Brands don’t change lives? P&G changed mine

“We’re finished with the interview now. Do you have anything else to ask us?”

Actually, I have something to say. I read this blog a couple of years ago titled “Why P&G rejected me” about someone who thought he aced his interview only to find out he got rejected, and reached out to his interviewer for feedback. He goes on to talk about how nebulous the word “FIT” can mean. Maybe you have somebody just like me. Or maybe the division that has a vacancy in, has a manager who might not require my skills. Or maybe its not even something you can explain. There’s a theory in economics called revealed preference that tells you to not listen to what people say but observe what they do. Maybe it’s how you feel about a candidate that CAN’T be put in words.

In April 2012, P&G launched it’s first ThankYouMom campaign. A few days later, when I was barely 21, I was asked in an interview with Ogilvy & Mather what my long term goal was. I said it was “to make a ThankYouMom commercial for P&G” some day. And then 2 years later, I left Ogilvy to join GREY, for a lot of reasons but also because GREY handled Gillette, Pantene and Febreze. With time, my understanding of marketing evolved, as did my goals, but the fascination for P&G stayed. The company that made those Gillette ads I used to cut out of newspapers as a kid because they had cricketer Rahul Dravid’s image as brand ambassador, has been the single most important career goal I’ve had for as long as I can remember. My laptops have changed, but what’s been a constant is that folder titled “P&G” on my desktop. Even today, I took out a new Fusion ProGlide I had reserved for this occasion because the copy on the box read “Ready for your first real job? Time for your first real shave”. And if someone took me back in time and asked me who I’d want to grow up to be like, I’d say Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer P&G, one of whose quotes stuck on my workplace desk reads “we need to move from marketing to consumers to servicing people with our brands making their lives better”. Guess what I’m trying to say, is that everything I’ve ever done has led me to THIS moment. So if I don’t proceed further, I want to thank you for listening to my story.

Those were a few excerpts from my interview with P&G last week. Today, I got a rejection email from P&G Talent Supply.

Thank you for interviewing for the Brand Management position at P&G. Unfortunately, we have decided not to pursue your application further.

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I tried.

Application. Success drivers assessment. Online reasoning screening. In-person reasoning test. Sales Experience day and live case analysis. Round 1 interview. Started October when my term began and my term ends next week, but the dream’s ended prematurely. It was fun while it lasted. And I’d like to get some things off my chest in my search for closure. So here goes.

There is nothing more painful than thinking you did so well, left such a great impression only to be proven shockingly wrong and left wondering how to resuscitate your entire belief system that’s just been rocked to its core. There is nothing more frustrating than not knowing where you screwed up, how you screwed up, IF you screwed up in the first place, because everybody around is too polite to call a spade a spade.

Well maybe there is something more painful.

Not getting enough sleep. Checking every single email hoping it’s the one from P&G you’ve been waiting for. Waking up in the middle of the night to check your mail, because FOMO on steroids is exactly this. Getting furious annoyed and disappointed all at the same time when you receive spam emails from Scotia Scene and Black Friday Amazon deals and other irrelevant newsletters. A gazillion periods of waiting with baited breath to hear back after each round. That small muted celebration of joy you experience upon clearing every round but then you pause because you know there’s a long way left to go but at the same time you’re also experiencing a feeling of satisfaction of having crossed one hurdle, the validation that it serves as, that you’re on the right track, that you’re doing okay and you’ll be okay. The herculean effort you put to get a teeny tiny bit of advantage that hardly justifies the cost it comes at – academic neglect. Nothing to lose? I had everything to lose

Rory Sutherland talks about how life is like a game of darts: aiming for the high score brings a higher chance of disaster. He goes:

“Something economists don’t understand, with their narrow focus on utility, which is an artificial additive function accumulated in a series of independent transactions, is that life is multiplicative, not additive. And it is path dependent. In a multiplicative, path-dependent world – one in which we are in competition with others – the rules are very different to the additive rules that economists frequently impose on us with the idea that they are “rational”.

I feel like I could go off like Robin Williams did in the film Angriest Man in Brooklyn, so I’ll just quote his monologue:

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I’m innately not a confident person. Tend to always expect the worst. Be harsh on myself. It all ties into the cynical bastard that I am. Which means that I usually often end up surprising myself by not doing as badly as I had originally thought I would. But in the odd occasion that I’m actually confident about something, it means I must have kicked ass. But ever since my MBA I’m not so sure.

Its a roller-coaster and I’m gasping for breath, struggling for air, praying for calm. It’s like an LSD trip. I’ve never worked this hard. I’m breaching every barrier, every threshold, every limit of resilience, spirit, effort I had. But most of it so inconsequential from the outside. Every bridge I cross feels like I’m loading a gun with bullets, but from a larger perspective all I’m doing is loading batteries into a TV remote. Turbulence is the order of the day.  Perhaps an MBA is a microcosm of life. In 32x speed.

But as I sit here writing this, licking my wounds, reeling from my rejections, trying to put back pieces of my shattered confidence (whatever’s left of it), I realize my journey is just beginning. Like one of my friends said, I need to keep doing what I’m doing because I didn’t come this far to throw in the towel now. I wanted my MBA to challenge me, and here it is doing just that. Maybe getting into P&G would have made it too easy, made me too complacent. Maybe I have a few more battles to go before I win the war, or at the very least, come out of it alive. Back where I came from, business schools give out jobs for free through a concept called ‘placements’. No networking, no proclaiming of passion, no persistent efforts to stay in touch, nothing; an environment where higher the GPA, better your career prospects. I’m better than that. My program is better than that. The stuff we’re made of is superior because we go through more highs and lows, trials and tribulations in a small market with limited jobs. In a finance-consulting school. In a world where companies prefer hiring undergrads for marketing roles. It’s going to be a long, hard, tough winter. But I’m in for all of it.

I really needed this, but I’ll survive. Find a way. I always do. As for P&G, maybe not today. Not next year. But some day.

And even if that doesn’t work out, that corny old line will start to make sense

“If you really love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, its yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be.”

PS: I worked all term on putting together a marketing plan for their key brands. But I finally decided against showing it to my interviewers because I didn’t want them to construe it as something that showed a rigid pre-set mind. As Seth Godin would say, it was just me being a purple cow. Actually in all honesty, it was just me trying to demonstrate how much this opportunity meant to me. It was me showing up in that moment like I was meant to be there, because perhaps in a parallel universe, I really was.

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Update: The candidate who got the offer for the role from P&G rejected it over a better one. Sic vita est.

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