Leaders must remain culturally sensitive and emotionally aware within fast-moving, complex work environments

In her current role, Meenakshi Pande is working as Director, Talent Acquisition for Navisite. Previously, she has worked with education start-ups to product MNCs. Meenakshi has a strong background in designing & implementing Talent Acquisition Strategies for niche skills & niche hiring across geographies. She believes in women empowerment and is an active participant of the D&I and Women group at Velocity Technology. Meenakshi is extremely Passionate about Employer branding & building a strong employer candidate experience. She has also completed Advanced Level Certification in NLP.

Thank you, Meenakshi, for agreeing to do this interview with us. Kindly be as candid as you can.
Let’s Start!!!
How does the pandemic year affect you? What changes, professional and personal, does it bring into your life?

Our everyday lives have been changed, some for the good and some not. We have got to adapt and get going with this new phase!

Professional – Major shift from commuting to the office its work from home or work from anywhere. Though we had options of availing work from home on a need basis this time it is altogether different. It is a year now since we all have been working from home & moreover more efficiently. Work from home helped us to bond more closely with the family. There are occasions when I truly wish to be back in the office to chitchat with colleagues discussing things over coffee. Meeting people in person is a thing of the past & now all bonding is done over the screen. Yes, we do have Fun Fridays, bring your kids/pets to work time, etc which have helped us in pulling the monotony of working from home.

Personal - From dining out, we have now turned our homes into a restaurant and cafe. From Dalgona coffee to pizzas, pasta, cakes, ice creams, and other dishes, everyone has begun experimenting with food. We are the chef, the servers, and the customers as well! Skills in sweeping, dusting, cleaning, and doing the dishes have improved a lot because of the pandemic. Playing board games is back. From lifestyle changes to better eating habits, we eventually ended up being healthier.

Looking back at 2020, for the first time ever in my career, I can say life and work truly blended

  • We were able to put faces to colleagues' families.
  • We met children and spouses in their homes
  • We got vocal about mental health and burnout

Please share with us the challenges you faced in Talent Acquisition over the last 12 months.

I would not say challenges, but we have had many learnings in the process. Velocity, a Navisite Company being a cloud-based company, ensured that all our data was available to us virtually. Therefore, right from the initial stages of screening of the candidate to the interview process was conducted virtually. In the last year, we have completed virtual onboarding as well. Conducting Virtual interviews was challenging at times due to network issues. Candidates also had to ensure they had exceptionally good connectivity for them to attend Video Interviews smoothly. We came across many stories from candidates that earlier they did not bother much about having soft copies of their documents, but this pandemic taught them to have on their phones as well. Our hiring process turned more empathetic with each passing day last year as the number of cases kept on rising.

What additional tools or processes are you using in Talent Acquisition to screen profiles and to select the right talent?

We use a combination of assessment tests right from the beginning of the hiring process. We make good use of AI-driven Tools for the Interview Process. Hire Select, Hacker Earth, Interview Mocha for pre-employment skill testing. The online skill assessment testing, multi-competency assessments have helped us in a big way. Online assessment tools have also helped us in removing some of the biases that creep into the hiring process, making for a fairer experience that produces better long-term results.

What is your take on “Offer Trading”, which is very rampant in the talent market? As a Talent Acquisition Leader, what you do to minimize the impact?

  • We always focus on developing a pipeline of passive candidates who are already excited to work for our company, even before beginning the interview process.
  • Since we work in a very niche & small market, we always keep a track on our competitors.
  • We try to focus on creating a memorable candidate experience. As part of the post-offer process, we have welcome calls with the candidates to address any queries related to career progression, kind of projects, expectations/concerns, etc. These calls are with the Senior leadership which helps them in getting more clarity as to the growth of the company.
  • We keep regular contact with our offered candidates sharing any/all new achievements of the company, certifications, client appreciations, etc.
  • We also, focus & ensure that the interview process is fast & smooth without compromising on quality. We have a consistent candidate evaluation process. A consistent online process enables interviewers to share candidate feedback quickly while rating the candidate across consistent standards. Our Interviewers can complete custom forms from their phone or computer and recruiters eliminate the need to follow up with interviewers for feedback. They are ready to immediately advance the candidate’s post-interview.
  • We focus on closing candidates on the first phone screen itself. We ask the right questions and begin closing the candidate as early as the first screening to prevent last-minute surprises when it is time to extend an offer. Early in the process, find out specifics on what the candidate is looking for in a new role if they’re interviewing for other positions and their status in the process with other companies. We lead an honest conversation about salary expectations and address additional candidate questions, such as the opportunity to work remotely or the expectation of a signing bonus & give them a good clarity of what they can expect with us. Setting the right expectations from the beginning has helped us in reducing last-minute surprises in a big way.
  • We leverage on employee referrals as much as possible. Employee referral programs have many benefits, from reducing overall cost-per-hire to strengthening our company culture, but also increase the likelihood of an accepted offer as well. Candidates want to work with people they know and trust. If they have been referred by a friend or former colleague, they may be more invested in the opportunity and less likely to sign a competing offer.

On the basis of your learnings of last year, what changes are you foreseeing in the landscape of Talent Acquisition?

  • Emergence of new top-tier employers - Employees and prospective candidates will judge organizations by the way in which they treated employees during the pandemic. How they were able to balance the decisions made today to resolve immediate concerns during the pandemic with the long-term impact on the employment brand.
  • Increase in remote working - A recent Gartner poll showed that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic.
  • Video Interview Tactics- This is the most important strategy for remote hiring during Covid-19. Almost all companies are in favor of video interviews in the absence of face-to-face interaction. Conducting regular Orientation sessions with panelists & sharing the do's & don’t’ s will help in making the virtual interview process a success. Video Interviews are here to stay for a long time now.
  • Candidate Experience will be a Priority -Candidates are stressed and the hiring process is new to them with all the network issues galore. Good communication will be vital to bridging the gap during remote hiring. During the virtual interview, focusing on the candidate becomes important. Body language is the key in the virtual environment, providing time for candidate’s doubts is vital. Getting back to the candidates with feedback is necessary and doing it is important. Keeping the candidates posted on the status of their application and keep them engaged by providing the outlook of the company.
  • Sharing Virtual Interview Tips with Candidates - A talent acquisition recruiter should send the list of virtual interview tips to the candidates. These can include the demo of a video conferencing software, staying professional, choose a place for a virtual interview. The purpose of sending tips is to ensure that the recruiter does not miss out on a perfect candidate.
  • Highlight your Company Culture- The company’s page and the job description is the first thing candidate’s look on. The company needs to make sure that the first impression of the candidate remains unmatched by providing ample insight into the company’s culture. You can describe the company’s values, the vision of the company. This can be done by using photos and descriptions.

The new normal requires a new definition for work-life-balance. In your role, do you think work-from-home is a boon or a bane? What challenges, if any, did you face in maintaining work-life balance? What will be the new definition of “work-life-balance”?

For me, work from home has been a boon. Though it has not been an easy ride. In the start, it was total chaos. Managing work, family, home, cleaning, cooking more so with the constant stress that the virus can hit you from anywhere was nerve-wracking, to say the least. These dual responsibilities increase stress, compromise on physical and emotional health, and lead to burnout and lower work productivity. After the initial hiccups, I was able to find multiple ways to have a more balanced life.

  • Adapting my attitude by acknowledging my feelings— positive, negative, and neutral—they are all valid and need to be expressed.
  • Lowering my expectations— “perfection” does not exist, and it is okay if you are not as productive as you think you should be. Be okay with just doing your best with all that you have.
  • Practicing self-compassion - “I made a mistake, but I’m human, and making mistakes is okay”.
  • Engaging in self-care - Engaging in self-care - Establishing boundaries so that I do not take on extra burdens. Taking up an old forgotten hobby like painting for half an hour on the weekend. Meditation has been a great saviour for me in these troubled times.
  • Became more organized by working around a structured but flexible schedule.
  • Delegating some tasks to others in the family with clear expectations
  • Having a weekly call with all the family members to just express what I am going through.
  • Started involving my 6 yr. old son in planning for the next day by giving him 2–3 task options and letting him choose which one he would like to take up.

COVID-19 exposed leadership unpreparedness of a different kind. As an HR Leader, how will you prepare future leaders to manage crises of this magnitude? What NEW LEADERSHIP COMPETENCIES will become necessary for the success of a leader?

  • Many of the traits that have always been important for managers — empathy, clarity, authenticity, and agility — are even more crucial during this time of uncertainty and upheaval.
  • Leaders have to remain culturally sensitive and emotionally aware within fast-moving, complex work environments.
  • Be inspiring - Share stories that reveal the enduring values and what is really important now. Remember the purpose of the company and rally people around it. See the crisis as an opportunity to more deeply live and serve the team and customers.

Lastly, what is your message for those students who will be graduating during this difficult time? How should they keep their moral high and stay motivated?

  1. Learn to manage stress.
  2. Embrace a growth mindset.
  3. Keep self-motivation at an all-time high.

Thank you, Meenakshi, for your giving your time and sharing your insights.
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