'I returned from internship with a mixed bag of feeling'
| July 27,2012 01:42 pm IST
My first corporate internship, not surprisingly, came as a major surprise.
When as a student, we read about foreign funded organizations, international acquisitions and mergers, massive infusion of funds into ambitious projects; we envisage white collar jobs, sharply dressed people walking across long cavernous halls with sleek leather laptop bags, with poise and direction in their brisk pace, that confidence of knowing what exactly they are meant to do, perfect co-ordination, their boots beating a steady staccato on the shimmering floors, every minute corporate ink marking expensive office stationery, sealing bonds and forging alliances and generally, a lot of money flowing in and out.
An image of a fine tuned high performing machine.
I was lucky(?) enough to get into one such firm. Worse still, as an intern.
The first day I arrive 7 minutes early, clean shaven, a little deodorant, sharply pressed set of formals and with an undeniable awe and infatuation in my eyes, at the Head quarters of my company with all the vivid imagery still fresh in my mind. And, the first question that greets me is : 'Who are you? '
The receptionist had no communication from up above about a bunch of students invading her breakfast-in-cubicle time. chink No.1. Duly, we furnished our papers and the appointment letter. There was no proper procedure in place, yet. chink No. 2 . We waited for another prolonged period of time and then the first employee with some degree of decision making abilities, stepped into the office and we all trooped in along with him. He guided us through the process of 'induction' into the organization. (Name of guide, topic/ field of study, internet access, general tips). Then we went to meet our guides.
Once I reach the centre and the basic pleasantries are completed. the first task of the day I am given is 'to get 3 copies each of this 17 documents from the photocopier across the street'. It is soon followed by 'sort these papers and place them in the files acc. to the header on each document', 'paste these signages' on the different sections of the department' or 'you have a bike , right? Very well, let's go to this place (atleast 10 kms away) and collect these items'.
Initially, I was eager to please, then I shrugged and did it, and after sometime I cribbed about it to someone ( just a little bit) . Where is management, where are the grand principles , where is the war-room and the strategic decisions. IS this what the internship all about? Cabin Boy work. I dreaded the day they will ask me to get them coffee.
Till finally one day, my socialization was complete. Yes, I still helped someone send a fax, and resolved wifi connectivity issues and set up facebook accounts, but now people listened to me and my 'problem statement'. Because I was indispensable. And as the invisible curtain moves aside , you see the processes for what they are. The rose-tinted glasses come off. And I see normal people tackling normal day to day issues. It's almost like a perennial college fest planning, only there is no actual fest. But the planning and the work continues, you call up people, you send a lot of emails, marking a lot of people, you have paperwork to fill up, you urge people to do some work, you review submissions and send them back for corrections. Mildly put, a degree of chaos in the backdrop of money and power. This popped the fireproof, foolproof image of a corporate life that I had nurtured in my head.
Don't get me wrong, it was not a mess, and people were not clueless; work was getting done, all the time, but it wasn't a simple 'diagrammatically representable' process flowchart. It wasn't always step 1 followed by step 2 and then 3. It was far more intricate, with so many variables working in the dynamics.
It was not just operation, or finance, or marketing, or HR. HR concepts were used in all the departments, Operations principles were used at all stages, and so on. I personally think that the paper on System Dynamics ( and the concept of integrated approach) could not have a better illustration than a internship in a SCM oriented firm/ project.
Soon the rest of the days were a blur. Rush to the centre, do some 'clerical work'. Rush to the H.O., extract old journal vouchers from archives ( for trend analysis) by literally begging the peons/ cabin boys to do it. You are not allowed to photocopy/ or digitally transfer, (phew!) so write it down manually and feed it into a system later ( imagine 120+ items on a single vendor voucher and multiple vendors, multiple vouchers, multiple months). Rush to vendor and ask them for their records of transactions made. Communicate with the various stakeholders without the advantage of English/Hindi on your side. Go back to centre, some more clerical work. Sit online for sometime in the centre. Meet you guide and revert back to square one.
And finally , MS Excel. ABC Analysis, VED Analysis, Pareto, Charts, Pie Diagrams, Bar graphs and lots and lots of data, painstakingly and manually inputted. Then you come up with a list of ( what according to you are) 'feasible' recommendations and changes that will simply turn the organization around (save them crores of money and make them the next Dell or Apple) and your guide, systematically, points out how each and every one of them is too idealistic and 'un-feasible' and you can only nod your head in despair. Again, back to the drawing board, out comes the Krajewski (OM book) and more list of recommendations and finally I understand; organizational culture, vision of the company, moral hazard, employee engagement, conflicting job roles; the extent of influence these factors have on current working.
So I return from my internship, a mixed bag of feeling. Happy that I learnt so much, that a book can never explain ( and because I wore formals and carried a laptop around, wishing everyone a smart 'how-do-you-do' or good morning' ) . Sad that my recommendations ( earlier ones) fell flat on their face . Frustration at how much effort goes into actually getting paper-work related data collection done. Nostalgic about the friends that I made out there from the lowest rung to the highest and finally confident that I am that much better equipped for the real deal once I am through with the next year of classes.
Author's note: All of the incidences are true, I have tried to inject humour and thus taken some poetic license ( slight exaggeration to make a point) . My project was in the field of supply chain management and material management.