Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Doing Both, Part 2: A Simple Plan for a Better Life

September 2, 2010: 10:58 AM ET

Cisco Systems (CSCO) SVP Inder Sidhu wrote on Postcards yesterday about preparing meticulously and improvising enthusiastically--"doing both," as he says, to achieve a career goal. This strategy has carried him far, ever since he was a 15-year-old boy growing up in India. Against all odds and by force of will, Sidhu was chosen to attend the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Here, in Part 2 of his Guest Post, describes how he applied his strategy of "doing both" to succeed in America. This is an adapted excerpt from his recently released book, Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today's Profits and Drives Tomorrow's Growth.

When I was studying for my MBA at the Wharton School of Business, I needed to secure a summer internship. The year was 1990, a tough period for the economy and the job market.

But I was determined to land the best job possible. I set my sites on Bain & Company. With a roster of clients that included many of the world's top companies, Bain was one of the world's premier management consulting organizations. It was a dream destination for many of us at Wharton. But getting in wasn't easy.

Students had to work through the campus placement center to get interviews. Bain offered first-round, on-campus interviews to 225 students from Wharton's pool of 750. Only 15 of these would be invited for a second-round interview in Boston. And Bain planned to hire just two interns.

While the odds of being hired were ridiculously low, I was hopeful. Call it hubris or naïveté, but I honestly thought that having a degree from one of India's finest engineering schools and top grades from Wharton would distinguish me from other candidates.

But when Bain posted the names of the 225 students it wanted to interview, my name wasn't on the list. My best shot at getting hired was over before it started.

Or was it?

Remembering the times in my life when I refused to let a setback stop me, I decided I wouldn't take no for an answer. I had the scores and grades required. I had the brains and knowledge. I was prepared. But now this moment required me to improvise.

I called Bain and asked for its recruiters to give me further consideration. No, I was told, firmly: "We have our procedures, and we follow them."

So I showed up at the hotel where interviews were underway. "Just give me five minutes," I said. Once again, I was told that there would be no time for me.

Undaunted by the idea that I might embarrass myself in front of classmates and a potential employer, I sought out the top recruiter and asked him if he would chat with me between interviews.

"My calendar is full, and there's simply no time in the day for that," he said.

I waited outside this interviewer's room all day and made small talk whenever he opened the door. After his final meeting of the day, he emerged in a hurry and apologized but said he had to take a cab to the airport

"Let me ride with you," I pleaded. "We can talk on the way."

Exhausted, he relented.

I don't remember what I said exactly, but I must have left an impression. When the list of the 15 finalists was posted, my name was on it. Better still, after the last round of interviews in Boston, I was one of the two people offered a job.

That wouldn't have happened without both preparing and improvising. Doing both paid off again.

Inder Sidhu is Senior Vice President of Strategy and Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco Systems. He lives in Silicon Valley with his wife, Deepna, and their three children. For more on his book, go to http://www.doingboth.com.

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