Organizations will start thinking about impacting every touchpoint in an employee's lifecycle to create a wholesome Employee Experience

Ankita Singh is a well-rounded professional with experience in the areas of HR Consulting, Change Management, Program Management, Employer branding, Recruitment, People strategy, Business partnering Talent Management and OD&L. She is currently heading the Talent COE for the OTT Platform, MX Player

In her current role with MX Player as an Associate Director heading the Talent COE, she is responsible for driving excellence across all aspects of Talent lifecycle - Attraction, retention, and development.

Ankita was previously associated with Coca Cola where she was leading the HR agenda for their Business Services organization, steering their journey of growth and sustainability. Her prior professional experience includes a short stint with Oracle financial services and then a long relationship with Wipro where she moved across multiple roles – starting off as a Management Consultant, then leading the India MBA campus program and finally driving the HRBP agenda and strategic projects for the largest Service line in the organization

Ankita has completed her full time MBA – PGDM in General Management from Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Lucknow and a BTech in Computer Science Engineering from NIT Nagpur.

Thank you, Ankita, 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 was lucky enough to get an opportunity to start my career - twice! Once after my engineering and the 2nd time after my MBA. Both the times, I started via my campus placements. The process of campus recruitments has not changed much since my times - I went through the standard rigmarole of written tests, group discussions, and personal interviews both the times. The first time, I was appearing right off my engineering course, so the assessments had a strong technical component too, along with analytical, reasoning, etc. The second time, I was doing my business course and was appearing for my Internship opportunity (which later got converted to an offer), so the assessments had that flavour and were more focused on business case scenarios, live problems, etc.

The common part of both interviews was that they focused primarily on me and my life experiences. The interviewer asked me situation-based questions and posed some hypothetical challenges to investigate how I would respond to them. In addition, my post-MBA interview also focused on case-based questions.

I had prepared myself for the placements by preparing myself about the company I was applying to - their products, services, nature of the business, the role that I applied for. I also made sure I knew everything on my resume and could substantiate and elucidate on it well. Over and above, I made sure that I had a good understanding of the role I was getting into and had questions to clarify and discuss with the recruiters as well.

Overall, the preparation of any interview requires attention to yourself and knowing yourself. If you are attending a technical assessment, obviously knowledge of the subject is important but in addition to that – the interviewer keenly looks at your body language, communication, presentation, and attitude.

As the first job holds a special memory, let’s discuss your first year at your first job. How was your experience?

My HR journey started after the completion of my MBA. My first role was into management consulting where I was exposed to the HR discipline through projects. I was into this role for about a year – but I believe this was the most influential role, which pretty much shaped my career.

This role was quite exciting – more like an adventure. I got an opportunity to travel (a lot !! but not really to one of the glamorous destinations we MBA breed fantasize about) but to some lesser-known locations. My first project was in Patiala, Punjab – a city I never imagined I would go for work, much less in my very first assignment. But the experience of the assignment and its unique challenges, coupled with the experience of meeting some truly inspirational people kept the momentum going. One of the projects that I did, later – took me to all-male construction plants in various cities in the Middle East, and I got to work in and see a world that I had never even imagined before. (Imagine working in a construction plant or an industrial city which had zero women??!!) It not only taught me to appreciate a different perspective but also allowed me to learn and exposed me to the people challenges in organizations from ground reality up - much different from what I had read in books & journals before.

Apart from the assignments, I had an opportunity to work with some amazing colleagues who not only challenged me to become better but also became friends for a lifetime.

The leaders I worked with during this stint were truly inspirational and the lessons of their leadership I imbibe even today. They pushed me to do my best, motivated me to explore my interest in HR and empowered me much more that I had envisioned to get in the first year of my work.

This shaped me to become much more resilient, confident, determined & focused on my goals.

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

Like I mentioned earlier, I did not start out in HR - I fell in love with the field and decided to pursue it thereon. My campus offered a General Management Degree, so I did study some HR subjects, but it was not until I did the first project that I realized the depth, breadth, and complexity which come in this field. I always feel that it is impossible to predict human motivation - which is the primary input for any HR practitioner.

Learning how to create value for organizations through this - the most valuable yet complex asset is what pushed me to become a disciple of this discipline and I continue to learn something new every single day.

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

Of course, having a mentor gives the fresh graduates an anchor which is extremely critical at this very crucial juncture. Mentors not only share knowledge and intelligence but also provide direction, help in workplace socialization, be their advocate in the organization and in times of distress act as a sounding board and provide support. They do so this without any expectations, judgment, or personal/professional interest and hence I believe managers cannot become mentors of their direct reports.

Unfortunately, I never had a mentor at the start of my career. While my manager at the time, did help me figure out my interest and provided me with guidance during that period, but I believe having a dedicated mentor who could have guided me independently would have been welcome

Because of this, I had to figure out my picture of success on my own, figure out my journey all by myself. I did so by seeking out established professionals in the HR community and learning from their life stories. I kept myself abreast of what is happening in this field and constantly tried to adapt myself to the changing trends. I also pushed myself to network well, getting to know people and forging a symbiotic relationship with them. More than that, I took a genuine interest in understanding the business and was able to build credibility through that.

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?

Oh boy! COVID is unprecedented - In my opinion, it is probably the most difficult economic challenge that the world has encountered since the world wars. This is a situation which none of the living generations today have ever seen or experienced and this has left the entire business fraternity looking at a potential black hole. We still have no idea of how long this will last and how businesses will ultimately get affected with all the lockdowns and social distancing etc. – each of which is testing us to the brim.

Despite the immediate negative impact of the uncertainty and ambiguity which accompanies this pandemic – COVID has the potential to play the role of the biggest transformation accelerator of our generation. The business community will see a new normal which will have companies enabling remote workforces (adequate infrastructure, technology in day to day work, digital platforms for collaboration, rehashing communication protocols), redefining Employee engagement & development models (institutionalize wellness programs, rethink performance assessment mechanism, learning methodologies & even employee benefits) & redefine new business models to ensure sustainability & prudent spending (gig workers, bot employees, skill-based hiring to maintain talent pipeline, aggressive cross-skilling etc.)

Employee Engagement has been perceived as – “Series of Fun-Loving Activities”. On a serious note, please help us understand what employee engagement is and why it is necessary to ensure employee retention?

Employee engagement simply put is a function of the commitment that employees have towards their job, the trust they have in their organization, which leads to the discretionary effort they put into their work to create value.

Gallup defines engaged employees as "those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace".

Employee happiness, while it is a critical component, is still a subset of Engagement. A happy employee need not be an engaged employee. They may be happy because the workplace is fun - with like-minded colleagues, office parties, celebrations, etc. but these may not necessarily make them committed enough to put discretionary effort to achieve organizational goals.

To understand this better, I will use what we all know so well: Maslow's hierarchy- A truly engaged employee is someone who sits at the top of the pyramid (Self-actualization). Being fully engaged - they have faith in the organizational goals, they resonate with the culture, find alignment with the leaders' and can inspire others in addition to having their Survival needs (compensation), Safety needs (conducive work environment, encouraging managers, ability to voice out), Belonging needs (inclusion and team-oriented culture) and Importance needs (recognitions) addressed.

An employee who is so holistically connected to the organization finds it difficult to leave, bringing down attrition and ensuring retention - and we all know the benefits of low attrition in an organization especially in growing markets/industries etc.

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.

The presentation is the first thing that attracts attention - the layout, consistency, etc. - the resume should look clean and uniform in design - professional fonts, colours, texts, alignment, spelling errors, etc. They may not make your candidature, but they do have the potential to break. The resume is the first impression that an individual can make & I honestly believe that if people are careless about that, then it speaks volumes about them.

Size of the resume is important - Anything beyond 2-page lengths make me think again. In a world when we are focusing on clear & precise communication - having a super long and wordy CV gives an impression on the communication skills of the applicant.

In addition to this first impression, some of the elements that I look at in particular - Current or latest job role and organization, overall experience, and average tenure, related certifications/education. I prefer if achievements are quantified as much to substantiate the same.

While not common, I would like 2-3 lines summarizing the overall experience which helps me build more context to the individual and his profile

Once I validate that the candidate experience is somewhat relevant, I will spend more time on the CV to get into the depth of his experience before accepting or declining his candidature.

Some things which I absolutely do not want - Date of birth, Interests, and hobbies, extracurriculars, family details and most of all - the Objective line on the top of the page. These elements add absolutely no value and just increase the bulk of the content.

How do companies identify their FUTURE MANAGERS? According to you, what are the key skills and competencies of successful and effective MANAGERS?

There isn't any single formula that we have to identify potential managers or leaders. Along with technical/functional skills integral to their role, organizations look for are people who most imbibe their culture, values, and behaviours and can be the role models for the future. 

The most common attributes most organizations look for in a manager pivot around - strong emotional quotient, integrity, collaboration & inclusion, service/customer orientation, passion for results, growth mindset and ability to develop themselves and others as well.

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?

There are massive disruptions underway currently which have an ability to impact HR. The world will experience a completely new way of working and traditional HR will undergo a complete transformation.

  • Analytics will be at the crux of all decision making and HR will be no stranger to the same
  • New technologies will dominate the future way of working.  Going Digital is the buzzword – Automation, Artificial Intelligence etc. will enable process simplification, driving efficiency and productivity while Virtual reality will become crucial tools for focused assessments, recruitments and even promote learning
  • Generational shift - The next 5 years will see not just millennials but also the Gen Z entering the workforce, and this will prompt organizations to rethink the way they function - remote working, flexible working hours, instant feedback, gig workers, more empowerment & more inclusion will become the new normal
  • Employee engagement will not be enough - Organizations will start thinking about impacting every touchpoint in an employee's lifecycle to create a wholesome Employee Experience

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

I would say congratulations on choosing an exciting function to be with. We have always heard that "With more power, comes more responsibility" - I firmly believe this is true of the HR function, and each one of you who are starting out needs to be aware this since it comes with the role. For success - HR aspirants should definitely build the following skills -

  • The common misconception is that HR is that it is a 'touchy-feely' function. Like I said above, it is much more than that. While EQ is non-negotiable for success in HR, it is equally important to be extremely number-driven (analytical, financial, etc.) in your approach and learn to balance the two
  • Understanding business is an absolute must. I always find the term HR leader incomplete in the definition. The HR leader is a business leader, a partner who co-owns business success along with the business owner. And so, they need to understand the landscape, challenges, variables in as much detail as their business counterpart to truly add value & establish credibility
  • Being digital savvy is non-negotiable. The entire community is moving toward being tech-oriented and therefore, having the right appreciation of technology is a must
  • Curiosity - is the cornerstone of continuous improvement which is integral in this role. Aspirants should develop an ability to question the status quo and challenge what does not make sense
  • Last, but not the least - while building strong technical and functional skills is important, have a passion for people, learn to connect, be empathetic, and most importantly, be kind - these traits will never get old!!!

Thank you, Ankita, for sharing wonderful insight. 

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