Summer Internship – It’s all about the PPO, or is it?

by Dinesh Sankaran on Saturday 25 August 2012, 5:53 PM | Category: Summer Internship Contest| View: 21106 views
 
 
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Alright, let's face it! The summer internship that every b-school student has to undergo rises above than a mere academic requirement for the purpose of course completion. Beneath all the mandatory guidelines (and a much needed break from the academic rigour), there lies a personal agenda to every student heading out for his stint at an organization for the summer internship – converting it to a job offer, or in b-school parlance, landing up with a PPO. The Pre-Placement Offer [PPO] not only lets the candidate breeze through the rest of his academic year with minimal uncertainty regarding his career, but also serves as a very prestigious status symbol for him amongst his peers.

However, there is one other “PPO”, which most of the students fail to look forward to, in their internship – People, Places, and Opportunity. Few students realise that the there is so much more at stake in terms of takeaway from an internship than merely a brand name to put on their resume when they turn up for their final placements. In this regard, I must confess I was lucky enough to have been placed under the able wings of some very good mentors during my internship, which drove me to look beyond the obvious.

The Internship: Perfetti Van Melle India re-opened the doors to my corporate life when they made me an offer to undergo an 8-week summer internship at their prestigious head office. Hailing from an IT work-ex background, a shift to FMCG sector was both challenging and intriguing. The build-up to the start of my internship involved making all the necessary travel and accommodation needs for the period of my internship, learning a few fundamental concepts in Sales and Marketing which I intended to put to practical use on my arrival there and most importantly, getting ready for that rapid switch from a student life to a corporate life.

There is a general misconception that FMCG companies usually prefer “freshers” (students with no prior work experience) when they go to campuses for summer internship recruitment. Well, here I was, with nearly 4 years of prior work experience and still managed to make the cut to join one of the best FMCG brands in business. Dressed in prime formal wear, I stepped back into the corporate world with pride on 15th April 2012, with a burning hunger to make my mark and to prove to everyone what I am capable of.

On a superficial level, the internship could be divided into 3 stages – first was a 2-day formal orientation session, next was 8 weeks of engrossing and ‘testing-your-limits' field work, where all the effort that you put in culminates in the last stage of 2 days consisting of the formal presentation and feedback sessions. As a part of my project, which was about analysing one of their product's performance in recent times and suggesting a roadmap to revitalize that product, I had to perform a primary market research and consumer behaviour analysis. And above all this, I was clueless about the internal operations of the FMCG sector in general, and about Perfetti in particular, all of which I had to learn, acclimatize, observe, understand, critically analyse and come up with practically implementable solutions in the stipulated time frame. There's something very interesting about stress – it challenges your limits, makes you push yourself and helps you discover that you are actually capable of doing something previously not thought possible.

I would like to segregate my experiences and thoughts of that 8-week period under the 3 headings that I had initially introduced - People, Places, and Opportunity. So, here we go!

 

People: A summer internship, especially if it involves field work and a sales profile, is a wonderful platform for networking with a significant number of people. From the organizational end, right from the National Marketing Head to the various Division heads, Brand Managers, Sales Managers, Sales Executives, right down to the grass root levels of Salespersons, you would be required to interact with everyone. Their expertise and knowledge of the industry is encyclopaedic and is completely up to us to tap into it. From the market end, you have a plethora of wholesalers, distributers, retailers and stockists who know the pulse of the market like the back of their hand. And above all, there lies the consumer – the ultimate reason for the existence of the business. Each consumer that you meet will have an opinion, a perspective and a unique way of looking at your product. Cracking what the consumer actually wants is the Holy Grail of marketing – everyone has heard of it, but nobody has actually seen it! Interacting with such a wide spectrum of people enhances our exposure to the various forces that influence a typical business scenario.

Places: They say that a good internship will take you places, quite literally so. As a part of my market research, I travelled to various cities in different parts of the country – Delhi & Gurgaon (North), Mumbai (West) and Bangalore (South). Reluctant I was to go initially, because I really did not feel there would be any significant difference between consumers in general, in the metro cities at least. Nevertheless, I undertook the task of reaching out to the consumers in each of these cities and also understanding the internal operations of my company in each of these cities. The first thing that struck me was the huge demographic change between any two cities in India. We do know that we are a very diverse nation, but I got to experience the true meaning of it first-hand during my visits to these places. Visiting a number of places gives us a broader sense which may come in handy while chalking out a marketing strategy or developing a new product.

Opportunity: They say “Opportunity knocks your door only once”! With most companies prophesising an “open door” policy in their work culture, it is very hard for opportunity to find a door to knock at. One needs to keep all their senses alert and attentive to be able to capitalize on every single chance that floats by; in fact, you need to be so smart that you are expected to ‘create' your own opportunities. So what exactly are these opportunities? Typically, these are attributes which you can add to your experience beyond the mandatory routines that everyone is subjected to. For e.g., you are having a cup of coffee in the canteen and the CEO walks in, a gold mine of an experience coming straight at you. Seize such an opportunity with both hands, have a casual chat with him for a few minutes (if he is really free) and you stand to learn really a lot. Such activities are primarily self-driven which is why these proactive instances are called “opportunities”.

To conclude, some of my key learnings from the internship – there are many things which lie beyond the obvious - one has to look at the bigger picture and always aim for something higher. Also one should try to be outside their comfort zone and be constantly proactive. And finally, one should always believe that – “Nothing is Impossible, It Just Hasn't Been Done Yet”. Good Luck!!

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