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‘Online interviews have facilitated a larger pool of candidates to HR professionals’

Talent acquisition specialist Pankaj Saini says the two years that he spent at the Apeejay School of Management were a great grooming experience for him that prepared him for the industry

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An alumnus of Apeejay School of Management (ASM), Pankaj Saini pursued PGDM in Marketing and Human Resource, his major and minor subjects respectively. Although he started his career in sales and marketing, he now works as a talent acquisition specialist at ValueFirst, a Twilio company. In an interview, Saini shares how his alma mater prepared him for the industry, the pros and cons of online interviews, and more. Edited excerpts:

With marketing as your major subject during your PGDM, what made you opt for a talent acquisition role?

I always had an interest in both subjects. I started with a job as a management trainee where I was promised marketing and sales opportunities equally. However, my profile ended up being a lot more focused on field sales work in schools. I somehow felt my skills were not being optimally utilised in the job. That is when I decided to move to HR. Meanwhile, I got a very good opportunity to intern with Freecharge payments, where I started my career in HR from scratch. At the company, I hired candidates in bulk, which gave me good experience. Thereafter, I got the chance to work with ValueFirst.

How did ASM prepare you for the industry?

The two years at ASM were a great grooming experience for me. The college does not just focus on academics but also on boosting the other aspects of personality, be it soft skills like communications, presentation skills, etc. We used to have presentations every week on a particular topic in every subject. This helped us develop public speaking skills. All the above are skills that are desired in the industry, which needs people to have a go-getter attitude, good people skills, and corporate etiquette. I still remember how one of my teachers at ASM trained me to speak fluently with adequate voice modulation. As an HR professional, when I am interacting with a candidate, it should not seem like the interviewee is talking to a robot, so, modulation of the voice is something that I have worked on and implemented.

Besides, the college provided us with good internship opportunities. I was also part of the Corporate Resource Centre where I learned about campus recruitment, coordinating interviews, etc, which eventually helped me overcome my fear of interacting with recruiters. I also want to especially thank ASM for giving me the opportunity to participate in cultural activities, which helped me overcome stage fright and build confidence.

With hirings largely moving online amid the pandemic, how would you compare it with in-person interviews?

In my two years of recruitment, I have been doing virtual hiring only. In the case of an offline interview where a candidate has to come to the office, there are fewer chances of a back out. These are people who would take out time and take the pain of coming to the office for the job. If the candidate is not actively looking out for a job change, he or she may not come for a face-to-face interview. In the case of online interviews, the number of candidates appearing for it is definitely more as compared to offline interviews because they do not have to travel and can attend the interview at their own convenience. While that has created a bigger pool of candidates, the percentage of people who finally join a company has significantly reduced. We have experienced a 50 per cent decline in acceptance of a job offer.

Moreover, the candidate feels more confident when he or she visits the office, which gives them a fair idea about the premises, the work environment, etc. In online interviews, I have also seen people resisting relocation because of a lack of awareness about the location.

Coming to the interviewer, they feel more confident about a candidate in face-to-face interviews, where the process can be completed within a day. In the online mode, the interview process has become a little longer because it is challenging to manage all rounds of interviews virtually in one sitting. We have to arrange multiple slots, which may result in candidates backing out after the first or second round. The other reason for increasing the number of interview rounds is that in the virtual mode, it is not always possible to judge a person’s body language and behaviour.

The pandemic made remote working a possibility. What do candidates prefer more—remote working or work from office?

We have witnessed a massive behavioural change. A lot of candidates find it more comfortable to work from home, which many companies today are facilitating. People prefer remote working over moving to the office location, due to the additional relocation cost. A localite, on the other hand, thinks about travelling expenses which can be avoided by working from home. In our company too, we have offered permanent work from home to some employees. But there is a sense of dissatisfaction among those coming to the office when they are in a meeting with people working virtually. There can also be instances where coordination between teams becomes a challenge.  

At the same time, there is a small percentage of people who prefer going to the office to be able to interact with others physically. The preference varies from profile to profile. For instance, one who works behind the screen is more comfortable working from home. Those who are in the sales or administration field, prefer to work from the office.

What do you think of the achievements you have had so far? What are your future goals?

Even at the initial age, the exposure I have got till now has been very good. I consider myself fortunate to have landed good jobs where I learned a lot about my work. I am happy with my progress. In college, we thought HR was more about people engagement and hiring. Through my professional journey, I have understood the huge role it entails. It covers a wide range of verticals. In terms of hiring, I aspire to not just do domestic hiring but also international hiring in a good company. I also aspire for a managerial position in the coming years. I believe in setting small targets and achieving them.

Your advice for students of ASM.

To those who are planning to make a career in HR thinking it to be an easy-going job, I want to tell them that it is actually like hardcore sales. It is a high-pressure job where you have a timeline for every task and are answerable to a lot of people. You have to keep these things in mind before joining the industry.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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