On A Whim

VoiceTAP Careers and Colleges Series – Civil Services as a career

For the ‘Civil Services as a career‘ call in the careers and colleges series of VoiceTAP we had Pradeep Mishra (Additional Secretary, Ministry of Personnel) who is an IAS officer himself. This was a really interesting call – probably the most interesting one so far!

Listen to VoiceTAP Civil Services as a career call by clicking here

Civil Services in India – In a nutshell

Civil Services in India can be divided into the following categories on basis of the kind of work that a civil servant would take up, exams for which (for central level) are conducted by the UPSC:

  • Indian Administrative Service (IAS): Most well-known out of all the Indian civil services, also probably the toughest to get into. Only around a 100 people are inducted in a year’s batch. Postings are done all across India.
  • Indian Police Service (IPS): IPS cadre takes care of administrative functioning of police at various levels.
  • Indian Forest Service & Indian Foreign Service: IFS & IFS are concerned with taking care of India’s forests and India’s foreign relations, respectively. The former requires you to be a science graduate to be eligible.

There are many other different cadres, which are assigned to a successful candidate by UPSC on the basis of how well they perform in the entrance exams. Getting is tough – candidates are advised to start preparing three years in advance! Evidently, selection is difficult because just a handful of candidates are chosen out of the hundreds of thousands who give the exam. Considerable grasp of general knowledge, government functioning and structure of society is necessary. Some papers are mandatory, but among the optional papers you’re advised to stick to subjects which you’re familiar with – rather than get taken in by talk of ‘X subject is easier’.

Once you pass the gruelling Civil Services Examination you’re allocated to a state cadre at village level. Yes, you have to start right from the bottom. This is considered necessary to give a good grounding on the harsh realities of India. After that, you progress on to district magistrate level, state secretary et al till the highest position of Secretary in some ministry at the central level. (A Secretary is just one level below a cabinet minister.)

Starting salary is around Rs 35000 (per month) and scales up to Rs 1 lakh for IAS officers in the senior most positions. Perks are also given, such as (almost) free housing, telephone, transport, etc. But more than financial remuneration the reason why most people join the civil services is the amount of respect they get in their position (that’s a lot of respect they get) and the ability to actually effect policy decisions that change a common man’s life for the better. That by far is the biggest job satisfaction factor involved in being a civil servant. A small minority of civil services officers also move on to join at senior management levels in public sector undertakings, or even private companies.

Bottom Line

In the current atmosphere of youth charged up to bring about reforms in the country, being a part of the system and making lives better as a civil servant is a career path which can bring you a lot of job satisfaction.

PS – I’m not even going to try assuming that I can suggest ‘further reading’ for civil services exams.

On A Whim

VoiceTAP Careers and Colleges Series – Journalism as a career

voicetap-logo4Journalism as a career‘ was the topic of yesterday’s call in the careers series on VoiceTAP. The expert on call was Kanchan Kaur, the head of Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media.

Listen to VoiceTAP Journalism as a career call by clicking here

In a nutshell

Journalism is career where you can enter from multiple backgrounds, so this discussion was more free-ranging – focusing mostly on journalism in general. There are courses that you get started with, but there are hardly any that are specifically for journalism. The most common route these days is to do a course in mass communication, though that doesn’t preclude that other academic backgrounds are not allowed. Institutes such as Symbiosis and Asian College of Journalism (apart from IIJNM mentioned earlier) offer courses. There are various verticals within journalism such as tech journalism, automotive journalism, business journalism, TV / radio journalism – in each case some kind of training or qualification in the field you want would help. Those thinking of going into, say, business journalism could do their undergraduate degree in economics and then moving into journalism. If you’ve already got your bachelor’s degree and are looking to get into journalism then doing a one-year diploma course in would be one way of going about it.

Broadly, there are there major lines of journalism – print, TV / radio, and online. Print has been around for a long time and is considered to be much more respected because of the sober view that newsprint is supposed to carry. TV journalism has been around for a few decades but has often been accused of sensationalizing news reports in the thirst for 24/7 news coverage. TV journalism requires good writing and directing skills as a reporter has to distill down a news report into significantly lesser words than a counterpart article in print media – and at the same time lay down how the story is going to be presented on air. Radio journalism is not that big in India because the government only allows All India Radio to broadcast news shows. Everyone else (i.e., FM channels) can only give short news bulletins. If the spoken word is what you really want to be in then you can look into using Internet radio and / or podcasting as your platform. Which brings me to the newest kid on the block – online journalism. Online journalism is a different beast to tame altogether. It is important to understand that online journalism simply doesn’t mean taking a print media article and publishing it online. Online inherently is much more interactive and readers demand such interactivity. Being tech-savvy is a must; again as I said, trying to make online an extension of print and end it there results in disaster. Also unlike other forms of media, readers are spoilt for choice and have low attention spans – writing in an engaging style to keep them on a web page is tough. (Entry barrier for getting into this is so low that it takes a lot of effort to stand out from the crowd.) And why just web pages? With lowered cost of distribution of media, online allows for niche content to be produced more easily, and far more easier for the reader to consume. This includes video shows put up online which might not have a cost-benefit ratio if made for TV, but could make profits online. Online readers consumer content piece-meal, so content presentation is also important to keep them navigating on to related articles. Having said that, online journalism also presents significant challenges right now insofar as the quest for a business model more robust than advertising is concerned.

To become a journalist it is essential that you are curious about the world around you and that you can write well. (It goes without saying that you must buy a jhola. You know, for notepads and stuff.) The desire to find out things sets a good journalist apart from a bad one. A common myth is that if you’re into TV journalism instead of print media then you don’t need to be good at writing; far from it, you are expected to write your own anchor scripts if you are an anchor or if you’re working behind the scenes in copy-editing. The knack of getting a story across effectively in the least amount of words / visuals is a must.

Typical career trajectory is that you join as a sub-editor or reporter – or even as a trainee – and then move up the ranks depending on whether you can deliver compelling content within deadlines. Starting salaries are currently similar to those of lower-end IT professionals but on the basis of your work the potential to scale is large. This coupled with the fact that once you’re a journalist you might end up as an instrument of change makes this a lucrative career option. Journalists also have the option to switch over to allied fields such as public relations, marketing consultancy, advertising, editing in publishing houses, etc.

It is not always necessary to go through HR departments of media organizations to get a job. HR departments are primarily looking for freshers at college campus recruitment, so if you don’t fit the description but you think you’re good enough then you could probably set up an appointment with an editor to show samples of your work. This applies equally to photographers too who want to get into journalism. Current situation is a bit bleak with salaries being lowered due the recession (bonuses for Times Group employees were kept on hold this year) but as the economic situation improves on the whole this is expected to go away. It’s the best time to take up a course for the profession right now and then by the time you’re done things will be back to normal!

Further reading

  • Inverted Pyramid structure of writing: I’m not sure how many of you know this, but in journalism you are expected to write your reports in the ‘inverted pyramid’ structure. This basically means that most important details of a story are put at the top with paragraphs coming later on having less important details. This allows for easy editing out of less important bits if needed simply by lopping off a section of the end of an article.
  • Medianama: Good example of an independent online news media website. This whole operation is primarily run by just one person but the site still commands a lot of respect in the business journalism circle.
  • Stephen Glass incident: Finding respectability for online journalism has always been a hard task, with many print media journalists looking down upon it. Way back in 1998 a watershed event occured that shook American print media by its roots – a reporter from a reputed Washington magazine was exposed as having concoted stories multiple times by Forbes Digital. This event broke the myth that getting published in print meant there was no chance of oversight and that its easier to print crap on the Internet. It showed that online journalism could do hard-hitting stories too.
  • Pulitzer Prize winning entries: You’ll need to click around a bit – on the page to which the link leads, click on a category. It will show you a yearwise lisiting of winners in that category. Click on ‘More Details’ and then ‘Works’ to see the prize winning entries. This only works for winners from 1995-present, rest all are not available for online viewing.
  • Radioverve: I’m not aware of any Indian Internet radio news stations, but here’s an example of one Internet radio station which plays music. As the expert on call said, there’s no reason why this platform can’t be used for news media too.

Bottom Line

Those who love writing will love journalism, but before you plunge in you should be aware that there is a lot of stress involved because of the constant pressure to meet deadlines. Having said that, journalism can provide an exciting and fulfilling career – both in monetary and job satisfaction terms. You could always turn novelist.

On A Whim

VoiceTAP Careers and Colleges Series – Law as a career

voicetap-logo3Third in the VoiceTAP series of calls on careers was Law. There’s more to go so do check out the VoiceTAP website for more advice on careers and colleges that you want to join. The experts on call for law were Vedantam Seshaiah Shasthri (Assistant Dean and Professor at National Law University, Jodhpur) and Avishek Prasad (Associate at Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co) – a nice combination of experts because you had both academia and industry professionals.

Listen to VoiceTAP Law as a career call by clicking here

Law as a career – in a nutshell

If working for a company with incredibly longs names & ampersand symbols gives you a high, law is definitely the career to be in. ;) There are routes to get started with law in India. The first is an integrated BA, LLB degree of a duration of five years that undergraduates can join; second is a postgraduate degree which is of a duration of three years and can be done by someone who already has a bachelor’s degree in some field. There are no other options available because Bar Council of India (no, it’s not a group of autocratic bartenders – oh dear, am i going to get sued for this?) lays down strict rules on the hours / years of teaching that a candidate must have to be qualified as a lawyer.

At the undergraduate level, the top rung is occupied by the 14 autonomous National Law Schools – of which National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore is the most reputed. As far as law is concerned these are considered to be as prestigious as IITs or IIMs. Admission to these was a harrowing process earlier because each one used to conduct its own separate entrance exam. However in 2008, the NLS decided to adopt a unified entrance exam called Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). Below these are university law colleges, government law colleges, and private law colleges. The ones I linked in the last sentence are the most popular alternatives in Delhi, but there are others. At the postgraduate level, you have a bit more flexibility as law colleges allow you to choose specializations to go in for such as corporate law or criminal law.

Once you are done with an undergraduate degree, you can join a general law firm, or opt to go for a job in a law firm dealing with specific areas such as intellectual property law, insurance law, et al. The latter option is suggested only if you are really sure of which line to take up; otherwise it is advisable to join a general corporate law firm and then branch out from there. Now all this was for corporate law. Criminal lawyers ususally as individuals at the trial court level so there are no criminal law firms as such. If you are interested in criminal law then you can join in on the team of lawyers which assists a major criminal lawyer and then proceed from there.

If you join a corporate law firm you join at the level of an ‘associate’ in the firm. As with any profession your rise in the firm is determined by how adept you are in law and how well you play in a team. Typical rise to the next level – that of ‘senior associate’ – takes around 4-8 years on an average. At this level you are given a bit more freedom in dealing with clients. Further up you have ‘principal associates’ and ‘salaried partners’. Salaried partners get pay almost at the level of partners in a law firm but don’t get their name added on to the firms name. The highest level, of course, is a partner in a law firm. This is the case in a large corporate law firm but trajectories can be different for other specializations in the legal industry. Also note that although job title might remain the same for many years, within that same job title there are multiple ‘levels’ – so your seniority and salary will increase according to performance. Criminal lawyers are dependant more on their own skills while ones with an entrepreneurial bend might contemplate starting their own law firm (given that capital is available) after working for a few years.

Further reading

One of the major challenges that you will have in finding out information about careers in law is that no lawyer on law firm in India has a website. This is not due to any of them shying away from technology but because of Bar Council of India rules that prevent lawyers from advertising their services in any medium or in any form. (To get in touch with lawyers, the best you have are third-party lists.) To circumvent this issue what many in the legal profession do is to set up websites giving information on Indian law in general. (Most of these are terribly designed.) Let’s have a look at some of these resources. I haven’t included any ‘worldwide’ resources simply because that wouldn’t make sense – you’ll be dealing in Indian law after all.

Bottom Line

A career in law is an exciting career option for those who have good analytical ability and the ability to work well in a team. Entrance tests are primarily designed to check a candidate’s prowess in logical reasoning, English, and basic law. Offers career prospects of working both as an independent lawyer or in a law firm, depending upon your preference. You can always decide to become a judge too after working as a lawyer!

On A Whim

VoiceTAP Careers and Colleges Series – Advertising as a career


VoiceTAP‘s call on Advertising as a career was held yesterday, 20th May 2009. Unfortunately I was not able to make a post on this sooner because I kept getting disconnected from the call multiple times yesterday. Before I begin, there’s a quick poll that VoiceTAP is conducting on what kind of sessions you’d want, so if you can leave your response below that would be nice.

Listen to VoiceTAP Advertising as a career call by clicking here

Advertising as a career in a nutshell

The expert on call was V Subramaniam, who has worked in a senior position with advertising major Ogilvy & Mather. A lot of the advice given in the Event Management as a career call is equally valid for the realm of advertising too, so I would suggest you read up that first. While there are courses for advertising, most of these are postgraduate specializations. Just like in event management, the academic background that you’re coming from is not a roadblock to a career in advertising. Instead, it is your creativity and passion for the field that counts. Within the specific field of creatives, you have two different specializations – namely, copywriting and artwork. For specializing in artwork, design courses from National Institute of Design is a reputed institute which accepts students at the undergraduate level too. With the advent of online advertising and use of computer-aided graphics design, doing a course in this area may be beneficial too. Wigan & Leigh College and Amity School of Communication offer programmes in this field.

Most of the courses specializing in advertising however are mostly at the postgraduate level. Thus, if you want to join a course at the undergraduate level then you can join mass communication, journalism, or English (Hons) courses. Ideally this sets you up for the copywriting line but then you can always cross over to something else.

Getting into advertising has become more competitive – regardless of whether you’re doing a course in the field, or a course in an unrelated field. It is vitally important that you start building a portfoliowhich will help you intern at companies and give you some hands-on experience. One way of going about this to, say, make an ad poster or video or something along the same lines for your favorite products. If you’re good at photography, then upload your pictures to Flickr – it has a really vibrant community, and you are sure to get feedback from others on how your photos are. Check what the pros do by browsing through Flickr Explore images. Make sure to be an active participant by commenting on others pictures.

Flickr is good for those who’re more interested in photography-type artwork for advertising, but if you’re more into graphic design work, then deviantART is the place to be in. deviantART is a website dedicated to sharing and discovering artwork and this will be of immense help to those who want to go into artwork specializations. You will eventually need to edit even photographs, so this is something you should check out even if you’re more interested in photography. Image editing is done either in Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator – knowledge of both will be necessary. The best place for Photoshop tutorials is Psdtuts+ (Psdtuts+ even has a video channel for demonstrations). If you don’t want to spend money yet on these commercial software, try out The Gimp (raster editor like Photoshop; basic tutorials are available here, and books – some of them freeare available here) and Inkscape (vector editor like Illustrator).

The second specialization is copywriting. Taking up a course in English or mass communication helps create a base for you, but it is strictly not necessary if your writing is good. One way of improving your writing and getting feedback is to start blogging. You no longer have to write on sheets of paper and keep thinking on whether your creative writing is good or not when you can put it up online and get genuine feedback from people – this could be constructive criticism or encouragement, both of which can be useful to you. Setting up a blog is free and the best place to do that is (The other major alternative is, but it often doesn’t function properly these days.) On the technical side, you’ll probably need knowledge of Adobe InDesign (free alternative is Scribus). Adobe PageMaker is an older (now deprecated) but still widely used software.

Further Reading

The amount of content that you’ll find online

  • What an Advertise-Meant?: Blog doing in-depth analysis of prominent ads in the Indian media space. You’ll find details of how the ad was shot, the creative process behind it, and ratings of the ads on various parameters. This is blog is such a pleasure to read!
  • Copyblogger: If you plan to go into copywriting, then this extremely popular blog is a must-read. It focuses more on digital media, but copywriting tips given are equally valid for ‘traditional’ media.
  • Campaign India: Campaign India provides comprehensive news of developments in Indian advertising. It features interviews with prominent Indian advertising personalities; an added bonus is the job listings section. They also have a video channel.
  • exchange4media: exchange4media runs two popular magazines dedicated to the Indian ad space – one is a monthly magazine called Pitch, and the other is a weekly called Impact. You can read Pitch online for free, but a subscription is required for Impact. (I also think that calling the online version ‘e-dition’ instead of ‘eEdition’ makes more sense, but then that’s just me.)
  • YouTube: OK, everyone knows about YouTube of course, but maybe not many of you know that you can find almost any ad that you’ve seen on television on YouTube. These are uploaded mostly by fans and you can search these out easily by searching for ‘companyname ad india’, with a few more descriptive terms if needed. In most cases, the description and comments sections contain trivia on the agency behind the ad, actors / models featured in the ad, interesting anecdotes on how the ad was shot erc. As far as I know there are no ‘official’ YouTube channels of ad agencies where they put up their ads because I’ve never encountered one, but do correct me if I’m wrong. Sometimes though you might find a company which has an official YouTube channel and puts up its ads on it – or a an employee or a fan of that company who puts up videos. Once you start looking around for a couple of videos for the brands you’re interested in, you’ll be able to track down these users and subscribe to them for future updates on the brands you like. You can even look through the category Mad Ads on my blog – not been updated for a while though.
  • L├╝rzer’s Archive: This is a paid resource, but well worth the price. It collates the best ad campaigns across any medium with commentary on them. (Thanks to the Buddhi Tree Free for pointing me to this!)
  • Ads of the World: A blog, with an active forum that archives interesting ads from around the world.
  • I Believe In Advertising: Similar to the one above, it posts daily updates on interesting ads from around the world, almost daily.
  • Ad*Access: Collection of ads in American and Canadian newspapers from 1911 to 1955. It’s might interesting to go through this archive of how advertising used to be done in those days!

Bottom Line

Advertising is most certainly a demanding profession, and it needs a lot of creativity. You’ve gotta come up with stuff that the customer is going to remember – and distinguish your client from its competitors – right up to the point the customer buys a product. Having a sense of humor helps too. Don’t get too hung up about the technical aspects (such as software) – that is not a major concern when you’re working.