“Your resume is the most important document in your job search. Put the colorful (interesting) pieces of your life together to create an interesting story – your education, work experience, and the people who may have inspired you along the way. Nothing sells better than a story. If there is a chance that the interviewer will remember you, it is because of your story. Not your name, not your face, not even your grade point.”
These are the words of Sonya Dutta Choudhury, Columnist at Mint, and author of ‘Career Rules – How to Choose Right And Get the Life You Want‘. Apart from sharing insightful details from her journey as a banker, journalist, and an author, she talks about her book, Career Rules, and how it’s the kind of guided tour in the world of careers that every young graduate deserves.
Internshala in conversation with Sonya:
Sonya, walking down the memory lane, what kind of a student were you in college? Were you always interested in the field of management?
I studied English Literature in college. It was fun but I quickly realized nobody would give me a job no matter how well I did. Around that time, like everyone else in college, I had started reading Ayn Rand’s, Atlas Shrugged. Suddenly it seemed that private industry was the answer to every problem the country had. So I began preparing seriously for management entrance exams. I started studying mathematics and data visualization on the side and found that I enjoyed it. Later when I got into IIM Calcutta, I loved the mix of courses we got to study from economics and political history to accounting and programming. So the interest in management developed only later on.
You completed your MBA from IIM Calcutta and worked for many years in the field of banking and international marketing. How did the switch to journalism happen?
When my daughter Diviya was born, I decided to take a sabbatical from my marketing job which used to involve international travel as well as frequent trips to Cochin. For the next few years, I was at home, with a lot of time to read and write. Those days we had suddenly turned from DINK – Double Income No Kids to SINK – Single Income Numerous Kids (as my two younger daughters were born soon after as well). So I started doing book reviews for publications like India Today. I would go to art exhibitions, interview the artists for papers like The Deccan Herald and The Bombay Times and get paid for the features. I enjoyed reading the books and talking to the artists and the money was a motivating factor too.
What inspired you to write your first book on the subject of education and career choices?
It all started with a monthly column I began writing eight years ago for Mint. It’s called Get a Glimpse and focuses on one profession at a time, through the stories of people in it. I had to identify three people in popular professions, who were at different points in their career trajectory. So there were young people in their twenties and thirties as well as famous CEOs. The series became very popular and I found myself fascinated with the career stories I encountered. I wanted to put together all the amazing insights, the advice and the experiences of young professionals as well as older ones in a book that would be a single point career resource.
At the same time, my three daughters had grown up to be teenagers and were looking for their own careers. So in a way, both personal and professional motivations came together in the writing of this book.
You have interviewed many professionals over the years and included stories of some in your book. How do you think it will help the students in choosing their career?
Career Rules does the research for you – it picks people who have inspiring stories, and presents them to you along with their advice and their career hacks. So you can read about Yaquta Mandviwala’s days if you want to be a consultant or Shashank Kumar’s struggles if you’d like a peek into the world of an ethical hacker. And even if you don’t pick the careers that these stories feature, you will be able to see the patterns in jobs, education, internships experiences, and how it all adds up. And this will help you make a better-informed career decision. The book is, in essence, a helpful nudge towards the life you want.
Your book has an interesting mix of features. You’ve included movies that should be watched and books that should be read for making a successful career in every field. What’s your thought process behind this?
Movies and books are a fun way to engage with conversations on a career. And they can also lend themselves to some useful analysis. Like after watching Dear Zindagi, you ask whether the character of the psychiatrist Jehangir Khan, played by Shahrukh Khan, is realistic? And whether serials like ‘Silicon Valley’ and ‘Shark Tank’ show the highs and lows of an entrepreneur’s life? Often a lot of research goes into the making of these. The serial Silicon Valley, for instance, is produced by Randi Zuckerberg, who is Mark Zuckerberg’s sister. She lives in Silicon Valley and interacts with entrepreneurs every day. Similarly, there are so many books packed with career and life lessons like – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Open by Andre Agassi, Brief Candle In The Dark: My Life In Science by Richard Dawkins, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, the Mahabharata etc. So movies and books can end up being quite accurate portrayals of professions.
You have also provided various career hacks in the book for helping students. Is there any hack that has personally helped you over the years?
The career hack that’s helped me the most is the very first – learning to tell your own story. It sounds simple, but it can be really hard – how do you pick the two or three most compelling things about you and fit them into a two-minute story pitch? It’s an exercise worth doing, and will definitely help you crack that dreaded interview question, the one that every interviewer seems partial to, the ‘Tell me about yourself ‘.
What are your thoughts on internships? What’s their relevance in one’s career?
Pick the right internship and you might have a job offer you want before you even complete your degree. Pick the wrong internship and you will know for sure what kind of job, company, or sector you don’t want to work in.
In either case, you will have (hopefully) made some connections and friends, put a few talking points onto your resume, and even got a couple of Linkedin recommendations to make your CV stand out. And, of course, the financial freedom and confidence that comes with an experience like this. So internships are win-win-win!
As a wrap to this conversation, what would be your piece of advice to the students to make better career choices?
Read Career Rules! Take one piece of advice from it every month – like for instance one of the 4 ways to find a mentor, one of the 8 books you must read or the 4 things you should do to land a good internship.