I met Dr Preeti Shirodkar when she was conducting a survey. Her knowledge and insights in HR issues were evident. Later when she moved to Thane along with her illustrious brother and my good friend, Dr Vikas Shirodkar, meetings with both became more frequent. The Shirodkars are high achievers with enviable achievements to their credit and yet they are humble. They maintain very low profile. I knew that Dr Preeti worked as a Professor at a management school, but I discovered that she holds Ph.D. in English literature only recently! And that too in the subject of my interest – the Indian diaspora. She has written four books on various subjects [one of them is co-authored with Dr Vikas], and her latest book written much on demand is ‘Winning The Job Race’ sub-titled ‘A Job Seeker’s Companion to Cracking Written Tests, GDs and PIs.’ An essential possession for every student and job seeker.
While preparing to write the book, Dr. Preeti discussed my views about career, interviews, GDs etc. Then she converted her notes in a short write-up which appears as ‘Expert Speak’ in the book. Here it is for you:
An interview is a tricky time for students as they do not know how best to impress the interviewer and land a job. They are also often worried about how they should go about choosing the ‘right’ organisation and looking for the perfect fit. Moreover they wonder how the selectors would determine the fit and what can they do to prove their suitability to the interviewer. From what I have learnt and understood from my years in HR is that it is not something that can be understood, let alone found out, in such a short time. No organisation and individual are made for each other. They have to grow on each other by interacting and working together. Also both the organisation and the person change with time, so how can one talk of an exact fit?
Well then, how then does an interviewer decide which candidate to select from the many, who have appeared for the interview? Believe me when I say the choice is not easy. Yes, even for the interviewer. In fact a candidate should remember that the interviewer is interested in knowing how you think more than specifics of the answer. This applies to inexperienced students passing out of their college as well as well experienced personnel. In the former case, how you think applies to what you have learnt [how to increase market share of a certain product] and in the case of latter it is about what thoughts and planning was done when achieving a major result. What a company looks for is the ability to bring solutions to the table and come up with fresh thoughts and ideas. They themselves are not right or wrong. They show the ability of the person to think independently and innovatively in a situation. And that is very important for a company.
I would say that if you want to make the right impression in an interview just be your natural self. Be authentic. Any mask that you put on is easily seen by others and it does not make a good impression. Do not be anything but authentic. You are considering a long term relationship. It is necessary to begin it with honesty. Also how long will you be able to keep on the mask? And then what? So it is better to be your own authentic self from the beginning. This will also help you reduce the stress while facing an interview; given that you will not have to pretend. So be natural.
Also, from a long term point of view, there are, in my opinion, two aspects that students must appreciate. Firstly, every employee experiences the organisation in a different way. Perhaps because they get different bosses or relate differently to him/ her, even if common. And secondly, growth and not money should be the criterion for freshers to select their employer. Working in a good organisation we tend to grow as a professional and as a person too. There are certain organisations where a person experiences growth, unlike others. This is akin to plants growing well in their natural habitat. A Christmas tree survives in Mumbai but blossoms in Himalayas. A coconut tree would not give highest yield in Himalayas but in Mumbai. So our search must be for our ‘natural habitat’. It is better not to rely on the experiences of others or hearsay, while making a decision about which company to join. It is best also not to give up on great opportunities for the wrong reasons. At whatever level one is one has to learn and grow. That will keep both the employee and the employer happy, creating a win-win situation for all.
Students often ask me to guide them, about what employers look for in a candidate, when they put them through Group Discussions. From my experience, I can say that what companies are testing is what kind of leaders can they see, emerging through these discussions. Is a student only passively listening to the discussion, without contributing his/her bit or then, is the student dominating the discussion. According to me, companies look forward to selecting a candidate who is more assertive than aggressive and who would rather make sense, by talking to the point, than contributing many times, without really making sense. This sense of being able to hold one’s own and basing one’s points in common sense and logic, rather than which opinion is more popular, defines leadership for me.
Moreover, in Group Discussions, along with Leadership, companies also test whether a candidate is a good team player. Is the candidate giving others a fair chance to speak, is s/he listening attentively to other participants and trying to draw connections and references, to the points made by his /her co-participants, thus displaying an ability to be a team player? This is because companies would like employees who can function with others and not by excluding them.
Also one of the many qualities that helps in maintaining this balance is the ability to communicate and is definitely among the top skills that companies look for in a prospective employee. A candidate might have a lot of information on a subject, but how clearly the person is able to express it, in a short time, and make an impact, is the real test. Nowadays all jobs require people to work together and this would not be possible without good communication skills.
Finally after being in HR for long years I have learnt that reading, reflecting on your experience and being sincere are very important to keep updated and create a space for oneself in the organisation. If you enjoy what you are doing and really believe in it, then, without doubt you would not need to convince anyone that you are the right person for the job; they will select you. A confident, sincere person who is an incessant learner is undoubtedly a prized catch of a good interviewer.
Vivek S Patwardhan