Overcoming the Employment Gap

WOMAN JUMP

Mr Ramesh is a senior professional having over 20 years of experience. For the last 2 years he has been on a break due to a Non-Compete Clause that he had to sign with his earlier firm. Now that that the clause period is over he is finding it difficult to explain the gap.

This is a unique instance of a gap I have come across. Typically the gaps are due to family emergencies, raising children, downsizing, and some times firing.

Employers become jittery when dealing with Gaps and sometimes justifiably so. What happens is that the employee in question is unable to fit into the changed workplace environment. This could be due to loss of morale as a result of compromises made to get back to active work. Sometimes it is not being current in their field , happens especially if the gap is over 2 years.

This is not to say that returning to work is hopeless. Plenty of executives have done just that and have done so successfully.  One needs to strategize. To take care and plan on how you are going to explain the Gap in paper i.e your resume and during the interview.

Many candidates tend to run away from the situation. They tend to hide the gap hoping that it would somehow go un-noticed.

Don’t hide the fact be upfront about it.

Navy Seals as part of their training are supposed to swim in shark infested seas. Apparently the sharks don’t attack if you hold your ground. But if they do you are supposed to punch on their snout with all your might and swim away. This story might seem like an over-kill but the message is relevant – offence is the best form of defence. When you are facing your sharks ( the recruiter in this case) be proactive. Don’t punch him please; but – place the facts upfront.

Recruiters have the ability to smell out these white lies from a mile. Besides , it shows you in a bad light. Instead mention the gap, and the reason very briefly – less than 10 words. Unless specifically mandated the recruiters will shortlist your profile if the experience fulfils the job criteria.

Have a succinct factual explanation ready as to how you spent your time and what were your learnings which could come in handy for the position applied.

Suppose you were managing a sick parent  and holding the family together your organisation and time management skills were being put to the test. You could mention that.

At the end of the day it is about confidence. Ironically when you are trying to get back into the work force after a prolonged gap – that is exactly what you might be running short on.

Companies place a lot more weight on the self – confidence the individual has. Giving a picture of being self assured reassures the firm that this person can deliver the goods. Sometime you just have to Fake it to Make it. Mopping around will not give the hiring firm the confidence to take you in.

So during the interview be frank and honest about the break and the learning’s from it and guide the interview towards the experience and skills you bring to the table. Ultimately that is what counts. Your experience relating to the work in question and your ability to deliver. The manner in which you are able to project that ability will be the deciding factor.

A little bit of advance planning can help you manage the Gap in such a way that it doesn’t show up at all in your resume. No I am not suggesting that you fudge your Cv. What you can do is to undertake activities that will indirectly help you in your job search.

Build Your Network. Stay in touch or reconnect with your old professional contacts. Professional contacts become dispersed to new positions, your  coworkers would have moved on to new jobs and would be in a position to lend a hand to your search.

Get Active in Professional Associations. Become active in associations relating to your line of work by attending meetings, writing for the newsletter, acting as a goodwill ambassador and attending national conferences. Volunteer for activities relating to your career field.

Write for newspapers, and other trade related magazines. Writing is great way to display your expertise and increase visibility.

Attend training programs. Technology is changing and so are the tools. Every year something new is being added to existing lines of work. You could learn new skills in your field or add complimentary skills. Adding an additional degree can even help in opening up new career options.

Temporary/Part-Time work. Taking up part-time work helping out small businesses with their marketing or accounting work or just plain documentation will help you gain currency in the job market and eas your way into a fulltime role. Here it is better to be flexible on the compensation lest you lose focus on your ultimate goal which is to get into a fulltime role.  I have known people who get into decently paying part-time role and then find it difficult to switch to the rigours of Full time work.

With an ever volatile workplace instances of career breaks are becoming quite common.They need not be feared. They are not the end of the world. With a bit of reflection and preparation will put you in a good position to actually come out as stronger more self-aware candidate.

And remember employers are more interested in your ability to deliver so don’t over think.

Prakash Francis is a talent expert based in Bangalore.

 

Advertisements

Recruiter:Are you biased?

workplace-diversity-RS-770“You must work with people whom you don’t like because a workforce comprised of people who are all best office buddies can be homogeneous, and homogeneity in an organisation breeds failure.”                                               Eric Schmidt – How Google works

A diverse Workplace is a high energy workplace. Diversity in hiring and employment allows for the development of a robust, well-rounded teams that can perform better in v.u.c.a environment.

A high diversity workplace is likely to have more differences of opinions, different view-points getting aired leading to vociferous discussions, raging disagreements but in the end a better product a better service. The biggest hurdle to such a diverse workplace is the very human bias towards sameness and conformity. This bias in recruiters can be detrimental to hiring for a diverse and innovative workplace.

What is recruiter bias? Recruiters have been blamed for a lot of mischief but this is one which is not exclusive to recruiters alone – it is part and parcel to all individuals. As Daniel Kahneman in his Nobel Prize winning book –Thinking Fast and Slow says our default thinking mode Thinks Fast and Jumps to conclusions he calls it the System1 our rational mode is the System2 which is lazy and slow. So by  default we think fast and take quick decisions hence – our tendency towards bias.

But this is the very tendency which needs to be avoided if we want a diverse workforce.

How do you change something so deeply ingrained in the human psyche – something over which you have almost no control. It starts with awareness. Just by being aware that such a bias is affecting our decision making will help us in exercising caution. Leading firms are making it mandatory for all employees in decision making roles to undergo bias training.

Human race is not homogeneous. People from countries that fought wars 20 years ago over religious, cultural, racial differences are now on the same table sharing workspaces. The basic instinct of survival – our lizard brain triggers our bias against people who not from the same pond.Recruiters are no different.

Typically the biases to which the recruiters remain susceptible are the following:

Affinity Bias

“Birds of a feather flock together”.

I am reminded of my dad and this very old saying which he used often. Whenever we kids sided with mom during fights – he would call us birds of the same feather. Sarcastic Offcourse. Nevertheless there is truth in this saying.

As we are so we associate – says Ralph Waldo Emerson. We are most comfortable with people we understand, with whom we share some kind of common linkage. As recruiters we tend to hire people with whom we share some sameness. When we talk of culture fit in companies it helps businesses to run smoothly. It is the same sameness which also is a barrier to diversity, inclusion and innovation.

Confirmation Bias

This is when people have prior beliefs and look for ways to substantiate those beliefs. It is an innate tendency to seek out confirmation for our preconceived notions. An example is in the case of college passed out from. The recruiter might form a favourable or unfavourable opinion purely based on the college of the candidate in question. Once the opinion is created He/she looks for evidence to support that opinion. He/she is giving in to confirmation bias. School can be replaced by village, town, state etc for the confirmation bias to trigger.

Gender Bias

This is one of the strongest biases in the workplace. Multiple experiments have repeatedly proven the unconscious bias we have about men and women. At the workplace males are believed to have better leadership qualities even if research shows otherwise. Even when a woman’s voice is thought to be trustworthy, clear, and comprehensible on its own, her credibility is lowered when her voice is compared to a man’s voice – even if the man’s voice was deemed as not-so-reliable or intelligent on its own. In an  experiment by Harward Business School more than a decade ago, the Heidi/Howard Roizen study showed that when the exact same story was told with different names (Heidi vs Howard), participants said the woman Heidi was selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for,” while the fictitious Howard came off as appealing.

All in all, when women are compared to men, they lose. And as you can imagine, this kind of “gendered listening” is a huge problem in hiring, as you might assume someone is best for the job, but you’re not really hearing what they’re saying.

Racial Bias

Racial bias remains another strong issue. Candidates with ethnic minority names are less likely to receive a call back on submitting a resume. Many companies shy away from hiring minorities for a more difficult reason. They fear customer pushback.

Whatever be the reasons these prejudices exist. Recruitment plays a crucial role in building a diverse, forward-thinking environment in fact it is the first step. Unfortunately, the hiring process is incredibly vulnerable to the influence of unconscious bias, which can hamper objective decision making and ultimately become a roadblock to the pursuit of diversity.

Hence it is important to take steps to contain this bias.

How do we do that?

Time

Give, devote sufficient time to the hiring process. Avoid quick decisions. Let the decision rest for a few days. This would allow the System 2 of Daniel Kahneman to kick in and give us a better more rational decision. Studies have shown that allowing enough time to do evaluations increases accuracy and reduces any bias. So, allow plenty of time to read interview materials and take notes.

Structured Questions

A set of structured questions asked to all the candidates in the same sequence sets the stage to compare apples with apples and prevents bias. Research has found that structured interviews are more predictive of on-the-job performance.

The idea is to standardize the interview process to make it more fair, objective, and accurate.

Accountability

Increased accountability reduces the effect of any kind of bias and increases the accuracy of evaluations. Hence a culture/requirement for interview note taking, and evaluators using named forms, and each interviewer selection decision is justified, documented and filed. Here again the google system of using a hiring packet is worth emulating. The Hiring Packet contains all known information about the candidate based on his progress through the interview process. All members of the hiring committee get the exact same information and every decision is based on the same set of data ensuring that there is no room for bias. An important tenet they follow is that only information in the packet is considered, if its not in the packet it doesn’t get considered.

This goes to show to what extent the top firms are willing to go to get the best talent on board. The talent selection process should reflect the vision, value and goals of the firm. The best available talent that helps the organisation to realize its vision should get hired. If individual biases are impacting the hiring process in a negative manner immediate corrective action needs to be taken.

Prakash Francis is a talent expert based in Bangalore.

 

The 3 C’s of Employee Feedback

SHERYL SANDBERG quote

They say feedback is the breakfast of Champions.

I say for an employee it is also lunch, dinner and dessert.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re always giving or receiving feedback. Sometimes it’s explicit, like in a one-on-one meeting, or it’s implicit, through our tone of voice and body language. Whatever be its manner, performance feedback can either inspire, uplift, and motivate the recipient to do better or it could even lead to de-motivation, resentment and loss of morale.

Feedback is an organisational imperative. To improve one needs feedback, to grow one needs feedback, to know that they are on the right track one needs feedback. Feedback is the invisible guide rope that keeps the team on track towards the organisation goals.

Hence, the ability to give and receive feedback is a skill that needs to be honed. Developing proficiency in this area is essential to building good relationships with and inspiring your team to peak performance.

Constructive performance feedback hinges on the three C’s – Clarity, Consistency and Consideration. These three C’s together help to shape the behaviour of employees and to keep them aligned to the organisation purpose. Lets consider each.

Clarity

Bosses and managers avoid confrontation because they would rather have peace and harmony. As a result the tendency is to soften the edges of the feedback. The feedback – Karan always gives his best only allows Karan to walk away thinking that he is doing okay. The organisation doesn’t get any insight on his ability, contribution or potential.

If Karan is a high performer he is going to be frustrated. If he is a marginal performer he gets affirmed and his mediocrity is reinforced.

Instead a specific feedback would affirm Karan in areas he is doing well and help him precisely focus on areas he needs to improve on.

Considerate

Performance feedback is not an opportunity to get even. Be tough, not mean. When someone drops the ball at work and you have to give him or her feedback, resist the inclination to belittle the person. Focus on the behaviour not on the person.

Discuss the behaviour you witnessed without allotting causes. For example, you could say that the report you needed wasn’t done on time, but don’t assume it was because he is not interested in his job. Instead, talk about the impact of not receiving the report on time and how that affected others. Give him a chance to explain why it wasn’t completed at the deadline.

There is no one way to do a task. In our eagerness to give feedback are we limiting the creativity of the staff. Before giving someone feedback, check to make sure that your expectations are reasonable . Limiting your staff to do everything your way limits innovation, learning in your organization and robs you of the varied skills, experience and perspective of your employees.

Don’t lose sight of your purpose for offering that feedback: to improve the employee’s performance.When a negative feedback is inevitable , make sure to deliver your criticism in private. There’s nothing more humiliating than being criticized in front of your co-workers.

Understanding that every person deserves a modicum of respect is critical to the entire process.

Consistent

When I am happy I am effusive in praise, slow to criticize. When I am not happy I sting with my criticisms and am stingy with praise. That lack of consistency is felt by people who I work with and keeps them off balance. Keep your emotions outside the equation. Being aware of how I behave and how factors impact me is a good start to responding to opportunities for feedback in a consistent manner.

To these three C’s we can also add the fourth C which is Constant. The feedback needs to be part of the routine. Leaders, managers and supervisors need to be praising and critiquing everyday whether it is effort or outcome.

Based  on the way it is delivered feedback can be of two types – Informal & Formal –

Informal feedback is spontaneous and made on the spot when possible. The closer in time and space the behaviour is paired with the consequence , the stronger the connection.  There are different ways to do this. It can be as simple as a compliment (Hey Arun , nice job with the presentation) or  mild rebuke ( Nitin, need you here okay?)

Informal feedback needs to become part of the workplace culture. Its especially important for new employees as they learn the ropes of not only their new job but also the company. Givning feedback early and often leads to the employee getting shaped up and aligned much faster.

The power of informal feedback cannot be overstated. When people get quick feedback the damage mistakes is minimized leading to faster results.

Formal feedback is given regularly on a weekly monthly or quarterly basis. Too many times when someone is called in for a one on one its only for screw-ups. Eric Schmidt the ex-CEO of Google shares an example where an engineer had shown exemplary performance so Eric decided to call him to his room personally. The engineer came in white and ashen faced and asked – “Have I done anything wrong?”. At Novel the culture was that if the CEO calls you for a one on one – it was to get fired.

Positive or helpful feedback makes sure the person knows what went right and what went wrong and points them in the right direction.

To sum-up, feedback is a crucial organisational tool. The satisfaction you gain from watching your team work together like a well-oiled machine will make the effort expended on your regular feedback sessions entirely worthwhile.

Prakash Francis is a Talent expert based in Bangalore.

 

Interview Question:What is your greatest Weakness?

I have come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.

Jeff Weiner (CEO Linkedin) 

The question “what is your greatest weakness” continues to be one that stresses and stumps candidates. Sort of putting them between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand you do not want to appear insincere, on the other you are not in a position to highlight something that could be red flag for the interviewer.Strengths and Weaknesses - Internal Part of a SWOT Analysis

You might wonder why ask such a question – and make candidates uncomfortable?

The reason is simple. It is to find out how aware you are about your weaknesses and strengths. Further, it gives an indication about how open you might be to receive some constructive feedback. This question in a way helps in developing clarity about your fit for the role.

There are multiple ways to handle this question and the online sources have a number of them listed out. But most of the listed advice is cute to say the least. One often quoted suggestion is to turn a strength into a weakness – I am a perfectionist. The problem is that the interviewer is likely to have read the same blogs, and he is going to know where you are coming from. This kind of response makes you appear evasive, and raises a red flag on your honesty.

Instead consider scenario shared below. Note how this candidate tackles the question in an open, transparent manner.

Interviewer: Ravi, can you tell us about your greatest weakness?

Ravi(candidate) : Sir, I assume you mean with respect to the job I am interviewing for.  

Interviewer: Yes, You are right.

Ravi: I feel I need to work on my organizing ability and productivity. Let me explain. I have a good record at my work so far. I have consistently achieved or surpassed the numbers and have been commended for the same. I have excellent ability to approach and persuade prospects and clients. I am good at asking questions and am good at follow-up. But where I fall short is in not being completely organised. I can be better at managing my time and in organizing myself in a manner that I my productivity improves and I am able to achieve much more. 

Interviewer: Mr. Ravi, does that mean you are saying that you are not productive enough.

Ravi: No that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that with my existing skills I am good on the job considering my overall performance – but I can do a lot more. But to move ahead in my career –I need to work on my ability to organize myself, so that I can handle greater responsibilities with ease.

Interviewer: If you are good on the job and that is shown by your performance results that means it is your strength. We would like to see an example of your failing.

Ravi: I see where you are getting at. But thing is that I do not like to fail so I try to anticipate such situations and prepare myself accordingly. Based on self evaluation I realize that – if I do not work on my skills of organizing I will have challenges while taking up greater responsibilities and work loads. Hence I am preparing myself accordingly – by reading books on the topic and enrolling for courses.

I hope I have answered to your satisfaction , I would appreciate if you could share your thoughts on areas that I could improve upon.

This is one way to handle the question. Have a frank discussion about your weaknesses.Inability to stay organized is a weakness – yet it is a weakness a number of candidates struggle with especially in the early years. The other thing is that the candidate is open about how he is tackling the situation and his keenness to improve himself.

This answer displays

  1. the candidates thought clarity,
  2. Self awareness
  3. Willingness to work on himself.

All attributes of a positive, career focused candidate.

The writer is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.

 

 

The Secret to a Great First Impression

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

First impressions are not about you!

They are about the person you are trying to engage with.

And as to the question  ” How to make a great First first impression?” the Best response is “Don’t try to impress.”

Engage the person and get interested in him/her.

Trying to impress will get you the opposite result of what you desire.

When we go to social events we come across some people who appear fake. These people are worried about impressing you rather than being genuinely interested in you. It is a turn-off.

On the other hand, what about people we do like. People whom we like to speak to, to engage with? What is it about these people that we get impressed with?

In my opinion, it has a lot to do with being natural, being comfortable in our own skin. Being genuine.

Broadly the traits that lead us to get impressed can be classified into two categories :

  1. Non Verbal
  2. Verbal

These two aspects form the microcosm of our impact on people when we meet them for the first time.

Non Verbal

The cornerstones of good Non-Verbal engagement are –

Eye-contact

They say Eye contact begets eye contact. Typically people are comfortable in holding our gaze for 2-3 seconds but with mutual consent this gaze gets prolonged. Scientifically it is proven that there is a neurological connect, during good eye contact, ( activation of mirror neurons), which creates a bond. This ability to maintain a good eye contact has a huge impact on how we are perceived by others. Good eye contact paves the way for the next key factor of Non Verbal impact The smile.

jackma-kcxG--621x414@LiveMint

Smile

The transition from an eye-contact to a smile takes just a few milli-seconds. First the eye contact , followed by a smile then perhaps an imperceptible nod. The smile here refers to a “genuine” smile. A smile that involves all the muscles around the mouth and the eye. Infact scientists even have a name for this smile , it is called the ” Duchenne” smile after the neurologist who goes by the same name.

Both eye contact and the smile do not involve a tactile touch. The next cornerstone of non Verbal engagement involves a physical touch, that is the Handshake.

Handshake

The rules for a good handshake are simple. A firm clasp, a gentle shake and a confident stance. The duration would not be more than 3-4 seconds. Again it is based on mutual consent. More than 6-7 seconds and things can get weird. Mentioning your name during the handshake leads to better name retention.

These are the fundamentals for good non – verbal engagement and this entire routine (Eye-contact , Smile and Handshake)would take less than 10 seconds. These 10 seconds pave the way for the next stage which is the “Conversation”.

Conversations are the “Building Blocks” of a relationship. Infact they are the life blood of healthy relationships. Business or personal. While the Eye-contact , Smile and the Handshake help in creating the initial “impression” it is the actual conversations that will determine what impression you leave the person with.

Having a good engaging conversation is not about being witty, or in cracking jokes. If it comes naturally to you well and good. Else stay clear. Don’t try to be funny.

Engaging in conversations is as simple as showing genuine interest in what the other person has to say and in response, sharing your thoughts in a positive, non-intrusive manner. It is all about giving the other person the “Gift of your Attention”.

There is a ton of literature online about how to become a good conversationalist. The advice revolves around asking questions, active listening, nodding your head appropriately etc. Perfect advice no doubt. But if it doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t do it. People see through the fake stuff. Often we fall into the trap of showing these outward signs of listening to the person, while actually we are thinking about what to say next. We get in to an auto mode. That ultimately kills conversations.

The key to good memorable conversations is to stay true to yourself and be genuinely interested in the other person. It is about how you make the other person feel. Because that is what they are going to remember. Nothing is worse than a person realizing that he was speaking to a wall.

Incase you are not interested in what he/she has to say – politely dis-engage. Move onto the person you find interesting to talk to.

Best way to get better at conversations is to have more of them.

I am reminded of an old story of a wise man named Chidananda.

Chidananda was a great writer and once he was called to speak about writing to a bunch of college students. He went on stage and asked “How many of you really want to be writers”?

All hands went up.

“In that case” he said “ I suggest you all must go home and write”

With that he left.

So, if you want to genuinely engage with people for the first time or the nth time – meet more people and start having more conversations.

I do the same.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.    

 

 

 

In a Rut

Do you feel like you are trapped , stuck in one place? Are your dreams getting un-stuck? Are you running and running and running only to stand still , maybe you are even sliding backwards.

old_car_stuck_in_a_rut

What do you do when you find yourself in such a situation?

Do you start fantasizing about your dream vacation – that long desired trip to Malibu , Tahiti or Monaco?

Or perhaps you start working longer hours, working harder. Kicking screaming frantically flailing your arms throwing in all that you have got.Digging in, waiting out.

What if you have waited long. And, nothing has changed.

What then?

What should you do?

Should you try out a totally different track?

 

What would that be?

Why are’nt you taking that?

What is stopping you?

 

 

 

What is a Structured Interview?

204853-675x450-lawyerinterview
Job Interview

In a structured job interview all the candidates are asked the same set of questions in the same order. This ensures that they are assessed on the same parameters, translating to a fair and objective assessment.

The flipside to this style of interviewing is that they may not elicit much information from the candidates.

Unstructured interviews on the other hand are conversations that follow promising lines of inquiry as they appear. You get to know more a lot more about the candidate this way, but it makes comparing the candidates difficult.

Which is the best bath? Depending upon the requirement it could be a either or neither. In my opinion the best path would probably the middle path. No i am not referring to the path showed by the Great Gautam Buddh.

middle-path-sign

What i mean is, stay flexible in your line of questioning – but have a core set of questions common for all the interviewees. By preparing these core questions in advance – you can be assured that all key points are covered.  While, the unstructured element of the interview opens the door to productive areas of enquiry which you may not have anticipated.