“So, how many years of experience do you have”, asked a well-meaning professional acquaintance.
While I muttered a weak “About 5 years”, I got thinking about the total years of experience I really did have.
I went to an admittedly fancy college. It was the Indian version of college you usually see in American movies and shows. (Read: Fancy facilities, “posh” crowd, the works.) And with college came a myriad of expenses. “Movie after hours”, “coffee evenings”, “Dinner dates”, “Foreign Trip funds”, “Zara Sale”, are words you frequently heard and used. So, how a 16yr old, grappling the new-found freedom, and a self of identity were to ask the parents for money at such alarming rate as the said college life necessitated? The answer came in the form of a term I’d heard for the first time in my life – Promotional Jobs.
Now most of these jobs barely required any practical or professional skills, and all you needed was basic communication skills (“Can I have your name, ma’am?”), a presentable personality (they won’t tell you, but usually the more good looking you were, the higher the potential earnings went), and most importantly a willingness to forgo your sense of pride based on which family you came from, or how your family bank balance looked like and be willing to “serve”, to do jobs you particularly didn’t enjoy or stimulated your mind and have a thick skin since the jobs often also involved being told off if you happened to err. The money was good enough to get a week of college by, and on-the-job kickbacks like “Free food” and “event merchandise” were the perks. The more jobs you did, the more you were connected to get future jobs. The bringer of these jobs would usually be an event manager or a company representative, who most typically made a cut on your pay. (I’d peg it to be around 30-40%)
So, throwing ego, and a sense of entitlement to the winds, I decided I wanted to be independent, and thanks to connections I made all my college life, I managed to scoop up and do a total of 13 jobs in my last 2 years of college.
1. Driving walkins for free makeover
This as far back as I can remember was my first ever job. The requirement was simple as the agent who got my number through a common friend told me. It was for the makeup brand L’oreal and required me hovering around the store at a prominent mall and ushering in women to go for a free makeover by the brand. A few hours of standing, pacing up and down, and some unsuccessful and some successful “leads”, I was done for the day, and the agent as promised handed me a crisp 7×100 rupee notes for the job. 700 bucks for a 16yr old to ask women to go for a free makeover, at a mall. Difficult? Hell no!
2. Front-end management of a booth at an exhibition:
This slightly more “complex” job required me and a couple of friends who I’d managed to tag along, to handle the Lenovo booth at a technical exhibition. The job description was simple again. Take queries from the walk-in customers, as far as possible try to solve them (we were briefed beforehand), and whenever needed refer them back to a “higher person”. Unfortunately for us the Lenovo stall saw a staggering number of walk-ins so our hands were busy during the 2 day exhibition, but free gourmet food and some neat high-tech merchandize kept us happy. A 1500 paycheque at the end of the activity didn’t hurt either.
3. Handling registrations at a business conference:
Memory fails me on which company this was for. But the requirement was simple enough. Deck up in my crisp formals, and handle the registrations at a business event which would see footfalls from some very prominent and high profiles businessmen, we were told. The job included taking down the name of the visitors, checking their name against the invitee list and handing them their badges and event kits. The company was kind, attending some keynote sessions others had paid to listen to, and the 3k from this 3 day event was the best.
4. Emceeing at an industrial conference:
This was a gig that required some level of creativity, stage skills, and lots of decking up. The client was an industrial sewing equipment manufacturer, and the attendees were loud Punjabis and Gujaratis, who were kept amply happy with a game of Housie, some mindless banter with their families and finally announcing the free drinks and dinner!
5. Selling ad space for Times of India:
My college necessitated an internship in the second year, and just then Times of India came looking for “Student Ambassadors” for its Bangalore Mirror division. What we ( A group of 6 college second-years like me) didn’t quite understand or care about back then was basically we were on-ground salesforce for the media giant, hired to go from retailer to retailer in a designated area and pitch them ad space in Bangalore mirror. The job came with an internship certificate, a stipend of Rs. 5000 and a bonus of achieving certain revenue- that none of us managed.
6. Games Jockey at mall promotion
Never in my wildest dreams had I thought that someone would actually offer me a job that involved kids. I mean I won’t claim to be an expert with kids. No make that, I don’t even like them. But as it would turn out, I was a “Games Jockey”- those annoyingly loud teenagers you see conducting games and forcing people to play them- at a mall. A clever ploy to keep the kids busy while their parents shopped to their heart’s content inside.
7. Taking photos of hoardings in the city
If there was one gig that was rather curious for back in the day, it was this. Get a snapshot of hoardings in assigned areas in the city! Each and every billboard, front and back- a job that took me 2 days, 18kms of driving around, and many a sunburn in the process. As I’d realise later in my current job right now, the gig obviously was a part of market research to gauge the availability of total advertising outdoor space in the city and its exact location.
8. Participating in focus interview for premium brands
Sometimes they need your physical labour, while the other times they cared about your opinion. These focus groups either involved looking at a commercial, and answering a few questions based on it or having tested a product beforehand, giving feedback. Either ways, the experience was nice, didn’t require them to wear those awful ill-fitting white promotional T-Shirts, pitching stuff to people or trying to usher people and the compensation was usually gift vouchers from the brand, along with a coffee. This is the earliest experience of market research I can recall now, and as as a full-stack marketer now, I can relate with the girls who turn up at similar focus interviews I help conduct for my own brand.
9. Conducting ground research for a mobile startup
As in my second year of college, the final year also involved a mandatory internship. Back then, ( We are talking 2009), startups had just started mushrooming in the city, and cash-limited as they were, they needed cheap interns to do some of the more menial, clerical work. So, I got a gig with a mobile advertising based startup that was working on an interesting concept, and the job entailed taking surveys for the product. Basically you approached people with your laptop, showed them a demo of the product, and instantly took their feedback in a quick survey. Managing around a 100 odd responses, and bragging rights, I was pleased with my first experience at a startup, even if I didn’t know back then what a startup was!
10. Acting as hostess at a wedding
For the uninitiated, there exists an industry where young girls (and sometimes guys) are paid to act as hosts at the Big Fat Indian Wedding. You’re required to, along with many other girls dress up in your best Indian wedding finery, or a sexy western dress (Which looks straight out of a place at a wedding!) and your job is to usher the guests to dinner, ask them if they’ve eaten, apart from showing some fake enthusiasm at the Baraat- Basically you’re paid to attend a wedding. The money ranges from 1000-5000 per wedding, but usually the sumptuous wedding spread is the bigger draw for a McDonalds and KFC-dependent teen!
11. Content for a blog
As the years grow, so does the nature of jobs you get. By now I had an active blog of my own and an unpaid editorial gig at Education times to hone the writing chops. Word gets around, and I had an offer from a brand ( their agency really) to write a blogpost for them. While this may be the biggest industry in 2015, back in 2009, writing a sponsored blogpost was a new, and oddly stimulating experience for me. Plus 200bucks, on a job that took 2 hours of my time on the internet barely felt like a drag.
12. Acting as a guinea pig for a new salon
When I thought I should have bold hairy audacious goals for my career, little had I expected that one of my jobs would be paid by my…hair. A salon needed a guinea pig to train their new interns, they came… head hunting for me. All I had to do was sit for a free haircut while the intern went snippety snip at the lab that my head was, aware of the disaster this could be. However, being follicly blessed as I was, growing the hair back wasn’t a concern and a free haircut and a 1000 voucher for future services at a premium salon was a stake worth taking a risk for.
13. Acting as an extra in a Bollywood movie
The funny thing with the events industry is that once you’ve done a couple of promotional gigs, you are de facto on the list for many gigs- whether related or not- in the future. Taking a break from the front-desk-and-event-promotions routine that I’d done so far, this was when Bollywood came knocking. Well, if you consider a blink-and-you-miss 5 second “role” in the movie 3 Idiots-that went on to become a Blockbuster. The job involved me walking around, looking askance at a very hurried R. Madhavan running at the defunct-Bangalore-airport-masquerading-as-the-Delhi-airport for the first scene in the movie 3 Idiots. The movie released a couple of years later, and spotting myself in the trailers was a source of many a cringe worthy moment. Back then though, the 1500 fees for this “acting gig” wasn’t bad at all!
By now I could truly say that I had 3 years of work experience, even before I had my first proper job.
I didn’t know back then, that soon I’d land a proper, full time job at Google, and all these gigs would be safely forgotten. When people ask me “How do you get a job at Google?”, maybe I should tell them about this diverse cornucopia of jobs may have something to do with it.
But even today, as a marketer, and a professional, if I understand one thing is the respect for all jobs, and the learning involved in each. While the total amount of money I made off 12 of these jobs is less than a month’s salary in my current, the experience, the early heads-up into a world of technology, business and entertainment I got acquainted to, not to mention, the satisfaction of buying my Zaras and Benettons with my own hard-earned (debatable) money, is something I don’t regret for a day.
Disclaimer: Most images are used for reference only. Any resemblance with me is purely co-incidental!