Unclosed recruitment loop - “We will get back to you”.

Manav Prasad is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta and IIIT Pune with more than 17 years of core experience into HR with amazing networking skills. In his current assignment he is strengthening the Talent Management function of an IT Product company, Tavisca Solutions Pvt Ltd in the capacity of Director HR. He has a strong human resource & recruitment experience in the IT industry and has an exceptional ability to understand the business needs and build rapport with the stakeholders - Hiring Managers/Delivery team etc.

Manav is well known in the Pune & Mumbai HR circles for his proven ability to source, select and secure top-notch candidates for multiple concurrent positions and then to ensure their growth within the organization. Prior to joining Tavisca Solutions he has worked for some of the very respectable firms like ThoughtWorks Technologies, Saba Software, ZS Associates etc.

He is also an avid speaker at many colleges and takes extra efforts to bridge the gap between the campus and corporates.

Thank you, Manav, 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.

This was around 2004, when not so many HR jobs were out in the market. I was in the final year of MBA at that time and like any other HR student, I was also eagerly looking forward to a company at my campus to select and give me a great package. And then the announcement came that this great company was seeking two HR students for project internships. Post the interviews, the company went silent for around a week on results and after a lot of follow-ups, our TPO informed that they hadn’t selected anyone. And that was heart-breaking. I was bent upon this opportunity. The next day, I went and stood at the gate of the company and tried working out how to get through the security and reach the HR Head of the facility. The next day, I pretended as a candidate for an HR interview and passed on the security and reached the HR department. Since I was already in the facility, that HR Head (who later became my boss) was kind enough to conduct my interview and post the interview she informed me, although she liked my passion but still she couldn’t consider me for the position, as she didn’t have the headcount approved, which was needed for paying the resource. I asked her if that was the only reason and she answered in affirmation. I immediately made a decision and told her that since it’s an internship, I was fine to work without stipend. She took a couple of days and inducted me in her team. This was my entry into HR with no pay for 6 months. However, in the third week of my internship, suddenly my boss called up and asked if I was ready to apply for a contract position (which means a temporary one with a very less salary) in the team, to which I agreed as I was happy with the exposure of the recruitment activities that I was getting. And within a month my career took up a flight.

There are many things that I learned from this incident. If you want something you need to try your best and if you are still not getting it then that means you are still not giving your best. Grab any opportunity that comes your way. They always say, this is not the end of the world, something else will come again, don’t worry but I advise, that treat every opportunity as the last one in your career, grab it with full zeal. I have read somewhere; leaders don’t always take the right decision, but they take decisions and make it right. It’s important to put up a fight, you are already 50% in the game.

Some questions: Honestly, I don’t remember the questions asked at that time, but the questions were more around checking my passion for work and the HR field. She wanted to understand up to what extent I would exert myself to ensure that the work is done satisfactorily and similar questions around attitude, ethics, street smartness. Since I was more of a fresher the questions were simple ones.

The overall experience of this interview was just awesome. It felt as if I was driving the interview. The reasons could be many, one of the reasons would definitely have been that my interviewer was very lenient in her questions, other could be that I was very clear that I didn’t have anything to lose, hence I was giving my 100% in the interview, and lastly, I might have been lucky…

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?

The first year of the job was amazing. Since it was a project internship, it started when I was in my final year of the MBA itself. And my hostel was walking distance from the office. So, for me I used to start my work at 8 am in the morning and end my work almost daily around 10 pm and many times at 11 pm as well. I did use to come to the hostel for food else I was very happy spending time at the office. Initially, it was an easy going job and then, one day the news came that the audit team was coming to our Pune office to audit the entire recruitment process and that is where my boss called me and enquired if all our systems were updated with data or not and to our utter surprise we discovered that there were many areas in the applicant tracking system that we were using weren’t updated, we had all the information on paper but not in the system. I took up that work and completed the whole stuff in 2 days with just taking the bio & the food breaks. And believe me, I enjoyed every bit of it. From this point onwards there was no looking back. Probably, this was one of the reasons for me to get the opportunity to work on a contract in just three weeks into an internship.

In the recruitment, it was never a 180 degrees shift. It was in line with what we were taught and fortunately, we had a lot of industry interaction because of that and it wasn’t a big surprise.

My colleagues and bosses were just amazing. I should say I was lucky enough to get such a great team to start my career. They did everything to make me comfortable at the start and I did everything to make their life miserable by asking queries and seek instructions from them every now and then and they were happy to guide me on that. I will be indebted to them for my success in the recruitment field. Thanks Monica Sule, Malavika Arora, and Shweta Shukla.

Which, according to you was the most intriguing interview? Can you share your experience in detail? 

I am lucky enough to be always headhunted for my next job. I was working for a company where I had joined just around 6 months ago and was feeling bored as there was very less work due to some organizational changes going on. That was a time when I was thinking of switching but since it had been just six months in the job, I was unable to decide if I really wanted to change or not. And then I get a call from a recruitment consultant for a new opportunity.

I started the interview process with this company. It was a really tough one. From the smallest detail of sourcing to headhunting, I was asked a lot of questions. There were case scenarios that were given. I was asked some questions on social responsibility as well. There was a role play question also. And then came questions around the company and I thought was well prepared for the same. The interviewer asked around 3-4 questions around the same which I answered nicely. Then came this deal-breaker question on the sister concern of the company, which I hadn’t read about at all. The best answer could have been to accept that I didn’t know the answer but then I was a core recruiter who would not give up. I tried to cook up something, which obviously didn’t go well with the interviewer. She asked me a couple of more questions and winded up the interview with the statement that I would get a call from the vendor for next steps and as anticipated, I didn’t receive the call for next 2-3 days. During the interview, I was asked a question about the recruitment of a Project Manager hiring, which I felt I didn’t answer satisfactorily. The question was how I would convince a project manager to join the company. I tried to get the answers from the internet but I myself was not convinced with the answer. On the other hand, since I didn’t get the call from the vendor for 3-4 days, I was convinced that the battle was over. Still more from a learning perspective I wanted a convincing answer for the Project Manager question. So, I reached out to a junior person in the company did a preliminary interview and pulled out the detail of a Project Manager. I called the Project Manager and informed him that I was looking to hire a Project Manager for my current company, and would he be interested. It was a mere coincidence that this PM was in the leadership team of the company where I went for the interview and was aware of my candidature being processed for their recruitment team. Actually, I didn’t realize but he started evaluating me with the questions that I was asking. Post my interview he went back to his team and got my candidature reinitiated and then there were a couple of more rounds of interview and that ended up in a job. I was informed later that I was almost out of the race because of the blunder I did about the company information but the way I was able to reach out to the leadership team member forced them to think that I would be able to reach out to their prospective candidates successfully, hence they went ahead and got me in the company. It was once in a lifetime experience and that landed me into my dream job.

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

The year 2000, when I graduated, was the year of Y2K boom and whole industry was almost reeling because of the Y2K issue. And for an initial couple of months post my graduation, I struggled a lot for any breakthrough but in vain. That was the first time when I thought I want to be on the other side of the table giving jobs instead of seeking jobs. Actually, my intent was to become a great entrepreneur and businessperson like Mr. Ambani but seems like I didn’t give my requirements clearly to God. He did fulfil my wish of giving jobs to people but more like a recruiter than a business owner.

After my graduation in Electrical Engineering I worked in the core field for a couple of years. While working onsite I realized that I loved dealing with human resources aspects of my team members and other engaged resources. My boss in that company also guided me to take up a management course to learn more about the HR angle. Thanks, Mr. Sandeep Mittal for your guidance at the right time. I owe you.

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

Mentors and coaches play the most important role throughout your career. A good mentor can shape up your career and steer it in the right direction that will enable you to achieve your goals real fast. And as I said, it’s not restricted only at the start of your career, its true for almost all of your life. One always needs a mentor where they can confide and bump in to seek advice. When I was a fresher, I was aptly handled by my seniors who were very good mentors. They took me along in such a fashion that I never realized that I was being coached to get better in my day to day activities. I still remember a lot of things (which appeared to me petty at that time) that my seniors had told/taught me in a harsher way sometimes, but important ones. Now, they have become part of my practice. And I am sure, whatever I am today, a lot of credit for the success goes to all my seniors, managers, and some key mentors in my life. There have been instances in my career where I felt low for whatever reason and was clueless for a while, at such times my mentors and close friends have always helped me to get over the situation. The relationship between a mentor and mentee is symbiotic in nature. Both gain from each other’s experience.

In case, you have not been fortunate enough to identify a mentor for yourself, don’t get disheartened. Your good friends always act as good mentors. Your parents are your first mentors in life. My father hardly knew about the software industry when I started my career but had been my mentor since the beginning and I don’t know how but he was able to guide/sail me through any of the problems that I used to face in my personal and professional life. Thanks Dad, you always rock!! The topic of my mentor would not be complete if I don’t mention Rajendra Raut with whom now, I have been associated for over 15 years now and who has taken extra efforts as well as my tantrums in these 15 years to ensure that I don’t deviate from my direction. Thanks, Mr. Rajendra Raut for being there as the mentor always!

Have you ever been a mentor to another aspiring leader? How did you go about establishing that relationship?

Being a mentor is a very challenging task. I always feel that it’s a two-way process where you as a mentor, definitely zero in on a person to be your mentee but the same is true from the mentee’s side as well, who kind of accepts you wholeheartedly as his/her mentor. In my entire career, I have been able to provide active mentorship to hardly 5 people to date. Please understand there is a difference between guiding, giving directions, and mentoring. From a mentor’s point of view, in my opinion, the selection of the mentee is the most crucial thing. This is more of a symbiotic kind of relationship where both the mentor and the mentee benefiting from the association. You keep looking for someone almost a true copy of yourself, what you were at that age. This has got its own merits and demerits. The merits in such cases are, you exactly know which are the areas that you must work upon and what could be the tentative output after the efforts that you put. You are almost re-living the entire scenario once again, now through your mentee. The not so good thing about such scenario is that the shortcomings that you personally have would be passed on as is to your mentee. Hence, your role as a mentor is very crucial and you have to ensure that you do not pass on the wrong things to your mentee.

Once you choose your mentee it’s very important for you to establish it clearly with the mentee that you would be acting as a mentor to him/her and would be advising them at various steps. The acceptability of the mentee is very important and, in many cases,, the mentee is not ready at the first go. And if you are bent upon to mentor that person, as you see a great potential then you will have to go with data to the person and time and again prove it to him why he needs a mentor. It sounds odd that it’s you who has to mentor and you only have to make case for the need of it. But believe me, it’s tough to find good people who have tremendous potential and if you find one then you don’t want to leave him/her. Once you have ample data points with instances the person is bound to believe that he/she needs the mentor and once he buys the idea then your job as a mentor becomes easier. You need to know the history of your mentee and their strengths and improvement areas. You will have to have long conversations with the mentee and understand their aspiration and goals and more importantly, you need to let them know what you have in mind for the mentee. You need to clearly show them the end goal and the road/process to reach the end goal. A thorough homework on your mentee will earn you the respect/gratitude almost instantly in the eyes of the mentee. A mentee truly tests your patience and makes the mentor also improve in a lot of areas; patience is just one of them.

Couple of prominent names amongst this list is Ravindra Shirsath & Varun Hatmode. Thanks, Ravi, Varun for helping me improve my mentoring skills. I would take this opportunity to mention the name of another mentee of mine Divjot Singh, I don’t think it would be right on my part to take the credit of what he is today but I do take privilege in calling him my mentee. In fact, I have learned a lot from him even though I am his mentor in some aspect… Thanks DJ.

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 to start your career?

Oh yes! This is the trend I believe. What we learn in MBA is that recruitment is just a part of the Human Resource and that there are at least another 6-8 prominent areas where you can make your career. And, then you land in the corporate world and realize that there is a Recruitment team and the rest of the HR forms the core part of the HR function. All the students want to have an exposure to the bigger picture of HR and little do they realize their actual interest or passion. Because none of the fresh pass outs want to restrict themselves to a part of the function when they have dreamt of mastering the whole function. There’s another reason for it, the number of recruiters required in a company is much more than the number of core HR folks. So, it appears as if the job interview of HR is slightly tougher to crack (only because of a smaller number of positions) when it comes to comparison with the recruitments.  And it makes students feel that probably that’s a premium job, hence they aspire for it. The matter of fact is it's much tougher to crack the interview of a recruiter as the job of a recruiter is directly on the front to work with the internal stakeholders from day one. The recruiting person needs to be a street-smart chap with the ability to break the ice with any and everyone almost effortlessly.  

I was attracted to the recruitment side of HR since the beginning of my MBA. I always felt that a recruiter is in the driving seat when it comes to controlling the kind of culture that your company wants to build by controlling the inflow of the quality of the people. Thanks to some of my seniors in the industry who guided me to start with recruitment and I so cherish my decision. In recruitments, the uniqueness in dealing with the candidates is something that always gives a kick to the recruiter. Every candidate behaves differently and gives you different learning. It makes you spontaneous and teaches you to improvise in almost every situation. The outlook that you develop as a recruiter makes you a through professional and develops/sharpen some amazing qualities within you like, negotiation skills, patience, reading between the lines, and most importantly rely on your gut feel. Today, when I talk to someone knowingly/unknowingly my mind starts evaluating the person on certain parameters, although the conversation may not be an HR interview. Sometimes, I do feel, that’s not so great thing (to assess people) to do but you can’t help it, its ingrained now, I think. Mostly, I feel good about assessing my candidates beforehand more like a psychometric assessment and when it comes out to be true in the due course of time, you feel proud of your assessing skill.  

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”? 

Oh yes! you have asked a question that pains a recruiter the most. A candidate not reporting for an interview or not turning up on the day of joining is very demotivating and completely unethical (unless the candidate has a genuine story) on the candidate’s part. I think this is something that can be avoided at least in 80% of the cases. A candidate should understand that no one can force him/her to decide against their will, hence they should be vocal enough if they are not committed to the interview process or to the interviewing company altogether. Not keeping up the commitments just reflects their unprofessional behavior which never helps anyone because such candidates may not even realize when this kind of thing (not keeping up the commitment) becomes their habit. And am sure, no one likes such people.

The reasons for not showing up for interviews or joining are numerous. It can be anything under the sun, starting from a punctured bike to a death in the family. And, if someone quotes a death in the family then the recruiter does not want to be mean by talking his/her joining. I would like to quote an example given by a candidate for not turning up on the day of joining. This incident is of the time when I was very new to this devil called ‘Decline’. There was this person selected as an Oracle DBA from outstation (I don’t want to disclose the name of the city) was supposed to join us and he didn’t turn up. I was a bit surprised as he did re-confirm me a couple of days ago that he would be joining. After 3-4 attempts from different numbers he picked up my call and apologized for not joining. On asking about the reason, he informed me that his wife had a miscarriage over the weekend, and he was in the hospital taking care of her and hence he couldn’t travel. I am a bit emotional in such cases and was empathetic to him and asked him to take care of his wife and I would call him after 3-4 days. He thanked and the conversation was over. I went back to my manager reported him the incident and asked him to push the joining by a week. My manager who had loads of experience in recruitment asked me a couple of questions about the candidate and finally instructed me to immediately proceed ahead with the backup candidate. And I was very surprised. He told me that the candidate was just putting up an excuse and we should not waste more time on him. I was hurt at this behavior of my manager and I gave him my feedback that he was being insensitive to the candidate and we should wait for one week for the candidate to join as I was convinced that the candidate was genuine. My manager was a strict one but for a change he allowed me to extend his date of joining for one week and asked me to ensure that the candidate joins. Now, I had a bigger responsibility to make the candidate join. I called him later in the evening to understand his situation, and as expected he maintained the same story. A couple of days passed by. I went to another senior of mine and told him my dilemma. He suggested an alternate way to validate the story. We asked one of our recruitment partner companies to call the same candidate with an opportunity in one of the very big companies in Bangalore. The candidate replied positively to the vendor and was asking for a joining bonus if he joins in a weeks’ time.

When the vendor gave me this report, I was totally disheartened. I can’t express how much it pained, not because he did not join but because he could lie on something like a miscarriage. I couldn’t stop myself in calling the candidate and giving him my peace of mind.

It’s sad, I don’t intend to say that all the cases are fake, but with time, we have been able to figure out the genuineness up to a larger extent.

I want to bring another example, where a candidate came to our office and due to some urgent office issues, the interviewer was unavailable for conducting the interview. The recruiter tried to arrange for an alternate panel but unfortunately, couldn’t arrange one and the candidate had to go back without an interview. On the same day, there were a couple of candidates who didn’t turn up for the interview. The next day the recruiter’s name was up there on the Glassdoor along with the company mentioning how unprofessional the company was to call the candidate and not conduct the interview. And it’s the same recruiter who adjusted the no show of two other candidates. Can you see the contrast here?

Similar is the case of offer declines. Offer declines are very common but companies do not report anywhere (do we have a platform to do so) but revoke one offer and the hue and cry will start on social media. This is for the candidates who decline in the last moment, just imagine how you would feel, if on your day of joining the company say, sorry we are revoking your offer as we have got a better candidate at a lesser cost. While I will never say that you should settle for something less. If you get a better opportunity with the better salary you have the right to choose what is best for your career, but inform the company (where you have committed to join) in time, so that they go ahead with alternative and no one is at loss. The ideal scenario would be that you do all your searching before committing to any offer and then pick the best one and move ahead. Try to follow the saying by someone…. “ek baar maine jo commitment kar di… phir main……”

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

I agree, this is a common complaint of the candidates from the HR folks that they don’t get the adequate feedback and instead they get a generic one-liner – “we will get back to you”. In my career, I don’t remember leaving any candidate without closing the loop. And, I ensure that my team also does it diligently. Still, in some cases, it happens that the feedback gets delayed due to various reasons. Some of them can be:

  1. Many times, the candidate doesn’t fit exactly with the existing requirement, but the panel likes the candidate and tries to carve out a role fitting for the particular candidate as no one wants to leave a good candidate. But this carving out takes time and we try to keep the candidate informed about it. The bad part of it is if we are unable to come up with a good role, then we have to go back to the candidate saying, “No” and the candidates think, “If it was No then why it took so long”.
  2. There are cases where the recruiter gets a feeling that the candidate may not take the feedback nicely. In such cases, we should get the interviewer to give the feedback candidly. Again, there is a way to give feedback. If given properly, this closes the loop in the right way.
  3. In training programs for interviewers, we educate them not to be rude and keep a smiling face and to ensure that the candidates do not feel bad even if they are unable to answer questions. In the pursuit of managing this condition, the interviewers do a great job but many times, the candidates get into the impression that their interview was exceptional, and they are unable to take the rejection.
  4. Sometimes, if the recruiter has not done a good job in explaining the job to the candidate and the interview happens to be a mismatch then also one can expect the candidate to come back to the recruiter heavily, hence in such cases, the recruiter might be hesitant in passing on the feedback.

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 personally do not feel negative about career gaps, unlike many. It can happen to anyone. Career gaps in the profiles have increased in the last ten years. With a recession kind of environment coming every five years people have increased gaps in their careers. Also, the industry has matured in the last twenty years, where HRs have started looking at gaps differently. Important point is to understand the reason behind the gaps.

Earlier there used to be buying in only for the gaps generated due to maternity, in case of females, and there was no reason for the males where they were permitted to have a gap. Things have changed. Now, we can see some people taking up sabbatical and industry are readily accepting the same.

In many cases, people do take a break to upgrade themselves with new skills and come back to the industry after a break and that’s also acceptable.

One reason which has been very prominent nowadays is when people try out their hands in an entrepreneurial venture and come back if they are unsuccessful.

Due to the dynamic environment, there are many small companies that do get closed and their employees are stranded. In other cases, due to the slowdown or reorg in the business, many times, people are asked to leave and again these guys are back on the street looking for a job.

In many such cases, candidates try to hide the information since some of their stints are small and they would not like to tell the recruiter about their many switches. In my opinion, they should not hide this information and instead, their reasons for those switches should be ready. I have always been keen on understanding the reasons for frequent switches because it gives you the explanation that we should be taking care of if we end up hiring this candidate.

Interpretation of the hiring managers about the career gaps might be very different than of a recruiter. So, they are very keen to understand the reasons for the gap and what has the individual done in that gap. If the candidate has utilized the gap to acquire new skills, then the hiring manager does not take it negatively. Although, having a gap of more than one year implicitly implies that the candidate is out of touch of the latest things and may or may not be as hands-on as he/she was around a year back. If somehow, the candidate can explain and prove that they are updated and still possess the skills as they would have had a year back, then they are back in the game.  

Profiles not getting shortlisted due to gaps were a big issue in the past but not now as hiring managers are accepting such gaps if candidates are able to explain the same. But still, sometimes a profile does get rejected due to the gaps but that usually would happen only in case of the abundance of the people in that skillset.

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

I would say that you are lucky and blessed to be in this fast-paced generation of digital information at your tips. Having said that, I also feel that things were a bit easier at our times. While we didn’t have so much data to learn from but then the competition was also not as fierce as of today. Make full use of it. Look at the dynamic surroundings that we have right now. It’s the data age and hence it's dangerous. We all are exposed. In today’s world, the only thing that will work is the genuine efforts and integrity. So, go ahead, grab any and every opportunity that comes your way. Keep reading, learning, and upgrading yourself and always remember learning never stops. All the best!!

Thank you, Manav, for sharing wonderful insights.

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