If you think that you are having or have had a tough time in your career, finding a job or choosing one, be assured that you are not alone. There are a plenty of others who are just like you and like me, riding this turbulent wave. In fact, I reckon that all those who are reading this have had their share of soul searching too amidst the job search!
In this article, I’ve tried to talk about a few memorable experiences I have had in my corporate journey. I hope you relate to them 🤞🏼
NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles on ’things that made me smile’.
If you haven’t read the first part, please read: Part 01 ✅
The tale of becoming a Treeb
We worked on our startup WhatsDplan for more than 18 months when we decided to call it a day. After we decided to shut down our operations at WhatsDplan, I had to find another job. I already had a bruising experience at finding jobs after my MBA and I just knew that finding a job again was not going to be easy.
I knew I was passionate about building products and wanted to try hard to get into some kind of a Product role - even as an associate or as an analyst. But the search ahead was going to be another turbulent ride, I realised later.
I applied for all the startups (funded!) in Hyderabad and in Bengaluru - I went to their website, noted their ‘career’ email id and wrote them an email. All my attempts were futile. I did not get even a single response. It made me wonder whether those emails were checked by any recruiter at all! I asked some of my friends from NITW and also reached out to some of the founders in my network if they could refer me to any company. Some of them tried, some of them didn’t. But all the attempts did not get me even a single call.
I then thought of broadening my search. Thought of keeping myself open for other roles as well. I thought Sales is one option that would help me do a customer-facing job and gain insights around user behaviour, needs and also about the market in general. Though I wanted to get into Product, I thought that even Sales gave me a lot of avenues to explore, learn and understand. Also, there was some amount of pressure from the family, and the people around in general.
And I was just out of a ‘failed’ startup, so I wanted to validate myself, test myself again. See if I could really add some value to any company and contribute something tangible in any way possible. I mean, when you are going through a rough phase in your life even the smallest of achievements and the smallest of applause seem miraculous, they give hope and instill the faith again that life will still go on. They say, ‘doobne waale ko tinke ki sahara hi bohut hoti hai’ (even a tiny twig is enough for a drowning man). I too felt like a drowning man, searching for that ‘tinka’, that light at the end of the tunnel.
I reached out to a few of my friends again, saying I was open to Sales roles as well. I just hoped if I could get even a single call, just for the sake of it - to keep my morale afloat.
Within a couple of days, Dos (Vijay Chander Dosapati, whom we call Dos) sent me a Territory Sales Manager profile at Treebo. It felt like a decent role and I applied for it.
Though it was like one of the hundred emails and job applications I sent, it felt different. It just felt like it had some good vibe. I had to send an email to Sugandh Jalan, Cluster Head, Hyderabad. I drafted the email at around 5 PM in the evening, ensured that it had no grammatical errors and conveyed the message - my interest and competence clearly. I clicked ‘Send’. Read the email again, after sending. 🤷🏻♂️
After sending the email, the anxiety and eagerness took over again. I tried not to worry too much about it, but I couldn’t. My heart skipped a beat at every email notification I received on my phone. After going through so many rejections, I just hoped this was different.
It was late in the night and I still did not get any response. I hoped that I may get a response the next day and tried to sleep. Suddenly my phone beeped. I saw a notification, a message from Sugandh. My heart skipped a beat again, this time even my breath heaved. I was scared, I guess, I did not check the message on my phone. I opened my laptop instead - trying to add some delay. (Do people even do such things!)
As I opened Gmail on my laptop, I saw an unread message with the first line, ‘Hi Arjun, Thanks for reaching out.’ I gathered some courage and opened it. ‘I have forwarded it to the HR, she will reach out to you shortly’, it read.
I gave a sigh of relief, I was certain I would get an interview call now, thank god! After almost two years of joblessness (counting the time I spent on our startup), I finally got an interview call, finally! Wow! This was my first interview call after 3 and a half years, so I was both excited and anxious.
I just wanted to do my absolute best but was also worried a little as it was for a Sales role, for which I did not have much experience, technically. Though I ran Sales, Operations and everything business/product in our startup, I was not sure how much of that experience would be considered in this interview (I just didn’t know then. Now, I know it counted a lot!).
The HR called within a couple of days. She explained to me the selection process - two rounds of interviews, one on phone and another in person. She also asked me about my interest in joining Treebo, educational and work experience, the startup journey, last drawn CTC (which I disclosed naively. Pro tip: Never disclose your CTC in the first call!) among other things. She was checking my communication skills and culture fit, perhaps. ‘I will schedule your first round in the next week’, she concluded.
The first round was with Akhil Gupta, Cluster Head Mumbai. I did some research on Linkedin, tried to gather more details that could help me in the interview - any regional affiliations or common connections - nothing. No help there.
The day of the interview arrived and I got a call. I felt that it was like a casual conversation. I was asked a few questions about my startup and my interest in Sales, for which I was thoroughly prepared. I answered rather easily. He then asked me about my location preference, my expectations, about the hospitality industry, how I increased Sales at our startup, why we quit the startup among other things. It went fine, I was not intimidated and answered as if I already knew the question paper before the exam. I was confident I would get through.
The HR called the next day and confirmed my selection into the next round - an in-person interview with Sugandh, three days from then.
I still remember the day. I wore a light coloured shirt gifted by Divya Ganti, it was some shade of pink - I’d have to do some research to give the name of the exact colour! The colour coincidentally matched with the file I was carrying - the file was Ramesh’s, which I took and never returned. I guess, it simply feels good to use something which belongs to a friend, knowing that he/she wouldn’t mind!
To ensure that I won’t be late I started early and took a cab to Vamsiram’s Jyothi Square, Banjara Hills. I tried to maintain composure all along the cab ride and tried not to bite my nails (I have this super bad habit of biting nails!). Crossed my legs and tried to relax. I noticed that my shoes (which I wore in Chennai while working at Standard Chartered) were worn out. ‘Would this affect my overall presentation? Presentation is crucial in Sales, isn’t it?’ I thought… Mind is a monkey, you see!
Anyway, I reached the destination about 10 minutes early. The office building was more of a residential apartment rented out to offices, rather than a full-fledged corporate building. As I entered the building’s parking space, I saw a board listing all the offices there. ‘Treebo Hotels - 4B’, I read and took the elevator to the 4th floor.
I fidgeted with my file all the way to the 4th floor, adjusted my shirt and my sleeves and stepped out of the elevator. ‘4B’, I saw, as soon as I stepped out and was taken aback a little. The entrance into the office was a door, just like a regular door to our houses with a knob to push and twist to open.
I took a deep breath, pushed the button and twisted the knob. Nothing happened. My palms were sweaty. I rubbed them against the dark coloured pant I was wearing and tried to twist the knob again. It didn’t turn! I pushed the button harder this time and tried again. It didn’t budge.
I released it, took a step back and tried to examine it. I wondered if I was doing anything wrong! I pushed the button again and rotated the knob the other way round this time. Nothing happened. All of this was adding to my anxiety and then suddenly my phone rang. I was startled. I took the phone out of my pocket, ‘Sugandh Treebo’, it read.
‘Hi Sugandh’, I picked the call.
‘Hey Arjun, I am just on my way to the office. I will reach in another 15 minutes, he said.
‘Oh, okay. I just reached’, I replied.
‘Cool, you can wait on the 4th floor’, he said.
‘Sure’, I said and he cut the call.
I looked at the knob again and nodded my head acknowledging the unnecessary suspense it created. I tried to relax a bit. I waited there in the corridor, staring down a large window in the corner. I looked at the vehicles and pedestrians passing by in the hot summer afternoon and tried to calm my anxious self. ‘Time passed rather slowly’, I thought.
The elevator chimed finally and out came Sugandh.
‘Hi Arjun’, he said taking the keys out of his pocket.
‘Hi Sugandh, how are you?’ I asked.
‘I am good. How about you?’ he replied trying to open the door - pushing and twisting the knob, just like what I did a while ago.
‘I am good too. Excited about the interview’, I tried to build some conversation.
‘Sure’, he said and entered the office.
I followed him inside. It was one open hall with a few cabins and one conference room in the corner. Entering a closed room in the summer had a compelling effect, Sugandh turned on the air conditioner immediately. He entered the conference room, placed his bag on the table and called me in. He sat at one side of the table and asked me to sit on the other side. I placed my file on the table and sat opposite to him.
‘So Arjun, tell me about yourself’, he asked nonchalantly, flipping the pages in my file. I too gave a regular answer which I almost memorized word-by-word.
He spent a few moments and studied my profile.
‘Are you sure you want to apply for Sales? You are fit for a Product role’, he said.
I was surprised when he said that and was happy that somebody felt I had a profile fit for a Product role. I never expected a hiring manager to say that to me during an interview. Amidst this I had a sudden rush of adrenaline - I wondered if this could turn into a Product interview, that made me worry a bit as I was not prepared for a Product interview.
‘Well, even I tried for Product roles over the past few months but couldn’t get any call so far. Even at Treebo, I couldn’t find any Product opening. So, I opened myself for other opportunities as well’, I said.
‘Ok. Let me talk to the HR’, he said dialling on his keypad.
I sat there with a mixed bag of emotions - I was happy that someone thought of considering me for a Product role, a bit perplexed as the hiring manager was calling the HR during the interview and worried if it would turn into a Product interview for which I wasn’t prepared. And it was all happening at once, suddenly.
Sugandh spoke to the HR, informed about the ongoing interview and enquired if there were any Product openings. He then listened to the response from the other side and cut the call.
‘Yaar, we don’t have any Product openings right now. Let’s do one thing, I will go ahead with this interview and if everything goes well we can relook at moving you into Product after a few months’, he said.
‘Sure!’ I agreed, relieved and sad at the same time.
‘Why Sales?’ he then asked.
My idea was to do a customer-facing role that would give good exposure to user needs and also understand the market better - something that I felt I lacked during our startup. I told him the same thing.
He then gave me a couple of situations to roleplay, he was the customer and I had to sell him the product. From my experience at the startup and knowledge from a few movies about how Sales was done, I tried to talk about the features of the product and persuaded him a little. My pitch was not so convincing, I thought. It would be entirely different if I had to do it now. But I answered all his queries about the product and explained how it would benefit him over other products he was using. He nodded in agreement.
He then gave some monthly numbers of a hotel: total expenses, average occupancy, sales margin, average room price and asked me to determine the optimal revenue strategy. I did some calculations and explained to him my projections.
He inquired further about my date of joining and if I was willing to relocate to Bengaluru if required. After discussing these for a while he asked the most important question of all - my expected CTC. I could give 100 tips on how to negotiate a salary now, but back then I was exposed and naive, I did not do well in that area. I gave a number and Sugandh immediately said that it was not possible - a negotiation tactic, perhaps. I tried to explain my point but he said they could give only so much increase over the last drawn CTC (I had disclosed the last drawn CTC earlier, remember? 🤦🏻♂️)
It was a tricky situation for me. I kind of nodded in agreement but tried to ask more.
‘Anyway, let me check with the team about it!’ he snapped.
‘Ok, sure’, I said.
He then asked about my family, where I lived, how I would commute etc. He told that that was it, the interview was over. I thanked him and left.
On the way back, I felt good that the interview went well, but was a little apprehensive about the salary at the same time. ‘What if they trick me because of my situation and offer me too low a salary’, I thought.
Just like any candidate after an interview, I too was restless with bursts of annoyance and excitement for the next few days. But I had no other option, I had just had to wait.
‘Hi Arjun, Archana here from Treebo’, I finally got a call after about 4-5 days.
‘Hi Archana’, I replied becoming alert at once.
‘So, we’re glad to inform you that you have been selected for the role’, she said with a hint of calmness in her tone.
‘Oh ok, thanks!’ I said, trying to hide my emotions too.
‘After discussing with the team and Sugandh, we’d like to offer you this…’, she quoted a figure.
I was pleasantly surprised and couldn’t contain my smile as it was higher than what I had hoped for.
‘Ok, so is that the final offer?’ I asked, knowing it was a stupid question and regretted it instantly. I mean, I did not know what else to say and knew her response too!
‘I think this is on par with your expectations, right?’ she replied unapologetically, as expected.
‘Yes, yes’, I assured her.
‘So, if you are fine with it, I can send you the offer letter immediately’, she sought my confirmation.
‘Umm… Yes, I think I would like to go ahead with the offer’, I confirmed.
‘Great! I will send you an email, please confirm on that’, she said with a pleasant tone.
‘Ok, sure’, I agreed and went inside my room, opened my laptop and kept staring at the screen, waiting for the email.
If the laptop took a photo that time, I would have had a portrait of what I’d call, ‘relaxed smile’ with me today.
to be continued…