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Definition of a good career – does it even exist?

Posted On June 30,2019

Statistics say that an average person spends 90,000 hours at work, over a lifetime. Now, that is a lot of hours. You would have put in late nighters, sacrificed time with family and friends and had little or no downtime to introspect where you’re heading. The question I have for you is “Was it worth it?” This is one of the most important topics, that is often overlooked or not spoken about. Ask yourself “What am I doing and why am I doing it?” If you have a clear answer in your head, you have found your true calling – not many people do though.


What is the definition of a good career and how do you know if you have and/or had one? I sometimes ponder on my way to work, there are so many people walking towards these high rises in the city, most of them already on phones (works calls and emails), do they know what they want from their careers? Or is it just a job? I don’t have an answer to this question and I have not found my true calling……yet! Here is my view.


Let’s be honest, not all of us can be Steve Jobs or Jack Ma. They are exceptions, apart from being super extremely smart, they had the courage to follow their dreams and were okay to fail, but not to give up! For a majority of us, the appetite to take risks reduces as we get engulfed in the intricacies of managing relationships, raising kids and bringing food to the table. A career then turns into a job and a job into a chore. And one day you retire - scary right? But it is a fact! 

 
Building a career is like building your dream home, in most cases it is not the first one (you change a few jobs). You might rent first (your first job), then buy your first house/apartment (your first job switch). By now, you have an idea of the kind of house you want, the suburb you want to live in and you start thinking about your next house (middle management phase of your career). Finally you decide to build something from scratch; you have a vision in your head – the architecture, the interiors – the works. You put all of this onto a piece of paper and build something where you want to spend the rest of your life (your transition from middle management to a specialist and/ or leadership roles).


How did you move from renting, to building your dream home? It’s simple – you learnt from your experience. You knew what you wanted and more importantly what you did not like. And this comes with experience. The journey of having a successful career is the same. Have the end in mind and work towards it. That said, you need to know what you want! The skills you need to acquire, to build your toolkit. Money should not be the driver here. It will follow if you enjoy what you’re doing because it becomes your passion and you ultimately excel at it. There will be times, when you have to put your career in a cruise control mode, priorities change in life. It is normal to do so but have that end in mind. Do not be fixated on a title or an organisation. Be fixated on the legacy that you want to leave behind, when you retire. 

 
Here is my approach:


1. I look at my career in blocks of six months. I break my goals into categories such as projects or clients I want to work with, size of teams I want to lead, an industry that I want to explore and my personal development for e.g. certifications etc.
2. I then rate them on a scale of 5 and my priorities for the next six months are sorted. 


Like everything else in life, you never know what’s around the corner. At times you need to take a step back or sideways to move a few steps ahead. 


Write to me at contact@skillprodigy.com if you need guidance with your career planning. 


Author: Ritu Raj Das, Co-Founder @ Skill Prodigy

Importance of mentors in your career, do you have one?

Posted On June 19,2019

Good academic scores – check, good extra-curricular activities - check, cracked campus placement – check. Fast forward 5 years – feeling stuck in the rat race? Do not know what you’re doing at work and more importantly why you’re doing it, if your answer is ‘Yes’, this blog is for you.


I have 12+ years of professional experience but I have no shame in admitting that I still get confused (at times) about where my career is heading. It comes down to two simple things – the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. I go through this phase of soul searching but end up with more questions, than answers. This is where I need a sounding board and this is not friends or family most of the time. This is someone who has been there and done that, someone who can give you an unbiased view of the world and critique your judgement/decision making process. In other words, this is your ‘Mentor’.


The paragraphs that follow, throw some more light on how you can embark on the journey of finding your perfect mentor.

Who is a Mentor?

A mentor is someone, who can help you navigate the conundrum of making decisions with regards to your career. And by career, I mean anything in relation to your career, even your personal life, for e.g. if your role involves too much travel, it impacts your family and social life. A mentor can be someone from the same organisation that you’re working with or someone who you met outside work. The most important point to note here is that, the mentor and mentee relationship needs to ‘click’. You will know what I mean when you find a mentor who you click with. 

How to approach a Mentor?

Even before approaching a mentor, you need to find one. The question you need to ask yourself is, ‘why do you want this person to be your mentor?’ Do you aspire to be like him/her? Do you like the way he/she runs the organisation. There are no hard and fast rules here, identify two or three things that you want to learn from that person. Now that you have identified a mentor, how do you approach one? Simple – be honest. Say you are at crossroads in your career, you have the talent but it needs direction and you believe he/she is your guardian angel. Don’t make it a formal discussion – it is a big No. Lastly, find someone who is not part of your business unit/line of business but understands your line of work. They turn out to be the best source of guidance.

What to discuss?

Anything and everything in relation to your career – transparency is the key. You need to be an open book, for the mentor to know you inside out and a sponge to unlearn and learn things simultaneously. Like in any relationship, this is a two-way street – you need to give time, plan properly and have a goal in mind, else this ends up being a chit chat and ultimately you or the mentor will lose interest.

Note: do not feel obliged to be a mentee, just because you had a few catch ups with a potential mentor. It is better to call it quits early, rather than carry on something, if either party is not really committed – you will figure this out pretty quickly.

I personally have two mentors, who come from different backgrounds and bring a different perspective on my queries or challenges. We meet over coffee, lunch or at times over a 5 min phone call.

They say ‘it is not where you start, but where you end, that matters’ – a good mentor can definitely ensure that the ‘end’ is worthwhile.

Feel free to reach out to me at contact@skillprodigy.com if you would like to know more about my journey and how my mentors have been priceless, in shaping up my career.
Author: Ritu Raj Das, Co–Founder, Skill Prodigy

Good communication and its impact on your personality – an introvert’s view

Posted On June 14,2019

This is a topic that is very close to me and this blog will provide you an insight on my journey – where I started and how good communication can shape you as a person. 


“An introvert’s view”, there is a reason why these words are in the title. That’s who I am, but put me in front of a decent gathering of senior executives at work, something switches inside me – I love the limelight, the centre stage, the microphone. Any presentation goes flawless and deep down I say to myself, “Did I just do that?”


Was I always like this? No way! In any social gathering, I wouldn’t blame you, if you think of me as a doppelganger. So, how is this transition from an extreme introvert to someone who can take centre stage? Let’s go back to the beginning……


My educational background is same as any student going through the trenches of the Indian education system – High schooling was with a focus on science, Bachelors was in Computer Science with specialisation in Software Engineering. Spending most of my college days learning new languages (programming languages to be precise) and playing computer games, I was completely oblivious of the fact that, technical proficiency alone can’t take you too far. You need to be the “complete package” to move up the corporate ladder – the right balance of IQ (Intelligence Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient) and Soft Skills. 


At times, you need a reality check in life. I got mine when I landed in Melbourne to pursue my Masters. My command over English wasn’t bad, but it’s different when you are in a completely new country – the accent, the slangs and the pronunciation, they take time to fathom. Fast forward 16 years – I am still in Melbourne, completed my Masters, did MBA from one of the best B schools in the country and worked for some of the biggest brands in the world. 


What has this got to do with communication? A lot! You can be the best programmer in the world, but if you can’t express your thoughts in a business context, your value decreases exponentially. The world today has changed; you think global but act local. No matter where you are in your academic or professional journey, in order to go up the rungs of the corporate ladder, you need to be an astute communicator. You need to realise, that your role will transcend boundaries and cultures and that good communication is a key ingredient, that will help you navigate this maze. The idea here is to keep things simple. Here are some things that I have tried over the years and they work:


1. Read: I’ll be the first one to admit that I am not a reader. In fact, I am not patient enough to read. But getting your hands on a couple of good English newspapers and spending an hour everyday reading them, helps. Make notes of the words that you don’t understand, find their meaning and try and use those words in sentences when you converse. “The Economic Times” is a newspaper that I have been reading for quite some time now. 


2. Watch: Follow an English television series. Even better if you can find something that has a corporate storyline. The series, “Suits”, is a good one to start with. It will teach you a thing or two about business attire as well. 

 
3. Speak: Make it a point to speak in English with your friends or family. This might sound funny at the start, but this is the best way to put what you have learnt from point 1 & 2 above, into practice. Worst case, stand in front of the mirror and talk. I have done it several times and it helps a lot.


As the proverb says, “Practise makes a man perfect.” This will take time and you need to be patient but we are always by your side in this journey. 


Reach out to us on contact@skillprodigy.com if you would like to know more on how we go about it.

Author: Ritu Raj Das, Co – Founder, Skill Prodigy

Beyond behavioural and technical proficiency

Posted On June 05,2019

They say, “hiring is guessing, firing is knowing”. Sounds harsh right? I tend to agree with it. Though, I don’t have any control on the “firing” aspect, I sure can help you convert the “guessing” aspect to a “certainty” in the mind of the hiring manager, that you’re the perfect candidate for the job.

This blog focuses on a certain area of the interview process that almost goes unnoticed. In fact most of the candidates I speak to have not even heard of it. The term is “The Airport Test”.

What is the Airport Test?
The airport test is simply a question a hiring manager asks himself or herself after / during an interview. It is something along these lines, “Would I want to be stuck in the airport with this person?”


Why is it important?
There can only be so many behavioural questions. Moreover, most of the answers sound rehearsed and clichéd. They don’t tell the interviewer much about your soft skills, ability to work in a team and if he/she can spend 8 – 10 hours a day with you. Here, the airport test provides another avenue for the interviewer to know you better as a person. Can you fit into the company culture? Work with the team? 


How to tackle the Airport Test? 

1. Do not avoid small talk: Small talk is an informal conversation on a non-controversial topic. I cannot state the importance of small talk enough. It is the perfect ice breaker and puts both the interviewer and interviewee at ease. A simple “How was your weekend?” or “How has your week been?” is a good lead into a bit of chit chat before the formal questioning starts. The ongoing cricket world cup tops my list of personal favourites. Keep it simple and let the conversation take its own course. 

2. Keep it professional: There is a thin line between being slightly informal and being too casual during the small talk. Topics such as religion – your belief towards one and politics – your opinions towards a particular party, should be avoided at all costs. Try and get to know the interviewer, he/she is doing the same, but don’t push it too far. An awkward silence is enough to draw curtains on your chances of getting the job.
It is completely normal to feel uncomfortable on the first few occasions if you’re not used to small talk or striking conversations with strangers. That said, this can be real fun once you get the hang of it. 


Feel free to write to us at contact@skillprodigy if you would like to know more.

Why should we hire you?

Posted On May 27,2019

Ever come across this question in an interview? Felt awkward? Did not know what to say…..don’t worry you are not alone. This is one of the most common interview questions that candidates struggle with, especially new graduates or professionals with < 3 years of work experience. 


I personally struggled to articulate an answer that would ‘Wow’ the interview panel – and this has happened on a number of occasions. Let’s break it down mathematically; you have been shortlisted for a first round interview with a Fortune 500 as part of their campus recruitment drive. You will be competing against your friends / acquaintances from your cohort, with potentially similar background to yours – good GPA, extra-curricular achievements. On an average 15 of you will appear for the interview. Then, how is your answer to “Why should we hire you”, different to the other 14 interviewees – tricky right? Here is my take on how you can tackle this:


As a graduate:
• I would advise against structuring the answer around your grades and achievements. They have already been stated on your resume and hence why you’re sitting in front of the interview panel
• Highlight your strengths in the areas of communication, team play and an eagerness to learn
• Research the organisation and find synergies between their growth plans/projects and how your skills can contribute
• Try and find out about the interviewers, note: do not stalk them on social media. If they happen to be from your college, this gives you a perfect opportunity to break the ice. They have undergone the same process, moved up the ranks and are now on the other side of the table. Your aspiration is along similar lines
• Speak to alumni from earlier cohorts working in the same organisation and find out about what they enjoy, work culture and opportunities for growth. You can then tie this back to your response - shows you have done your homework.


As a professional with < 3 years of experience:
• You have some experience up your sleeve but still early days in your career. Focus on your transferable skills i.e. what do you bring to the table that will allow you to add value from day 1. This can be your expertise in a technology, project or an assignment in an overseas location
• Speak about the gaps in your skillset and how this opportunity will help you develop in those areas. Remember, there is no harm in stating your shortcomings in an interview. If you’re 100% perfect for a role, you will be bored from day 1.
• Close the answer with your strengths in the areas of leadership, communications skills, stakeholder management and ability to deliver against tight timelines.

Something that has helped me personally is to ask myself “So what?” for every point that I state as a reason to hire me. Structure your response in such a way that the answer to “So what?” is a unique value add to the organisation. A value add that defines you as a person. This is easier said than done, but discussing your answer with friends and family will help. 

Author: Raj Das, Cofounder Skill Prodigy

What is your weakness?

Posted On May 15,2019

Hiring managers say that when they ask this question, they know that the candidate has prepared a word-perfect answer and memorised it. The most common among them is “I don’t have a weakness.” Though, this might sound like the perfect answer, you and they both know that it only works in a Bollywood movie.

So what is an acceptable answer, or even an impressive answer to this question? Before this question is answered, let us agree on what is not an acceptable answer.

1. “I’m not a team player.” – This answer will surely take you out of the running. No matter how well you perform at your job, if you are not great at team work, do not announce this at the interview. In spite of your exceptional skills, no manager wants a team member who cannot gel with his or her team. 


2. “I cannot think of a weakness that I have” – This shows a lack of self awareness. Whether you like it or not, you do have a weakness or weaknesses. In an interview, your aim is to not only paint yourself in a good light, but also to show that you can adapt and learn new skills. Hence, it is essential to portray a behavioural weakness which you were able to modify or working on to improve.


3. “I’m a workaholic.” – This might sound like something an employer would love to hear, however, it can actually be counterproductive. Being a workaholic not only indicates your enthusiasm to work but also your inability to prioritise and organize your work. This would not sit well with your interviewers.
An alternative is to use a phrase like ‘I’m passionate about my work and sometimes I can get carried away with work.’


4. Choosing an irrelevant weakness – Though this might seem like a safe way to dodge the bullet, your interviewers might not think so. Giving an irrelevant example like ‘I’m addicted to playing Tennis.’ can signal that you have not taken this question seriously.
Your skill here would be to cloak your weakness in a manner that would show you as the right candidate for the job.

For Instance – ‘I’m an avid Tennis player and I use all my free time to hone my skills in this game. Though it is not part of my work, the knowledge and insight I have gained from this is immense. I have learned focus, determination and technique can quickly turn a bad player into a good one. Additionally, this activity helps me stay healthy and stress free.’

How to answer this question?

There are two optimal ways to formulate an answer.

1. Disguise a strength as your weakness
2. Present a current strength which is a recovered weakness.

Disguise strength as your weakness
The best way to orchestrate this answer is in two parts
(1) To confess your weakness (which is in fact a strength that is taken too far)
(2) Make a recovery by turning that into a positive.

For example: If you state your weakness to be being impatient, recover the positive by saying that you have learned to redirect the impatience into prioritising and coordination.
“I am very impatient when it comes to work and I always want things to be done immediately without any delay. But I have realised that people at work have different priorities and they all might not match, so I have started to prioritise my work and list the top 5 things to get done daily, and share it with my team and manager. This way everyone is aware of the important tasks and it is easier to coordinate among the team. Additionally it has helped me build better relationships at work.”

Present a current strength which is a recovered weakness.

Using a characteristic which was a weakness in the past and showing how you have evolved and converted it into strength is a very attractive way to answer this question.
Choose a mild weakness like - critical, worrier, unrealistic etc, which could be carefully transformed into one of your current strengths.

For example: “I was a worrier before and I would waste precious time worrying about the outcome of a project. But, over the years, I have seen that worrying is a futile activity and it builds unwanted stress not only for myself but also for my team. I have since devised a method that is far more helpful. When I start to worry, I write down the cause and the effect of my worry and have noted that frequently I am able to foresee a problem before it happens and am able to anticipate and execute a solution for the same.”

Be careful when you use a weakness to convert, that it is not too critical a character. You do not want to be caught up in an explanation from which you cannot untangle yourself.

Ultimately, understand why question has been put to you. The interview panel is trying to understand your personality which does not show up in your resume. It is also an opportunity for you to show how well you can turn a loss into a win. By commenting on your weakness you are indicating your lack of ego, self awareness, and your resourcefulness to convert a negative into a positive.

Author - Sindhya KH, Mentor at Skill Prodigy

What is the one thing that is holding you back from achieving your goals? Send us your comments, queries, and feedback at contact@skillprodigy.com.

The Candidate’s Code for Behaviour

Posted On April 30,2019

As part of an interview preparation, there’s a lot of work that needs to be put in. You ensure your certificates are all up to date. You check and recheck your attire. You revise your technical knowledge and prepare the answers to all possible interview questions. 

Good grooming and sound knowledge are important aspects of a candidate’s personality while appearing for an interview. But once you get in front of the interview panel, it’s a different ballgame. All the preparations may go for a toss if you don’t carry yourself well.

Attitude and Conduct are additional aspects of one’s behaviour that determine whether an interview panel should select a candidate or not.
So, what are the things one should bear in mind while sitting in front of the interview panels – 


• Positive Attitude
Carrying a positive attitude is vital. A negative or unreceptive candidate is sure to be rejected within the first five minutes even if the credentials look good on paper. No one wants to work with a whiny or arrogant colleague. 


• Sense of Humour
Being able to tackle difficult questions with a smile is a testimony to the candidate’s ability to keep calm under pressure and solve problems despite difficulties. Every company wants a candidate who can keep his wits about him. 


• Confidence and Being Self-aware
It is important to know your capabilities and that you can deliver what is expected of you. Accepting challenges and being able to overcome them is an art that few candidates can display in the short interaction of an interview duration. Be sure to project confidence but not over-confidence. There’s a thin line between being confident and cocky.


• Posture and Body Language
While Grooming is crucial to cracking an interview, a candidate who dresses well but does not sit properly will not be given the respect they deserve. Slouching, eating chewing gum, or dragging your feet on the floor are a strict no-no. 


• Greetings and Interactions
Your interview panel is the golden ticket to the job you want. They are the only people between you and the next step of career growth. It is vital that your behaviour and conduct is such that it casts a favourable impression on them. Greeting them when you enter the room, sitting only when invited to sit, and speaking only when it is your turn to speak are the few basic tips one must keep in mind. Being formal, restrained and respectful in your demeanour will ensure your interviewers will take an instant liking to you. 


Remember, when you’re sitting in front of an interview panel, the impression you want to give is that of a respectable, knowledgeable, confident and capable candidate who deserves the job he or she seeks. Dress and behave like the asset to the company you shall prove to be.
The panel is there to hire for the position advertised. Make sure you give enough reasons for them to pick you. And then there’ll be no reason for them not to!

What is the one thing you have in your checklist before you appear before an interview panel?  Send us your comments, queries, and feedback at contact@skillprodigy.com.

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