Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A SOP Story

The mention of those three letters still give me nightmares. Together, they represent the one nemesis common to every aspirant of higher education or employment- whatever it may be it that the young hopeful may be pursuing, an MBA, MS or a PhD, his/ her journey isn't complete without the final literary hurdle- the S.O.P aka Statement of Purpose.

It appears in different innocuous forms, some universities nonchalantly mentioning the 3 letters and thereby killing the faint-hearted, while others opt for the more subtle, creative approach, "Describe your life in sixty words", "How will doing a [insert degree] help you in your chosen career?" or worse, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Face it, there's no escaping it, you've been SOPed!

And you cringe, because, nothing makes makes you feel more purposeless in life than being asked pointedly about it. Its almost like an allegation of a crime, an unbearable burden of proof, "What do you mean, what's my purpose??? Are you out of your head? OF COURSE I HAVE A PURPOSE!! And I'm not going to @$%%" tell you about it!!!" Selling oneself already is a hard task for the young ego, but nothing hurts as much as when your individuality is threatened. Because a SOP does just that, with its unsaid pressure on you to show yourself as different- you know that you are, but just can't put it on paper.

My first encounter with a SOP was in my MS applications. Perhaps a bit carried away by someone committing the folly of asking ME to talk about MYSELF on an open canvas, I gave the right hand a free hand, waxed eloquent on everything imaginable about my life and even peppered the script with a liberal handful of my favourite grandiose words such as "quintessential" and "instrumental" (pity they didn't like my autobiography). And then I ran into it during applications for MBA school, wherein I hastily concocted a story around my favourite characters of Soft Skills, Business Acumen, Networking and Perspective (It turned out to be a suspense tale about a missing Point).

But if I thought I had seen the last of them, I was heavily mistaken, because a few months after joining, there was I, besaddled with yet another goddamn application form for summer internship, with the $$$$$ question staring at me, "Explain the reasons for your decisions in life". *!:@:{:!- I could see through the wolf's clothing- here was another SOP virus.

The stakes were a bit higher this time around, so I sat down seriously to mull over my life. The gaze was turned inwards and the mind was subjected to a 3rd-degree interrogation, but all to no avail. I grew cynical, for my genuine answer was that I had no clue, and that I wasn't sorry for it. What the heck, I was all of 21. Skill sets? I was aware of my strengths and weaknesses but honestly didn't know what my "skills" were. Maybe I was yet to build them? Decisions? I didn't have any career counselling priveleges and took up engineering simply because the brightest in my times took it up. Sad but true for 90% of people in my time. Future plans? I genuinely didn't believe in a 5-year plan for my career (and still don't) , and I liked my cluelessness about what I'd be in 5 years time- it displayed something called flexibility. Why should everyone conform to rationale? And why is there no place for chaos?

But I guess, when firms ask these questions, what they dig at is deeper than mere clarity of mind. Everyone knew these questions are always a fair bit of spin-doctoring, and yet they are the rules- so they are followed, irrespective of whether they agree with your morals or not. And so what actually is tested is your practicality and your EQ- are you level-headed enough to do what's asked of you, without getting cynical about it? In some ways, I find that synonymous with professionalism or corporate discipline- it's like politely leaving only after your boss does- he knows you are idle but can't leave because its only 6, and you know that he can see that too- but you both still duly play your parts. (Some of us are lucky to break that mould though!)

And thus the sense was imbibed into my revolting head, and I resolved to ridden myself of the vexing question, polling friends and seniors on "What is a cool purpose to have nowadays?" "Entrepreneurship!!", roaring came the answers back, from all quarters, and so I mixed the flavour of the season with a few toppings of fact (my dad is one), cut back on the flowery prose and explained to the firm, with a deep sense of pride, how honoured was I to be born into a Marwari business family, how my parents imbibed in me a strong sense of initiative, and how ambitiously I planned to grow my father's chemical engineering business after gaining a management skillset from my MBA followed by a few years of hands-on experience. Unfortunately, so did everyone else :)


aditya said...

lol...nice one!
u forgot to mention that ur SOP for MS was 2 pages long , when the requirement was 1!

Ro Ro Ro a Boat said...

Gosh!! Does that mean that Mehat only had two pages worth to talk about himself..

Ro Ro Ro a Boat said...

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Archana said...

This is a masterpiece!

unpredictable said...

Sam you write SO well I almost fell in lou with you reading this! But fear not, I didn't! :D

I remember very few SOPs in my time. What was I doing? :S

Atticus said...

@Aditya: haha, really? I thought there wasn't a limit? Mine was 2 1/2 pages long :))

@Roa: 5 years from now, I see myself in Asia (not India)!

@Archu: thanksss!! glad that you enjoy my posts. Loads of hols ahead so hopefully will write a few more soon.

@Sudha: :)))) But why almost? :(( thanks sooo much for dropping by, been a while!! You must know that you are one of my top inspirations for writing :)

Atticus said...

And Sudha, you didn't do any SOPs cos you were too good for all that, you just waltzed into colleges and made them sign you up :)

unpredictable said...

Sigh, don't ask tough questions like that. Am I really?? Watta! I'm flattered! :D

unpredictable said...

ROFL! Stupid boy, I didn't take the GRE so the only SOP eqv I wrote was the TAS form given how few companies I applied to in general :)

I DO remember many many GDs!! Totally a marketing person's memory bank, that!

Atticus said...

yeah GDs were a totally different ball game, i think they deserve a post solely on them! i was really bad at GDs before IIM, remember the IMS 2 day wrkshop?