Recruitment is one of the toughest jobs in HR. It seems to have more brickbats than bouquets.

Understanding the business of your client and/or organization, identifying key competitors, spotting the right talent, keeping it engaged throughout the selection process, ensuring the joining, and lastly, ascertaining the assimilation with organizational policies and culture, is one of the most difficult jobs. Getting the right talent into the organization is as difficult as selling organizational products or services to customers. Vinita Ferrao, an MBA from Welingkar Institute of Management, is a Talent Acquisition Leader with over two decades of experience in talent mapping across functions and industries, to include large Multinational Organiations like Pfizer & Mondelez. She has agreed to take us through an amazing and inspirational journey of her career. Thank you, Vinita.

Let’s start. 

1. We would be pleased to learn about your professional journey from the beginning. So, please share with us about your first job interview. 

My first job after MBA was with an Executive Search firm – Personnel Search Services. I came to know about this job through my sister’s professional network. I did the basic prep of understanding the unique business of the organization, about the organization and the role profile. The interview process was great. I was interviewed by the Practice Head of the Pharmaceutical sector. I still remember one question very vividly. He asked me if I had a choice to hire for a company well established and a company making losses which organization would I choose. I replied that I would choose the company making losses. I went on to explain that during my MBA for a project, I was reading the Harvard Business Reviews (my favourite magazine during MBA) and came across a case study that impacted me, wherein a candidate had to make a choice between joining an established company versus a loss-making organization. The case study outcome was that the candidate chose the loss-making company, turned it around and gained a lot from that experience. He realized that the value that he/she could add to a loss-making organisation was much more than what he could have done in an established organisation. ‘Making a difference’ was important to him/her. While the candidate would make a difference in both organisations, he was certain he would bring an incremental difference in a company well established, while he would make an exponential difference to a loss-making organisation. This belief, that I held not only helped me bag my first job, but I also used it in my workplace pitch to convince candidates from large, established companies, to join lesser known brands and make the big difference.

2. 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 from the job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation? 

I was introduced to the unique skill set of headhunting, through fictitious stories, which was an eye opener and interesting. For a moment, I was conflicted whether the headhunting part (fictitous identities) was ethical, but then I realized that it was a formal industry in itself. My ‘Search’Executive (headhunting) role was limited, and I shifted into recruitment soon. When you are a regular professional outside the industry, you feel you know so many people looking for jobs and if you get the company, making a match was all that it needed. However, I realized that the ‘match’ had a lot to it. Companies didn’t just want a fit; they wanted the ‘best’ fit and arriving at the ‘best’ fit was a herculean task, involving managing client and candidate expectations, pitching the job to candidates who didn’t want to consider a change …the list can go on and on.

The workplace was cordial, had a competitive atmosphere and unlike a regular job, had considerable variable targets directly linked to your earnings. For a moment, I was unnerved by the variable component of the salary …. “If I wanted to have such a high variable income, I could have joined sales and not stayed in HR.” However, I realized that I should make the best of the learning’s, exposure, etc. and what I thought would be a brief learning experience, landed up becoming my job for a whole ten years!!

In my first one year, I learned the job-related skills - how to screen CVs, candidate fitment, interviewing them, making the company pitch to them, etc. I also learned the administrative pieces of framing mapping sheets, trackers, and the concept of ‘master search lists’, etc. 

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

One of my stark realizations was that candidate selling was very different from product selling. When you sell a product, you are sure that the product will deliver the features of your sales pitch; for example, the taste of the product, the look of the product, etc. So you are confident about what you are selling. However, with regards to people – Vinita is different from Sanjay, who is different from Meghna. Moreover, if Vinita has had a tiff with her husband in the morning, her mood will be different in the morning, afternoon or evening. In recruitment, we were dealing with such candidates who would initially commit to the process but then after selection would back out, as their family decided not to relocate, or they would reject offers – on the premise of getting counter offers or their company retaining them. This was the first time I was introduced to failure. 

This was the turning point in my professional career when I decided to control the situation and came out of the failure trough. I walked into my Managing Director’s cabin and said: “I want to succeed, and I want you to help me succeed.” He said great, come and work with me at 6 pm!! He was the Managing Director with his regular working day hours blocked and hence, I would start working with him at 6 pm and land up working very late at times. He would make the calls over a speakerphone and I would make notes, observe, and listen to how he responded. The few months of hearing him speak confidently, his body language even while on a conference call and how it translated into the ease in his conversations, his style, ability to think on his feet and respond, managing difficult candidates, were valuable lessons that I learned.

The next year not only was I successful and met the targets that I had set for myself professionally but I was able to lead a team of recruiters and contributed to their success as well.

4. 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?

The ones who have the grit or the resilience in them will opt for recruitment. It is one of the toughest jobs in HR, with more brickbats than bouquets. I think this is the real reason …the challenge scares them (wink).

Of course, the cliché answer is – it is monotonous or they don’t like pitching or selling the role. For me, it has never been monotonous. Every day throws up new challenges and successes.

Recruitment is one of the most important sub-function in HR where delivery can be quantified and you see direct contributions to the business.

5. What attracted you to the recruiting profession? What aspects of recruitment do you find most challenging?  

During my earlier career days, I would put myself in the candidates’ shoes appearing for interviews. I was intrigued and wanted to experience what it felt to be on the other side of the table, as the interviewer. It seemed to be a powerful seat.

Today, I strongly believe that recruiting is one of the most important roles in HR, whose delivery can be quantified. The cost saving in hiring, setting up new functions, TATs, is a direct correlation to your business contribution. Recruitment is your gatekeeper for good skills to enter your organization and become your future talent.

The other unique piece in Recruitment vs other HR roles is that this is the one function that keeps you connected with the external world on a regular basis and to that extent, you are the most credible HR colleague that can bring in an outside-in perspective.

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

Application of mind

Managing expectations

7. As the saying goes,” You have 8.8 seconds to impress with your CV”. You might have come across over 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 sequence of your experience – kind of companies, stability, personal details (academic batch, location), kind of roles held.

Keywords in your experience that match the prospective job

8. What do you think are the FIVE most crucial factors that determine a successful candidate? Please elaborate.

Communication skills
Overcoming challenging situations
Leadership traits / Team working ability
Personal credentials – academic and professional achievements
Job Motivation

9. How do you develop and strengthen relationships with job candidates?

For this I would ask you to visualise a picture of a racehorse with blinders. Most of the candidates I have interacted with have been like this, with a unilateral way of thinking. My job is to widen those perspectives and when they see those wider perspectives, they feel that I have added value to their approach.

When I use logic and factual examples (and don’t make ambiguous references) in my pitch, they are convinced that I am not out to do any window dressing and giving them all the information that they need and come into the job with their eyes open.

Authenticity, adding value (being the advisor) and impactful communication is what my candidates are impressed with.

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

The feedback that the recruiter receives from the hiring manager is distorted, not ethically correct (could have an element of bias), the feedback is too brief. Bridging this gap often becomes a challenge. In most cases, one would come as close to reality and relay the feedback.

Sometimes due to the sheer volume handled by recruiters, this important step gets inadvertently missed.

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

A backup candidate (2 finalists per role) helps to reduce dependency.

Today, this is a frequent phenomenon in recruiting. Training recruiters and preparing them for this situation is important.

Social media contributes hugely to the recruiting efforts and branding has been an additional role that the recruiter is heavily involved in.

12. Do you find any change in the recruitment process since you first started? What is the latest recruitment trend you have adopted?

The recruitment function has embraced larger roles and responsibilities over the years. Today, social media contributes hugely to the recruiting efforts and branding has been an additional role that the recruiter is heavily involved in.

Also, recruitment needs a lot of technical learning agility as more and more technologies are taking care of the transactional/administrative part of the job.

13. What are your thoughts 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?

Most organisations think of the short-term, with regards to Talent Shortage, very few companies proactively plan for it. As a result, in those areas of Talent Shortage – the candidates are playing musical chairs from one company to the other. The result is unrealistic compensations being paid to this talent pool, offer rejections, etc.

I always maintain that instead of eating from the same pie, companies should think of making the pie bigger. That’s the medium/long term strategy for Talent Shortage. For example – instead of hiring a person only from one sector can I remove that industry bias and hire from another sector and widen my talent pool?

One of the companies that I highly respect in this strategy is Cummins. Every company today talks of diversity and tries to attract and pull women candidates from other organisations. This company decided to exercise their circle of control by starting the Cummins College of Engineering for Women and creating their women leaders of tomorrow from there.

That leads to me to my next solution on Talent Shortage which is, proactively building your talent from within. Making the dependencies much lesser on the external market that is sometimes beyond your control. 

Social media has increased the access of available talent to recruiters.

14. HR is at the crossroads, yet again. According to you, what will be the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robots, etc. on the future of HR Function? Please also highlight how social media has changed the world of HR practitioners? 

AI, Robotics, etc. are a welcome feature of this space, as this will take care of the administrative rigor and focus on minimizing the human error in the hiring process. It will also enable Recruiters to focus on more qualitative pieces on candidate interviewing, proactive sourcing, etc.

Social media has increased the access of available talent to recruiters. And moreover, since it is social media, high-profile candidates are not hesitant to display their profile out there. This could not have happened on a job portal, as high-profile talents don’t want to be seen as job seekers or have the fear of their companies knowing that their profiles are on a job portal.

Be hungry and passionate to deliver and leave your impact.

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

Fresh HR graduates should be prepared to multitask and stretch, be change agile and learn to apply their mind. The initial jobs could be very administrative and transactional, however, if there is an application of mind, it gears up fresh HR graduates to be analytical and think laterally.

They should seek deeper experiences, to take the intrinsic & complete learning’s out of each job that will make them more robust during times of crisis, rather than flitting between roles from one HR sub-function to the other.

Be hungry and passionate to deliver and leave your impact.

These are the ones that add to the organizational culture in terms of technology and the future and hence are essential to bring fresh thinking into the organization. 

Thank you very much.

*This interview was originally published on [Date: 28th March 2019]

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