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Dazzle your way to a new job

HR managers are notoriously hard to please. But here are some ways in which you can impress them.

You're all set for the final interview for that new job. You've put on your best work wear - and your thinking cap - and prepared great responses to obvious questions like 'tell us a little about yourself' or 'where do you see yourself five years from now'. You think you're ready.

But are you? HR professionals say that these are just the tip of the iceberg. It takes more - much more - to 'wow' them enough to accept you. And in these hyper-competitive times, it's sometimes good to get the inside track on what exactly is needed to impress the recruiter.


Anirban Banerjee, Chief People Officer at the financial services company IIFL Investment Managers, says it's not enough for potential hires to be good at their job, or have domain expertise. They must have a 'feel' for the business too. "In our line of work, we require candidates to be entrepreneurial and businessminded, because a large part of the job involves going out and finding clients and managing their funds," says Banerjee. "So what I look out for, are people with a keen commercial sense and a good 'feel' for making money. Some communities in India have a propensity for wealth creation which gets passed down the generations." But don't fret if you don't have that genetic advantage; Banerjee believes it can be cultivated as well. "Sector-specific knowledge can be understood and taught," he says. "But you also need a commercial sense, that keen feel for commerce that will enable you to make quick calculations in your head and present various alternatives to clients when closing a deal." And it's not just a financial sector requirement. Banerjee, who has worked in the FMCG industry too, says having a feel for the product will give you a sense of whether or not it will do well in the market, and how to position it. "You can acquire that feel with years and years of experience, but if a candidate has it in his or her DNA, I would know it right away and hire that person," he adds.

Priya Singh, Director - Human Resources at Lowe's India, says the clincher for her is the candidate's work ethics. "It's about the commitment that you bring to the table, and not just to your own role," she says. "It's also about how well you do your work, even when it's the most menial of tasks." Banerjee agrees. "Today, everyone wants to be a smart worker, but I believe there is no substitute for hard work. I would like potential hires to showcase examples where they have had to put in an enormous amount of work into something," he says. Over time, Banerjee adds, people have replaced hard work with smart work as the more enviable virtue, but for an entry-level hire, the nature of the job demands her ability to stick it out through the initial grind. "You need to unlearn and relearn things and also prove your mettle," he explains. "Nowadays, when we attend campus placement drives, we find that most youngsters want to do high-level intellectual work and strategy. They don't understand that the grind is inescapable at a new workplace. But if you're talented, you can get past that and quickly move into a leadership role after the first few years."


Banerjee says he also looks for what he calls the 'worm within' - that drive which makes a person say, 'I can pull this off, no matter what'. Typically, the people who have something to prove, have that confidence, says Banerjee. "They are the ones most determined to show to the world that they can get something going, in any circumstances, conditions or environment," he explains. "I want candidates to illustrate that for me, by drawing on their personal or professional lives - serious adversities they may have encountered, either at work or in the family, and come out of it, stronger." And if they don't have one, Banerjee creates little problems for candidates to solve. "I put them into hopeless scenarios, with no right or wrong way of doing things, and then see how they come out of it," he says. It's a good way to ascertain how the person will handle a workplace dilemma." Indeed, the last thing Banerjee wants is pre-fed responses to questions like 'what is your greatest weakness'. If anything, most HR managers can see right through these, he cautions.

Creating scenarios also help Singh gauge the potential hire's cognitive skills - her ability to think and reason, and to articulate those thoughts, among other things. "More and more as we move into a chaotic, ambiguous world, it requires a certain amount of ability to think and reason," says Singh. "That's a differentiator for me." She adds that she provides 'ambiguous situations' and asks leading questions to understand how the candidate views the situation. Besides, says Singh, resumes are replete with tell-tale signs of a candidate's cognitive abilities, as seen from her life choices. "If someone has opted for an engineering course or a humanities programme, asking them why often reveals a lot about the person," says Singh. "It's also important to spot certain gaps in the CV - say, a break between jobs - and frame questions carefully to get a more complete picture." For instance, when Singh started out and was faced with the 'talk about yourself' question, she would begin by saying that her father was in the armed forces. "The fact that I was an Army brat, instantly said a lot about me," she adds. Looking beyond the pejorative implications of that phrase, it also told the interviewer, Singh feels, that she had a specific kind of values, was probably welltravelled and could also adjust to all kinds of situations.


Don't turn your nose up at stock questions, says Suhas Mukherjee, Head (Corporate HR) at the Ambuja Neotia Group; sometimes they can reveal more than you realise. Mukherjee rates imaginative responses to standard questions very highly. "I want people who think out of the box," says Mukherjee. "So when I ask them something run-of-the-mill, I listen keenly to the reply. I would advise prospectives to not worry too much about whether or not they know the answer, as long as they respond smartly and spontaneously." Among other things, this will demonstrate a potential employee's soft skills: Common sense, problem-solving and knowledge, whether relating to the position or a general awareness of the world around. "If it's a senior hire, knowledge about the outside world is very important," says Mukherjee. "You must know what your competition is doing or, if you're in an FMCG company, figure out how the market will respond to your latest product. And you can't do this from just the confines of your corner office."

Mukherjee also likes candidate to have done their homework about the organisation they're hoping to join. "If someone talks at length about what she knows about the company, I don't think she's bragging," he says. "To me, it shows that she has taken the trouble to understand the organisation and its purpose and vision. It shows a commitment and a seriousness to get on board. Even better if the person has come up with some insights about the company that I hadn't thought of. I would be impressed." And when Mukherjee asks how an interviewee can add value to a position - another sitter, so to speak - he is also checking to see if the person has understood the role and its functions, and is clear on the concepts. "Only then will she be able to plan and execute."


But HR managers, you're not off the hook either. To get the best hire, you need to do a ton of homework yourself before you embark on a recruitment drive, Mukherjee adds. It's almost impossible to know a person in a 40-minute interaction, no matter how many screenings he has already been through. The best chance of getting a glimpse into the actual person, is to ask the right questions. "We have to be particularly careful with senior hires," he adds, "and sometimes we can still go horribly wrong with those." Singh says her 'interaction' with a prospective hire begins the minute his resume lands on her desk. "Half the time interviews follow a chronological update of the resume, but I feel HR managers need to be better prepared with their questions," she says; even minutiae about a person's life (like school and college grades or languages spoken, for instance) paint a certain picture of the candidate. "I don't want to waste time talking about the resume when I can get to the heart of things like the challenges overcome," she says.

Undoubtedly, the HR manager has the harder task. Apart from trying to create a credible snapshot of a complete stranger, s/he must also be able to place the person in the bigger picture: Would the new joinee fit in with the rest of the team, or even the organisation? "If you don't keep all these things in mind, you will end up with a disastrous hire on your hands," says Mukherjee.

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Mumbai Mirror