Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Allow yourself to learn...

….and the ‘Learning Curve’ will end up along the right path! That’s a piece of advice I got from my mentor when I started my career. And I’ve given it so much importance, that it has kept me in real good shape.

The reason I bring up this subject is because I’ve often heard candidates ask, "What will be my learning curve?” I find that odd. Really. Were they waiting for their learning curve to take-off? Or are they asking what they’ll learn from this Company that would help them get ahead of the curve? Maybe, I’ve read the question wrong. Maybe, I haven’t got it wrong. Since improving one's learning curve isn't going to happen overnight or for working at a Company. The Company will only act as a medium to help you get to your goals. The learning curve is driven by the person than by any external factor.

You may argue, the market conditions are bad, companies aren’t willing to experiment; my manager doesn’t allow freedom at work and many more reasons. But doesn't that form part of your learning curve? I think it does. You learn to cope with it differently, think differently to get a work around, make a well thought out case study for your ideas that your manager will buy into, come up with a practical business model that the Company doesn’t see as an experiment. Yes. I’ll say all of the above are possible. I‘ve tried them and hence won’t agree otherwise. So if one isn't thinking along those lines, then maybe you have resigned yourself to accept whatever comes your way.

More often than not, when you allow yourself to learn you are in control of the situation than vice-versa. So that brings me to the question. What have I done with the advice I got a long time back?

Be ready to unlearn!
It really is the start point. Yes, your direct report may have a better solution. But your gut feel/instinct is to go with your solution. That’s the start to unlearning. When you begin to see reason in other’s approach at work, you learn to think and reason in new ways. Be ready to explore.

Get yourself a good mentor
Yes, I got one from a completely different area of work. I like it that way. Since this person knows my strengths and is also able to see my objectives from a third person’s point of view. That gives me an unbiased opinion. Ok, some may not agree here. But that’s why I also follow experts in my field of work

Reach out to experts
You are one too. But then you have so much more to learn. Take on the ‘Learn & Share’ attitude. You’ll be amazed.

Accept feedback
But that doesn’t mean you get steamrolled with criticism. Over time you’ll learn to put active filters on feedback and take the positives. Not every opinion counts, but the ones that really count will leave you a better person. The trick is I identifying that particular feedback.

Ask questions
I’ve seen it happen in meetings. When the organizer asks, “Are there any questions?” the room suddenly goes quiet. Each person waiting for the other to start asking questions. That’s bad. Yes, it’s obvious. You have a question. Go ahead and ask. You don’t need to wait. It’s ok to look stupid now than when you get done with a project/ mess-up half way through, only to realize you got all wrong. Ask early. Get answers early.

Embrace Change
Doesn’t mean you go about changing everything you ever believed it. But an open mind will help you understand the necessity to change. For the better.

Now, get to work on it. And let me know if there are more ways that have helped you get ahead of the learning curve.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Managers won't give reference. Company policy.

Dear HR Store,

I am looking for some guidance, actually for my daughter. Let me give you some background. My daughter is 21, is a business major and has completed two AS degrees and is working on her BS in Business.

She is currently working full time with a CPA. She has been interviewing with a company that has shown great interest in her and the recruiter has even said that they are ready to make her an offer, but they want references from managers that she has worked for. She has contacted two of her previous managers and all they did was point them to HR and said they are not allowed to provide references. The third has moved out of state and my daughter has no contact info.

I say the following not because she is my daughter, but I have watched her and listened to her and have spoken with people she has worked for in the past. All had nothing but very positive things to say about her work attitude, performance, ability to quickly learn, etc. What is she to do? The recruiter / employer is insisting on past references....

Normal One

Dear Normal One,

I do understand that your daughter must be going through a tough time in getting references. But I assure that this isn’t a unique case and there is a work around for this. At least ones that are worth a shot.

Some companies have a policy that doesn’t allow co-workers/managers to give out references. Companies have such a policy to avoid having to deal with legal lawsuits from former employees. In this case, since they are insisting on reference-checking only with previous managers, here are few things I would suggest your daughter could try.

First, she may have already done this. Yet she should call her previous managers and try to explain to them that her current job offer is fully dependent on their reference. I’ve seen that supervisors are willing to give references despite the policy, if they trust you enough and aren’t worried about getting themselves and the Company into a legal lawsuit. If they still insist that she first check with HR, she should at least keep them informed that they could expect a call from her prospective employer. (Note: Prospective employers can call people from your previous company outside of your list of reference).

Second, if the above approach doesn’t work. She should explain the situation to her prospective employer. Tell them that the previous Company has a policy against providing references. Most of them do understand and may only be checking if you are comfortable giving references. Cause whatever the reason they will still approach your previous Company. So, as a next step, she could give the prospective employer the details of her previous dates of service, title and reporting manager’s name (and contact info if the manager is ok with that). Giving out this information conveys a message to the prospective employer that you’ve nothing to hide. They’ll be able to verify with that much data. It may not be much of an actual ref-check, but at least they could get ratings on a scale of 1-10 (it’s a practice that many follow in such situations) from the previous managers.

Third, had she undergone any performance reviews with her previous employer? If yes, she could try and furnish that review document for reference. It will have details of her performance ratings for work she had previously done and might prove helpful.

As for the third manager, is there absolutely no way of finding him? Sure? She could try asking some of her ex-colleagues/other managers/his manager (best chance). I’m sure some of them are in touch with the manager. such situations tells us that it's highly recommended that one stays in touch with previous co-workers/managers (off course, it's a no-brainer that you don't burn bridges).
I guess it’s not late. And if it boils to them taking a hiring decision only after talking to references (I seriously doubt that), then this manager is your best bet.

Good luck with her job search. Hopefully she’ll land a good one real soon.

PS: What should you expect from your references? Read here

Monday, August 17, 2009

I like such candidates! Really.

Recently, I tweeted (you could follow more updates here) about recruitment and how 'Amazing Does Happen' in recruitment too. Here’s a case in point:

As a hiring manager, you’ve been interviewing a lot of candidates for a position in your team. There were many questions asked to each of them. Some they could answer, some they couldn’t. The interview was done. You moved on to the next candidate. The candidate moved on too, to other companies for more interviews. Then along comes a candidate who completely takes you off guard! He either writes/calls you to let you know that post-interview, he went back to books/internet/even met experts in a bid to find out the answers to interview questions he wasn’t able to the answer then. That’s the kind of candidate I would love to hire. Absolutely.

It talks about a lot of positive things about the candidate:

- Interest in the role he has interviewed for. It’s more than a need or want.
- He accepted feedback. He was told his answer was wrong. He took it. Worked on it. Came back with an answer.
- Showed he could take the initiative to learn and research for answers. Easier to say, “I don’t know”. Tougher to act on it.
- Tells us that he was motivated enough to get the job, by doing some self-learning.
- Going beyond his line of duty. He could have thought, “Well, I didn’t make it here. Let me try my luck elsewhere”. Right? But that didn’t happen. Off course, it’s in his best interest. But how many candidates have come across who came back with answers?

Maybe, just maybe, you might argue that the above reasons aren’t enough to hire a person. But these skills are more like personality traits. There could be many more good traits that I might have missed out while coming up with the list. The bottom line is that, here is a candidate who took the efforts to go back and learn. That’s attitude not a skill-set.

So if you are a candidate who has recently interviewed, here’s a question for you, “What are you doing about the interview feedback you receive?”

I see a high-value potential if you can act on that feedback and then go back to the hiring manager with answers. Yes, the chances maybe slim since managers are usually skeptical about reconsidering candidates they had earlier rejected. But there’s nothing to lose in giving it a shot. If you acted with the right intention and willingness, it will show in the way you present your answers. There’s a very high possibility that the hiring manager will come back to you, if he doesn’t find a suitable person from the candidate pipeline. By doing this, you are only improving your chances of getting hired – either now or in future. You just left a positive impression on the manager! My experience tells me, such candidates should be sure shot hires!

However, you’ll need to ensure, you do not stalk the manager in your quest to send him your answers. Write him one mail which maybe the best option. Or leave one voicemail (if you don’t get him on the phone the first time you try), asking for a good time to call back to explain your case. Please do not overdo this. Like sending your answers to everyone you know in that company (it does happen!). It will just kill your reputation.

Any thoughts from hiring managers? Or even candidates? Do you agree with me? You don’t need to. But then, let me know your take.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy Independence Day

Wishing everyone a very happy 63rd Independence Day.

P.S. Although a day late, its the thought that counts :-)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Guest Post: "Gee! I'm the boss now!"

Author: Vidooshak

Talking to some younger cousins the other day, I was impressed by their desire to become a ‘team lead’ before the age of 25. Another spoke of how she wanted to quit because of office-politics and harassment at work. On further probing, the said harassment was described as being overlooked for promotion despite a lofty work experience spanning 9 months, and a manager expecting her to resolve customer issues even if it meant staying late at work.

For some reason, the definition of having ‘arrived’ includes becoming a manager—the earlier the better. Unless you have a whole bunch of people reporting to you, unless you can just pick up the phone and delegate, unless you can spend the day “in meetings” or on the BlackBerry there is just no satisfaction to all that hard-work. Whether in a call-center or technical field support, a software development firm or a sales organization, moving up (or away?) from being the first in the line of fire to a more responsible (a.k.a people-management) role seems to be an over-riding goal. In many cases, 5 years seem to be the maximum a person is willing to sacrifice doing the so-called grunt work.

While attending customer calls as a network engineer in other countries, I would often need to collaborate with much older people-- also there as network engineers. These were people getting their hands dirty unclogging the Internet drains, even through late 30’s or early 40’s, while here I am barely out of college, wondering what I did wrong to be stuck with a field job. They were not only happy to roll up their sleeves and get cracking; some of them consciously ‘avoided’ a managerial role. That got me thinking about our obsession with becoming a manager, especially in the Indian context.

I often hear about the frustrating ‘culture’ at top Indian service companies. Despite making billion dollar revenues, people complain about the bureaucracy at these companies and how stepping-up to a task can be suicidal. Everyone has many managers and everyone is probably managing many. The focus is on following process and looking over your back, rather than looking forward to a personal achievement.

A system with good managers that know how to get things done is an obvious asset. You will see excellent compliance but rare (if any) new ideas and better ways to do the same thing. When more of the ones that can think, imagine and innovate decide instead to delegate, it leads to process stagnation. That could be one reason why despite our IT success, we are still waiting to see a successful software product or true MNC born out of India, 20 years after the technology boom started.

Global MNC’s often expect us to design or service for a competitive market. Ironically, this privilege comes when you are in a managerial role, without the luxury of interfacing closely with that market as in the field-engineer days. Being isolated by layers of staff, one relies upon the experiences of a past life to spend fruitful time in this ‘ivory tower’. This can get difficult unless you’ve spent a substantial number of years in the trenches, facing enemy fire and honing survival instincts for just such a day.

In the old days, public sector units had a long and structured path to middle-management. In a career spanning 40 years, it could take 15 to 20 years before you got your first charge. Such organizations had their own flaws but the subject-matter expertise and depth of these individuals had few peers. A testimony to this is the plethora of retired oil and telecom PSU executives that have led India’s largest private oil and telecom firms to worldwide glory. Their mettle was forged in the slow fire of uncertainty, lack of resources and a life of research before Google. Today’s ‘flat organizations’ and smaller headcounts tend to reward you with this responsibility before you know it.

The more varied, wicked and vicious the early years, the better prepared one gets for handling monsters creeping at us when we occupy the hot seat. Until then, any ‘office politics’ is all in the mind; the so-called harassment is nothing more than rich experience. As for the manager ‘status symbol’, that obsession won’t die easy. India does not yet have a culture where patents and published research fetch you respect. So, college kids will continue to book their Honda Civic using the first paycheck. And hope they can delegate the driving to a junior, in a few years time.

About the Author:
Vidooshak (blog name) writes his blog over at Baingan-lores. According to his blog, he's a fond Papa who vents politically incorrect awe at India Shining inspite of Bangalore Whining.

Friday, August 7, 2009

When an interview turns into a debate!

An interviewee writes:

“The last interview that I attended turned into a debate. The hiring manager took my interview and asked for my point of view on a particular issue. He wanted to know my approach in resolving it. After I was done with my explanation, he countered it with an alternate way to resolve that particular issue. Discussion around the issue lasted for sometime with both of us sticking to our solution. The interview tone sounded like that of a heated argument. However, he went on with other interview questions. It been a week now and I haven’t heard from this hiring manager or anyone else from the Company. Did that particular discussion have a negative impact on my candidature? I liked the role that I interviewed for and hence was planning to mail the hiring manager asking for feedback. Would that be ok? Or should I mail the recruiter who scheduled the interview?”

From the look of it, yes, I think that particular discussion might have had a significant impact on deciding your candidature. Your description of the interview seemed to fit that of a stress-interview mode. I personally don’t like it, but many managers choose to take that route for interviews. That’s an indicator of their respective working styles as well. Typically he was trying to check on your stress absorption levels and receptiveness to suggestions from others. You may have had a great solution and hence stuck your neck out with it. But that doesn’t mean you don’t acknowledge the other person’s reasoning. I’ll assume you didn’t acknowledge his ideas and hence he was using questions that really provoked you to retort. Maybe, I’m wrong. But when an interview gets out of hand, you need to take control of yourself and not try controlling the interview.

As a hiring manager he is the one calling the shots. So as a candidate you have a couple of choices: (a) you agree with him although you have a better solution. (That sucks!) because you are saying things that will get you a job, which you might end up not liking; or (b) acknowledge his ideas/solutions and then present your idea with pros & cons. This will give you a chance to gauge the hiring manager’s receptiveness too. Right?

You mention the word ‘debate’ in your question and that’s exactly what an interview shouldn’t be. If it reaches a heated argument, then you are out of the door before you know it. Yes, it’s ok to disagree with an interviewer. But your stand depends on how you choose to communicate your disagreement. If you happen to choose the argumentative approach. Bad! Interview’s done and you are not 'in'.

Can you mail the hiring manager for asking for a feedback? Off course, you can. He should have closed loop with you by now! I’m not sure if you’ll get to hear anything positive from him now. If you do, good luck with the next rounds. The recruiter may not have a say in this matter and so he wouldn’t be able to help you out.

Everything’s not lost. You have a lot to take-away from this interview.

Good luck with your job search!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Employees will not particpate in surveys...

… when it’s NOT anonymous.

… has far too many redundant questions.

… takes more than 10 minutes of their time.

…when they don’t know why it’s being done in the first place. Really.

… when they don’t get to know the results. The cynics will just say, “I told you so”.

... when they don’t know the outcome of their feedback. They’ll assume its either dumped/deleted/overlooked/read by both their HR & Manager who didn’t like it (no more feedback!). That’s bad.

… when the survey does nothing to improve their working environment.

… when there’s one that they need to fill every month! It happens. True.

… when it has to be done on paper, with someone looking over the shoulder! Again. It does happen. True.

… when their manager(s)/senior management don’t show the same levels of interest.

… when the survey is seen as a HR thing-to-do. It’s more than that. Right?

… when the timing of the survey is all wrong; closer to performance review/product deadlines/downsizing/management restructuring/vacation.

And then you thought surveys were so easy to administer!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ask your reference to give a well-balanced feedback

From a job-seeker:

“I’ve interviewed and cleared all rounds of interview with a select Company. I’ve been told by their recruiter that I’m their first-choice candidate for the role and the Company is yet to complete the reference check process. I’ve also been told (by their recruiter) that they weren’t able to get enough information from the references (previous managers & peers) that I had given. Hence the delay and now they have asked me to give them a couple more references to talk to. Is this the normal practice? Or are they just buying time to close loop with me? I’m keen to join them and haven’t interviewed with any other firm. What should I do?

Yes, there’s a possibility that they may be buying time. Not to talk to other candidates (slight chance, but very unlikely), but they are instead buying time to find out more about your previous work experience. If I were you, I’ll believe the recruiter, unless there’s enough reason to not believe, based on your prior interactions. Instead I would focus on the ‘not enough information’ from references. Generally if you have reached this phase of the interview process, it’s most likely that they are keen to hire you, off course it’s subject to the ref-check. That’s actually become the roadblock! You’ll need to fix it. Soon.

Since they are talking to references that you have provided, the ‘not enough information’ could most likely be only about your prior work experience. They are looking for some clarity.

I’m not sure if they’ll tell you what’s missing from the ref-check. Figuring out the exact ‘not enough’ part is hard. You could try with asking your references to give your prospective employer a well-balanced feedback. I’ve done numerous ref-checks and really there’s nothing more worrying than a reference who can give ONLY a glowing positive feedback or a totally negative one. Both don’t help in getting a clear picture. Agreed you may have been a star performer in your previous firm. Even stars have areas of improvement. Really. If someone believes otherwise, it’s a fallacy.

A well-balanced feedback is one that tells your prospective employer both your strengths and weakness. That’s the kind of information that they are looking for.

Second, don’t try and manage your references. Maybe you are not doing that. But if they can only give glowing references, that’s how it will look to a third person. It’s not going to help your cause and that’s definitely not right. Your reference needn’t even tell you what they’ve told your prospective employer. You chose your reference because you trust them. If you really want to find out what the reference is saying, hire an agency to do that. Again, I wouldn’t do that. That would mean I doubt my own reference! Really.

Everything’s not lost. Go ahead and share a couple more references with them. This time around talk to your reference and ask for a balanced feedback. If you believe you have the right skills and a clear career history, I don’t see a need to worry.

Good luck with your job search.