E Balaji, CEO, Ma Foi Management Consultants, has spent 15 years with the HR consultancy firm and manages a team of over 1,200 professionals across 60 locations. In an interview with Urmila Rao, he offers tips to job-seekers on a wide range of areas from smart salary negotiation to making an impression in an interview to attaining good appraisal review and being a star performer...
What do employers look for when interviewing a candidate?
Work ethics, honesty, loyalty, confidence and problem-solving ability are some of the traits looked for in a prospective hire. The key four Es here are exposure, experience, expertise and excellence. A student from a reputed college, without work experience, would be considered as having an exposure to certain concepts and will be expected to demonstrate those in his application.
Experienced people would be expected to perform with limited or no supervision. An expert is a person considered to have good conceptual understanding of a wide range of subjects relevant to a domain, and who can guide others in the organisation. Finally, excellence is when a person's expertise is known beyond the boundary of an organisation and hence respected by the industry. Employers look for someone who is a good fit not just in terms of technical skills but also the social culture of the organisation.
Your job interview tips...
I recommend focusing on the three Ps: presentation, preparation, positioning. When presenting, your attitude, appearance and resume presentation carries far more weightage than you would imagine in an interview. Hence dress professionally and be punctual for your interview; it shows professionalism. Your resume is an opportunity to sell the brand 'YOU'.
Customise your resume so as to highlight your skills to fit the kind of job you are applying for. Research thoroughly about the industry, company and job you are applying for. Ask relevant questions (usually at the end of the interview). And prepare by taking mock interviews. Formulate your responses using the STAR format [Situation, Task, Action, and Result] of answering questions; this method relies on your prior experiences to predict future behaviour. As regards positioning, all interviewers have a preconditioned mindset of the 'best fit' candidate.
Hence positioning yourself in the minds of the interviewer that you are the best fit, is the key. Are you a person with unique competencies or superior skills for which specific companies are willing to pay a premium? And finally watch out for the big P Pressure!
What factors contribute to a good appraisal of a professional?
Today, performance review systems are focused on career development and enhancement based on open and detailed discussions with one's superiors. Many organisations are now moving towards a 360-degree feedback system wherein a performance review is sought from all sources that an employee has an interface with, which includes peers, team-mates and reporting seniors. For an effective appraisal you must be open to communication with peers and reporting seniors, and have a clear understanding of key performance indicators.
What are the dos and don'ts of salary negotiation?
Salary negotiations are the most sensitive yet important conversations of your career. Once the company has decided to hire you they will look at the least expensive cost-to-company to get you on board. Accepting whatever the companies offer may make you appear weak and not worth your mettle. Yet being over-aggressive and pushy at the negotiation table may leave a bad taste in the mouth, especially knowing that you have to work with these people on a daily basis from here on.
Being well-prepared on what would be a good compensation for your experience and expertise, goes a long way in the negotiation. Often the compensation could be coupled with equity or other perks. Study these well to see if they match what you want. Don't accept a salary lower than what you are worth in anticipation of future hikes.
Understanding how much you need the company and vice-versa, will also give you an idea of your stance in the negotiation. Knowing when to stop negotiating can be tricky. It's not a case of who wins. If you refuse to bow down they will begin to think that you are a wrong choice. When you know it's time, accept your offer with grace, and thank the management for its time. When turning down an offer, thank management for the negotiation; it's professional and refined.
Which sectors have potential for a promising career in the near future?
Green jobs throw open several career options that are both meaningful and promise growth. Green-collar jobs are accessible to people from varied educational backgrounds and professions, engineers, bio-technologists, environmentalists, auditors, accountants, scientists, economists, media professionals and the like. Telecom was one of those highly resilient sectors, which weren't too affected by the recession.
Infrastructure projects -- roads, bridges, and railways are gaining momentum -- and were one of the first few to experience a revival. Animation and gaming is an interesting and new avenue. Even private banking players are recruiting actively especially in wealth management, microfinance and insurance. The automobile industry is also revving up!
How can a professional identify the best job profile for himself?
Several personality profiling tests available in the market help guide a candidate in identifying the right career path. Apart from this it would be advisable to study your inherent traits and qualities and look for jobs that necessitate these qualities in abundance.
Is it true that freshers who take up jobs in an economic downturn situation end up being in a disadvantageous position?
More than a year back, there were unrealistic expectations on pay packages and growth rates. Freshers got unbelievable salary packages. Experienced candidates sometimes got 200 per cent hikes in a single year! There's a definite correction happening in the job market. The new, more normal economy will be seasoned with reduction in salary and benefits. Today, many are happy to keep their jobs and retain current salaries, even when presented with higher salaries.
However, finding good talent has become tougher. Hence freshers have a greater chance of finding the right job.
What can professionals do to insulate themselves from a downturn?
Constantly updating oneself technically, skill upgradation and active participation in learning and development programmes offered within the organisations is recommended. Finally ensuring a sound connect with the market, through professional networking sites such as LinkedIn will add some fillip to your job retention strategy.