Procter & Gamble (P&G) Pakistan selects a handful of interns from amongst university students each year. This year, I was lucky to be one of the chosen. After a rigorous interview and testing process – made even more rigorous because of circumstance (final exams ending the day before I would need to fly out to Karachi, interviews scheduled right in the middle of classes, and of course, the fact that I would need to be based in Karachi if I got in – far from home) – I had developed an obsessive compulsive need to stare at my cell phone, waiting for a 021 (Karachi’s area code) number to pop up.
The call came in the middle of the day. I had been accepted. “Congratulations Zainab…” I immediately began planning the details of my trip; when I boarded that plane a few weeks later, I was determined to be well-prepared.
But is there any way you can truly be prepared for a P&G internship? Those twelve weeks of challenges – both business-related and otherwise – that every intern faces turn you from university student to almost-professional. It’s a grueling process, and I think the best attitude you can have is to be prepared to face obstacles and believe that you will overcome them. Most interns only really know two things on the first day: that they want to be here, and that they are prepared to work hard to stay. The rest, we learn over time – and what a plethora of things there are to learn!
The first week is Onboarding – when all the interns really see is the Academy – a large room with a gorgeous view of the sea, a whiteboard, and an HR executive that smiles at your nervous face. HR led us through those first few days, where we were given opportunities to get to know each other and a brief intro into what each function did at the company, how they all worked together, general rules for employees at the company, and the PVPs, or the company’s core ethical guidelines.
Before the written aptitude test each applicant must give, we are asked to fill in to a little box what our department of preference is – I chose Consumer Market Knowledge, which is essentially the research and data analysis function. It was an easy choice. I have always loved research, puzzles, having to go through piles of information to find the perfect piece to solve a problem, and I had for several years intended to pursue a career in such a field. Luckily, that’s the function that I got to intern for.
My CMK journey started with two weeks of reading. There was so much to learn before I could even start to understand the data or work on my projects. It was exciting – a new world with new words that I had never heard – an entirely new language that I got to explore, and my, was it fascinating! I went through presentations by the dozens, learning how P&G worked in different countries, different product promotion techniques, what core equities each brand represented, how each brand’s performance could be viewed through different filters, and what each filter meant, etc. Acronyms are so ingrained into P&G’s culture that it was a common intern joke that we often didn’t understand what employees were saying because 80% of their words would be acronyms. CBD, SBD, OOO, PS, BO, GTM, P3W – it took a week before I was able to start translating them in my head and making sense of what they meant, and the day I used an acronym for the first time – it just slipped out – I was so excited! I had officially been “Proctorized”: my brain now worked in P&G-ese.
The annual intern business management competition (BMC) seemed to come at the most inconvenient time. It seemed as if we all had one deadline or another on the exact days that we were required to report back to the Academy – this time as knowledgeable functionaries in our departments, with our thinking caps on and our competitive spirits high. We were divided into four teams – red, blue, green and yellow, and a series of case studies were presented to us. We had 30 mins to work together as a team, and prepare a solution and a presentation. The teams were ranked based on performance, and scores were given by the judges. We were also ranked on team-building activities like memory games, speed games, etc. Perhaps the most exciting part was when we were told to to sell products to consumers on the street.
We were given an inventory and a price list, and sent out into the wild. My inner salesperson awoke as I walked up to sweet-looking aunties and asked them to consider how important it was for them to purchase Head & Shoulders. After every rejection, I grew more determined. By the end of the allotted time period, my teammates and I had done pretty well. We were left with just 4 packs of Pampers. Perhaps the piece de resistance was when I convinced a bearded gentleman to purchase a Gillette razor. “Because Uncle,” I said, “what if you want to shave your beard one day and you just don’t have a razor?”
After BMC, we were taken on a yacht ride and served dinner on deck, with a stunning view of the night sky above us, and the blue-grey of the water below. I think everyone channeled their inner Kate Winslet and tried the Titanic pose on the stern at least once.
Pakistan Color Day was another engaging activity that was organized by the HR team. A cultural quiz in the style of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? was held, with teams of employees sitting on sequined throw pillows and bedazzled bean bags guessing the answers. Some of the most memorable questions were about Veena Malik, Begun Noor Jehan and the history of P&G Pakistan, and the commentary was hilarious. I think that’s one of the things I loved most about my internship – that there were so many people with personality. The friendly atmosphere, the general good humor – it was that sense of general camaraderie that made the event extremely enjoyable.
I was given the opportunity to visit SOS Village with P&G twice – part of the company’s social responsibility program. The first time, I was able to see the children perform various dances and songs, and the second time, I was able to visit each “family” in its home, and spend time with the children, and reading their books and playing with them. We had lunch together and I even learned a few Sindhi words from one of the little girls.
So in this whirlwind of activity, what is most memorable? After 3 months, what am I taking away?
Firstly, the way that I was treated as an intern was no different from the way the employees treated each other. In our eyes they were Goliaths – experts in their fields, busy corporate professionals that seemed almost from an alien planet, but they treated us with respect and kindness when we were stumbling. They showed up to meetings that we scheduled, didn’t scoff at our ideas, even if there were inaccuracies, and suggested improvements without sounding condescending. The amount of time the employees gave us when we needed their guidance or support for a project was incredible. I didn’t feel like an intern. I felt accepted and familiar almost immediately. Kudos to the culture these individuals have developed at P&G, where everyone is encouraged to truly feel comfortable and thus, excel.
During my final interview, my to-be-manager asked me, “How do you see yourself in ten years? Where do you want to be?” I remember thinking at that moment, if I should just say what I felt, even though it wasn’t concrete, or come up with something. I am glad I decided to do the former. I knew I wanted a career in research, and I knew I would be happiest with piles of data to go through in search of some important truth, but what I wanted to stress was that “I want to be a good at my job, but I want to have to try to be good at my job. I need it to be challenging.” And I don’t know whether he remembered that bit of the conversation or not, but challenging it was. I have learned so many things about analysis, about the corporate world, but most of all about myself – and about how I see the world, and the several different lenses I can use to understand it. Perhaps this is something I gained uniquely as part of CMK – but my fellow CMK-ers told me I would start to look at the world from an expanded perspective, in a new light, in different lights – and they were right.