Q&A: Employer Branding in TA by Aprajita Sud


Q: How did you get into HR? What's your experience been like? And can you share your journey?

When I finished my first graduation, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Around that time, call centers and BPOs were just starting in India. I thought, instead of sitting at home with no clear plan, I'd give it a try.

I wanted to be independent and start earning, so I took a job at a BPO. It wasn't my dream job, but it was an opportunity to make money while figuring things out. I kept working without a break. Even though I did my first graduation through correspondence, I later did two full-time master's degrees in human resources.

Back when I started in the BPO, someone noticed my good communication, soft skills, and negotiation abilities. They gave me the responsibility of training new hires. It was unexpected, but I enjoyed it. Even though my role didn't officially change, I felt like an expert in training.

That's how my journey into human resources began. For the first 10 years, I focused on learning and development. It became a comfort zone for me, but I realized I wanted more. I started looking for roles that challenged me beyond training.

It wasn't a planned journey, but I'm happy it happened. I found my place in human resources, and now I can't see myself in any other line of work.

Q: Do the master's degrees and PhDs you mentioned really contribute a lot to your work, especially in comparison to professions like engineering where hands-on learning is crucial?

I decided to pursue a master's degree because, after working in learning and development for a decade, I felt the need for a solid foundation of knowledge to broaden my horizons.

However, when it comes to human resources, I've realized that a lot can be learned on the job. It's about having the right mindset, understanding people, and having a good balance of IQ and EQ, with emotional intelligence being slightly more crucial.

Now, I wouldn't recommend jumping into a human resources degree right away. It's better to gain some on-the-job experience first. Once you've been in the field and know what you want to focus on, then considering a degree to deepen your knowledge at a strategic level might make more sense.

In a nutshell, for roles like human resources, experience often teaches you more than a degree does, especially when you're just starting out.

Q: Did your master's degrees help formalize things you already knew but learned through practical experience?

Absolutely. I've always known that data is crucial, even in human resources. The master's program, especially the statistics course, really emphasized how to analyze data in various ways to get the desired insights.

No matter what your gut feeling says, data needs to back it up for the right decisions. It's a valuable skill I picked up.

Another thing that hasn't changed is the importance of attention and care for people. It's a universal human need to be appreciated, acknowledged, and heard. In my career, I've observed that this aspect remains constant, no matter the generation. Being there for people is something that will never go out of style.

Q: How does the difficulty in connecting with different generations, especially in hiring where you may deal with both Gen Z freshers and experienced millennials or Gen X, impact employer branding?

Attracting talent across different generations has been a challenge. I've noticed that the key is understanding the role each generation plays in the organization.

For top-level positions, experience is crucial, and it's unlikely that a Gen Z individual would be in a CEO role. So, the difference in generations is often role-dependent.

To bridge the gap, I focus on a top-down approach. If there's a mix of generations in a team, the emphasis is on results. How individuals get there can vary, but the focus is on achieving common goals.

I consciously promote a mindset of working together, understanding, spending time, and observing. Admittedly, it's not always easy due to mindset restrictions.

In my current role with the indiagold team, our talent attraction strategy is simple. We communicate benefits, highlight company successes, and feature employees across the board on our LinkedIn page. Whether someone is interning or on the management team, we want everyone to feel valued and part of the organization.

Our communication aims to be inclusive, emphasizing that regardless of background or experience, if you bring the right skills and attitude, you are a valuable part of the team. While it has been challenging, this approach has worked for us.

Q: How does employer branding address the challenge of attracting genuine talent, especially considering the shortage of skilled juniors and the need to distinguish from those merely pretending to be competent?

Authenticity is at the core of what we value. It's something that can't be faked. When we're looking for talent, authenticity is non-negotiable. We appreciate individuals who are genuine about their beliefs, and we don't judge them for it. As long as someone is authentic, we have no reservations about accepting and embracing their uniqueness.

In our journey, we are aware of the need to evolve with the rapid changes in the market, including advancements like AI. However, one thing remains constant: authenticity cannot be surpassed by anything. It's a principle we hold onto as we continue to navigate the dynamic landscape.

Q: How do you identify and attract authentic and talented individuals in your hiring process?

Certainly, let me share how we evaluate authenticity and attract genuine talent. In our interview process, we focus on having conversations rather than traditional interviews. We delve into what motivates candidates, what would make them switch jobs, and what they value in their free time. We explore non-negotiable attributes and softer aspects that define who they are as individuals.

Experience and skill set on paper are just part of the picture. The key is to understand the person behind the resume. There's no right or wrong answer to personal attributes; it's about the confidence and belief someone has in themselves.

Attracting authentic people is a challenge because there's a mix of genuine talent and individuals just looking for any opportunity. Despite various filtration platforms, it's tough to distinguish between the two without real conversations. We welcome all applications, and authenticity comes to light through our conversations.

As for attracting authentic people, it's not just about job descriptions or requirements on paper. I've noticed that being upfront about the challenges and disadvantages of the job, especially in startup environments, helps attract individuals who are genuinely interested and prepared for the reality of the role.

Q: How do you differentiate between high agency as a personality trait and the phase of hustling in employer branding to avoid confusion and misinterpretation?

Let me share how we differentiate in branding, especially in the context of high agency and the hustle phase. As part of a startup for the past six years, our approach to branding is centered around a growth mindset.

We openly discuss the highs and lows, the journey we've had, and the ongoing struggles. We aim to attract individuals who want to be part of the building process, who are ready to contribute beyond what's outlined in a job description, and who possess an owner mindset.

In our communication, we emphasize that we are looking for those who are ready to grow, dedicated to their responsibilities, and driven by performance rather than tenure. The key message is clear: if you're looking for stability in the traditional sense, we might not be the right fit. But if you're ready for continuous growth and a dynamic environment, this is the place for you. It's about encouraging individuals to see the opportunity within a startup, where the journey itself is a significant part of the experience, unlike the predictability of larger corporations.

Q: What do you consider the optimal ratio of A players to B players in an organization, in terms of percentage, and does this Goldilocks number vary across different industries and organizations?

In our organization, I aim to have about 5% A players. I prefer not to be top-heavy, focusing more on getting the right individuals who can plan, strategize, and execute effectively. I believe spending time to find the right person is crucial.

However, I acknowledge that this percentage can vary depending on the scale and stage of the organization. Currently, with around 250 people, I don't feel the need for a higher percentage of A players. Execution, building processes, and continuous improvement are crucial at our stage.

The ratio depends on the organization's scale and stage. For an early-stage startup like ours, I prioritize having individuals who can execute and get things done over being heavily focused on A players. It's about evolving with each season of the company's growth.

Individual evolution is vital, especially in a startup where every season brings different challenges and expectations. A player or B player distinction depends on how well individuals can adapt and contribute to the evolving needs of the business. In a startup, this becomes apparent sooner, and individual involvement is key. As an employer, providing support and the right platform is important, but individual involvement plays a crucial role.

Q: How do you view the evolving landscape of flexible working arrangements, and what steps do you believe companies should take to integrate these changes effectively, considering factors like trust, the hybrid model, and the crucial aspect of mental health?

Certainly, the importance of trust in flexible working arrangements cannot be overstated. Even with the option of flexible hours or remote work, trust that the work is being accomplished remains a critical aspect. The circumstances brought about by COVID-19 have accelerated this shift towards flexibility. While remote work was always there, the pandemic brought it into the limelight, making it a more central consideration for both employers and employees.

Flexible and remote work arrangements are not going away; they have become a significant preference for many individuals seeking employment. Companies need to adapt and integrate flexible working as a standard part of their operations. This could involve a hybrid model, allowing employees to work in the office for a certain number of days and remotely for the rest.

While acknowledging the importance of in-person connections, the flexibility of working a few days in the office and a few remotely is crucial. Companies should seriously consider and implement such arrangements to cater to the diverse needs and preferences of their workforce.

Moreover, certain aspects are not disappearing from the landscape of the modern workplace. The need for employee benefits remains paramount, especially in a scenario where flexible working may blur the lines between the start and end times of work. Providing comprehensive benefits becomes crucial to supporting the well-being of employees.

However, as the workplace transforms, there's another critical aspect that should not be overlooked: mental health and psychological safety. In the Indian context, these topics may not have received the attention they deserve. It's essential for companies to create an environment where employees feel psychologically safe. This means fostering a culture where individuals can openly discuss mental health challenges without fear of judgment. With expectations skyrocketing for flexible work arrangements, addressing the psychological well-being of employees becomes even more imperative.

Do you work in HR?

Email abhash.kumar@springworks.in and let’s talk :)

Note: All views expressed in this interview are personal and not linked to any organization.