‘Treble’ in the Audio Amplifier,” Dad said.

I had no idea how all this was connected to my situation but kept nodding as I didn’t want to interrupt dad.

“My friends nicknamed me ‘Sound Operator’. I didn’t like that at all. It was embarrassing and demeaning. My parents weren’t sending me to school to be a ‘Sound Operator’.

However, as months passed, I realized that I was being called to all the functions in the school, be it sports day, cultural festival, or even teachers meet, as all these required someone to set up the microphones and speakers. This helped me to get acquainted with the teachers and even the Principal.

As time went by, my acquaintance with the teachers helped me to get additional responsibilities like – decorating the stage, charting the programs and even making announcements.

When I reached 12 th standard, the teachers choose me to be the ‘School Sports and Cultural Captain’. I was selected for the post not because I was good at any of that, but because I had seen and organized enough of that during my stint as the ‘Sound Operator’.”

“And that gave you the inspiration to start your own Event Management Company,” I interrupted.

“Yes you’re right,” Dad said. “So what did you learn from this?”

“The guy with the microphone is always right?” I joked.

“That is rarely true,” Dad said smiling. “But this is what the ‘Sound Operator’ learned ‘It doesn’t matter what you have learned, what matter is your willingness to learn new things’. Maybe the B-School didn’t teach you printing and binding, but it’s a new skill, learn it. You will never know it may change your life.”

We decided to call it a night, as I had to reach office early next day to do the mundane.

What Dad said did raise my inspiration meter, but it didn’t last the night. The usual suspects-doubt and lack of patience - reined over me.

The office was deserted when I reached there at 7:30AM. I went to my cubicle and started setting up the computer. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice from behind.

“Hello young man, do you by any chance know how to bind a report for me? The office boy is still on leave.”

I looked back. It was Mr. Sharma.

Are you kidding? That’s what your office pays me to do.

I took the report politely from him, bound it quickly, and gave it back.

Mr. Sharma looked at the report and seemed impressed by my binding skills.

“Well done… what’s your name?” He said.

“Rahul, I work as an intern here,” I said.

“So Rahul is there anything else you are good at other than binding?” he said.

I paused. This is my moment.

Imagine you are on Kaun Banega Crorepati and the last question asked is something you have learned your entire life. As I was binding the report for Mr. Sharma, I had a glance at it. The report was about an IT Company, and my miserable reading of PC’s reports had given me enough insight into the sector.

“The current ratio of the company we are recommending our client to buy is higher than the industry average, I believe this is due to the excess cash balance they have.”

“Impressive Rahul…impressive. This was exactly my thoughts after reading the report,” Mr. Sharma said. “I was looking for someone to help me with this assignment. Are you ok to work on this project? I can inform your Manager.”

I smiled. I guess the ‘Binder’ also learned what the ‘Sound Operator’ learned.