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Book Review

“The Frog Who Jumped From the Well”

“The Frog Who Jumped From the Well”
Private lessons for the global economy

By Chuck Boyer


[From his platform as a senior house writer for the top executives at IBM, HP, MasterCard, Arthur D. Little, Symphony Services and other companies, an American author has compiled a remarkable and often amusing series of universal insights into what works and what doesn't work in the art of doing business in the global economy. The title comes from the proverb about a frog and his need to see more of the world than just the narrow confines of the well in which he live.]

Following is the full content of chapter eleven of the book aimed at helping students find a good job in the IT world--particularly for students who are not lucky enough to be a graduate from an IIT university--as was my experience growing up in the United States. - Author (Bio of Chuck Boyer in the foot of page)  

Chapter Eleven “Get Your Frog Out of the Well”

The top IITians are a sought-after group, but there are some things the rest of us can do to improve our chances.  

How do you use all this stuff to get a job?

Hint: Start with the net roots and keep going

My short answer to the question, “How do I use this book to get a good job with an American company in India?” is very short indeed. I haven't got a clue. My assumption is, after researching this book for the last 18 months and interviewing dozens of people, mostly Indians, that you would get a job with an American company in India the same way you would get a job with an Indian company in India or an Indian company in America. This assumption isn't exactly a wild guess. Most of the major U.S. companies in India, e.g., IBM, HP, Microsoft, are managed and run by Indians.

However, we both know that the job scene in India, wonderful as it is right now, has its own special challenges. Job openings at major companies, particularly in the IT and IT-related industries, can quickly turn into mob scenes. A Web site posting for a handful of openings at a desirable company will often generate a deluge of responses. According to Fortune Magazine's Sheridan Prasso, Google India receives “thousands and thousands of job applications a month.” Google, as of this writing, has about 900 engineers at its Bangalore center.

So even though there is a shortage of talent, competition for the best jobs is daunting. Equally challenging is the turnover rate at some companies in the IT sector. While Google claims to have virtually zero turnover, other companies are experiencing employees jumping ship at the rate of 10 to 20 percent a year. That's borderline chaos.

That said, job opportunities at American companies in India do abound. In fact it's probably easier to get a job in the IT and related industries in India right now than it would be to get a full-time job in the publishing industry. Websites at IBM India, HP India, and Cisco India--to name a few--have got the welcome mat out for bright graduates. They are so eager for you to join their companies they are almost willing to let you establish your own rules.

Do you like to sleep late and come to work after lunch? No problem. Is there a favorite food you like? We'll have it for you when you get here. Need some guaranteed time off for the Strawberry Fields concert in Bangalore? We can do that. You just name it.

I may be exaggerating, but not by much. Vineet Nayar, the CEO of HCL Technologies, India's fifth largest outsourcing company, wants managers to “suck up to employees.” Welcome to the age of the employee. Trouble is, these are the benefits and perks flowing to the top 20 percent or so. IBM's Extreme Blue internship program takes 20 or 30 high-potential graduates and gives them an intense 90 days to learn the company and try out innovative ideas at its India Software Labs. Other companies have somewhat similar programs for “incubating talent, technology, and innovation,” as IBM Software Labs likes to say. But these are top students from premier schools.

The question is, how do the rest of us bright, hardworking people land jobs with these great companies?

Part of the answer lies in turning the “issue and expectation” concept on its head and re-thinking what it means to get a job from the employer's point of view.

Almost all of us, 99.9 percent, believe that getting a job in a competitive market means we have to have a great resume--good grades, good school, good recommendations, and some good experience. And we also have to be able to fill in the blanks on those little psychological dramas that the Human Resources people are constantly dreaming up.

For instance, a question such as “Have you ever lied?” could really be an intelligence test to see if you are smart enough to put down the right answer. Then of course you'll have to suffer through the usual gauntlet of  “How would you describe your personality?”,  “What would you say your weaknesses are?”,  “What do you know about our company?”, and “What did you like least about your former employer?”   The trick to these tiresome questions is to always answer with a positive--especially the ones that seem to be looking for a negative answer. For example, “What's the worst thing people say about me?” Your answer: “People sometimes say I'm impatient to get things done. I don't like working slowly.”  And what about that “Have you ever lied” question? The answer is always: “I was raised in a family that just didn't tolerate lying. However, I did once lie to a police officer about my age when I was stopped while driving my grandmother to Delhi for medical treatment.” And, of course, do your homework about the company you've applied to.

The real questions run the gamut from trivial to complex. They range from “Describe your ideal job and tell us when you first became interested in computer science?” to “Given a simple program designed to take inputs of integers from 1-1000 and to output the factorial value of that number, how would you test this program?”

But what if you don't even get so far as to be invited in for an interview? What do you do then? This is where the Issue and Expectation thinking can help. Normally, seeking a job coming out of college or moving from one employer to another presents the issue: I need a job. The expectation is: There is a lot of competition for this job; it's not going to be easy. You are going to turn the issue and the expectation upside down. You are going to create the issue that “they need you,” and the expectation that “you will be a great long-term investment for the company.”

First, put yourself in the shoes of the employer. This is what you are thinking: I need good people with certain skills to fill some immediate job slots. But I also want people who will grow and continue to contribute as the work changes and evolves. I need smart people with great skills, but also ones who show a budding sense of maturity who may turn out to be terrific long-term, loyal employees. My expectation is that I'm going to get a lot of resumes that look nearly identical, and I will have to interview extensively to find out what the person behind the resume is really like. I need to know who this person is and what their real ambitions are. Will they be a good match for our culture?

That's what the department head who needs you at IBM, HP, Cisco, and Microsoft is thinking. The HR people, who will do the initial interviews to determine if you get to see the department head -- well, no one knows what they're thinking,. They probably don't know themselves what they're thinking. (Have you ever noticed that HR people attend a LOT of conferences? That's where they dream up all those fuzzball questions.)

That's why our strategy will be to go “around” the HR people--pleasant and polite as they are--and go straight to the hearts and minds of department heads who really can use you.

First thing we do is the netroots work. Netroots is a relatively new word, a portmanteau of Internet and Grassroots. Invented to describe the Internet's impact on politics and elections in the U.S., netroots can also describe the process of data mining the net to find out what's happening in the world. In this case, we want to learn everything we can about the company where we want to work.

You already know how to find all the Web resources pertaining to a company's hiring information. That is easy. Right now companies have the red carpet out pleading with you to come and work for them. IBM India has great Web sites for job seekers, and HP India actually lists all the specific jobs and locations open right now, today, for new employees.

This is good, but it has the obvious drawback that everyone else in the country is reading the same list.

That's why you are going to take a slightly different path. Go to the company's Web site and select “About HP” or “About IBM” or whatever. When you get to those pages find the IR (Investor Relations) site. On this site, or nearby you will find their Press Release site. When you get to the press releases read ALL of them for the last year to eighteen months, even two years back.

The press releases are a treasure trove of vital information. First, they'll tell you detailed information about every major product and program release the company has made. Not only that, they'll provide the names of who was in charge, and even some of the key players. You want these names.

Second, the press releases will also tell you all about every merger and acquisition the company has made in the last two years or more. Large companies buy up promising small companies, usually software- and services-oriented companies, as though they were eating PaniPuri. Every major company you might want to work for has made dozens, if not dozens of dozens, of acquisitions in the last few years.

Often, these acquired smaller companies move right into the parent company more or less intact. They just change the name on the front door and on their Web site, fire a couple of innocent bystanders just to let everyone know there's a new boss in town, and continue working business as usual.

One of these dozens and dozens of small companies is doing the exact same work you did your thesis on at Manipal or Pune Institute of Advanced Technology. For example, you're something of an expert on Ruby On Rails. Not only that, you think you've figured out a way to radically speed up Oracle-based SAP installations on HP systems. Bingo. You find the name of a recently acquired small company doing this or related work, and you get every name you can find from the Press Releases, and any other Web search.

Now comes the hard part. Remember paper and envelopes? If you don't, find someone over 30 years old and they will explain. Now you have to sit down and write letters to all the names in that company or department. Just explain who you are and what you can do, and that you would like to come in and talk to them. You can also ferret out their email and send a very short note to them. One of three things will happen:

1.     They will ignore you.

2.     They will refer you to the HR people.

3.     Or, they will establish an email dialog, and then invite you to come in and chat with them.

I can't tell you for sure that they will admire that you contacted them directly, but they will certainly respect the fact that you searched them out, knew what they were doing, and showed an interest in helping them. This can be a huge step in landing a job when your chances of being “discovered” in the resume blizzard are not as good as you could hope for.

You can use this same process to try to land a job with a company that contracts with the big company you really want to work for eventually. Working at the contractor company will provide a lot of opportunities to develop relationships with people at the target company. And it will give you an opportunity to show them what you can do and who you are.

Before I joined the IBM Company, where I worked for 16 years before going freelance, I had been working as the managing editor of an engineering magazine. During my four years at the engineering magazine, the phone rang exactly four times. I had the feeling this wasn't going to be a long-term growth job. And anyhow I wanted more of a challenge. I had just gotten married, and was already working two other part-time jobs after work to make ends meet. I taught statistics and industrial finance at a night school for a local engineering college, and on weekends, I sat all night in the driveway of this rich guy's mansion and guarded his estate while the family slept.

I was fired from the security job. One night the supervisor came around and asked to see my gun. He discovered that I'd taken the bullets out of the .38 revolver and had put them in my sock. Asked “Why?” I told him I wasn't in a mood to shoot anybody, and therefore I didn't need a loaded gun. This left my weekends open to find another job. IBM had advertised that they were looking for a writer to interview their customers and put together magazine articles explaining all the good things IBM had done for them. I immediately jumped at the opportunity.

At the time, my resume from Penn State University, where I'd studied aeronautical and industrial engineering, didn't indicate that I was IBM-level material. During college, I was more interested in becoming a military officer than an engineer, and my grades reflected it. Had I sent an application and a resume to IBM, I would not have been invited in for an interview.

But working for IBM as a freelance gave me an opportunity, and I took it. I would get assignments from IBM during the week, and then fly out Friday nights to the customer's city. The assignments were all over the U.S.  I would interview the customer on Saturday, fly home Saturday night, write the magazine articles on Sunday, and turn the stories into IBM on Monday morning on my way to my regular job.

This worked out well. IBM liked the stories, and I liked the money and the work. A few months later, IBM called to say they were sending over a Mr. Big to take me out to lunch, to see if he thought I was worthy of joining the company. I said, “Great.”  At the very least it would be a free lunch. I met Mr. Big at a very nice restaurant. He was wearing an expensive suit and the look of a harried, gruff executive. I immediately got the impression that he had more important things to do that day than take this freelance writer out to lunch. There was a long queue at the restaurant, and we were standing in line trying to make small talk, shifting our weight back and forth the way people do when they are uncomfortable. It was a truly awkward moment.

I finally said, “You know, we're both pretty busy. Why don't we go across the street to MacDonald's and speed this up.” Most interviewers are just as uncomfortable as the person being interviewed, and that broke the ice for us. We just started chatting away. Pretty soon I was interviewing him. “What does an executive at your level do all day? What are you priorities? When do you get time to concentrate on the big picture? What do you like to do best at IBM?”  I didn't go so far as to ask him if he'd ever told a lie. But he really enjoyed talking about himself. And at the end of a pleasant two hours, during which I listened much more than I talked, he hired me. Making the transition to IBM and to his department was easy, as I'd learned a lot about it during my interview.

I hope it works the same, or better, for you.

Chuck Boyer Bio

Chuck Boyer has been writing for business since 1973. He spent 16 years at IBM, where he was manager of Corporate Publications and writer and editor for the company's Think Magazine. For the last 14 years he has written speeches and white papers for major corporations, including HP, Compaq, Digital, Symphony Services, MasterCard, and Arthur D. Little Consulting. He has a BS in Industrial Engineering from Penn State University, and studied drama at Hunter College in Manhattan. Chuck and his wife, Katharyn, a book indexer, live in Phillips, a small village in the mountains of Western Maine. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Other Chapter Headings of Get Your Frog Out of the Well

Chapter One

How the best communicate: How to communicate across the table, across an entire corporation, or across a culture.                                 

Chapter Two

Why worry about Americans?: Pushing buttons on a digital device is not the same as pushing buttons in real life.                      

Chapter Three
From “Problem and Solution” to “Issue and Expectation”: Making the leap….                       

Chapter Four
Three good things and three bad things you should understand about American business culture: Cultural differences? Guess again. But know the basics.                                                                         

Chapter Five
Three types of Americans--and how to push their buttons: How do I know this works? I've used it for years.                                        

Chapter Six
Words of wisdom from young Indian managers and professionals: “Let me tell you something about Americans….”                                    

Chapter Seven

Subroto Bagchi, Ajay Kela, Dr. Sridhar Mitta, Bikramjit Maitra, Gordon Brooks, and Dilip Phadke explain why the “soft skills” mean everything today: Words of wisdom from six senior executives.

Chapter Eight
How to do everything “write”: Four subtle secrets of   communicating.                     

Chapter Nine
Presenting yourself: A few tips to keep you going until the great anti-PowerPoint revolution sweeps across the world and sets you free to be yourself again so you can enjoy talking about your work.       

Chapter Ten
A couple of words about that plan of yours: “How do you make God laugh? Make a plan!”                                                               

Chapter Eleven
How do you use all this stuff to get a job? Hint: Start with the netroots and keep going: IIT graduates are a sought-after group, but there are some things we non-IITians can do to improve our chances.     

Acknowledgements
One of the odd realities of human life is that writers--who take absurd pride in working independently--are, for the most part, incapable of doing anything alone. This book owes everything to Jim Colosi “The Architect,” Ed Grimm “The Chief,” Holly Ripley-Boyd “The Champion,” and Kate Dunham, “The Critic, Proofreader, and Indexer.”  

Cover design by: Spotlight Creative, LLC, Cypress, Texas http://www.spotlightcreative.com/  

“Get Your Frog Out of the Well”   Wiley India, May 2008    

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