Most of the times organizations mistake a high-performing employee for a high-potential employee.

Amita, a well-rounded HR professional with over 18 years of work-experience as Human Resources Business Professional has cross-Industry experience in human resources field spread across various industries like Healthcare, Pharma, Telecom, Banking, Real Estate and Manufacturing. She has managed diverse portfolio like Talent Acquisition, HR Business Partnering, Talent Management (Succession & Career Progression Planning), HRIS Project Planning, Learning and Development and Business Unit Set-Up.

Amita is currently associated with Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. – Mumbai, India as a Senior Manager – HR (Business Partner), Group HR & Head HR Mahindra Racing – UK. Embarking her professional stint with Personal Select (PSS) Ltd. – Mumbai, India as Recruitment Account Manager, she moved on to DAMAC Properties – Dubai, UAE as Human Resources Manager. She was one amongst the Du Telecom’s HR founder member, who lead a team as a Senior Human Business Partner and Talent Acquisition Lead; whereas her Johnson & Johnson MD&D – Dubai, UAE, ME as Manager Human Resources – MENAP Region gave her the rounded experience in global HR interventions and initiatives. After having spent almost close to a decade abroad, she made her comeback to India in a leadership role with Cable Corporation of India Ltd.–Mumbai, India as a Manager – HR Business Partner, leading a team HR professional with 2 plant locations.

Amita is known for delivering business focused people solutions in the domain of strategic workforce planning, talent acquisition, leadership hiring, setting-up new businesses and organizational units as per the business plans & business restructuring. She is Mahindra’s Group HR “Women Leadership Program’s Alumni 2018”. She has received many accolades in Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. for Leadership Hiring, Employee Engagement, Group Communication Meet, Centered Leadership Program and for HR Compliance and Audit in last 5 years. None the less she also bagged “Employee of the Quarter Award” presented by Mr. David Faulkner – MD & CEO of Johnson & Johnson Medical Diagnostic Devices Middle East for her outstanding work in MENAP Region.

She has also been awarded by the World HRD Congress in Feb 2019 as, ““Millennial Coach of The Year” while she won International Women Leaders Forum 2017 award for “Innovative L&D Practice”. She also bagged “Arogya Healthy Workplace Silver Award” in 2016 and “Arogya Healthy Workplace Golden Award” in 2018 for Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. as one of the Health & Wellness Council Heads for their Group Corporate Office.

Amita is an MBA (HR) from Welingkar Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai University, and holds Master of Commerce, Mumbai University; Dip. Computer Management, IITCP, Govt. Of India, Mumbai.  

Thank you, Amita, for giving your valuable time to this interview. Your kindness is much appreciated.  We look forward to your candid responses.

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 18 Years old when I got my first full time professional job role. My father, Lt. Advocate Shrikant Mahadeo Bhagwat, retired when I was 18 years from his professional career and he mentioned to me that he may not be able to sponsor my education beyond my first degree, which was Bachelor of Commerce.

So, it got me thinking, how will I peruse my MBA-HR dream? But as they say, “Need is the mother of all Inventions”, and since I wanted to peruse my dream, I had to gather 3/-Lacs for my MBA-HR course, thus I decided to start work when I was in my first year B.Com. As most of you are aware that the college timings are from 7am to 10am and the full day was left open for the students for any extracurricular activities and other studies.

How did you get to know about this job opening?

Having decided that I must work to sponsor my own further education, I prepared my resume/ curriculum vitae, which had all other details with no experience, and I was not too sure if it will help me to get a job at all but I decided to give it a try!!

While, I was reaching out to all my fathers’ and elder sisters’ friends and colleagues and few of my building friends to get me a job, I reached out to college staff and mentioned my situation and they said they could get me some temporary freelance assignments like being sales representative for Nestle on their stall during college festival etc. which will make me gain some good experience and Rs. 500/-per day and I agreed, as getting a job without any experience was a tough fight.

Once I added this one month’s work experience on my CV, I thought it was easy for me to get my first permanent job role, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought however, I didn’t give up and I kept carrying my resume/CV wherever I went.

One day, while I was waiting opposite Dadar (W) railway station at the Girnar Tea Shop for my elder sister to hand over her the tiffin made by my mom, I was observing the activities ongoing in the shop and the person standing at the counter…while my sister’s train was 15 minutes to arrive, I approached the person, who was at the cash counter, who looked like the owner of the company….and very boldly I asked him if their company has any job for a student like me?

Mr. Jitendra Bhai Shah, the co-owner of Girnar Group of Companies was impressed by my courageous approach towards him and inquiring about a possible job role in their organization. Being impressed by my approach, I was invited to meet the interview panel on the next day at 9:30am for a probable job role and I joined the company on the 3rd day from me approaching Mr. Jitendra Bhai Shah.

How was the interview process?

I was greeted by a 6Ft tall and a hefty dark man, who I thought could be either the business head, CEO or the MD of the company….and yes, I was right he was none other than Mr. Harendra Bhai Shah, the Managing Director of the company.

While I was a bit nervous and overwhelmed by his personality, I was made very comfortable by him and his team by greeting me nicely and appreciating my boldness to approach them for a job role without any fear.

It was a panel interview, which I thought would be like how they show it in a movie, and they asked me very relevant questions to my education, knowledge and my one months’ experience.

How did you prepare for it?  

Being my first interview, I was a bit nervous as I needed this job the most, since my target was to start earning for my MBA-HR fees ASAP. Therefore, I didn’t want to give a single chance to the panel members to regret my candidature, so I decided to prepare myself thoroughly.

I went through the company website and gathered the information about their various products online and offline…through visiting few of their branches and asking questions to their store managers.

I also refreshed my studies in subjects such as Organization of Commerce, Business Economics and Accounting Standards, as I thought most of the questions may be related to it. I also prepared well to speak about my 1-month internship experience as a student representative and the experiences that I gathered during that tenure.

This helped me feel more confident and I was able to deal with my feeling of Nervousness.

Can you share a couple of questions asked in the interview? How was your overall experience?

Do you know the legal age of workforce while you have applied for the job role at our company?

What makes you different from the other applicants, as a working student for which we should hire you?

With what objective did you pick your 1-month internship? And what were your learnings?

These were the main 3 questions other than the usual questions on what do you know about our company/organization? what products we deal in and what are your key achievements, etc.

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

I always thought that workplace means very hierarchical, olden, government type of an office,   

where it will have old noise making fans and fat registers for record keeping and it will be like a

boarding school, where one will not be allowed to move from one place to another place

without his/her bosses’ permission.

The boss will be someone like the principal of the school, who is very strict and will be shouting

for small mistakes and may not be accommodating at all!! (Oops…the Bollywood Film Industry made me visualize such an office).

The confidence in voice of the candidate, body language and the keenness while giving an answer will give you a glimpse of candidate’s authenticity of his being interested in the job role and an intent to join the organization.

How was the scenario different at the workplace that surprised you? How did your reporting manager and other colleagues treat you?

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a lavish reception with a chill waiting area and a polite receptionist Sunita, who was nicely dressed in a wonderfully draped saree with pleasant and welcoming voice!!

Followed by another surprise, where Mr. Harendra Bhai Shah, MD of the organization, himself came to receive me at the reception for an interview.

Since, I was part of the all-girls team, who looked after HR & Administration, which directly reported to Mr. Harendra Bhai Shah, MD of the company, I never faced a situation or problem while dealing with either my colleagues or my reporting manager, as it was a family kind of a feeling, where the MD himself ensured that he took interest in career development of each and every employee, who was reporting to him.

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

Mr. Harendra Bhai Shah, MD of the company, encouraged me to complete my Diploma in Computers from Indian Institute of Technology and Computer Programming, Mumbai along with my bachelor’s degree. He used to drop me in his car to Dadar (W) where their main shop was, and I used to walk down from there to my evening classes.

He was a fatherly figure for me, who understood my struggle as a working student. He was my mentor and a guide who ensured that not only he, but the organization supports me in completing my education, while I fully contribute to the organizations bottom line through my job role.

He assigned me with a buddy, to whom I could ask my educational doubts, who was 1st attempt CA and was heading the accounts and finance department then in the organization. A job rotation plan was made for me, since I was the 1st undergrad in the organization, who joined them post my 12th grade and who had an objective to learn while you earn!!

I was rotated every 6 months from one department to another to ensure that I understand the various departments/functions within the organization and what they do and each departments contribution towards the bottom line!! This job rotation plan helped me understand the bigger picture as well as I was able to analyse and think, if I still wanted to pursue MBA-HR or I wanted to change my line of studies.

You have an amazing career graph. You have done what many HR practitioners dream about. Contrary to many HR Professionals who get stuck in an Industry and a role. You have worked across industries and across various roles in HR. What kind of competencies and skill sets, you possess that allowed you to become a versatile HR Leader?  

I think for being a versatile leader, one needs to definitely have the following soft skills other than the usual technical/managerial skills and competencies required for a particular job role:

  1. Learning attitude with listening skills
  2. Humble and thankful, down to earth and truthful personality
  3. Ready to do it with own hands and accept mistakes

Precisely, these 3 allowed me to make industry changes and jumps as the HR practitioner, who was able to move across various industries, cities and countries.

Generic regret does neither help the candidate to develop their skills for the next similar role, nor does it help the organization in increasing their brand experience for prospective employees to apply and give it a try.

From profile sourcing to the issuance of the final offer letter, organizations put candidates through multiple filtration processes. What is your take on using “relevant industry experience” and “excellent academic record (first-class and above)” as filtration tools?

Each organization has their own skills and competency matrixes for various levels of hiring depending upon their organisations’ mission, vision and objective statements.

However, it is my personal belief that only “relevant industry experience” and “excellent academic records” shouldn’t be used as the only filtration tools while hiring middle and senior management roles.

What is more important is to know if the person has been in the role, that you are hiring for with substantial number of years of work experience, where he/she has a proven track record of achievements over past few roles with the tangible results/outcomes, which has moved up the organizational bar along with their own career growth.

At Senior & Middle Management hiring it is equally important to have the following soft skills to ensure that they not only grow individually but make their team members grow along:

  1. Learning attitude with listening skills
  2. Humble and thankful, down to earth and truthful personality
  3. Ready to do it with own hands and accept mistakes

In the corporate world, people have been using “Coaching” and “Mentoring” interchangeably. It is creating confusion. Please help us understand the similarities and differences between Coaching and Mentoring. When do we coach an individual and when do we mentor an individual?

Coaching and Mentoring are 2 different types of skill sets or tools used to groom a person. However, most of the organizations confuse between the both stating they are both similar.  Let me state this very clear here that while coaching and mentoring, use the same skills sets, tools and approach, the major difference is coaching is short term problem or task-based, structured and focuses on specific developmental areas, whereas mentoring is a long-term relationship with a specific focus on mentees professional career development. Mentor should be from within the organization, who will groom mentee with an objective to pass on knowledge, experience and open doors to otherwise out-of-reach career opportunities.

According to you, what are the FIVE critical traits of a successful HR Practitioner?

The five critical traits of a successful HR Professional are:

  1. Social intelligence
  2. Sympathetic Attitude
  3. Honesty and Integrity
  4. Patience with Optimistic Attitude
  5. Commitment and Passion
  6. Good Communication with Quick Decision Making

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 evaluates in a resume in those 8.8 seconds and decides to accept or reject it? Please elaborate.

These days most of the resumes are received via email or linked-in or any other social platform through either references or some professional network and they come in volumes, so most of the employers or recruiters are first and foremost, interested to know if you're qualified for the job…....before they thoroughly look into your resume.

Therefore, the resume must call out the following very clearly.

  1. Who you are as a professional? (Your personal brand as a professional)
  2. Your embellished skills......(Unique Selling Proposition)
  3. Your overall career progression....
  4. Your online presence on various social platforms (To see your quality of thoughts)

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

As a professional organization, who has considered a candidate for a position, it becomes the organisations responsibility  to provide authentic feedback to the candidate in a very positive and diplomatic way, which will help the candidate to understand where she/he missed out and it will allow the candidate to prepare better for his/her future interactions in similar roles that he/she is applying for.

However, the primary challenge that most of the organizations have today, is lack of interview notes with specific data points during interview evaluation process, which they were looking at and by how many points did the candidate miss on!!

Therefore, most of the professional organizations miss on providing specific role requirement vis-à-vis the candidates’ skill and competency gap and the organization ends up sharing very generic feedback, a so-called standard regret letter.

Generic regret does neither help the candidate to develop their skills for the next similar role, nor does it help the organization in increasing their brand experience for prospective employees to apply and give it a try.

When we talk to fresh graduates and junior level employees as well as non-HRs, they understand Employee Engagement as – Birthday Celebrations, Picnics, Diwali Rangoli, Christmas Celebrations, Cultural Day Celebrations, etc. Please help us understand what employee engagement is and why it is necessary?

Employee engagement is critical for retaining valuable talent and is an important piece of the employee satisfaction puzzle; as disengaged employees are more likely to leave their jobs.

According to Forbes, employees who are engaged in their work are more likely to be motivated and remain committed to their employer. Calling Birthday Celebrations, Picnics, Diwali Rangoli, Christmas Celebrations, Cultural Day Celebrations as Employee Engagement Activities is a myth to me!!

Employee engagement is mainly understanding what each employee needs while he/she is legally engaged with your organization as an employee.…let me get more specific here!! Employee engagement is an ability to understand the core present need / purpose of an employee and focus on providing apt guidance or solutions to energize the person and get best out of him/her to achieve the identified need or purpose.

If, I quote my own, first experience of employee engagement in Girnar Group Of Companies, there were no such specific events as Birthday Celebrations, Picnics, Diwali Rangoli, Christmas Celebrations, Cultural Day Celebrations, etc... but I was still an engaged employee, because the organization and leadership in specific understood my need/ purpose of learning while earning and they exactly addressed the same, through job rotation program and assigning a buddy for learning and providing me flexi working hours being a working student….and this is what I am referring to when I speak about employee engagement!!

“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 teams. What is your take on this? How do recruiters differentiate between a “real reason” and “a fake story”?

Obviously, one doesn’t have a lie detector to make out if the candidate is faking various reasons for either not reaching for an interview or not showing up on the day of joining….but there are some questions which a recruiter / HR professional must ask while dealing with the candidate to get the clues about authenticity of the answer.

1) Are you interviewing elsewhere?

2) What is it that you liked about this job role that has made you apply for this role?

The confidence in voice of the candidate and alignment of his body language, while giving an answer will give you a glimpse of candidate’s authenticity of his being interested in the job role and an intent to join the organization. Also, if the candidate is faking his storyline will not have consistent pitch, voice modulation and he will be taking lot of pauses and the reason/reasons for not joining he/she will provide you will be contradicting with that of the reasons when he/she was getting interviewed by you.

I had a senior company secretarial candidate, who was fully engaged and committed to join the organization but he dropped off a night before he was to join the organization and upon me calling him to find out the reason.…he was extremely apologetic than usual with lot of justifications of his inability to join us, which gave me an understanding that while he was a very genuine professional, he had a board of directors intervention, who had retained him and therefore, he had no other choice!!  While I was upset, I understood that, it was a real story since he sounded genuine and this was seconded by a data point by one of his colleagues when I met her at one of the conferences.

What are the key traits of “High Potential Employees”? How do they differ from “High Performing Employees”?

Most of the times organizations mistake a high-performing employee for a high-potential employee. It is important for the organisations to clearly distinguish between high performance and high potential, talent for the benefit of their succession talent pipeline.

Key Traits of High Potential Employees:

  1. A macro picture, wholistic approach
  2. Personal drive for excellence
  3. High Learning Ability
  4. Hungry for Knowledge
  5. Creative Thinking
  6. Competitive Drive – Claims enhanced status
  7. Managerial Courage – Assumes responsibility and seeks greater authority
  8. Looks at overall impact of the strategy on the organization

Key Traits of High Performing Employees:

  1. Consistently exceeds performance expectations
  2. Great Values
  3. Well-Networked
  4. High Confidence with good communication and listening skills
  5. Humility and Gratitude
  6. Innovative Sprit
  7. Tackles difficult projects and takes on more challenges
  8. Go to person for getting things done!!
  9. Solution oriented approach

Usually, you will see the high potential employees will be inconsistent in their performance, but they will come across as great thought leaders, who can provide guidance and breath organization culture. Whereas, high performers are very resourceful and go to people for getting things done, they possess strong work ethics with innovative sprit and are flexible to work with diverse teams.

Each organization must attempt to develop their “High Potential” and “High Performers” by using different talent development strategies and techniques to make the organization well balanced and successful for sustained business outcome in long team journey.

Employee engagement is the ability to be understand the core present need / purpose of an employee and focus on providing apt guidance or solutions to energize the person and get best out of him/her.

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?

As we speak today, no organization remains local whether big or small as each organization is dealing either with global workforce or global customers and that makes them truly global. Having said this global talent shortage, is a recent challenge that organizational leaders are grappling with a series of interrelated risks from a rapidly transforming business environment and global political, socio-economical scenarios.

While India is a young population country, we still are struggling with the talent shortage, which makes organizations shift their focus from solely hiring, recruiting to training, upskilling or reskilling their workforce.

This tactic could require hiring candidates who might not have all the desired skills and qualifications, but who are quick learners and could perform the job well with appropriate training and skill building programs (High Performers).

Business CEO’s should now change their talent strategy from BUY (Talent Acquisition) to BUILD (Talent Development) in partnership with various local and global academic universities for this purpose.

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? 

On a lighter note…as I read a WhatsApp message, where the cartoon mentioned…Humans are hooked, and Machines are learning…which is likely to come true in some mundane tasks!!

However, the day doesn’t seem to be very far away where most of the mundane tasks are being done by the AI, robots, etc…and the real thinking and strategizing tasks are being done by human beings!!

HR as a function will be blessed in future, where all the routine tasks, will be automated and done by robots, whereas all the thinking (brain) work will be done by people, this means we will be empowering HR professionals with needed analytical dashboards for decision making and reducing their repetitive tasks and make some free time for them to focus on innovative business HR practices, like talent development, skills development and employee well-being through emotional intelligence, so this should be a golden era for the HR professionals.

Olden days social media such as Facebook, linked-in and twitter platforms were more looked at as informational platforms, whereas today in a decades time it has progressed from a mere informational platform to knowledge sharing platform, with sharing of professional viewpoints through various blogs and articles, it has also become a benchmarking and branding platform for many of the organizations to attract and retain talent.

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

I would plead young HR professionals to take their first HR job role as a HR Business Partner rather than going by the flowery bookish definitions of learning & development, organization development, etc…as these are good to have specializations post your first Business HR stint….

The Business HR stint makes you learn HR through business, what it means is you understand how business is done and what it takes to get the business and what kind of resources are required to build the business and what developmental plans are required for these resources to ensure business growth.…which is consistent and sustainable. Business HR is a holistic approach of understanding all the hr specializations that exists within a business domain.

Young fresh HR professionals must not only read various management books and be through with the management theories but must learn people and listening skills, along with strengthening their analytical skills alongside polishing their presentation skills through their internships and student exchange programs available in various cities / countries.

I wish each one of the young HR professionals to have gratitude and empathy towards people and society at large, as their profession is made for acknowledging human psychology, appreciating diversity and driving positive business change through leveraging human resources capital.

Thank you!!! 

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