Nomura Research Institute; National University of Singapore; Lead Angels
No, the heading isn’t a typo. Yes, this article does contain information about a lot of internships. No, I did not do them over multiple summers; it was all done over the course of these holidays. Yes, there are serious Sharma ji ka ladka vibes here and I genuinely apologise. No, I wouldn’t recommend you emulate what I did. Yes, I do agree it was a lot of fun.
So, I’ve finally managed to exercise my authority over my juniors (and co-editors!) at Insight to wrangle out a Summerblog article for myself (lol no seriously though, thank you for the reminders despite which I’ve just overshot my deadline for this article by a couple of months, maximum). Getting introductions out of the way, I’m Aman Rai, a final undergrad from Mechanical Engineering. This article contains –
- A classic PT Cell consulting internship experience
- A short note on Venture Capital and some tips about doing internships outside the realm of PT Cell
- A surprisingly pleasant (and short) non-core univ apping episode
So let’s get started right away.
Part 1 – Nomura Research Institute (consulting)
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ll try to explain what consulting is (although many before me have done a much better job – e.g. Sahil in his article here). At its most fundamental level, consulting is the process of simplifying and breaking down problems for the client. Yup, that’s it. It involves taking a problem, getting information about the problem from the client or other sources and peeling away at the layers and revealing the core underlying issue that has caused it all. Everything that follows it – suggesting solutions, communicating with the client – falls into place easily, if you get the problem broken down correctly. It is, however, much more difficult than it sounds (which is why consultants get paid good money!).
I first got to know about consulting in my first year, and given the opportunities it seemed to offer (variety of projects, great perks, substantial network building, good growth & exit opportunities) coupled with my inherent disinterest towards stuff in my branch, it felt like a good area to try to intern in and explore more, before possibly opting for a job in the same.
Nomura Research Institute & Consulting (misleading name, I know) or simply NRI, is a consulting firm that comes through the PT Cell roughly around the second week of the internship season – once the day-one dust has settled and everyone has found their purpose in life (:P). It is the largest consulting firm in Japan and operates out of a Gurgaon office in India. It is a long time recruiter from IITB and follows a process similar to other consulting firms – a resume shortlist followed by direct interviews.
I got a shortlist, and soon after I contacted a senior who was selected last year to know more about the firm & the interview (a practice I would strongly recommend you follow, for any shortlist you get). I was surprised to learn that NRI interviews tended to focus on HR questions more than case prep (which I had completed over the last month); nevertheless, with a week to go for interviews, I began HR prep in earnest – meticulously composing answers to common HR questions and practising them.
The interview : It started very well (read : sarcasm). The interviewer (without even asking my intro) asked me how many case studies I had solved and I confidently replied with a substantial number (might have been more, but we don’t want to hype it a lot, do we?) After this he calmly asked me a very elementary case, and I promptly fumbled and began giving an incorrect approach – which when he pointed out I immediately back-tracked on and apologised. That was followed by another case (a weird one), which was cut short as I was taking too much time without getting anywhere. Then some HR questions, and finally the standard “Do you have any questions for us?”, to which I actually asked one – leading to a pleasant 2 minute conversation about consulting.
Coming out of the hall, I was convinced I wouldn’t be selected (to the extent that I confidently promised my friends a treat at Gullu cafe [where we were having lunch] if I were to get into round 2. That promise, alas, still remains unfulfilled). As we came back, I found out that I had indeed been selected to the next round – which ended up being a 5 minutes run-through of all the HR questions I’d prepped for (the intro, why I wanted to do consulting at NRI etc.). Needless to say it went quite well, and I was selected. Given how royally I screwed up the case interview part, I’d like to think it was my HR-prep that got me through.
The Experience : I’d like to take this opportunity to give a big shout out to NRI for not cancelling on us. The internship did happen (albeit for a month), and we did get stipends. The exact work given to each intern varied greatly – which is why I’ll not go into the details – but do note that at an intern level, almost all projects in consulting involve a substantial research component. The thing that strikes out most about the firm is the approachability of all the employees – everyone from recent-joinees to experienced partner-level people are willing to give their time to the interns : helping out with the internship project or discussing their own past projects and anything else under the sun. It is highly advisable to make full use of this opportunity and talk to as many people as possible, if and when you join. NRI also managed to keep the experience enjoyable despite it being a remote one, through zoom parties and the like.
Part 2 – Lead Angels (venture capital)
While everything above seems hunky-dory, there is a small period between the paragraphs above which was filled with enormous uncertainty. Most of us were unsure about whether the promised summer internships would remain; and as a good summer internship is considered by many as the only gateway to a perfect, happy life ahead (read : sarcasm, again), quite a few people (including me) started looking for back-ups. Fortunately, I had built up a considerable network of corporates (especially in the startup space) during my tenure at E-Cell last year – so I started contacting firms in my interest areas (mainly venture capital and product management).
There are basically two broad ways people can get interns outside the scope of PT Cell companies – either by knowing someone in the prospective firm, who can help you get an interview and a selection, or cold-contacting a large number of people/companies on LinkedIn/through email, with the hopes that some of them have vacancies. The former network can be built in a variety of ways – through your work in various bodies (similar to what I had in E-Cell), or through contacts of friends/family. For the latter, it usually takes a lot of patience to get that first confirmation (a decent profile in what you’re applying for helps too).
I got referred to Lead Angels by a friend (this actually happened after my NRI internships, although the approaches had started before). The selection process was simple – a telephonic interview (which was more of a conversation around the work I’d done in E-Cell) followed by a fairly easy assignment.
The Experience :
(Note : I hope this section doesn’t sound too alien with all the jargon around investments. If it does, I would recommend going through the links to know more about this field).
Lead Angels is an angel investor network – i.e. it connects great startups in various sectors to individuals who would be interested in investing in them. Recently, the firm decided to establish a ‘Lead Advisory’ division – with the goal of connecting larger venture capital
(VC) firms to startups, for bigger investments.
In any VC/Angel network firm, the most basic (and arguably very important) job is to find and curate new, innovative startups for the firm – which is what you’ll be doing most as an intern. This involves significant research, going through news articles, reading stuff to find out what the next big thing could be (also going through pitch decks of startups that apply to the firm themselves). Post databasing, there are internal conversations to see if the startup looks investable, followed by further research (looking at several factors to see how the startup performs), talking to the startup founders and finally the actual investment negotiation. Needless to say, my experience so far has been very good; the people at the firm are also (similar to NRI) very approachable and make sure to act upon every idea discussed over the call, whether given by an intern or a top-level manager.
While venture capital in several top firms is considered to be an MBA-level job, there is no better way to learn it than through practice. If you’re interested in anything around entrepreneurship, an intern in venture capital or similar fields could teach you a lot about how firms search for and evaluate startups, how investments happen (the financial and non-financial aspects), and which industry sectors could use some innovative ideas right now. While VC firms do not come for internships through conventional routes in IITB, several mid-level firms are willing to accept undergrad students (some knowledge in the startup field coupled with the ‘IIT’ tag goes a long way here).
Part 3 – National University of Singapore
But wait, there’s more! Somewhere between the end of my internship at NRI and the starting the one at Lead Angels, there was a short time period where any sane person would probably chill and watch Netflix or something. Unfortunately, staying home during a pandemic has certainly reduced worldwide sanity to a bare minimum, and my case wasn’t very different. So I decided to try some univ apping (with the hopes that I could coerce some prof sitting in Europe or Singapore to take me as an intern out of sheer boredom).
The process I followed was : preparing a resume specifically for the internship, databasing prospective colleges and profs, writing detailed, customised emails to each professor and finally taking follow-ups and waiting for a reply. Cut to two weeks later : I get a reply for an interview from a professor of strategy at NUS and shortly after, my project begins.
The Experience : My project currently involves developing a research paper around Fujifilm – the ‘camera’ company (which has a long and rather interesting history, covered amazingly in this book). The initial aspects of the project involved researching the company’s story in general, after which we focused on certain products to try to show how it transformed its businesses completely to emerge profitable at a time when its core market (photographic film) completely disappeared. The project has progressed surprisingly fast, with most of the research work being completed in 2-3 weeks and now the focus having shifted to framing the story for our paper. The best part about research (compared to a company internship) is the flexibility it offers. There are no meetings, updates, or presentations – you are completely free to choose the days and hours of your work (as long as you get the job done!).
Again, I won’t go full apping teeps & tricks here, as I’ve already been beaten to it by two great blogs on non-core apping by Shubham Gupta (here) and Hrishikesh Bavishkar (here). However, I cannot resist but give three points of advice :
While making a resume : It is always good to make a resume specifically for apping, which extensively research focused (especially in the areas you’re apping for). In my case I had some non-core research experience in the second year, which I focused on in my resume.
While writing the email : Always customise it to the professor’s interests. Most professors at top colleges are inundated with hundreds of generic emails from various students – in such cases, a properly crafted email that mentions why you liked the professor’s research work and why you would like to work under him/her, is sure to stand out. Also, it helps if you are able to relate the professor’s research with your own. Also, follow-up, follow-up and keep following-up (Nobody replies to the first email)!
During the interview : A professor generally arranges an interview when they want to know you and your interest areas better – and not to grill you like a company HR round. Be sure to prep your resume very well; also try to learn more about the professor, his current research areas, and get details about the project.
Well congratulations on reaching the end! A lot of what I’ve learnt while preparing for various internships has been covered above, and given how easily you can get free advice in the institute 🙂 I don’t think I need to bother to tell you more when others before me have already done a very good job of it. I guess I didn’t start writing this with an ending message in mind (like “the real treasure is friendship” or something), but coming to the end I hope this blog fulfills a dual purpose – of expressing the good things offered by a conventional ‘great’ intern, while also reminding that there are several amazing experiences to be had even if you don’t get something through the orthodox route – given that you’re willing to put in the necessary efforts in the fields you’re interested in.
Okay before this gets too long (that’s what she said) I should be ending it. If you’d like to discuss more, I’m always available. Goodbye, and best of luck!