23 Apr 2012, 12:10pm

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How to choose your work

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do”         — Steve Jobs

You would be spending approximately ½ of your waking hours in your work. So, making this passion, work, love, interestchoice carefully is immensely important. If your work energizes you and you are having fun, then there wouldn’t be much difference between work and play. If your work contributes significantly to the society then it will fill your life with meaning and purpose. On the other hand, if you cringe every time Monday arrives, and throughout the week you are waiting for the weekend, you are in for some serious trouble.  The dis-satisfaction spills over into other areas of your life as well.

So how should we go about making this critical choice? What questions we need to be asking

–     Should we look at the market to see what the hot professions are with most salaries?

–     Should our choice be one amongst those professions that are considered most prestigious?

–     Should we look at careers that can give us the fastest access to money and luxury?

Before we can accurately make the choice, we need to clarify on our values.. What is important to you? What do you want to get out of work?

–        Is Money, Prestige, and Social Approval most important to you?

–        Or love, expression, & satisfaction more important?

–        Are you OK with doing something which may fetch you less money in the short-run, but will definitely give you more satisfaction, joy, and freedom?

Once you have clarified your values, Get to know yourself, and clarify on your dreams, interests, and talents, etc. Ask yourself –

  1. What do you really really want to do?
  2. What would you regret not having done on your deathbed?
  3. What is something you wouldn’t mind doing for free as well?
  4. What are some things in the world that you want to improve upon?
  5. What comes naturally to you?

Once you get to know yourself, using the above questions, you will begin to see some patterns and threads to help you make your career choice intelligently.

20 Jan 2012, 7:20pm

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Networking is nothing but building relationships

I remember my first day at the B-school, where I was told briefly what networking is all about. You have to confidently go and say Hi. After that you introduce yourself and offer a handshake, smiling at the same time. Next, you ask about the other person, and how they are doing. Appear to be interested in what they are saying. Ask some questions, and get their business card. Then move on to the next person to network. I did this a few times, and found it too mechanical. It felt as if networking is a strategy to get as many business cards as possible.

My mind asked me “Why do I need to network?”. The only answer I could give at that time was I needed a full time job, and you get jobs through networking. A lot of people approach networking from a point of view of finding jobs, building business, getting consulting projects. It’s always about getting something from the contact.

Another question that came to my mind was “How many people I should network with?”. “As many as possible”, was the answer. The more people you know the better is your chance of getting that thing you are looking for. Having studied probability theory during my undergrad, I agreed.

Finally, I also asked, “I am just going and meeting people and I have been doing that all my life. Suddenly, people are teaching me networking. Is networking any different from what I have been doing.” No…It wasn’t. Then why was I made to learn this new art.

The more I thought about these questions, the more confused I became and Networking just seemed to be a superficial way of knowing people, as opposed to building relationships that I had known. I couldn’t get enough business cards. I also realized that people sense when you have a hidden motive for networking, and the relationship goes downhill from there. In other words, I was an utter networking failure.

Having gone through so much confusion about networking, I thought there must be a better way to figure it all out. I applied a top-down approach for that:

Why do I need to do networking?

=> To get contacts, full time job, build my business, etc.

How will I get these things through networking?

=> The people who I network with would refer me or directly buy something.

Then I asked, what would make them refer me or buy from me?

=> Only if they trust me, in my abilities; only if they really know me.


Now, if people have to really know you well to be able to refer you or buy from you, you can’t get that through the networking method B-school taught me.

What would make people really know me to have faith in my abilities?

=> They are my relatives.

=> They know I graduated from such a such premier school.


=> They have talked to me, have been with me for some time, and have seen that I can provide some real value.


So, this actually turned networking on its head. Instead of you looking to get something, you have to first provide some real value for people to know you, have faith in you and then and only then will they be able to provide long lasting value to you.


My other two questions answered also got answered from this.

How many People should I network with? If I have to provide value, I have to spend time with someone, know what they want and so, it’s better to have 2-3 good contacts from a meeting, as opposed to having 15 business cards.

Is it any different from relationship building?

– No. It is not. It is exactly what you have been doing with friends and relatives.

As opposed to building superficial contacts list, networking is about knowing people, building relationships and providing value to others. Once you form relationships and some bonding, you can then get referrals and business effortlessly.

16 Jun 2011, 2:08pm

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Feeling worried about the interview – Follow these simple steps

You have an interview very soon and you feel constantly worried about what the interviewer is going to ask you. You feel you don’t know anything. You don’t feel confident about answering even the simplest of questions.  A lot of times you think that interviewer can ask us so many questions. You wonder what to prepare and what not to prepare.

It is quite normal for us to feel anxious about the interview as we feel really in need of that job or position.The following structured way of preparation will ease your nerves and allow you to put your interview preparation on the fast track.

Start by researching the following three three things:

1. Yourself

Do a quick analysis of yourself: list down your major achievements, your strengths, your work experience, your interests, etc.  

2. Organization you are interviewing with

Once you are done with your self-analysis, analyze the organization. Check out their website, and read about them. Read the about us page and get a thorough understanding of their mission, vision, and values.  After that read about their products and how they are doing in the market.  Try and talk to someone working in the same organization, and ask him about the organization, what is the work culture like, how is the performance evaluated etc.

3. Position you are interviewing for

Understand the position very clearly. Understand the roles and responsibilities.  What is the daily work schedule like. Talk to someone in the same position working with the same or a different organization. Ask him a few questions about the role and get a clearer understanding of the responsibilities and expectations.

Once you are done with the research. You are ready to answer the two most important questions that are asked in any behavioral interviews.

Question 1: Why do you want to join our organization?

In the answer to this question, you need to connect your own values and mission in life with the values and mission of the organization. Tell them how the work that the organization is doing resonates with you. 

Here the interviewer is trying to assess what you know about their organization and are you there just looking for a job or have made a well thought out decision based on your values and aspirations.

Question 2: Why do you want to work in this position?

In the answer to this question, you must match the skills required for the position with the achievements that you have had in the past. You may want to give illustrative examples of how passionate you are about the subject matter, by telling them about the work you have done in the past.

Here the interviewer is trying to know how much you know about the position, its roles and responsibilities, and why do you think you will perform well in this position.  

A lot of other commonly asked questions will get answered with this research and questions preparation, e.g. If he asks “tell me about yourself”, you can give a quick overview of your major salient points related to the position and the organization. For every question try to connect yourself with the position and the organization.

In summary, in order to prepare for the behavioral interviews you need to know about Yourself, the Organization, and the position that you are interviewing for thoroughly.  Also, you need to be able to make a strong connection between yourself and the organization, and also yourself and the position.

Wish you all the very best for your upcoming interviews.

Please leave a comment below on the above article or suggestions on what topics would you like to see covered in the future articles. Your comments are really appreciated as they allow me to improve the quality of my blog.

Image courtesy of bpsusf via Flickr

9 May 2011, 1:11pm

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Unable to focus on Job Search — Take it as a full time job

It was the economic downturn in 2008, and I was working with a company in Indiana. One day, my boss told me that they would have to let me go, as they can’t afford to give me a permanent position. Since I had an engineering background and a B.Tech. Degree from IIT, I thought my chances would be much better in Silicon Valley, the hub of IT industry. Hence, I decided to go to California in the lookout for a job. In Bay Area, I couldn’t concentrate on job search, and I was feeling really depressed. During the whole day, I hardly looked for a job for at-most 2-3 hours. Rest of the time, I was groping and sulking in the bed or the sofa. I slept for about 10-12 hours, and didn’t even feel like talking to my old friends as well for the fear of what I would say if they ask me as to what I was doing.

I am sure a lot of laid-off people or college graduates would be able to identify with this situation. A lot of people who are doing job search find it extremely difficult to focus and concentrate. Negative thoughts and stress make it difficult to maintain the mental peace. Some of them find it difficult to even tell people about their situation — and try to avoid their friends and relatives, as they become fed up of answering this commonly asked question — what are you doing? One of the best ways to land new job opportunities is through networking only – and if you are not comfortable sharing with your close friends and relatives, your chances get slimmer. So, what can we do to maintain our focus?

One of the best pieces of advice, from one of my mentors, was to “Take Job Search as a Full time Job”. Imagine if you were in a traditional 9-5 job, how would you approach your day. You would get up at 6 or 7, and get ready by about 8 to 8:30 and will reach your office by 9, ready to start the work. You would work hard till about 5pm, take a lunch break in between, and then go back to your home – take rest for sometime in the evening – and maybe work 2-3 hours more later in the night. In a similar vein, I suggest looking at job search like a regular 9 to 5 job. First, you create a proper place where you can work un-interrupted, it could be your study, or even a nearby coffee shop. Then, you can start working there doing all your job-search related activities during your regular 9 to 5 pm. After taking some snacks in the evening, you can do some phone calls – as people are usually freer in the evening after their office work.

I utilized the same mindset and it worked wonders. Instead of groping and sulking, I could go out and work in a much more focused way. I even used to dress in formals. Once, I got my focus back – I landed a great job within 2 months.

4 May 2010, 5:02pm

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When you do what you love, you work harder — A clue to finding your passion and doing great work

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”   — Steve Jobs

Today, while reading some comments by one of my favorite authors Steve Pavlina, an insight hit me with lightening speed, that you work harder when you do what you love. I always used to think that when you do what you love, you actually have to work less, and things come easily to you. NO !! Its OPPOSITE.

When you do what you love, you work harder than when you work on what you hate or dislike. The reason is you care about what you love, so you are willing to spend that extra effort on it. It also makes clear why all the people who do great work tend to be working all the time. They love and care for their work so much.Now it becomes clear why Tendulkar is such a great player – not because he works less than others, but because he loves his craft so much that he works harder than others, and wants to keep learning about it, and improving it all the time. Same is true for all the people who are considered great in their professions — like Lata Mangeshkar, Amir Khan, M.F.Hussain, etc.

This insight provides an important clue to finding your passion. The activity that you love to do, you generally work a lot harder, and you have an insatiable appetite for learning and improving. So, if these elements are present about any productive activity that you do, you have found your passion.

It also makes clear that why software was never my passion in-spite of being quite good at it. I was not willing to spend effort on it. Even though, I enjoyed the sense of achievement when I completed any major assignment, I never put effort to enhance and improve my skills in this area on a consistent basis. Or, in other words I didn’t work hard in this area. I just worked enough to get by. My passion was in psychology and personal development. In-spite of never studying these subjects formally, I read through almost 50 books, and experimented on myself, as well as helped so many other people without actually noticing that it was my passion.

18 Apr 2010, 11:29am

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Why are students taking JEE exam ? Do they love engineering ?

An engineering labOn 11th April, about 4.72 lakh students appeared for the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for entrance into India’s most prestigious engineering colleges. A significant number of them went through some intensive coaching program to prepare for this. For most of them, the reason for appearing in this exam is that they think that IIT brand will give them a great MNC job and the wherewithal to lead a life with high social status, luxury and comfort. It appears as if getting an MNC job has become the be-all and end-all of life. They will pick up any branch that is on offer, as long as they get to study at IIT. A large number of them will be working in some software job, irrespective of whatever field they do their specialization in. Some were good with mathematics throughout their school, and so they thought IIT is a natural extension to that.

How many of these students appeared for JEE because they loved engineering?? How many of them found thrill in understanding the engineering concepts, and their heart was naturally inclined to engineer new machines, new software, new equipments, etc.

13 years back, when I took JEE, my only reason was that I was good with mathematics at school level, and IIT was a prestigious brand. That’s it. I took over an year of coaching with Vidyamandir Classes, and was able to secure a good rank (243) as well. I took admission in the Computer Science dual degree program because Computer Science was the in-thing at that time.

My years at IIT were full of tremendous mental psychological pain. I didn’t like the classes, found assignments real hard, was below average in a class of high achieving computer science students. After 3rd year, I almost stopped doing any of the assignments altogether, and started free-riding on my partners, who did all the assignments. I started getting “F” grades after 4th year. On top of it, I had taken admission in the Dual Degree, which means I did my MTech as well. My degree got extended by half an year, due to inadequate efforts in the project work. I was really angry with my project advisor, but in my heart I knew that I hadn’t done much so I didn’t say anything to him. I had to go through intensive psychological counseling as well at IIT to enable me to cope up with this stress.  The only relief was the humanities and open category classes, especially psychology, and rural development. After graduating, I took up a lucrative software development job with Mentor Graphics, an MNC. The pain that I had faced in college continued. On the face of it, I was earning handsomely, had high social status, and basically had arrived in life. However, my heart was full of pain and drudgery everyday.

In hindsight, I could have avoided almost 10 years of pain, if I had listened to my heart’s calling. I never liked engineering. I had all the clues: having computer science in school, I had never enjoyed the assignments there. I had taken up robotics as my hobby class in 11th class, but never enjoyed it. I had not worked voluntarily with machines ever in my life. Only thing I used to do was break every toy that I laid my hands on, which is hardly a criteria for excited about engineering.

My passions lied somewhere else. My heart was always set on understanding human behavior, and helping people. I was doing it for free all the time. Its just that I was good at mathematics, and coaching classes prepared me for cracking the JEE. I have now decided to follow my heart’s calling, and enable people to identify and follow their heart’s calling. It’s better late than never.

16 Apr 2010, 5:17pm

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A word for all the JEE aspirants: Try your best and leave the rest

Student mired in exam pressure

This is that time of the year and it makes me feel nostalgic. 13 years back, I took my JEE examination, and I could feel the pressure. Yes, I had huge expectations of myself, and others had huge expectations out of me. So, I thought I just had to succeed. The result was an emotional disaster. 2 days before the exam, I faced a kind of emotional panic, and felt I know NOTHING!! All the hours of preparation couldn’t give me the assurance that I knew it, that I was sure to succeed. The fact is that you can never get 100% guarantees, and my mind was looking for one. Somehow, with the support of my family, I was able to regain my composure after the breakdown. Here are my few thoughts on how you can handle and manage the JEE pressure for optimum performance:

Relax and take it easy in the last week

You have been preparing hard all the year around, and spending 10-12 hours per day, giving up all social activities, and fun. You just want to get through IIT JEE. Your interests will get the best shot by taking it easy on yourself in the last week before the exam. A lot of times, students who are very well prepared, create a mess of it by working very hard in the last week. You may think it is the last week, so you need to work extra harder. However, the results are contrary, as you end up spending your precious energy that you would like to have at the exam time. So, you need to relax and take it easy in the last week. Some tips for that:

a) Focus on just reviewing whatever you have prepared in the preceding year, and don’t solve new problems in the last week. The concern here is that if the students don’t get a few questions right in the last few days, there is a tremendous loss of confidence. Your mind is already under pressure of the coming exam, so you need to give it assurance of your confidence by reviewing your notes, and re-solving the problems you had already solved but found challenging. Do through the challenging problems you had found in your preparation. Focus on going through the general methods in all subjects, rather than trying to solve new problems. Focus on increasing the speed, rather than trying to solve new problems.

b) You may have been cutting through your time of sleep to prepare, prepare, and prepare. Now, take proper sleep, at least in the last week. This will charge you up and keep your mind fresh for the exam.

c) Arrange all the things you would need for the exam, at least 2 days before the exam, so that you don’t get stressed out at the last moment. This includes any logistic details you may have to figure out, and all the stationary, identity cards, etc.

It is just an exam, and not the be-all and end-all of life

Like any other exam that you have taken, JEE is also another exam. Its importance just gets hyper-elevated by society because of the brand value associated with IIT. This extreme importance given to IIT is another major reason why you are feeling so much stress, that you want 100% guarantee that you make the cut amongst the elite. Now, understand that looking at it pragmatically, it is just another exam…and one failure doesn’t doom you to be a failure all your life. If you don’t make the cut, it will not mean the end of the world. It would just mean that would either have to try again, or pursue other avenues. That isn’t such a bad proposition. Even if you don’t get in, you can be hugely successful in life. IIT-JEE doesn’t provide any guarantees for success in life.

Try your best and leave the rest

So, now what do you do when you can’t get the guarantee that you are so desperately seeking, and mounting pressure on yourself. Just TRY YOUR BEST, and LEAVE THE REST to luck, karma, or destiny whatever you call it to be.

Best wishes for your exam

Manish Bansal

AIR 243 (JEE 1997)