Question: “What should I make my career in?“
Answer: “Follow your passion!“
Me: “What Crap!“
The suggestion made by most well-meaning ‘advisors’ is “Do what you love…“
There are abundant books and articles written around this theme. If you are a cook, start a restaurant. If you like watching films, become a film critic, even make films. If you like doing plinkity-plonk on a guitar or a keyboard, start a band. It you are creative, write a novel. If you like hiking, start an adventure sports academy.
Running a restaurant is a difficult business and requires cut-throat (maybe the chef’s knife will come in handy here!) business practices. Ever wondered why no one listens to your witty criticisms about the films, or reads your facebook updates about the film you saw last night? Managing an outbound sports program requires the ability (among other things) to handle a lot of logistical uncertainty including propitiating the weather-gods. Ever wondered about the average lifetime of such businesses? Ever considered that low barriers to entry means too much competition? And, believe me, doing your own thing is harder work (with longer hours) than your current job.
We will probably not be able to do what we love…because:
- If what we love is spending money (consumerism) then it seems crazy to earn money by spending money.
- If we love wasting time, we will not earn money doing that.
- We will also not have too many choices of a job.
- Being an entrepreneur requires a different set of guts (not the belly that most of us have because we love drinking beer).
- If your business is successful, others will follow.
- You may burn your bridges and not be able to return to a position of safety (your previous job).
By now you must be thinking, what has all this to do with the subject of this blog entry?
I will digress a bit into the debate about ‘love’ marriages versus ‘arranged’ marriages. Arranged marriages have been given a bum rap in recent times, but face it, most of the couples of our generation are happier, more accepting, more adjusting, take time to understand each other, share issues and problems, fight and can live with our differences. Most of the couples in my children’s generation are quite the opposite. There are fewer permanent relationships.
Maybe we should just blame it on technology (internet) and the knowledge explosion. Maybe it has to do with more available choices.
But the point is, we fell in love after we got married, and we have remained married. And we are happy. Youthful passion may not endure, but love does.
Another interesting aspect of an arranged marriage is that families have to adjust. There is a lot of emotional investment and that creates a support system. Since our beliefs are based on our past experiences, and our future responses are based on our beliefs, it is highly possible that our backgrounds may determine how we deal with an uncertain future. The support system also gives us the courage to take risks.
Put it another way, the chances of success are higher as there is more background analysis, more emotional investment and a better support system.
So to return to the topic and drawing a parallel between successful marriages (with your spouse or with your career)
- A career should be like an arranged marriage, not a ‘love’ marriage based on youthful exuberance and passion.
- We can love what we do. Fall in love with your job, with what you have been given…like in an arranged marriage. Be more accepting, more adjusting, take time to understand your colleagues and your boss, share issues and problems, fight and live with your differences.
- Do background checks on similar businesses, talking to people in the industry you want to be, researching the culture of the firm you plan to join makes the chances of loving your job better.
I am sure I am raising the hackles of a lot of persons right now. I would welcome your comments.
I am invariably asked this question from my mentees, “Should I change my job?”
Reasons for Quitting
When I probe deeper, I find that the reasons are broadly:
- An expectation mismatch between the manager and the mentee. The mentee typically blames the organisation, the management, the boss, the super-boss, the colleagues, the politics, the salary, the travel time, the office hours…this list is endless.
- Perception that life has been unfair. The perceived unfairness has another perspective, “I did all the work that was allotted to me, I fulfilled my targets, I did better than others…how come I did not get what I deserved?”
I have said this earlier and will re-iterate. If everyone fulfils their targets, everyone cannot be promoted, unless it is a bureaucratic / government job and even there, after a certain level, only some persons can get promoted. We cannot all become CEOs in the same organisation at the same time.
So what determines who will be promoted?
The answer is simple – ‘Whoever the promotion committee feels should be promoted.” Why should the committee feel that you should be promoted?
- The boss must be promoted, so that a space is created for you
- Out of all prospects, your boss will recommend you if:
- He trusts you to do his bidding
- You make him look good
None of the above have anything to do with your work. Your work is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for your promotion or increment.
Managing the Power Play
You need to know the following:
- Power equations in the office (who determines promotions)
- What they want
- How you will benefit them (give them what they want).
If what they want is unacceptable, then you need to determine why is it unacceptable.
It may be that you would not want to compromise your beliefs. But the beliefs of the bosses matter, not yours. So you have the following choices:
- Change your beliefs
- Change your job
- Change the beliefs of your bosses
- Determine that you love your job and you do not want the promotion / increment
- Wait until a boss comes whose beliefs are the same as you.
A hamster is a cute looking rodent which needs exercise. Since it is in a cage, a mobile wheel is provided for it to keep running without going anywhere. All the processes and activities that we do are for the purpose of changing something, from a current state to a new future state. There is an expectation, that an activity will change something, as desired.
So a process can be called effective only if it changes the current “state”. If we start something (remember our new year resolutions), and we spend time and money setting up the process, then start with enthusiasm, and then give up half way, or not put in enough effort, the desired state is not achieved, except the diminished size of the wallet.
If we look back on our road of life, we will see strewn on it, those treadmills, where we had spent a lot of time, trying to achieve something, but getting nowhere and then stepping off and continuing on the road, unchanged. When we look back at those treadmills, we lose self confidence because we are unable to achieve anything. Once we create that belief, we only see the broken treadmills, not our achievements, which further lowers our self-confidence and sense of achievement.
During placement season, the night before the interview, we swot vigorously from thick management tomes, past issues of the newspaper and the internet. If we do not succeed in getting placed, that swotting is like the treadmill, and our road gets strewn with a lot of such failed interviews. We start asking, what is the use of studies?
Why does this happen?
We do not know our goals. We spend a lot of effort doing this and that, trying various things right from lucky pens and totems, to prayers, to swotting book summaries. But to what purpose? How do we know that these are the right activities. Yes, the goal is to get placed, but where and how?
If we do a work breakdown structure, we realise that we get placed if we are better positioned than our competitor. Positioning is about perception, not reality. It can be product differentiation in terms of features. But it is also in terms of match between company’s needs and perceived benefits derived from hiring us. Therefore, to get product differentiation,
- we need to understand the mind of the buyer/recruiter and his needs,
- we need to match the needs with the benefits we have to offer (the benefits of hiring us) and
- we need to prove that we have the features that showcase these benefits.
So instead of trying at the last minute to enhance our features, which we may or may not have an opportunity to display, given the time available, we need to focus on the following:
- Do an analysis of the customer’s industry and the company to understand its problems and therefore the perceived needs of the industry and the company with respect to other companies in that industry. The industry analysis should be done beforehand, and the company analysis, once we know the name, should be done ASAP.
- During the Pre-placement talk (PPT), we should understand the roles and designations of the persons, and look for the keywords that they are repeating. Based on their roles, they have certain professional needs.
- Develop a set of keywords (use our friends who are not interested in the company to help develop these words) and ensure that we use them during the GD. We have to try to link the topic of the GD to the company and the industry so that we can highlight our knowledge. It may be great if we can use these words during the Q&A after the PPT.
- We should use the same friends to quickly understand the needs of the recruiters and which of our features showcase the benefits that will satisfy these needs.
- Since most CVs are in the same format, unfortunately, and they hide our uniqueness, we should have an alternate mode of showcasing the benefits of hiring us. This can be in the form of a presentation, an elevator pitch, copies of our blog articles, and other physical evidence that highlight our uniqueness. All these are features and their benefits should have been determined earlier on, not at the last moment.
- We have to ensure that we highlight all three types of features: Attitudes and Traits, Transferable Skills and Subject Matter Expertise (these are all specific to the interview)
- During the interview, we should ask permission to ask questions and once they relinquish control, validate with them our perceptions of the needs of the industry, their company and the recruiters and therefore offer concrete evidence of our ability to contribute towards fulfilling the needs.
For each interview, the future state is different, as the job is different and the path towards that job is different. Therefore the process is customised, instead of being generic. I hope that this will decrease the number of treadmills we see in our past life.
Of course, another way is to forget the past, and not turn back to see the treadmills. But typically we cannot do that, and we waste time going back and re-examining those treadmills and weeping over the carcasses and wasted resources.
Segmentation allows us to slice and dice the general population according to their capability to buy and according to their needs and wants. Needless to say, creativity in segmentation allows us to get massive gains. It allows us to create demand where supply is less, commanding higher prices. Segmentation allows us to focus our sales and marketing strategy, but the narrow focus may seem too restricting to some strategists.
We segment the recruiters in the basis of the specialisation. Another way of looking at it, we specialise based on this segmentation of our recruiters.
Horizontals become verticals
All specialisations can be treated as horizontal specialisations, wherein a person, performing a specific function, can be employed in any industry . That means that any company running operations, be it BPO or manufacturing, can employ an Operations MBA. Any company having an HR department will hire an HR MBA and any company having an in-house IT department would hire such an IT MBA.
Since companies outsource their internal functions, each of these outsourced functions are set up as organisations providing such services. Therefore a horizontal becomes an industry vertical. For example, HR recruitment firms help their clients recruit – which, earlier, was an in-house function. So a person specialising in HR can join any company in their HR department, or a company in the HR industry, providing HR services.
The same goes for Operations and Marketing.
Broad segments can be sub-segmented. Male Shavers can be sub-segment by age groups. All specialisations have sub-specialisations. HR can have Human Relations and Industrial Relations (factory or production set-up focussing on labour and wages, not knowledge workers and salaries). Another way of segmenting HR is by sub-processes like recruitment, payroll processing, policy design, policy implementation, appraisal implementation, downsizing (“Up in the Air” movie) and so on.
Operations can be segmented as manufacturing / product based operations or services based operations. In product operations you can have FMCG operations or Consumer Durables operations. Again, functionally, it can be Purchases, Supply chain, Distribution chain, Inventory management, Logistics…
Marketing can be segmented by Product category, Services category and by Sub-processes.
Finance has even more ramifications. You can have Corporate Finance which is Financial management in an organisation (typically done by the CAs), and related functions like Costing, audit etc. You can have sub-industries like Corporate Brokerage, Retail Brokerage, Investment Banking, Commercial Banking, Corporate Banking, Retail Banking, Rural Banking. You can have operations processes like Sales and Relationship Management, Front office Operations, Back office Operations, Risk and Middle office Function, Settlement, Cash Management, Custody, Reconciliation, Treasury Management etc.
IT was and still is a horizontal function, and has slowly got outsourced into the huge IT industry. This can be segmented into software and hardware. Within software, you have services – low end services like body shopping firms hiring out programmers, project based programming. You can have software product development and sales and implementation support.
In hardware / networks you can have design and development of products, implementation and support. You can sell boxes like PCs etc, or infrastructure, or services like storage services and so on. The various modes of segmentation is left to the imagination.
You can have higher-end services like design of IT services, Business Process Modelling, setting of ERP, CRM-type enterprise level software. You can act as interfaces between the users and the developers both to gather requirements and to test the applications. As MBAs, since you have knowledge of business functions, you should know more than the average programmer.
You may get involved in high end consulting, preparing a company for the internet world, set up internet marketing, blogs, websites etc.
How do we decide what is the right specialisation for us?
The convenient way is to ask: where do I get the most money, the best growth prospects and a branded company my parents can be proud of. Seniors, alumni and well-wishing relatives and uncles / aunts abound, justifying their existence and their specialisations. Some give good, thoughtful advice, the rest shoot from the hip.
The other way is to look at your traits and determine what is the right specialisation. “I am a peoples’ person, so I should do marketing or HR”. “Most women go for HR.” “I am good at numbers so I should do finance” – so is a cheap calculator good at numbers.
Another way is to ask what it takes to succeed in an industry? What traits and what skills? Find out an ideal candidate profile for each type of a job in terms of attitude, transferable skills and subject matter expertise. Then determine whether you have them, or can you acquire them. The subject matter expertise determines your specialisation. The others you need to acquire assiduously through other means.
Pay and reward
- How will my performance be measured?
- How will my targets be set? And how much say will I have in setting them?
- Who are the key decision-makers that I will need to get along with? And how would you describe each of them?
- How regularly will my pay be reviewed? And when will be my first review?
- How much of my bonus is guaranteed? And how much of it is dependent on performance?
Doing the job
- Be honest with me, what do you really think of the members of the team that I would be running or working with?
- What do you see as the immediate challenges for me if I were to be given the job?
- When was the last company restructuring? And how did it affect this department?
- How is the organization performing? What do staff and shareholders think of the company’s performance?
- Are there any big changes or restructuring planned for the near future?
- So what exactly happened to the previous job holder?
- How would you describe the culture of the organization?
- What is the best thing about working for this organization?
- I promise that I won’t mention it to anyone, but just between you and me, what frustrates you most about working here?
- Would you describe this as a political organization? And if so, why?
- How much inter-departmental rivalry is there in the company?
- How much do people socialize together outside of work? What was the last social event that you went to?
- What training and development is given to employees?
- What opportunities are there for promotion?
- Could you tell me about the sorts of people who have failed here? What was it they did or didn’t do that made them unsuccessful?The above has been extracted from “The Ultimate Career Success Workbook” by Rob Yeung
A recruiter needs three types of skills
1. Subject matter expertise
This is the main thrust of most MBA programs. The professors are aggregators on knowledge and they cram it into the students. Most B-schools teach the same subjects. Different students retain this knowledge at different levels based on their capability and interest and sometimes the ability of the professors. Given that there are 4500 B-Schools in the country, the quality of the teachers cannot be uniform.
If a new recruit has the right attitude, to work and to learn, he can be moulded. If he thinks that he should determine the type of work he should do, then the company has a problem. Recruiters look for a ‘can-do’ attitude, the ability to remain focussed and in balance and ability to learn.
3. Interpersonal, team-building and presentation skills.
If the new recruit does not blend with the culture of the organisation, cannot work in teams and cannot present his ideas, he is more of a liability than an asset.
You should look for an MBA college that teaches you all the above in equal proportions. Any college with a heavy weight on academics but not enough weight on other things cannot create an ideal candidate for recruitment.
To understand the market and how you fit in, you need to do an analysis of the placement scenario, the trend, and how you can sell your services. It will be worth your while to download the following document.
This answers to the questions in this document are not readily available. You need to make an effort to get the best possible answers. Human tendency is to take shortcuts, and ask the nearest amenable person for the answers. Please ensure that the person giving you answers is knowledgeable about facts, and not opinions disguised as facts.
If you look from a recruiter’s point of view, he needs three types of skills.
Subject Matter Knowledge and Expertise.
An MBA is hired because he has had training in various disciplines and therefore has the ability to look at the big picture and understand the impact of a decision on all the disciplines. While a salesman may focus on the revenue generation and client acquisition, an MBA in Sales would also look at the cost of the sale and maybe the sales process efficiency.
There is a difference between knowledge and expertise. Reading from books and listening to lectures may increase knowledge, but expertise comes from practice. Obviously, a recruiter would pay more for expertise.
During the interview, it is difficult for the recruiter to judge this and typically, given the shortage of time, the subject matter expertise is assumed.
This is probably the most important attitude that a manager wants in a subordinate. If he orders the MBA to jump, he expects the MBA to responds with, “How High?” He does not expect the MBA to whine about how his muscles ache from the last jump, why he is not motivated, why other persons around him are not jumping or maybe a response like “Maybe, later, when I am in the mood.” Even worse, the MBA may say, “Sure!” and never do the jump or do it half-heartedly.
Ability to rebound and retain balance.
There will always be adversity and rejection. Everything cannot go as planned because you cannot predict the reaction of all persons impacted by an action. A desirable MBA is one who can shrug off these adverse situations, learn from them, regain his emotional and mental balance and soldier on.
Willingness to learn and change.
As said earlier, changes happen all the time. A good MBA is open to change and handles the change. This allows him to survive and be effective.
The recruiter uses his interview time to determine these skills. These are very desirable in a subordinate and an employee. The student’s communication, body language and responses to cases during the interview will show the recruiter these abilities.
Interpersonal, teambuilding and presentations skills.
These skills are self-explanatory. If the MBA cannot forge relationships in all directions, upwards, downwards, and sideways; within the organisation and outside it, he will not be able to get things done.
Another aspect of these skills is the ability to present ideas. Depending on the audience, the method of presentation needs to change. MBAs must have the skills and the experience to do this.
The third aspect of these skills is the ability to work in teams.
– Excerpt from the book “MBA Blues”
These are bad times. Demand for MBAs is less than supply so salaries are going south. All MBAs are not created equal, some are more equal than others – some MBAs will get better jobs by virtue of their work experience, their college reputation and the location of the college.