Hiring managers should be prepared to adopt digital recruitment and onboarding

Ravindra is a self-made HR professional who started his career like a nobody and has reached to the level of COO with sheer hard work and passion. He has worked in companies like ThoughtWorks, SpiderLogic, Equal Experts, Trusting Social etc and gained immense respect in the recruitment field and is considered to be one of the best Technical Recruiter in the Pune IT market. His connection in the HR as well as Technology circles is commendable. He comes across as an intense yet humble and soft-spoken human being with whom you enjoy conversing with.

Thank you, Ravindra, for giving your valuable time to this interview. We look forward to your candid responses.
Let’s Start!!!
Please tell us a little bit about your own HR Story and how you grew up to be in your current position?

I come from a very modest background. Born and brought up in Pune. My schooling till tenth went on well like any other child. Lost my father at an early age and had to take up the responsibility of the family which left me with no other choice other than to leave my studies and start working. All of a sudden, the college started looking like a far-fetched dream, which was out of bounds for me. Still, the zeal to pursue education was always there so I took up admission as an external student in Pune university to complete my graduation. By the grace of God, I was able to crack an HR Executive job on contract at HSBC. I was predominantly involved in completing the joining formalities of the new joiners & was part of the campus/freshers hiring team. I had an amazing mentor and boss who guided me in making the right decisions. Since it was a contract job, I had to look out for a permanent opportunity which I got at ThoughtWorks. Initially, the job that I had to manage was around data entry as the recruiters were very highly qualified. I was managing the entire operational activities of the recruitment team like managing the MIS, CV parsing, coordination with the candidates, vendors, etc.

People dream of becoming a business tycoon or so and here I was who was dreaming of bagging a recruiter's role in ThoughtWorks. I used to sit along with the recruiters when they used to call the candidates. Upon my request, my fellow colleagues were kind enough to call their candidates on speakerphone so that I could learn. And this is how I learned to do effective HR Interviews. I used to run through the CVs after office hours to understand the reasons and techniques of CV screening. My manager used to take up sourcing sessions for the team and I used to attend that. Later one day, I showed him some of the CVs that I sourced for a particular skill that the team was finding difficult to get. And this was the Eureka moment for me when my boss offered me to work 3 hours extra on daily basis post office hours. I took up the challenge and was able to crack the role of Recruiter in the ThoughtWorks recruitment team. This was my biggest achievement till that time. Post this, there was no looking back, I went on to become one of the star recruiters of the team and also bagged the prestigious Best Annual performer Award for the recruitment team. As every good thing comes to an end, my stint with TW ended in the year 2012 and I started a new chapter with SpiderLogic as their Lead Recruiter. This is where I sharpened my skills of learning the technical aspect of technology recruitment that I started in TW. I became so fluent in the basic concepts of Agile, TDD, BDD, CI, CD, pair programming, SOLID design principles, etc.

As they say, learning never goes in vain. The learning of these concepts made me one of the good technical recruiters in the market as I was able to identify the right candidates for my company. From SpiderLogic I got an excellent opportunity with Equal Experts where I grew from a Lead recruiter to Recruitment Head in a span of 4 years. Obviously, it was not just my own efforts, I would like to express my gratitude to my colleagues and leadership team at Equal Experts. This is where I started believing in myself and dared to start dreaming differently, a dream of making a company that would be an aggregation of world-class technology people. But yes, there was still some time before I could start working on my dream. I did not have exposure to working for a product company. To fulfil this quest, I joined this amazing company called Trusting Social as their Head of Recruitments. After getting ample exposure to this side of hiring I decided that it was the right time to take the plunge of starting my own company and in the year 2019 went ahead and registered my proprietary firm. I started as a go-to company for recruiting the best technical folks. And finally, I could call myself an Entrepreneur.

COVID-19 has changed workplace dynamics in many ways. What have been your learnings during this phase? What changes do you see happening at the workplace and in HR’s role post-COVID-19?

Coronavirus is probably the most traumatic experience in almost everyone’s life. None of us have faced such a pandemic situation in our lifetime. and it has impacted us hugely, personally as well as professionally. It is hard to imagine how this will end and also the magnitude of change it’s going to bring to the workplace. There are some changes that are already in place. For e.g.:

Work from Home was a benefit that one could exercise once in a while or so and today it has become the new norm. Some companies have already announced permanent work from home for the majority of their workforce, and such companies have already started releasing their offices. Working from home brings a new set of challenges around Employee Experience for the HR team altogether. The employee engagement activities have to be taken to a new level altogether. WFH also poses a serious threat to communication within the teams. Managing work-life balance has been another issue that HRs have been trying to address in the last couple of quarters a lot as there seems to be no cut-off time for the office hours and people simply ended up slogging late hours. There are many companies who started resorting to different innovative ways to tackle this. One of the ways was to define the working hours and ask everyone to follow it strictly. Another one was to dedicate some days as free from meeting days. Some also defined a fixed time for coffee/tea breaks and lunch breaks. This was to ensure that people get some time off from the continuous calls.

HR also needs to take conscious efforts on analyzing the skill gaps in the employees and also plan the learning framework accordingly. It looks easy to understand but developing organizational focussed competencies in this remote setup is going to be challenging, and we have a task in front of us.

HRs in 2021 is going to have the tedious task of managing the diversity in the leadership as well. With the total new setup of work and the new organization design, change management would become an important aspect for the team to handle and implement. The role of leadership has become all the more important along with the HR team. Most of the leaders have invested a lot of time in this lockdown, in indulging one in one meeting with the employees. Another area of key interest is Operational Excellence. While operational excellence has always been on top of the priority for the leadership of any organization but now it’s going to be something that you cannot ignore if you have to survive in this super dynamic world. Another thing that has been observed across the organizations is the infant mortality rate increasing, and that has become a nightmare for many organizations.

What are your thoughts about layoffs? What is the role of HR in layoffs? According to you, what is the appropriate way of managing layoffs?

Layoffs are certainly something that none of the HRs want to have experience with. During the layoffs many times, you tend to lose good talent as well. Actually, a company when it goes through the phase of layoffs does not only lose the talent, but they also lose credibility, the trust of the prospective employees. The brand that the company might have taken years to build gets shattered by a single move. Without any doubt, layoffs are the last resort for most of the company’s out there and it happens only when it becomes inevitable. In my opinion, layoffs are something that should never happen. Just to make myself clearer that by layoffs I mean the retrenchment that takes place due to some external factors like the slowdown in the industry, or the company, or some other socio-political or pandemic factors like COVID. Doing layoffs due to the change in the vision or reorganization is something that should not happen.

The role of HR is critical in case of layoffs. Layoffs are always emotionally and cognitively overwhelming. If layoffs become inevitable then it has to be prepared thoroughly before execution. The preparations would include things like when, how, and what to deliver. Communication becomes key in such situations. Adding a personal touch with clear positive communication helps people understand the situation, letting people know about the limitations and issues faced by the company and why the company had to take such a drastic step and also company should try to minimize the losses of the employees as much as possible, by reducing the layoffs ( by re-skilling) if possible, or tie-up with some external agencies to help the outgoing employees in getting outplaced or if possible work out on the severance package. In the whole bargain the thing that should be taken care of is to ensure transparency and focus on wellbeing but at the same time not to over promise anything.

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 can happen due to personal as well as professional reasons. When it happens due to personal reasons like taking a break or sorting some personal issues medical or anything similar or pursuing some courses/education, etc, many times people would not like to get too much into detail as there might be some personal sensitive information that they may not wish to share or if it is a simple break or education, they may even willingly explain the reasons for the gap. When the gap happens because of personal reasons (mostly due to layoffs or not getting a job etc) is the time where people prefer not to talk about it or mention the same in the resume.

How to take up the career gap for the available opportunity completely depends on company to company and as per the requirement. The reason for the gap becomes important. Having said that, the appointment or selection of an individual should be dependent on the skills and not the conditions that the candidate faced in the past.

My personal take is that one should not hide any information in the resume. Given the dynamic scenario, we are in career gaps are not a big deal today. So, if anyone has any career gaps that would hardly raise the eyebrows of a recruiter, instead this can be used as an opportunity by the candidate to steer the interview questions around the gap and if the candidate has a convincing answer for the gap this may as well prove the turning point. I am always very much interested in how the candidate has spent their duration (of the gap). Did they utilize it or just wasted the same? Whatever may be the reason for the gap if they have utilized the same for their development then it's a big plus. At the same time, if they have not used the same for their professional development or fulfilled the purpose for which the break was taken then that’s a big negative and might as well be the deciding factor of the interview. So as a candidate, one should be prepared to answer any and every question around the gaps. It is always good to utilize such time in doing stuff that would develop an individual professionally. Once I get a convincing answer on the gap then I focus the interview more around the skills of the candidate, culture alignment, fitment for the particular role, etc. In fact, I prefer to look out for people who want to return back from a career break, like returning mothers who want to resume office post their maternity break or for that matter any other reason. It's preferred because of a shorter notice period and their hunger to come back to the mainstream of work. Another reason for not discriminating against such profiles is that I feel it’s unethical to deprive someone of the opportunity due to career gaps.

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?

I have spent close to around 15 years in the field of recruitment and will not hesitate in saying that ‘Recruitment is not rocket science’. Having said that, most CEOs across the industries will put recruitment as the biggest challenge for their growth. As such, each step of the recruitment process needs special skills to make it effective. To me, the most challenging aspect of recruitment is the negotiation part. Negotiation happens at each stage of the recruitment process, whether it's about convincing a candidate to look out for change or to consider the role or the compensation. Earlier compensation used to be the key for any offer closure, but it’s not the same anymore. Candidates today are more vocal about what they want, what helps in salary negotiations is employer brand strength, employee ratings, and reviews, Clients, Technology stacks, Glassdoor reviews, salary structure, perks, benefits are the key points for negotiations. Nowadays, companies are ready to pay any money for the right candidate but it’s getting tough to get the right match. The right candidate needs to be counselled and convinced to join the company as there are a lot of options available for a well-deserving candidate. And this is where negotiations become the key and hence is the most challenging aspect of recruitment.

In my opinion, MBA definitely plays an important role in the life of an HR professional. It improves leadership and people management skills and enables an individual to manage difficult situations and make tough decisions at the right time. Since I started working at a very young age, I did not get an opportunity to go to an MBA school but am sure to be an MBA grad soon.

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

Once my mentor told me if your boss asks you to get a Superman, you should be capable of getting a Superman. If you can do this then you are a recruiter. There are many traits of a recruiter. The most critical ones could be optimism, internal drive & motivation with amazing articulation skills. A recruiter is a passionate individual with a very keen eye for detail and someone who enjoys building relationships. The never say die attitude gets the most out of a recruiter. There are many instances that check the patience and maturity level of a recruiter like, an offer decline at the last moment or some candidates not responding to calls and not showing professionalism but even in a scenario like this the recruiter needs to maintain their cool and react to the situation accordingly. It's very important for the recruiter to understand the requirement, its importance, and the business criticality of that particular need. Once that is clear then only the recruiter will be able to provide the right candidate. A recruiter has to be an excellent person with a love to interact with any and everyone. This helps the recruiter to have a command on networking in the community which in turn increases the visibility and market intelligence as well.

What do you do if a candidate unexpectedly rejects your job offer?

It’s not something new. Offer declines and that too at the last moment are part and parcel of the game. Though, I do wish that the candidates who decline offers at the last moment understand the pain that the recruiter goes through.

It goes without saying that I need to be gracious and polite with the candidate, even though the candidate has displayed unprofessional action. For me, it becomes very important to understand the reasons for declines. Usually, candidates are not open enough to share the actual reasons, but this is where your HR skills as a recruiter matter the most. The rapport that the recruiter builds with the candidate throughout the recruitment process makes the foundation of trust between the candidate and the recruiter. And because of this trust, the candidate feels comfortable disclosing the real reasons for declining the offer. The majority of the reasons can be any of these like, role, compensation, alignment with the career aspirations, etc. If the reason is from any of this list, I try to work on it and propose a revised offer which the candidate might like. If it has to do anything with the brand image of the company, then I try to clear the misconceptions, if any and also try to show him the benefits of joining my organization from all angles including the money, career path, learnability, exposure to technology, etc. While it's easy to get demotivated on the declines, I ensure that I do not get disheartened if a candidate rejects a job offer unexpectedly - I do review the entire process & try to understand what went wrong & this helps me to work on the shortcomings and avoid further offer declines (at least for the same reasons). Another thing is that I do not leave any of my offers declined candidates on a bad note. Instead, I wish them luck and keep the doors for them open till the time they realize that they made a mistake by declining my offer and joining some other company. And believe me at least half of them do come back in a span of the following 12 months.

What is something you’ve achieved that you’re most proud of and why?

There have been more than achievements that I am really proud of. The first one being, the moment I was offered the role of a recruiter at ThoughtWorks. It was one of my biggest dreams. The next proud moment came within a year of that when I received the Best Recruiter award. And after that had many such moments. The latest one was the day I started my own Software Consulting firm. It was a big deal for someone coming from a non-technical background. Without any academic background in computer science or in HR, I successfully made my career in recruitments & as a founder of a Software consulting firm. Today when I look back, it makes me feel all the more very special because I started my job profile by washing bikes in the garage at the age of 14, sold socks & clothes on the street & completed my graduation externally from Pune university, never got a chance to go to college. Still today at times I feel, probably I was not lucky enough to go to a college, but my hard work & determination has helped in reaching heights, and some achievement in the career where I landed accidentally, my inspiration is my fellow colleagues who made me a good recruiter & a human being.

Lastly, what is your message for young aspiring HR professionals & Graduates.

Have a vision - know what you want to accomplish—and why. Do not wait for your organization to define what HR should be. There are lots of examples available and a little research will orient you to the range of the options available

Be a strategic thinker - Each organization needs an HR leader who aligns with the company’s goals by learning what those goals are and supporting them. Companies do want a lean and empowered team.

Be passionate about what you do. Only a passionate recruiter can become a great HR professional.

Thank you very much, Ravindra. for sharing your insights.
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