HR is VALUED only if their STATEMENTS is backed by DATA

Prasanna Venkataramanan is a seasoned Human Resource Professional with 15+ years of experience in Workforce Planning & Management, Employee engagement and HR Transformation. He also has extensive experience in supporting Mergers & Acquisitions and Workday implementation (functional). Prasanna has completed his BE & MBA from The University of Madras. He also holds the following certifications –

- Advanced HR Analytics from IIM Rohtak

- Certified Rewards professional from Aon Hewitt

Prasanna is currently associated with PwC India, managing Workforce Planning. He was earlier associated with companies like Renault Nissan Technology and Business Centre of India, DXC (formerly known as CSC) and Cognizant.

Thank you, Prasanna, 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 started my career 15 years back. I was a University Rank Holder and a topper in my college. Being in the exploratory phase, I was ready to take up any role in HR. Recruitment roles in recruitment agencies were abundant.

My first job interview was with one such recruitment agency where I reached 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled time. I have always been at least 30 mins ahead of the time for the interview just to observe the place, employees who work there, etc.

There were two rounds of interviews and my first round was to know my understanding of HR (from my MBA education), a little about, my MBA project. My certificates copies were compared with my resume.

The second round was the real interview. The key questions were -

  1. “Tell about yourself” – This was to know my English-speaking ability (Ability to convey the message with clarity and it was not meant to test my accent) and if I am able to articulate about me in a structured manner. I could easily clear this.
  2. “Give a brief note about your final year MBA project and can you imagine how you can use this in any other industry” – My MBA final year project was on competency mapping for shop floor employees in a manufacturing setup. While I was able to explain the project well, I did not know how to apply the concepts in IT / BPO, and I did not answer.

This was working on my mind that I probably did not answer other questions though they were simple.

The interviewer helped me to understand why I failed in the interview. It was not only because I did not attempt to even apply the concepts from my project in a different industry. But I lost my confidence after that question, due to which I was not able to answer my next questions.  I realized that it is fine not to know an answer, but one should not lose confidence mid-way during the interview.  However, make it a point to learn it after the interview at least.

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 landed in my first job with another recruitment agency, my second interview, after the above-narrated experience. My college friend referred me there since he joined there a week before. This time I did adequate homework about competency mapping and about this recruitment agency, hence I was better prepared and undoubtedly cleared the interview!

I joined there in the head-hunting team. Our Monday morning team meetings gave me the clarity about what was the target for the week/fortnight, companies, skills, location, salary ranges. I could not understand the end to end workflow. As a headhunter, every call I made to targeted companies had surprises, a lot of learning about how to innovatively draw the candidates’ attention to me, an unknown person who is promising a job offer. I also used to hunt talents from nontraditional hunting grounds like Coffee Shop/Fast Food Joint (outside IT companies that were nearby our office during breaks) and also while coordinating for interviews for our candidates at the venue of the interview place where we get an opportunity to meet other agencies’ candidates.

At work, everyone starting from the MD (who was at Bangalore and used to visit the Chennai branch frequently) the team members were very friendly and open to help each other and I am in touch with most of my colleagues to date. We used to work long hours understanding the client requirements, our colleagues’ daily experience with candidates and clients, etc., Every candidate’s offer was celebrated. We always enjoyed working long hours. Before landing in a job, I used to think the HR job is from 10 am to 6 pm.

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

Definitely ‘yes’. Most times it is the employee’s supervisor who is the mentor /coach. There may / may not be a formal mentorship/coaching program. According to my, everyone teaches you something. It is up to you to learn from them. I used to seek my Manager and department seniors’ time to understand what they do and how does my role contribute to the team. Wherever there were understanding gaps, I tried to understand why we did certain things in a certain way. I also did a bit of online research etc., My most important understanding in this phase was to take the learning and not to form an opinion about people and gossip around. In the process, I managed to find my coaches/mentors with whom I am still connected.

Some of the key messages that I learned are “Trust but verify”, “be inquisitive and go in-depth to understand”, “Be hands-on”.

COVID-19 has changed workplace dynamics in many ways. What has been your learnings during this phase? What permanent changes do you foresee at the workplace post-COVID-19?

COVID-19 has changed workplace dynamics in many ways. Quoting what Satya Nadella said, “We have done 2 years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”.

Permanent Changes in workplace that I see are -

  1. Greater adoption of technology: We have adopted technology like never before. I feel that going forward virtual meetings, virtual training sessions will become the norm
  2. Today around 75 percent of companies across the globe are working remotely. According to a Gartner survey, nearly 50 percent of organizations reported that at least 80 percent of their employees are working remotely due to COVID-19. It is most likely that post this pandemic, 30 - 40% of employees are likely to work from home for some more time / permanently. This 6-month period has proved that for some roles, physical presence at the workplace is not mandatory. The employer saves on office space, the employee saves on transport, travel time, Society saves on traffic, congestion, petrol and it is a win-win for all. 
  3. Organizations are adding more employee benefits, and this may become a game-changer in attracting talent post this pandemic. Financial support / corporate deals for purchase of office equipment, Flexi timings, enhanced health coverage, mental wellness measures, etc., to name a few. In India, the majority of the workforce did not have an office space at home. This learning will make them invest in setting up an office space at home.

Changes in me: COVID has taught me that I can be equally productive working from home (thanks to my family). While there may have been initial challenges for some people, most of them seems to have been addressed with people now learning how to have better work-life harmony.

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?

All departments in HR have their own charms and challenges when viewed with the correct perspective. I have successfully handled various roles such as Recruiter, HR Business Partner, Workforce Manager, HR Operations leader, etc., Every function has a great learning experience. In my experience, recruitment is one of the most exciting and challenging area where your interpersonal skills, relationship-building skills, understanding of various policies of the company are tested every single day by candidates, agencies (external), and employees (Your Manager, Business teams, HRBP of the Business unit, other HR support functions). Recruitment is the gateway function in HR to get new employees into the company. Your experience there will help you to lay your foundation to be a successful HR leader.

To me, it is particularly important to understand how various departments function to be able to provide a holistic solution to your Business leader as a Business Partner. Hence, I would strongly recommend role rotation across various HR departments once in at least 3 years.

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?

The key ingredient in the recruitment process is clarity in the requirement that is provided by the business. If this is understood well, the other two milestones will be to source the right candidate and negotiating with the candidates for fitment.

My MBA helped me to understand the organization structure, appreciate the intent behind policies, why are statutory benefits provided etc., and most importantly, the aspects that attract a talent are not just salary/designation but holistic rewards such as non-monetary benefits, the culture of the organization, how to treat candidates and every person with respect

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.

  1. Format of the resume is key. A resume with no grammatical errors and spelling mistakes with uniform font will impress a recruiter.
  2. Sequence your experience and education in reverse chronological order (Latest experience on top).
  3. Keywords and credentials matching the proposed job description must be highlighted to draw the attention.
  4. Highlight metrics that support your achievement - be it your scores in academics or work performance, sales target achieved, defect corrections, etc.,
  5. Resume and covering the letter should be specific to the addressee organization and not a standard template.

Providing incorrect information and data may cause permanent damage to one’s career.

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? 

I have come across candidates who have had Career Gap for the varied duration (including years). To me, the reason for career gap must be understood and genuine reasons are to be accepted. Common reasons are -

  • Layoff /Termination/right-sizing
  • Family reasons – to raise a family, take care of dependents undergo treatment for ailments
  • To take care of family business temporarily

These are all valid reasons provided -

  • The candidate has nothing unlawful against him/her and is legally cleared to work in a business that you operate in
  • The candidate can showcase his / her skills and experience

I believe that such candidates when given an opportunity will contribute very well to the organization and are likely to stay committed to it.

What do you think about Talent Shortage? What are a few practical tips you want to give to CEO’s and Hiring Managers to manage the challenge of Talent Shortage?

While it is great to have the perfect match for your requirement, it may often be hard to find a perfect fit for a requirement in a short period. I personally consider a 70-75% fitment as a good fit. If it is for internal staffing, look for employees with 50 – 60% provided those candidates / employees show the right attitude and agility to learn and contribute. Learning programs to upskill employees to suit an organization’s current and future requirements should be adequately leveraged to bridge skill gaps if any. There are companies which have gone to educational institutes to contribute to students’ learning curriculum that suits their company’s requirement (and build their talent from the ground).

Wherever possible, companies should forecast to build their required talent by way of upskilling /cross-skilling and see this as a key source of fulfillment along with a mix of buying and borrow.

How do you motivate your team?

One can inspire others to get motivated. Motivation is action by individuals. Motivation is dynamic changing from individual to individual and from time to time. You may relate this to Maslow’s Need Hierarchical Theory. Source of motivation today may be sponsored for a training program, a challenging work assignment, time offs, etc. So, there is no one size fits all solution.

I would understand each member of my team well and inspire him/her in a way that is fruitful to them at that point in time. There are times when the team is under work pressure. Motivation at that stage will be to show them the impact that we can create by sailing through the time, sharing our success/failures in dealing with this /this /another similar situation. Sharing the big picture of why we are going through this and what can we achieve. Showcasing the leadership’s support to them during such stressful times. Rewarding them by various means after the crisis etc.,

If you need to draw a landscape of the future workplace, how will it look like? What disruptions do you foresee in HR over the next FIVE years?

The workplace is changing faster than before. AI and other technologies have influenced us in such a way that it is blurring the lines between the real world and the technological world challenging human behavior. However, it is people who are clearly at the fulcrum of this transformation. A virtual workplace increase in gig workers will be the future landscape.

Agreed that machines have taken over several mundane jobs that humans did. However, one must open up to see the other opportunities on hand. There are opportunities to upskill rather than being stagnant.

As HR professionals, we have an interesting time ahead of us. Below are the opportunities that we have

  1. Have policies and governance around managing a remote workforce, motivating the remote workers to be self-disciplined in carrying out their assigned tasks.
  2. Employees soon will expect greater flexibility. They may expect flexibility to toggle between full time and part-time employment and even more fluid ones that allow them the flexibility of committing more sporadically while also making time for family, reskilling, following their personal passion, etc.,
  3. India’s gig economy is expected to be at $ 400+ billion by 2023.  Setting up policies and rewards for gig workers will enable them to manage talent supply. India can learn from the US on managing gig workers.
  4. Practice internal Job rotation more: In the present race for talent, it is important to engage well with the right set of employees. To engage with employees for the long-term, there needs to be a culture that prevents career stagnation and enable role rotation. Allowing workers to move within the organization, find their niche, enabling a switch, and find a new niche to reinvent their skillsets is a great way to help employees grow and to retain them. This holds especially true in an ecosystem with a rising gig workforce.

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

The HR function will continue to be one of the most important functions in any organization and in society. My few words to all of them will be to –

  • Be open: Every single role gives you immense learning. It is fine to fail. Fail and fail fast to recover faster
  • Learn all facets of HR and it is good to move around different departments.
  • HR is valued only if your statement is backed by data. Strengthen your data analytics skill and do not stick only to theory.
  • HR is not just recruitment, but it has specialization in Employee engagement, Workforce management & planning, Learning and Development, HR Operations, HR technology, HR Analytics, Compliance HR (statutory and legal aspects in HR).

Finally, an organization values and welcomes a consultative HR professional who comes with a solution mindset. Prepare yourself to be one.

Thank you, Prasanna, for sharing the wonderful insight. We appreciate it. 

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