AI will give all of us more time to strategize on our pipelining and to manage our stakeholders.

Shikha Singh has over 16 years of cross-industrial and functional experience in Talent Acquisition, Talent, HR Operations, HR Process and Data Analytics with reputed organizations in the country. Shikha possesses an in-depth understanding of HR gamut, especially in Recruitments & Recruitment Operations. She has been recognized as ‘strategic and a change agent’ with the proven ability to design, build and re-organize recruitment teams to meet or exceed corporate talent objectives. Shikha is a competent decision-maker who combines integrity, exemplary leadership and proven operational skills to manage complex projects from conception through completion.

Her educational portfolio holds

  • Post Graduate Diploma in Human Resource Development - Symbiosis Institute of Distance Learning, Pune
  • Post Graduate Diploma in Public Relations - Bhartiya Vidhya Bhawan, New Delhi

Shikha’s career CONTOUR encompasses Paras Healthcare Gurgaon as Head Talent Acquisition; Optum Global Solutions (previously, UHG) as Senior Recruiting Manager – Talent Acquisition; Future Group - Future Axiom Telecom Limited as National Manager (Talent Acquisition); Piramal Healthcare Private Limited – TrueCare Business, Mumbai as Manager - Manpower Deployment; IBM Daksh Business Process Services Pvt. Ltd., Gurgaon as Lead-HR; UK Land Investment, New Delhi as Coordinator P.R/H.R, and Infinity Business School, New Delhi as P.R and Administration Officer.

Thank you, Shikha, 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.

I didn’t pursue an educational degree in HR until I realized HR/Recruitments was what I wanted to do. I graduated in Physics from Delhi University and proceeded to pursue my career in Public Relations. Little did I know that PR was a very demanding job with extended work hours and loads of travel. I attended an evening college in CP, New Delhi, to study PR as I wanted to work during the day to become economically independent. Though an MBA was what I really aspired for, however, due to financial limitations at that time, I chose otherwise. We were told that rich experience can compensate for qualifications hence, working was the best I could think of. So, my first interview was in a B-school to manage their front desk. I was nervous but entered the venue with a big smile on my face. It was little weird to see students of my age attending classes whereas, I was there for a job. I bagged the job, and the exposure didn’t only give me an opportunity to work and earn, but allowed me to attend my evening classes and complete my assignments during office hours under the guidance of kind B-school professors. Simultaneously, I enrolled myself for another PG diploma in HR which was a distant learning program from Symbiosis, Pune. So, within two years, I worked and completed two PG programs. Then, within the same compound of the B-school, there came another company with a big boom. They were a real estate company selling land in UK and many ambitious candidates like me joined them to make our own growth stories. It was a short stint since the reality check wasn't far. I do remember that stint primarily because my Recruitment career kick-started from there.

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?

I have covered most of it in my response to #1. Expectations from my first job were to learn and earn. The First job teaches you professional etiquettes and you value people for their contribution to your work. Teamwork is another aspect that the initial job days teach you. You are no different, you know no less but how you implement your knowledge is most important.

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

Yes, truly yes. A godfather at work is important. I have one! While I wouldn’t say I had a mentor from day one but later in my career, when I started getting more experienced, wise and seasoned in the role, I started trusting and following leaders who leave their mark in your mind. Coaches do play an integral role in your growth story since you inherit your work values from them. You realize that the dynamics work differently for different people and there is no replacement for hard work. Like many others, I too had certain shortfalls which were very well accepted and worked upon with constructive developmental feedback by my mentor.

Why did you choose HR as a profession? What was the motive and what was the motivation?

Like I said earlier, I wanted to be a PR professional throughout but, in my initial career days, I realized many commonalities between the two. I realized how satisfied I was to talk to new people and understand their lives, to see the happiness on one’s face when an offer was made to him/her. As the HR, you subtly become a life mentor to many, and that’s a feeling of accomplishment! There cannot be a better job than being HR :)

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 disfavor recruitments? Why did you choose recruitment as a career?

I feel recruitments are more like a sales job; you have targets which you must achieve within time allotted while ensuring quality. The pressure hits as a harsh reality to candidates who expect HR as desk jobs. Besides, the success depends equally upon your candidates, your vendors, and your company’s pay range. I chose to be in recruitment because I loved it from the time I encountered it. I like the way we can qualify our performance, identify new skills in the market, be on top of our numbers, and give people a new beginning. It is a combination of action and emotion that keeps me going! With technology interventions, digitization and the automation of processes, the learnings follow.

Which phase of the Talent Acquisition do you find most challenging – Sourcing, Stakeholder Management, or Negotiation? Why?

All the above :) I think recruitment is an end to end activity; you cannot drop the ball anywhere until your on boarded candidate completes 90 days in the system. Each step is unique, and each step needs a different skillset. To be a good Sourcer, you have to be well aware of the market dynamics, the industry mapping as well as be good at networking. To manage a stakeholder, you have to be on top of your numbers, your goals, and your constant collaborations. You should be able to accept your mistakes, voice your challenges, and take swift decisions in evolving your approach. Negotiations again require a different skill since you must balance the candidate’s expectations and your budgets beautifully and, in a way, you ensure that the candidate is joining at the best cost within your budget. Cost-saving is never bad but not at the cost of the quality of hires.

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

  1. Promptness – To act fast as time is money for any organization
  2. Process orientation - To thrust compliance and unbiased decision-making thereby avoiding uncomfortable consequences in future
  3. Adequate pipelining - To be ready with a pool of candidates for all critical roles within scope
  4. Strong stakeholder/vendor and team connects - To be able to identify potential roles and to be able to close the positions as soon as they are approved
  5. A well-articulated recruitment manual that serves as a ready reckoner

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.

A recruiter scans a CV with keywords for required skills, highest qualification, experience, last role and designation, stability and basic language orientation. Thus, the biggest distractors are the long stories – a CV beyond two pages and/or with big paragraphs. The CV should be crisp, highlighting what is achieved and what is expected along with pointers on education and experience.

What is your take on “Career Gaps”? We come across many people who are forced to hide certain aspects of their employment history because organizations do not shortlist their profiles because of career gaps. How do you address such cases?

Career gaps are best probed during personal interviews. CVs are not rejected in case of frequent gaps. We all have our commitments and reasons for staying away from work, if at all. Hiding is not the best solution, while the best is to be able to justify it in a constructive manner during your interactions with the recruiter. I have always respected such individuals and dedicated a few minutes of the interview talking about the gaps.

“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”?

This is one of the biggest challenges of being a recruiter. These things are one of the few wherein the recruiter has no control over and it may impact the reputation of the recruiter itself. Candidates who genuinely have an issue are the ones who will inform you much in advance, along with evidence, if any. Mostly, when the candidates call upfront and seek an extension are the real ones. While the ones who do not show up or respond to the calls are the ones faking reasons. It is imperative to have a good candidate connect so that the candidates are comfortable reaching out to you.

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

Most of the candidates are not open to accepting negative feedback. They would not want to believe they are in anyway lesser than anyone. While there are certain sets of candidates who wish to understand the gaps and want to work towards improvements, but such a population isn’t very high.

How do you approach an assignment in “Leadership Hiring”? How this approach differs from “Middle-Level Hiring” or “Entry Level Hiring”?

Leadership hiring requires thorough and undivided attention. Mostly, such roles are confidential in nature and cannot be advertised openly like entry or mid-level roles. The candidates in scope are seasoned, mature, and may have time limitations. The recruiter should be patient and well informed about the role, the expectations, the impact and the outcomes expected from the candidates since the discussions will be more comprehensive and detailed V/s the discussions we have with mid-level or entry-level candidates.

Whenever a leadership assignment comes our way, we approach it from the top until the bottom, from the goals and vision of the organization, the placement of the role, the revenue impact, the headcount in scope, and the key deliverables.

We also study similar-sized organizations to peg our role, expectations, and salary to be able to better pitch the role to the candidates.

How AI is changing the world of HR practitioners, particularly Head-hunters and Talent Acquisition Leaders?

AI is the next-gen TA. AI is replacing all repetitive activities for a recruiter however, I feel the emotional quotient, the "reading between lines" and the "on the smart thinking" cannot be automated. AI will give all of us more time to strategize on our pipelining and to manage our stakeholders.

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

Dear fresh HR graduates…be prepared to pull up your socks and start running. Hear more and talk less, be well versed with your process and the sky is your limit. Nothing is easy or difficult about recruitments/HR. It is all about what you want to do!

Thank you, Shikha, for sharing wonderful insight.

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