Soft skills, strong views

July 1st, 2011

First there was smoke. And then there was no fire.

Here’s how it all got started. Sometime in 2010, IIT Delhi ran a special 10-day programme for improving the communication, time management skills, self-expression etc of its participants.

Close follow-ups and several assessments later, the Institute decided to do a redux.

This year, sections of the academic world said the redux ’smacked of apartheid’, simply because it was targetted at scheduled caste and secheduled tribe students.

The institute, though, was quick enough to deny that the programme was strictly for SC-ST students. IIT-D issued a press release from the Registrar’s office that categorically said the grooming programme was open to all categories with preference given to SC/ST students.

Let’s think of it. Is it a mistake to acknowledge that sometimes students from different backgrounds may need special attention like self-enrichment programmes?

The ‘etiquette lessons’ for students with special preference to SC-ST category is a response to certain shortcomings in that section of students that the academic community might have noticed over a period of time. Okay, they could have made the programme optional at the inception and given SC-ST students the right to opt out of it.

However, this ‘Self-enrichment class’ is made of modules on communication, personality development and public speaking classes, all of which are soft skills and very much a regular feature in several institutes. Industry does stress on the need for soft-skills training along with theoretical learning.

Studies suggest that hard skills contribute to only 15% of one’s success while the remaining 85% is attribiuted to soft skills. Most employers these days want to hire candidates who are effective in spoken and written communication, dependable, resourceful and having positive attitude to learning.

Abhijeet Kamath, External Relations Cell, IIM-Calcutta says that at his institute they do have training sessions in effective oral, written and presentation skills.

Kamath adds that the idea behind the programme implemented at IIT-Delhi is noble since communication isn’t a strong point for most undergraduate students.

As a part of the PGP curriculum in the first year at IIM-C, students are mandatorily required to study Managerial Communication, a course that has 30 hours of teaching spread over two terms, emphasising on developing excellent written and oral communication skills. The course is a non-credit pass-fail course (you have to mandatorily pass this course to complete the degree requirements), and students are evaluated on the basis of their presentation skills, ability to write business notes, and ability to analyse business communication.

Then to begin with, one of the three pronged strategies in the Constitution to improve the situation of SCs and STs says – ‘Provide for resources and benefits to bridge the wide gap in social and economic condition between the SCs/STs and other communities.’ The basis of having a ‘reservation’ policy was background. Never mind that now there are enough successful SC-STs to make reservation policies redundant.

The point is why take such a serious approach to something constructive? For those who are against it, don’t they really not feel that such special attention is in fact a step in the right direction where the students will actually benefit in the long run during the campus placements or even otherwise?

If self-enrichment for SC-ST is apartheid, why don’t we apply the same yardstick to reservations?

Just because reservations give a huge advantage to SC-ST candidates in the job market, they are embraced. On the other hand, IIT-D’s programme hints, which  also seeks to empower them, is slammed only because it points to a certain weakness in such candidates.

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And now, organic teaching

May 17th, 2011

Do you really need books, the rote learning that currently exists, the pressure of exams and all the grind that comes along with it to get school education?

If education for children becomes stress-free and a process of healing, will the learning process be any different? Yes, says Sreenanda Parida.

Parida runs the Waldorf-inspired movement in academics called Education as a Work of Art (EAWOA). It nurtures the pedagogy of ‘Love and Compassion’, a curriculum that is Vedic and draws upon our rich Indian mythological traditions. These workshops are for children aged between 7 and 14. Occasionally, it is run as a parallel programme for schoolchildren.

The education system in India has been criticised by many for its inability to encourage independent thinking and creativity. A child needs well-rounded development of mind, body and spirit for overall growth.

Learning does not just involve the mind or brain. It involves every part of the body and is about how you feel when you encounter scientific concepts. It is about how and what you remember, when you touch something, for instance. It translates to learning when you see a mathematical formula solving a complex problem.

This teaching method in EAWOA is different as there are no textbooks for both teachers and children. Lessons are designed according to a curriculum and pedagogy, yet they are very personal.

An integrated approach is used to assess a child’s progress in terms of both his emotional quotient and grasping (learning) ability. The progress here is on an emotional level and cognitive level, and is not marked or graded, but is discussed with parents.

In this teaching process, there is neither rote learning nor any exams. “Life lessons are discovered and it’s not just about academic content,” says Parida.

She adds that teaching here happens in an ‘organic’ manner; it believes in following the rhythm in nature and always connects the universal rhythm with the rhythm within us. For example, like breathing. It happens naturally in us every moment without stress. Similarly, learning according to this method happens naturally.

‘Lesson plans’ too are like a work of art.

Wherever introduced, this method of teaching has found immediate acceptance and momentum. But it remains to be seen whether ‘organic’ teaching will be able to replace the ‘fast food’ variety of education anytime soon.

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Helplessly educated and single

January 13th, 2011

A friend of mine felt helplessly educated when her husband, while still married to her, secretly ‘acquired’ another woman 16 to 18 years younger. My friend was aware of her rights in such a situation, but was still groping for answers.

“What are the choices before me?” she asked me. My educated head said she should go legal and either end it or contest it.

The husband’s act was illegal, without a trace of doubt, although my friend’s ‘b(i)etter half’ kept proclaiming innocence, brushing this piece of information off as a rumour.

I don’t know what amazed me. Was it the age difference between her husband and the other woman? His casual approach to an act that invites criminal prosecution under Indian laws? The support he was getting from his family?  Or just the timid response of my friend who was a mere spectator to all that was happening in her life?

“Contest,” I egged her on. “The case is in your favour and you’ll win.”

“It’s murky,” said a common friend. “Just let it go.”

“Do it on mutual basis,” said someone else.

Understandably, her family was troubled with the fact that she would soon be ‘single’. As feminist write Erica Jong puts it, ‘Singularity shows something wrong in the mind.’

I discussed the situation with my mom for some elderly perspective. Her view was this -“In India, being single is losing the choice to be spontaneous and secure.” Being single is like unprotected sex, where you are vulnerable to many questions, glances and hush talks.

My friend will soon figure out what to do next. But, according to Deepak Miglani, Advocate, President Legal Point Foundation, here are a few choices a woman in her situation has:

  1. Seek legal advice
  2. Register an online complaint with the National Commission for Women at www.ncw.nic.in.  Here investigations by police are expedited and monitored.
  3. If there is still a chance to rework the reunion, seek the help of family, friends or a marriage counselor.

If her husband seeks divorce, she can claim maintenance under:

  1. Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code,
  2. Section 24 of Hindu Marriage Act,
  3. The Domestic Violence Act,
  4. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act

A few points to note:

  • Maintenance is granted keeping in view the financial capacity of husband and his source of income. The Income Tax return is not final authority for deciding the quantum of maintenance, though it is taken into consideration.
  • Where maintenance is admissible the woman usually has to merely state that she is wife. Strict proof is not essential in every case.
  • Maintenance can be granted u/s 125 CrPC as well as u/s 24 simultaneously. Generally, however a wife cannot claim more than 50% of his income.
  • In case of settlement of assets jointly owned, she can claim half the amount, where she has not contributed, and the full amount that she spent, if her contribution was more.
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Magical Answers, Anyone!

November 20th, 2010

Last week was one big roller coaster. Everywhere I looked–among friends, team members at office, or myself–we were all in some emotional cul-de-sac. A close friend of mine was heading for a break-up, another was afflicted with a serious health problem that had started affecting both her work and personal life. I was in a mess on the personal front and sulking.

What does one do when one is caught in an emotional trauma–reach for a friend, a guide, a book, a soulmate, God? How does one know what is the right thing to do?

We all fuss and talk about how people handle their personal lives which eventually affects their professional productivity. It amazes me how so much intellectual importance is given to “work–life” balance, yet at some point or the other we find ourselves in a catch-22 situation. No amount of burying your head in the sand or trying to deal with an emotional situation head-on helps.

Why compartmentalise life into “personal” and “professional”? Does one not affect and trespass the other at all time, and vice versa? Is there a clear demarcation that exists with respect to this, or are we just kidding ourselves when we do that? Is there someone out there who has really achieved that ‘balance’?

All this led me to think: what if there were a compulsory subject during our college studies called Life Management  (just like we have specialisations in finance, marketing, history or politics) to teach us a few key life lessons? After all, aren’t the leaders/managers of tomorrow supposed to be more emotionally ‘balanced’ and empathetic with a higher EQ score?

As I discussed this with some of the core members of my team, they all came up with the obvious question - Can life lessons be learnt? It is just that clichéd query – Are leaders born or made?

Work is a source of “unique opium”, said Francois Mauriac, Nobel Prize Winner, to overcome an emotional trauma. Yes, most of us agreed to this fact, though we all have our ways of tiding over a situation. There’s nothing called one-size-fits-all. When push comes to shove and we have to move ahead, you just have to move ahead. Period. That’s the cold reality. No amount of rhetoric will help.

Manshi (name changed on request), working in Mumbai, who experienced breach of trust w.r.t a friend at work, says to overcome the negativity, she had to quit her job. And that she didn’t have to rely on close friend/s or family to overcome the emotional stress. On the other hand, talking to acquaintances or ‘not so close’ friends helped her as “they don’t judge you”, she says.

Avinash Satapathy, an ex-captain of the Indian Army and currently managing his own consultancy services lives with his son Aman, aged seven and wife  Capt Madhusmita Patnaik who is a commander in a private airline. Avinash has ‘balanced’ it quite well as far as his own work, his wife’s work as a pilot and their kids life are concerned.

He feels that the feeling of “our” is very important to achieve this balance in case of a married couple. Avinash enjoys the experience of taking care of his son Aman whenever his wife is flying. He adds that she is not in some office work or typical job. We’r all (including Aman) taking extreme pride in supporting what she is doing. It’s challenging, difficult and trendsetting.

And my answer to my team member who is dealing with his emotional trauma remains the same – there is no magical answer. Yet we all need to deal with it and find our own answers. Somehow!

Readers of this blog are encouraged to share their experiences and help the lost souls dealing with their concerns/confusions in life.

The author is Director, IILM – Business School, Mathura Road, New Delhi

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Not just a click away

August 25th, 2010

Online job search can be tricky. And it’s not as easy as just a click away. While the simple step beings with knowing what opportunity you are looking for, often it takes a set of consecutive efforts. And when you are a fresher, it becomes a little more challenging.

Harveen Singh Bedi, senior vice president and business head Quadrangle and Naukri Resume Serivces says that for one fresher job approximately 300 applications are received and companies usually respond only to the shortlisted applicants.

And here’s an important tip that Bedi gives that as a fresher you need to keep applying to all the relevant jobs. Also apply to only the jobs where you fit.

For example, if 60 oer cent are cut off marks and you have 59 per cent, then the chances are that your CV will be dropped electronically.

For freshers beginning their journey into the corporate world, it is important not to be a regular run of the mill product. Hence, to being with you should have clarity of career aspirations. Knowing your strengths will help in creating the resume accordingly.  A well written resume that highlights your competencies is the way to go.

Sanjay Modi, Managing Director (India/ Middle East/ South East Asia), Monster.com says that getting noticed is the biggest challenge that a fresher faces.
Modi suggests that jobseekers can take the help of services provided by online players that help them stand out of the clutter. Special resume services help to reach out to the leading placement consultants across India. Certain services provided by job portals help job seekers market their strengths, potential and accomplishments.

Indeed, such services make the resume stand out in employer search result with special showcasing making it more likely to be viewed.

jobs

One of the basic mistakes a fresher makes while uploading the resume online is not giving due importance to key words. Bedi recommends that one must go through the list of keywords mentioned in the Job Description and make sure they are incorporated in your CV.

The key to getting best results all agree lies in uploading CV, and then filling in all details with utmost care for getting relevant job alerts.

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Formal Twist

August 12th, 2010

Attending a formal corporate gathering last week got me thinking about the corporate dress code for men nowadays. In the gathering were some who subscribed to the traditional dress code. A select few were those, who pretty much had the essence of a mixologist in the way they blended formal attire with a little peppiness. The entire combination was very much formal, but characterised high spirits and pertness.

The environment at that conference looked like a Thank-God-It’s-Friday Conference, though in a demure way. This made me immediately reach out to a friend of mine who I think is a savvy dresser. I needed some perspective.

Corporate dressing for men has got a twist. Concocted by the new breed of young managers, formal dressing in office is no more restricted to the traditional black and whites. The colours are now flowing in, interspersed with red, aqua blue and peach.

Plain choices are no more the pattern. Pink and purple are, my fashionista friend declared. He added that one need not be brash. But, if you are carrying something offbeat, a little incorrect, but carrying it with arrogance and certainty, you can get away with it and nobody will think you are out of place. At least, people around you start to think that you are original and not dated.

As far as shoes are concerned, other than wing tips, slip-ons and oxfords, boat shoes are also making their way into the formal dress code world for men. In this, the most versatile colour for office wear still being black.

My friend adds that the basics of white shirt teamed with black pant remaining the same, it’s acceptable for men to experiment with colours.

Though, I still doubt how far he may be true.

For, dress codes are also dependent on the industry and particular office culture.

Ask the youngsters, and they say - so what if it’s office and corporate, you must exude as if you are having a real whirl enjoying your work everyday. And they way you dress gives that impression.

The author is Director, IILM - Business School, Mathura Road, New Delhi

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Fusion MBA

July 20th, 2010

Rohit Verma, a student at IILM – Business School New Delhi landed at Royal Estate through campus placement. In a brief time of one-and-a-half months, Verma was promoted as sales development manager and got a 50-per cent hike in salary. He is based out of Delhi now.

Nitish Madhur, a student of Rai Business School, New Delhi who graduated in 2006 joined Dabur through campus placement. After his 30 months experience he moved to Fab Miller. Currently, Madhur is with Pernod Ricard India, as a key accounts manager.

Both Verma and Madhur are fusion MBA grads. Their career best states that to get a foot in the door what matters is your managerial skills, how best you market and prove yourself during the job interview. Developing yourself during the two years MBA program is important.

A management programme is skill enhancement platform, which doubles your employability, facilitates a student with opportunities to meet the corporate requirement. The focus should be on the process, the quality of the delivery and then learning outcome of it.

MBA programs that combine full-time interactive classes, with a regular employability skills development programme and standard industry interaction and industrial visits, though the mode of degree is in distance learning, are gaining acceptance and popularity among B-school students.

Such fusion MBA programmes providing in-face interaction on a daily basis are quite similar to conventional MBA programs.  B-schools offering such programmes provide their autonomous certification besides providing an MBA degree through some reputed university affiliation. And the cost of this MBA is almost equivalent and sometimes more than a traditional MBA program.

This is because business schools running fusion MBAs do every sort of academic activity and industry related activities to stay at par with any regular MBA program.

Currently, hiring managers do not differentiate much between an MBA/PGDBM in regular mode and these fusion MBAs, unless the student fails to prove his mettle in either case.

Seeking views from one of my friends who is an HR manger at an MNC revealed that a full-time program with training programs and other live projects definitely has its own value. As long as it is not correspondence, which has rare contact classes, fusion programs are almost equivalent to a traditional MBA.

Recruiters feel that ultimately it all depends on the fact that how a candidate proves his strengths and eligibility for the job s/he is applying for. If s/he turns out to be most appropriate, then management learning from a government recognized institue or an autonomous institute can be overlooked.

There are enough examples of students who pursued MBA through ‘fusion’ mode and are have found ready acceptance in corporate.

The author is Director, IILM - Business School, Mathura Road, New Delhi

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Entrepreneurs or Managers?

July 12th, 2010

Some time ago I had an intern working with me who always asked me if he should start his own business.

I don’t know why, but I would always find it difficult to give him a straight “yes” or “no”. The intern had the drive and the zeal. But somewhere he still questioned his own abilities to become an entrepreneur. Probably he would succeed, only if he didn’t have temporariness, frivolity.

But who decides what it takes to become an entrepreneur? The entrepreneur himself?

Sample this. Arvind Pani, a BTech from NIT Rourkela has had extensive experience working for various companies. Having seen the nature of the corporate ladder, Arvind was convinced that that was not the path he wanted to tread. Entrepreneurship was his childhood dream and he started his own initiative to make unique software products based company. In a short span of time his organisation, Reverie Technologies, has established credibility in a niche segment. In 2009, their firm made it to the final list of companies under the ‘Power of Ideas” initiative driven by The Economic Times. Their organisation is contributing significantly to certain standardisation initiatives for mobile phones in India where they are working closely with TRAI and COAI.

Pani says that for becoming an entrepreneur, there are 3 traits that are absolutely essential-

a)      Extremely high ability to take risks.

b)      Hatred for straight-jacketed and conventional thinking.

c)       Put one’s entrepreneurial mission and passion above everything else as No.1 priority; including prioritizing above one’s family.

Rest of the traits can be acquired. But without the above three traits, entrepreneurship can lead to a disaster.

True. An entrepreneur is on his own, with his ideas and his successes and rewards are his own too.

Mitul Rustagi, a very successful manager in corporate India and currently the Director-Business Development, Automotive Experience, India Johnson Controls India Private Limited  says a good manager is one who is definitely accountable - will deliver to all assigned tasks, meeting all expectations for the assigned  tasks.

However, a good manager, 80% of the time (by Pareto’s principle), may not be a good entrepreneur.

For being entrepreneur, Rustagi feels an individual needs to take a step ahead and be “responsible” for the entire gamut of business - deliver results that are essential for the business outside his assigned tasks, a fact Pani agrees to.

Every successful company would have a unique collection of these manager-cum-entrepreneurs. One would find that these people are very well aligned to the vision of the corporation and are the people moving very fast within the organisation.

Somewhere all those I spoke to feel entrepreneurial zeal is innate to a person, but can be learned. One of the reasons why IIM – Ahemedabad always encourages students to take up entrepreneurship as a career. Probably it is one of the very few campuses that allows students to take a career holiday so that they can try their hands at their own ventures. In case the students decide otherwise some time later, they can always come back to avail the placement facilities on campus.

The author is Director, IILM - Business School, Mathura Road, New Delhi

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Job Hops or lateral movements?

June 30th, 2010

Originally interested in a finance job, but struck in marketing profile! This may be the situation of many of those trying to get their foot in the door. There’s nothing wrong or right about a situation like this. Unless, as a young executive you fail to pick up the right kind of learning from any job.

As the rookies gradually gain experience from their first job, they learn more about their professional self than anything. It’s like a litmus test for all their strengths they vouched for during their interview process.

Though blessed are those who know what they want, for the rest who are standing at crossroads, their first jobs could be pretty much revealing.

I have noticed a lot many students unable to hold their first jobs for more than 3 months. The reason for each is different yet similar.

Thus I couldn’t help but ask my friend Satyendra K. Mallik, VP (HR & Planning), Infinity advertising Services pvt. Ltd, who is an advocate of Internal Job Postings (IJPs) for his take on fresher’s job hopping habits, lateral shifts and its vicissitudes.

Mallik declares its not experience which makes a person fit for a job.

True. As a beginner, it’s your involvement, your keenness, adaptability, ready to learn attitude and most of all, ones willingness to come out of the comfort zone that makes a person appropriate for any job.

Finding your field of interest can be a daunting task. And recruiters insist that one should be clear about the path right from the period of traineeship. Else, frequent job hunting reflects badly on the CV of a new professional as the person gets dubbed as someone who is not sure of what s/he wants.

Probably, the freshers may assume that they have the luxury of exploring, though a little reality check reveals that 80% of people land up in a job by chance and start finding that interesting and 20% land up by choice. Hence, the best way to inch closer to one’s interest would be via lateral movement through IJPs, job enrichment and turn key projects.

In fact, Mallik suggests that the best time for lateral movements are during the period of traineeship – here one gets oriented to different domains and tends to perform the best when it aligns with your area of interest. That’s when you really like doing a job.

However, at mid level managerial position – after establishing oneself as a domain expert and team manager, one can explore other domains, which are closer to the erstwhile domain.

While at senior level having varied experiences would be a big plus, but at junior level, it gives a sense that the person is indecisive.

There are obvious drawbacks to being in an experimental mode like this. Then, should it not be the HR’s responsibility to help the fresh executive to find his interest area? Mallik suggests that it is the responsibility of all three – the HR, line manager, and the individual himself.

The first job for a fresher should be a platform to plug career gaps, understand his expectations, capabilities and explore ahead for a lateral move.

The readers of this blog are encouraged to share their experiences and help the rookies in their search for that perfect haven and stop prevent career accidents.

The author is Director, IILM - Business School, Mathura Road, New Delhi.

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A job or placement?

June 14th, 2010

Finding a job is not placement. For an MBA graduate, a job that aligns with  long-term career goal is placement in the right sense.

Then comes the big question of how to find a job that helps in terms of career goals. Also, how does one plan a career with slowdown crippling the economy and its repercussions yet to wear off?

SECTORS THAT ARE CURRENTLY HIRING
1. Manufacturing and construction
2. Telecom
3. BPOs/KPOs
4. Banking & Insurance Sectors
5. ITeS
6. Services Sector

There may not be a clear one line answer to this question. It needs an elaborate understanding of ones area of interest, academic background, and where one sees the career graph moving in three years’ time.Newly-minted MBA graduates are often confused about which career path to choose, even at a stage when they are about to complete their MBA. Most students have come to terms with the fact that random choices made early during their career can decelerate their career graph.

Early in their career, most management graduates make the mistake of turning down offers and waiting for that perfect job to land in their plates. This is utopia. Though, it may happen in some cases, most of them should accept offers well in time and make the most of it.

In other words, accepting a job well in time is one of ways to find out ones true field or area of interest. Even better is to get into rotational positions. Though apparently not lucrative, in rotational positions an MBA graduate gets to work in few functional areas in a company such as marketing, sales or operations for a few months before getting into a management role.

But to nab that dream job, one has to do more than studies. With the job market just beginning to recover, a student serious about his career must focus on what s/he brings to the table compared to others in competition for the same job.

In various B-schools, finding a job during the recession period last year was a rage. And why not. The campuses saw fewer companies coming up with offers. Overall, the industry grew at a slower pace than expected. But things look upbeat now. Now is the right time to pursue a career in management as by the time the economy fully recover, one has the necessary skills required for the job market.

Other than the elite schools, students who are in the second rung colleges with average academic background, should either seek help from career counselors who can help a student to find their area of interest. And having identified that special area, commit to it.

For graduates, an important point to keep in mind is that the recruiters know that fresh b-school graduates need further training and seasoning. HR managers then believe that it is best to tap former interns since both the parties know each other.

Understanding that a crucial preparatory timing for final placement is during internship is key to career planning. Though many students may not take internships very seriously. Giving due importance to internship in career goes a long way in marinating a student for that dream job which he expects during the final placements.

A report by Kelly Services, which conducts the “Global Workforce Index” annually revealing opinions about work and the workplace from a generational view point, says that due to global economic slowdown professionals are reinventing themselves as independent freelancers and consultants. Today, people are taking charge of their own careers and view self-employment as a way of achieving personal and professional success.

In fact, at most of the international b-school campuses, placement search is dubbed as “the year of the networked job search.”
Gone are the days when job search used to be only school-driven activity. Now, students are expected to take charge of their careers, attend various corporate seminars, build on their networking skills during their study years, and always be in touch with alumni.

Often students think that just because one has managed to pay the course fee for pursuing MBA, s/he is entitled for a job. Employability skills are almost an integral part of any management course in these times. Attending these classes seriously will only benefit the student. Other than studies, equal importance has to be given to life skills training.

Over the period of two years when one is pursuing management studies, the process of learning, developing, growing, being trained to be a manager finally leads to the process at the end of their fourth semester of program called placement.

Placement is never measured by package only!

The author is Director, IILM - Business School, Mathura Road, New Delhi.

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