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‘English proficiency is not a measure of your soft skills’

Abhay Shenoy, an alumnus of Apeejay School, Kharghar and Key Account Manager at HDFC Life, says ‘soft skills’ are not about the oral and written expertise you possess but the behaviour you display in responding to challenging situations

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As a Key Account Manager, Abhay is tasked with developing and maintaining strategic, long-term relationships with high volume clients. This role requires him to acquire a thorough understanding of key customer needs and requirements and expands the relationships with existing customers by continuously proposing solutions that meet their objectives. Abhay completed his Bachelor of Mass Media from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and PGDM from T. A. Pai Management Institute, Manipal. In a candid chat, Abhay highlights the importance of soft skills, how to build strong client relationships, why freshers shouldn’t shy away from taking additional roles and responsibilities, and much more. Edited excerpts:

Share with us your journey.

My father is a Key Account Manager, so I was aware of the requirements and skills needed to thrive in this field. After completing my graduation with specialisation in marketing I decided to pursue higher education to improve my career prospects.  I took a gap year to prepare for the CAT (Common Admission Test). My primary purpose of pursuing graduation in Mass Media was to hone my communication skills and gain valuable industry exposure. After my PGDM, I bagged a job with HDFC Life, one of India’s leading private life insurance companies. I have been working with HDFC for nearly 4 years now. To thrive as a Key Account Manager, one needs to have excellent soft skills.

What according to you are soft skills and why are they important?

Soft skills include any skill that can be classified as a personality trait or habit. However, many confuse English proficiency with soft skills. Nothing could be further from the truth. English proficiency is not a measure of your soft skills.For a variety of industries, English is the business language. It would seem safe to assume that every professional possesses the language skills to thrive in an English-speaking workplace. Though, it doesn’t mean they also have impeccable soft skills. By soft skills I mean leadership skills, teamwork, problem-solving skills, collaboration, work ethic, flexibility, business etiquette, interpersonal skills, etc. These skills dictate how you’ll engage with others and how you’ll perform in the workplace. Good communication skills are one of the key ingredients of soft skills and they are not just limited to having verbal and written proficiency. The ability to communicate involves knowing how you should speak to others in different situations or settings. For example, when working with a team or a client, you may need to communicate when you believe that an idea or process is ineffective. The ability to tactfully disagree with others without creating bitterness is an important skill. Communication skills is also about making eye contact, body language, voice tonality, dressing well and how to react under pressure. There are so many aspects to communication skills. I will forever be indebted to Apeejay Kharghar for helping me acquire soft skills. I believe one acquires soft skills over a period of time, therefore, it is essential to inculcate such skills in children from an early age.

How to develop and maintain positive client relationships?

I abide by the philosophy – the customer is king. However, it doesn’t mean you bend over backwards. Make sure that you don’t oversell yourself and promise unrealistic results. Importantly, always listen and ask for feedback, but don’t be afraid to provide honest and pertinent advice about what may be required to improve your client’s business. For this, it’s important to understand the market within which your client is trying to compete. Also, even if the inputs suggested by the customer can’t be implemented, making customers feel listened to can have a huge impact on how valued they feel.  The whole effort should be to add value to your client.  

What’s your advice to freshers?

In the formative years of your career give 100 per cent. Don’t shy away from taking additional responsibilities and learning new things. Talking about myself, I never worried about the work-life balance and devoted as much time and effort as possible to learning new things and achieving my goals. This can also be possible if you maintain a positive attitude at work. Lastly, talk to experienced people from your industry to plan your long-term professional development goals.

Dheeraj Sharma is Asst. Editor (Newsroom). He covers events, webinars, conducts interviews and brings you exciting news snippets. He has over 10 years' of experience in prominent media organizations. He takes pleasure in the small things in life and believes a healthy work-life balance is key to happiness. You can reach him at [email protected]

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