The Legend of the “Interview Shirt”

I grew up in an era punctuated by the liberalization of the Indian economy and India’s subsequent ascension as a power in the world economy. During the years that I was an undergraduate my peer group was comprised of people from Indian upper middle class families. So most of us, while not really starved for means, weren’t exactly rolling in money either.

We used to start the semester with a wardrobe that stayed reasonably constant, unless we happened to venture to Palika Bazaar or SN Market during a weekend and spent a couple of hundred rupees getting ourselves some T-shirts. Occasionally when one of us had an expected or unexpected windfall we went to South Ex because the shops there were otherwise beyond our means.

Once we reached our final year, of course, we had to prepare for placement interviews. A typical firm doing a placement interview had 3 rounds: a preliminary CV screen, a written test and an in-person interview. Some firms did one of the first two, some substituted them with a group discussion, but all firms had an in-person interview.

Now, people had clothes for different occasions. There was the regular stuff that you would wear in the hostel and that could range from something that looked like a dirty rag to a half-decent T-shirt. Then there were clothes you wore to class and they were somewhat better, in the sense that they did have encounters with a bar of detergent once every few weeks.

Next came “date clothes”, which were essentially an assortment of clothes that you thought looked cool on you and you wore them on those special events where a girl was probably milking you for all your pocket-money’s worth. A lot of us didn’t have the need or the luxury to worry about date clothes though, because the prerequisite of having a girlfriend, real or purported, was never met. Nonetheless I could regale you with tales of some gentlemen, who would shave only on date days, thereby never letting their girlfriends form even casual acquaintances with their raging stubbles, but that is a tale for another day.

Last came the “Interview Clothes”. This was a tricky category. Some people were dead sure that they would go into academia after graduation, so they never bothered themselves with mundane matters like their appearance in an interview, and as a result they never had anything different or unique to wear for an interview (some such people didn’t even bother themselves with job interviews!). Some were certain they wouldn’t graduate in four years, so they too never bothered. But there were others who were very, very serious about job interviews. But even here you had groups. First came the people who made several attempts at interviews, but started getting dispirited after multiple failures. Such people typically paid attention to their appearance initially, then lost enthusiasm. Then came people who made it to the interview round of their dream jobs, and they, naturally, had to look their best.

So what really comprised the “Interview Clothes”, or more particularly, what was the “Interview Shirt”? In the most general sense, this was supposed to be one shirt that you wore once a semester, if not once during your entire four years in college. Shirts hardly ever strictly met this condition – in most cases you would end up wearing your interview shirt about 5-6 times a semester. Some people liked calling it their formal shirt, but they would have been the only ones calling it that. Some people simply reused their “date shirt”, if the date involved going to an upscale restaurant. Simply put, this was the one shirt you possessed that met all these criteria – long sleeves, cleanest of the lot and most importantly, hadn’t been worn after being last ironed.

Given the economic era we were in, a formal shirt would cost you equal to your entire semester’s tuition fees. You see, the market had been liberalized allowing consumerism to rise, but our families didn’t really fit into the category of the targeted consumers. Moreover our college hiked fees tenfold the year after we joined, making us the last batch to pay a total of around Rs. 8920/- (approximately US $255 those days) for four years of India’s best undergraduate education. So spending more on a shirt than you would spend on half a year’s fees was tantamount to sacrilege. Of course, some saw this as money well-spent and they not only had a designated “interview shirt”, but also had a suit or a blazer and a tie to go with it. Given the heat in Delhi, interviewers never actually expected you to wear a suit for an interview, but the people owning one felt obliged to wear it.

Wearing a suit absolved you of owning a decent “interview shirt”, because your shirt would essentially get covered by the layer above. But for people who preferred comfort during an interview, the shirt was mandatory. People were generally okay with wearing a long-sleeves shirt without lurid patterns, and which showed prominent creases from ironing. Checks were generally considered a no-no, and some people even excluded stripes from their consideration. Solids, particularly those in light colors were most welcome.

People who didn’t possess a shirt that met their own definition of an “interview shirt” usually borrowed one from a friend. Some people also wore ties to interviews, but the opening up of the Indian economy made sure that ties that were in vogue at the start of our education were considered passé by our fourth year. As kids we considered it fashionable to wear a tie in school with a four-in-hand knot, which we referred to as the single knot. Later we figured out that the formal way of wearing a tie was the Windsor knot (what we called the triple knot), or the somewhat less time-consuming half-Windsor knot (aka the double knot). Without intending to lace the statement with double-entendre, it wasn’t the length (of the tie) that mattered, but it was the thickness (of the knot).

Times have changed. In my first job the emphasis was on feeling comfortable, so wearing jeans and T-shirts to work was considered the in-thing. My second job being in consulting, the emphasis was on dressing “smart” (read Business Casual) for regular work and formally for client presentations. So my definitions have changed. What I revered as “interview shirts” during my college days is now a part of my everyday wear. But I still have interview shirts – plain, expensive, clean and well-ironed.

The Consultant Mixer – Procrastination Power

I have been wrestling with the idea of a comic strip for a while now. However, it has been a while since I did any serious artwork. More than 15 years, in fact. The fact was amplified when I tried to draw a face from three different angles and I ended up invariably incorporating simian characteristics where I did not really need them. Eventually I settled for stick figures.

The particular installment of The Consultant Mixer is autonymous, since I started penciling it in August and I finished in October. A few words about an “autonym” – I had read in Richard Lederer’s excellent Crazy English, that an “autonym” is a word that describes itself. You can indeed search for “hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian” within this book in Amazon and find out that it means “a very long word”. The dictionaries don’t agree, though, or do not cover this definition of the word.

I am not particularly innovative with names. So I pulled an old trick here. IBM happens to be one of the largest Consulting firms today (if not the largest). In his famous 2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke had a computer named HAL, which people interpreted as a play on IBM (H before I, A before B and L before M), the founder of the ubiquitous PC. There is another school of though that believes, though that HAL is a “heuristic algorithm”. Nevertheless, I decided to use IBM as my source again, albeit the consulting arm of it. So you have JCN (J after I, C after B and N after M), or Jason.

Procrastination Power - It is always too early to start work
Procrastination Power - It is always too early to start work

Have fun!

Doing an Asok

For all the money a consultant makes, the job is often thankless. Nothing exemplifies this better than today’s Dilbert:

There are some parallels and some non-parallels between Asok and me:

  • Asok, like me is an IIT graduate. Worse still, like me he is trained to sleep only on national holidays

  • I must have flunked the course where they taught us to reheat tea by holding the cup to my forehead

  • But I did meet the prerequisite for getting in

  • Asok is an intern, hence his position at the company is not permanent. As a consultant my privileges at my client are pretty similar, except that a consultant probably earns about 4 times more than an intern

  • I must have also flunked this other course, since I am still nutty about a lot of things:

My kinship with Asok often reminds me of this classic scene from Lage Raho Munna Bhai:

Yes, just keep doing it hoping that some day things will be better.

Swoopo – An Interesting Auction Model

On the RSS feeds that show atop my Gmail inbox I sometimes see a ridiculously priced HDTV or MacBook at an auction. Instinctively I dismiss the link as a scam. However, out of idle curiosity I decided to take a look at one such link today and I came across a really interesting business model.

Swoopo operates very differently from a traditional auction site like eBay. In eBay you can buy or sell stuff. When you buy there is no cost involved in the bidding process. If you are eventually the highest bidder for an item you win it. You pay the seller the amount the bid was settled for. eBay makes money for each listing and takes a small percentage of the selling price. If something was not sold, eBay still gets the listing fee.

Swoopo is different. For starters you cannot sell stuff (if you can, I couldn’t locate it on their site). Secondly, you cannot buy using the traditional methods. Who in their right mind would sell a MacBook for around $7.00?

Swoopo, for ridiculously low prices
Swoopo, for ridiculously low prices

But there is a lot more to this than meets the eye. In Swoopo you actually pay to bid, so the cost of the item is divided amongst all the people making the bid!! Look at their Penny Auctions. The price of an item increases by 1 cent for each bid, however to bid you have to pay 75 cents each time. So if a $1,299.00 MacBook is eventually sold for $24.00, there have actually been 2400 bids on it @ 75 cents each. So Swoopo has actually made $1,800.00 in the bids alone, in addition to the minuscule $24.00 that the item actually sold for – that is a neat profit of $525 for the seller. And the best part is that even if the winning bidder has made 200 bids, he has only paid $174.00 for the item – a significant markup from the selling price of $24.00, though still way below the retail price of $1,299.

So what’s the catch? The rest of the price is actually being footed by the losing bidders. So unless you are absolutely sure that you want to buy something and are willing to go for the kill in bidding, stay away!! The thing about Swoopo is that everytime there is a bid it raises the auction time by some seconds. So you could potentially be stuck in a bidding war and end up making a big enough loss in an attempt to outbid someone.

Happy bidding!

The Extra Outlook

A somewhat techie article after a long time, prompted no doubt by my travails at my last client! Read on if:

  1. You are in consulting
  2. Your firm uses Microsoft Outlook
  3. Your client uses Microsoft Outlook
  4. You want to connect to two Exchange Server instances at the same time

Of course, you could read on even if none of the above applies to you.

The reasons why #4 is difficult in the above are:

  1. You attach an Exchange Server to a profile
  2. Only one Exchange Server can be attached to a profile
  3. Only one profile can be opened at one point of time in Microsoft Outlook

So only one inbox can be open at one time.

Luckily the solution for this is very simple and straightforward. And you have Hammer of God’s ExtraOutlook to thank for this. Here is what you will do:

  1. Download ExtraOutlook
  2. Extract the file from the Zip archive and either add the directory to your path or note the directory
  3. Let’s say that your Exchange Servers are attached to different profiles called “My Own Company”, “My First Client”, “My Second Client” and so on. For each client create a batch file (a file with an extension .bat) with the following content
    ExtraOutlook.exe "C:Program FilesMicrosoft OfficeOffice12OUTLOOK.EXE" /profile "My Own Company"
    Replace the part after /profile with the names of the profiles that you have. The above will work if the directory with ExtraOutlook is in your path. If it isn’t, create a batch file in the following manner:
    <Path to ExtraOutlook>ExtraOutlook.exe "C:Program FilesMicrosoft OfficeOffice12OUTLOOK.EXE" /profile "My Own Company"
    You will have one such batch file for each instance that you want to run.
  4. Close all open instances of Outlook
  5. Double click the batch file to launch whichever instance of Outlook you want to connect to.

You could use some variants of the above setup too. E.g. I haven’t created batch files for my default profile. That way if I launch Outlook by itself, I get connected to my company’s Exchange Server.

Good luck!