Recruitment is all about selling. Selling to candidates, Selling to stakeholders.

Rakesh Mishra is a Strategic HR Professional who deploys participative management style in a fast-paced, diverse workforce and holds a strong cross-industry background and experience supporting the large diverse workforce in multiple locations. He has excellent talent management, policy development and implementation, project management, and operational skills and change agent. Rakesh is proficient at streamlining operations, program/project management, HR initiatives in the business. He regularly visits campuses to talk on Career Planning and various other topics.

Rakesh is currently associated with a reputed Health and Wellness Company as Talent Acquisition Head. He previously worked with Navbharat Archive Xpress Pvt. Ltd. as Head HR; Linebacker Consulting LLP as Principal Consultant; Secure Parking Solutions Pvt. Ltd. as Head HR; Future Group (deployed in Big Bazaar) as Executive – Operations & Administration; and DHV Consultants BV (Royal Haskoning DHV) as Manager HR & Admin & Project Coordinator.

Rakesh completed PGDHRM from Symbiosis Pune and went on to earn certification in

Introduction to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) – UNICEF. Rakesh also earned training in

  • Manager Essential Training program.
  • Grid Leadership Training program for business leaders.

Thank you, Rakesh, for giving your valuable time to this interview. We look forward to your candid responses.

Let’s Start.

We would be pleased to learn about your professional journey from the beginning. So, please share with us about your first job interview. 

When I started my journey way back in 1994, it was still called “Personnel Management.” My base qualification is graduation in Commerce, and I was seemingly good in the subject of Accountancy. The 1st interview that I gave was with a cement company, which now is considered one of the jewels in this industry. I was informed by my friend that this company was conducting interviews for their accounts department, so I sent in my application. After multiple rounds of interviews, the final interview was with the Finance Head which was approximately 60 days after I had applied. I still remember the question very vividly. I was asked about the passing of journal entry and its right method. I explained the different methods of passing journal entry. This particular question led to a lot of counter questions. After the interview, I was sure I would not be selected here, after what had happened.

Let me tell you, after 6 months of the final interview in the cement company, I received my selection letter from them. However, as I had already joined the FDC group of companies as a Management Trainee, I had to reject the offer and continued working here.   

As the first job holds a special memory, let’s discuss your first year at your first job. How was your experience? What were your expectations of your employer and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectations? 

My first job was with the FDC group. I had joined them as Management Trainee. It felt on cloud nine to be part of a group in pharmaceutical products, giving you a perception that you were part of a group that was contributing towards a better world. The HR function was managed as the Personnel department and the majority of the employees were those who had been internally promoted. The first year of my joining was absolute value addition, learning, exposure, and absorbing. I tell people even today that the training which we were imparted is unmatched. In today’s organization structure, such training/induction is not contemplated. Rotation in each and every aspect of HR/Personnel gave a very different perspective. We were groomed for talent acquisition, corporate policies, plant personnel functions, supply chain policies, PMS, IR, legal aspects of HR, and lots more. I always quote this as an example that we were taught about everything in HR including how to file papers and maintain documents, how to write a note to seek approvals.

Do you think workplace mentors and coaches play an important role in settling fresh graduates in their first job? How was your experience? 

My training with the legal head of the organisation in FDC was the most tedious and elaborate. What I learned during that time stands true even today and has always helped me during times when I needed it the most.

As I grew in my role and responsibility and Talent Acquisition slowly and steadily became the core function of my work, the bitter truth/reality that I came across was that the product that I was dealing with was selling candidate to the organisation and organisation to the candidate. This is completely different from product selling. In recruitment, we are dealing with people, their aspirations. As we all know every individual is different and hence our sales automatically become unpredictable. The easiest is to sell an established organisation to the candidate. The most difficult is selling a loss-making or an organisation with no brand and recall value to the candidates.

“During the major part of my career my Failure has been my Mentor and Coach. With every failure the most important thing that I learned has been to Unlearn - Relearn”.

It’s now very recent that I have a very good mentor. He is that invisible hand around my shoulder who guides me and gives me the support when I require the most. The one who inspires me and points me in the direction that will help me explore and succeed.   

Often the Fresh HR Graduates tell me that they would like to work in the core-HR and show less interest in the recruitment domain. What do you think could be the reason to disfavour recruitments? Why did you choose recruitment as a career?

The work of recruitment seems to be very monotonous and has more brickbats. Most of the fresh graduates have their own aspirations. In today’s time, everyone wants to grow fast, and HR Generalist seems to be the fastest way to success. 

Recruitment is the most important part of the HR function. HR starts with hiring. “HR also means Hiring and Recruitment.” It was one of my seniors who told me once that I have this innate knack of recognising talent and influencing people. As I mentioned earlier, Recruitment is all about selling. Selling to candidates, Selling to stakeholders. In fact, it’s the HR or more precise the Recruitment team who are the 1st salespeople of the organisation. Over the course of the years, I have worked independently, have built and worked in a successful team. 

For me Recruitment consulting happened by chance than by choice. I am glad that it happened to me. Finding the right talent is the most crucial aspect of any business. It provides immense learning opportunities.

What aspects of recruitment do you find most challenging?  What is the role of education (being an MBA) in becoming a successful recruiter or a headhunter?

In my career span of over two decades, I have seen graduates, engineers and other qualified candidates performing much better than MBA’s. The qualification has no direct correlation of being successful in recruitment.

We need to be passionate in our work and able to connect with people (candidates/stakeholders), it’s like “Solving the Jigsaw Puzzle”. Since our product is People, it’s beyond any recruiter's control on the decisions and moves they make. The last-minute back-out from interviews, drop outpost job offers is the most challenging aspect.

From the Recruitment Consultancy point of view, the delayed hiring process, last-minute hold of position, no communication with consultancy is the most challenging aspect.

According to you, what are the FIVE critical traits of a successful Recruiter/Headhunter?

Key Competencies

  1. Passionate
  2. Instantly connecting with people
  3. Resilient – coping with stress and difficult situations
  4. Application of mind
  5. Good Listeners

Key functional capabilities

  1. Networking and connections
  2. Sourcing
  3. Eye for detail
  4. Candidate Engagement
  5. Manage Expectations
  6. New Technology Adoption

What are your thoughts about Psychometric Assessment? According to you, what role psychometric assessments play in hiring the right talent?

To be frank, so far, I have never leveraged on a Psychometric Assessment as a decision-making tool for hiring. It needs to be used as a validation tool through the recruitment process. In fact, I am a firm believer in “Hire for Potential.”

Today we are in a time where we have mixed generations. With so many technological changes, today people do not have the patience or interest in taking psychometric assessments. It’s high time we start looking at using technology in making this tool more futuristic, interesting, and adept for the generation to come.       

What are your thoughts about Talent Shortage? What are a few practical tips you want to give to CEOs and Hiring Managers to manage the challenge of Talent Shortage?

My work experience has been more in small and medium businesses. What I have seen is that most organisations think of immediate/short term talent requirements and very few companies proactively plan for talent shortage. They require, want, and desire talent, but the willingness, adaptability, flexibility to accept or change is limited. In multiple organisations, I have made attempts that instead of hiring a person from a sector, we open the industry bias and hire from another sector and widen the talent pool.    

India with its young population will never face Talent Shortage. Yes, the skills required after Covid-19, next 10 years or 20 years is definitely going to be different than what is available now. Organisations need to start or create a culture of learning. Investing in digital learning, as its gaining a lot of momentum and will grow in the future. Learning needs to be in sync with the business plan.

“Work from Home is going to be the “Present of Tomorrow”. Automation will play a crucial role here. The need of the hour is to have a robust engagement platform for this segment “.

As the saying goes,” You have 8.8 seconds to impress with your CV”. You might have come across tens of thousands of resumes in your career. What, in your view, does a recruiter evaluate in a resume in those 8.8 seconds and decides to accept or reject it? Please elaborate.

Key elements that I evaluate in….

  • Look and feel of the profile
  • Key competency areas both functional and behavioural
  • Stability
  • Education – where it plays a critical part.
  • Kind of companies worked in
  • Career journey

From profile sourcing to the issuance of the final offer letter, organizations put candidates through multiple filtration processes. What is your take on using “relevant industry experience” and “excellent academic record (first-class and above)” as filtration tools?

Today we are witnessing a lot of technological advancement across industries. These technological changes and the multi-generation workforce that we have is making recruitment more challenging.

In my view to ensure we hire the right candidate, we need to look at their core competency, the stage at which the organisation is. We need to evaluate the adaptability as well as the aspiration of the candidate. These have always worked for me.

Candidates not reaching the interview venue” (making numerous stories) and “Candidate not showing up on the day of joining” are two most painful experiences for a recruitment team. What is your take on this? How do recruiters differentiate between a “real reason” and “a fake story”?

In my career, I have experienced “No Show” from candidates multiple times. It is prevalent mostly at junior levels and specific positions which in some cases extends till the mid-management level. A candidate not showing up at interview hurts, what hurts the most is candidates not joining.

I distinctively remember 3 “No Show” of senior position on the date of joining. This reflects strongly on the maturity and transparency of the candidate. At the same time, it also reflects on the recruiter’s ability of how much trust, confidence, and connection they have established with the candidate.       

Let’s accept the fact that there is no fixed solution or magic solution to this. Recruiters, Consultancies across the globe are facing this on a regular basis. What everyone does is come up with solutions that suit their work requirement.

Below are certain steps that I have been taking/doing….

  • What kind of brand, or role the candidate is from?
  • Understanding the need and aspiration of the candidate 
  • Does the candidate find the brand, role inspiring, challenging?
  • What has been the candidate’s career path, stability, etc.?
  • Will relocation be an issue with the candidate?
  • Do the candidates aspire to continue education or for that matter get settled in life and this may impact their decision?
  • Will any specific situation at the personal front impact decision?

What do you do to minimize the trading of offer letters by candidates? What precautionary measures do you take to ensure a 100% turnout on joining day? And, what backup plans do you make to reduce the impact of no-show of new hires?

Today, this is a frequent phenomenon in recruiting. Training recruiters and preparing them for this situation is important. This is also where a recruiter’s understanding of the candidate’s aspiration, key drivers comes in handy. In spite of all checks and balances, we still have surprise elements that spring upon us when we least expect. Usually in such situations, I try to understand the reason for the candidate’s action.    

I always have a set of 3 candidates as a backup (3 finalists per role), this helps to reduce dependency and going back to a blank storyboard.

What are the primary challenges of sharing interview feedback to candidates?

Giving feedback is a challenging task in any given situation. The natural tendency of recruiters has always been to give feedback if it’s positive. If it’s negative, every recruiter tries and avoid the candidates. I do accept that sometimes due to the sheer volume of candidates handled by recruiters, this important step gets missed.

Candidates except for feedback. But the fact remains no one likes or appreciates negative feedback (especially feedback of non-selection). I have come across very few senior candidates who have been happy to understand the reason for rejection. Most of the candidates take non-selection personally, feel miserable, and have reacted with putting the blame on the interviewer.

With the advent of technology automated emails of regret or rejection is now a salient feature in organisations more so those organisations that are in a position to invest or are investing in technology.

For all my senior positions, I personally call the candidate and close with the feedback.  

In your career span of 15+ years, what was one WOW workplace experience?

There are many WOW experiences that I have had in my career. It is always a WOW moment when both the employee and the employer appreciate your work and are happy with the outcome. But to share one I would say the working on HR related areas in a merger and acquisition situation is my favourite. I have undergone one M&A situation, and this gives you immense learning. As an HR, one gets to study 2 HR systems simultaneously and is required to either pick one which serves the purpose best or derives the best out of the two and make a hybrid HR system for the company. You feel that you have genuinely made your share of contribution. I was fortunate enough to get this opportunity and learned to re-design the already existing space.

What you do to create an effective work-life balance?

One mistake which I have always done is overworked. I never focused on time for myself, my loved ones, and my health. There is nothing wrong with accepting this.  I have already accepted that there is no perfect work-life balance. Balance is achieved over time and not each day.  

HR is at the crossroads, yet again. According to you, what will be the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robots, etc. on the future of HR Function? Please also highlight how social media has changed the world of HR practitioners, particularly Head-hunters and Talent Acquisition Leaders? 

Technological advancement has been the key to human growth. AI, Robotics will make the life of HR and everyone else exciting. It has already started. It will give us a free hand to reinvent ourselves as professionals.

Social media is already impacting our lives in a big way. Information is available at the fingertips of everyone at every point of time and companies need to constantly keep on improving themselves to make them the Employer of Choice for the relevant audience. As far as HR practitioners are concerned, it is two-fold. One side the candidate is watching you and hiring has totally changed due to social media as searching the right candidate has become easy and the other side employees are writing on social media when you do good and do bad instantaneously. It is a big responsibility on our shoulders now to do what is right. 

Employer Branding is an extremely important dimension of HR and Social media plays a pivotal role in driving this branding initiative for any organization. 

Lastly, what is your message for fresh HR Graduates? How should they prepare themselves for a career in HR?

If you have already chosen HR, you have already taken your first step. The key according to me is to have a passion for connecting with people, networking, and hunger to keep on reinventing yourself. They are already in the most happening era of technological advancement, automation. Don’t be scared of making mistakes. Learn – Unlearn – Relearn continuously every day.

Thank you very much, Rakesh, for sharing wonderful insight.   

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