Talent Crunch? Silver-Medal Candidates to the Rescue!

Companies have been facing challenges when it comes to finding and hiring talent. Post the pandemic and the WFH scenario, coupled with the Great Resignation, many people, especially the younger generation, often referred to as the Millennials and Gen-Z, have chosen to not ‘go back’ to the office. They prefer jobs which offer options to work remotely and/or have flexible working hours. Moreover, the Great Resignation also saw people resigning as a way to pursue what they really wanted to do. Such factors have resulted in companies facing acute shortages of talent.

What does this mean for companies and people who are actually looking for jobs? It means a massive opportunity for and from the silver-medal candidate.

Let us quickly have a look at what this means.

Who is a silver-medal candidate?

Silver-medal candidates are the ones who made through the various rounds of interviews but didn’t land the final job. They are the ones who just didn’t make it due to a variety of reasons.

Why to think about a silver-medal candidate?

In a culture of cut-throat competition, one often forgets about the second place. A second preference, a second opinion is sometimes reduced in value and hence ignored completely. An attitude like that could actually go against finding and retaining talent. Based on what an article by Business Chief points out, let us have a look at why silver-medal candidates shouldn’t be forgotten about, and that it is necessary to optimise the ATS to keep their records handy. Whether it is keeping the silver-medal candidates in touch via emails about relevant openings for them, to simply keeping them engaged in any other way, not ignoring silver-medal candidates goes a long way. Let us see how.

  • Saves Time: One reason why companies should not ignore silver-medal candidates is the interest and already established engagement. The fact that they had applied earlier means that they were interested in the company at some point and they could be still interested. This means the talent-finding process need not be started from the scratch and one can just simply scan the ATS again and find the required resume and details. This obviously can save a lot of time and resources that goes with creating and advertising job postings. This takes us to the next point.
  • Familiarity: Silver-medal candidates are already familiar with what the company has to offer, they have already done their research, they already know the process. They could also have had established a certain rapport with the interviewing panel and the HR. They are also more likely to respond. All they need to know is what the new opportunity is and one might speed up to the negotiation process instead of trying to figure out if the candidate is actually interested in the job or are they simply appearing for the interview for the ‘experience.’
  • They Might Have Got Better Now: A silver-medal candidate almost landed the job earlier, which means they were the runners-up. A look at the Olympic podiums shows that even though gold is considered the best, the silver and the bronze very much mean that the athlete is at a high skill-level, almost as good as the gold, as an article by Herefish points it out.

The silver-medal candidate had the skills and the competence already and they just about didn’t stand first earlier but that there are skills and competence is a given. Chances are that over the period from the previous job opening to what we have now, the silver-medal candidate might have in fact improved on their skills and qualifications.

  • Reflects Well on the Organisation: Companies often tell once the process is over that they will reach out to the candidates if a new opportunity arises, but they rarely do. By actually reaching out to silver-medal candidates, companies can improve what the article by Business Insider calls ‘employer brand’ in a more positive manner. Even if the candidate may not be interested at the moment, the fact that the company remembered them and reached out to them stands out, and at the very least is likely to make them feel valued and recognised. This is in turn likely to create  ‘positive buzz’ around the company, a good word of mouth, attracting talent.

What does this mean for the candidate?

For the candidates, it means one important thing- do not lose hope if you didn’t get that job! Whether one gets the job or not, a cordial parting ‘thank you’ email, letting the company know that they’d be interested in any other new opportunities could go a long way. Going through the interview process but not getting hired is not time wasted. There are multiple reasons why one might not have got the job, but that doesn’t mean one should stop learning new skills, improving on what they have and give up on the idea of unexpected opportunities!

Amidst the Great Resignation, the emerging post-pandemic work culture and the resulting talent shortages, companies could benefit a great deal from keeping the communication-lines open with those silver-medal candidates who had the skills and the competence but just about didn’t make the final. It saves time and resources for the company, and it could be a beacon of hope for someone in need!

Want to be more Productive? Cut Yourself Some Slack!

Productivity is a common theme to talk about. One Google search, and we will get hundreds and thousands of results about it. From books, to articles, to videos and reels, we shall find tips and tricks to be productive all the time. We are told that perspiration beats inspiration- ideas come to those who work towards them. But what if one of the ‘productivity hacks’ was to actually get yourself some slack time? Slack time is when, to put is plainly, one is zero percent productive, and one is actually not working. Slack time is the time between agendas, tasks when one just seems to be ‘sitting around’. 

The book Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency, Tom DeMarco seems to say that!

Let us quickly take a look at how having some slack time might actually be useful and the need to be productive all the time might actually be proving counter-productive.

Less Slack, More Build-Up:

An article on the blog Farnam Street, while talking about the book, gives a hypothetical example of the workings of the office of a business tycoon named Tony. One look at his office, and it is everything opposite to what one expects in the office of a business tycoon- the office doesn’t look ‘busy’, buzzing with activity. Tony’s secretary Gloria seems to be just quietly sitting on her desk, and not really seems to be working…she seems to be slacking off!

But one phone call, and Gloria gets up on her feet, schedules the required appointment and Tony now knows what his next agenda is.

Here in this hypothetical office, the task is not look busy all the time, and not find work to do all the time. Of the agenda says so, the work shall be done quickly, but there won’t be a compulsion to have a long to-do list. If there’s work to do, great, finish it off; if there’s not much to do, great, take a little break! Slack time is not a bad time here.

Less slack time implies built-up work, and thus, here for example, if Gloria had already built-up work, she wouldn’t have been able to fix that quick appointment.

The Space to Respond:

Slack time gives one the much-needed space to breathe, which obviously gives one the rest and motivation to move on to the next task with more energy and enthusiasm to do the task well. But slack time also gives one the time and flexibility to respond in the face of unpredictable changes. Demarco gives the example of those puzzle-like tiles.

Think of a square with eight tiles, with one empty space that allows you to slide them into place. The empty space is the equivalent of the slack as the article points out. If you fill up that space,

‘…there is no further possibility of moving tiles at all. The layout is optimal as it is, but if time proves otherwise, there is no way to change it.

Slack time thus adds into the organisation, processes or tasks a much-needed dynamism.

Slack time is When Reinvention Happens:

Slack time actually gives one time to pause and look at the bigger perspective. It is when introspection and reinvention happen. It is when ideas take shape. As the article points out:

‘Only when we are 0 percent busy can we step back and look at the bigger picture of what we’re doing. Slack allows us to think ahead. To consider whether we’re on the right trajectory. To contemplate unseen problems. To mull over information. To decide if we’re making the right trade-offs. To do things that aren’t scalable or that might not have a chance to prove profitable for a while. To walk away from bad deals.

…..This is in contrast to grabbing the first task we see so no one thinks we’re lazy.’

The pressure to look constantly busy actually might also make us work slower. We want to look busy all the time, and hence we end up finishing the task ‘not on time’, so that we wouldn’t have to find a ‘buffer task’ to look busy. Kabir’s doha of ‘kal kare so aaj, aaj kare so ab..’ might actually have some relevance here. While on one hand the doha might look like it is talking about being productive, it actually can have a different perspective: we finished the work that had to be done, on time, “ab“, effectively without procrastinating and now we have some spare time at hand to take a step back and look at the big picture, set new agendas and recollect ideas.

How Important is Interviewer’s Feedback

Hone your interview skills, by asking for feedback.

Interviews can often be learning experiences, and it is no wonder that many people choose to appear for interviews even when they know they might not get the job, or that they might not really take up any offer for a job. From a hesitant answer to a tricky question, to not bringing the necessary documents, to simply being a matter of conduct and luck, the interview in itself is a learning experience in many ways. The experience that appearing for an interview offers can be utilised to its fuller extent by asking for feedback from the interviewer.

So, let us jump straight into it- how to ask for feedback from the interviewer and why is it a good practice?

An article by Harvard Business Review gives us some insights.

What kind of questions one should ask, and what are they likely to help us learn about ourselves? Note that feedback can be asked at various rounds of the interview, say, the preliminary, first or the second round and so on. One can ask for feedback from the recruiter of a consultancy or from the hiring manager of the company, depending on the stage of the interview. 

Questions such as follows to ask a recruiter after the earlier stages of screening process of the interview:

  • “Based on our conversation, how do you think my experience matches with what’s needed for the job?”
  • “Is there anything specific I should highlight in upcoming interviews based on the job description or the intangibles not listed?”

Such questions, as the article mentions, help the recruiter give a perspective of the hiring manager. Moreover, as the nature of the questions make it clear, they can help you with providing information that may not have come up in the earlier screening conversation.

Questions such as follows can be asked to the interviewer after the main interview:

  • “How do you think my skills can be leveraged to bring value to your team and the company?”

Their answer to this can help you understand whether you have managed to convey everything clearly or is there something about your standard answers that you need to work on. A more directly framed question would be:

  • “Is there any feedback, specific focus areas, or anything I can do to improve my interviewing technique?”

We may or may not always get the job. Questions such as follows can be asked in case it appears that the job isn’t yours:

  • “Do you think, based on the feedback, I would be a culture fit for future opportunities? I wouldn’t want to waste my time or yours if it’s not a match.”

This crucially can help one understand whether there’s scope for a future opportunity. Plus, it also helps in choosing companies to apply to in the future, as the answers to such questions determine the kind of company culture one would be ideal for. If the recruiters are engaging well with your feedback questions, you can ask more questions to get more specific answers. Questions such as:

  • “Are you seeking someone more hands-on, someone who can provide higher-level strategy, or both?”
  • “What percentage would you say is hands-on and what percentage of the work is strategy development?”

Asking for feedback to recruiters, or to anyone in general entails a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Make sure they are willing and receptive to give you feedback and engage in such a conversation. Some recruiters might not be willing to engage for the fear of offending you, or simply due to a lack of time. But as the HBR article puts it, if you don’t ask, you won’t receive- you won’t know what you did right or where you went wrong. In any case, a thank you email post the process can go a long way, as we have talked about in one of our earlier articles.
  • Do not take the feedback personally. Do not overanalyze or try to read between the lines- take them as you receive them. Internal politics, management issues, certain unknown, unforeseen circumstances which aren’t under your control can affect the feedback and the call up.
  • Depending on what stage you are asking, use the feedback to your advantage as much as you can. Sometimes you might be in the middle of the interview and you may use the feedback to pivot and change your strategy. Sometimes, it might give you insights into how to approach your future interviews.

Speaking of approach, a final crucial thing to keep in mind as the article puts it: change your approach, not yourself. Changing your personality, or putting up an inauthentic view of who you are is something one should steer clear of. The feedback is to be used to hone your own answering and communication skills. It is to help you understand the kind of things you should focus on, where, when according to the context.

An example from the article cited throughout should make it clear how useful taking feedback from the interviewer is:

Miss S was certain she’d receive an offer after multiple interviews for a VP-level role, but she didn’t get the job. She was hesitant to ask for feedback since she thought it would be fruitless and the process had any anyway been so long. But when she did ask, she learned that she was ‘answering every question in way too much detail, and she was so focused on her team’s successes that the interviewers couldn’t grasp what work she had actually accomplished.’

The problem wasn’t her work, or her personality, it was just her approach and that’s all she needed to change!

Africa Beckons You!

The pandemic era has seen shifts in hiring and employment trends. One saw the rise of online, and later hybrid working. Offices got empty, and the only traffic that increased was the online traffic on platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, Slack and so on. This was the ‘new normal’ for many months.

Even when the ‘old normal’ returned to a great extent, with hybrid working, and later a total return to the office, many employees just didn’t see the point in going back. What the job seekers sought has changed over these couple of years, and as a result, one has seen changes in hiring and employment trends. We have seen the Great Resignation; we have seen talent shortages; and we have seen standards of job satisfaction go through a shift.

Amidst the talent shortages, and rethinking about careers and employee experiences, Africa as a continent appears to have a great potential in terms of hiring and filling the talent gap, as an article by People Matters puts forth. And as an extension, a great future. These statistics and insights additionally also help us debunk some stereotypical myths about the place. Let us have a look how.

Some Statistics and Some Stereotypes:

A report by the World Bank mentions how the working age population of Africa is likely to grow by 450 million people, or in other words, by 70% by 2035. Investing in this continent is more than likely to help one find an enormous talent pool.

What kind of skills and competencies seem to be emerging here? Before we delve into that in the next point, let us acknowledge that there is this one stereotype about the continent about how the informal sector is dominant. There is more nuance to this: while it is true that some regions of the Sub-Saharan Africa have around 85% of informal workers, and the entire continent in itself has that number at around 83%, this only adds in more opportunity for investment in the talent pool.

Not to forget the diversity within the continent which needs to be considered while looking at such statistics. This takes us to the next point.

Diversity and Digital Revolution:

One major drawback of the stereotype surrounding Africa is that people forget it is a continent with multiple countries and a diverse geography and culture. This awareness about the diversity can be translated into the levels and kinds of skills needed as well- each of the region will require specific kinds of skills. As the article by People Matters mentions, for example, the percentage of digital skills required for specific regions will be different: 50% to 55% jobs in Kenya will require digital skills, whereas that number will be 35% to 45% of jobs in regions like Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Rwanda, and 20 % to 25% in Mozambique. In any case, different regions need different kinds of skills and competencies, and that awareness is necessary, whether one wants to invest in the talent market, or one’s future- planning to find a job in the continent.

The momentum to invest in the talent has started- let us see how.

The Momentum:

Keeping in mind the potential in filling the talent gap that the continent offers, many of the well-known companies have started to invest in the continent. As the article cited above gives us the numbers- Microsoft has invested $100 billion to open technology development centre in Kenya and Nigeria. Microsoft has also expanded its operations in Ghana.

Google has also set up an AI lab in Ghana, and has announced that their product development centre will be set up in Kenya. Vodafone has also set up ‘Centres of Excellence’ in places like Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt, aiming to develop robotics, IoT and AI-based competencies.

It is a continent that has a lot of opportunities to offer. Opportunities to invest in businesses, the talent as well opportunities to invest in one’s future. So, check with us, we might have something relevant for you, in Africa!

Key to Collaborating Effectively

Collaboration at work in various degrees is always present. A company or organisation works because we have multiple people contributing their varying set of skills and competencies, experience levels and ideas, and thus collaborating in a subtle, unnoticed way. Within and between the organisations too, there are opportunities to consciously collaborate on projects, meetings and objectives.

Collaboration is everywhere, team-work is everywhere, and yet sometimes we end up feeling overwhelmed or unnecessarily called out. Departments might feel the workload is lopsided, that some departments have it easy. At the group level too, individuals might feel some of them are doing more work than the others. On the other hand, some might not even understand the need to collaborate in the first place.

The question then arises- how to collaborate effectively? Let us have a look around the question, and what pointers can be kept in mind.

Collaborate to Build Capacity:

Collaboration is about complementing the limitations of one side and using the strengths of the other to balance things out. Hence, it involves some form of helping, uplifting, which can be a huge motivation for people. Moreover, some people just go the extra mile because that is just how they function- they like to take on responsibilities head on.

 On its downside, this motivation can also lead one to overwork and micromanage actions of others, leading to feeling like ‘I am doing all the work here’.  At some point, a few people carrying the lopsided wagon are going to undergo some form of burnout.

To avoid such a situation, it’s a good idea to remember that collaboration is about building capacity of everyone. As an article by Harvard Business Review points out:

‘Helping is the quintessential constructive act, and it gives us a sense of purpose, fulfils a deep need to be useful, and bolsters our identity. But if you jump in too quickly or too often or in ways that solve others’ problems without building capability, you inevitably become the path of least resistance for too many requests.

….. Don’t solve peoples’ problems directly when you do jump in. Instead, connect them to the right people, point them to the information or resources they need, or coach them on how best to solve the problem. ‘

It is about showing the direction, perhaps delegating but ultimately walking together.

But then there is the opposite end of this spectrum.

Not Everyone Might be Very Enthusiastic to Collaborate:

There are individuals who are willing to take on collaborative projects, ready to interact with people across the world, literally and figuratively. And then there are the ones who might see the collaboration as an attack on their skills and competencies. The underlying feeling might be ‘Do they think we are not capable enough to do this on our own?’

This might especially be the problem with people who are experts or super-specialists. Seniors might feel attacked and juniors might feel underconfident about their abilities. Some others might just feel like the collaboration is ‘an imposition on their time’ and ‘extra workload’ as an article by Mindtools puts it. This is especially true for people who like to work more independently.

To avoid, this, it is important to first, to be clear about the purpose of collaboration and second, to let the collaborators know what’s in it for them.

As the articles goes on to point out, a strong, shared purpose can work wonders in this attitude. And letting people know how this collaboration would help them, for example, something as simple and straightforward as a bonus, more recognition, a chance to develop and learn new skill(s), career progression, can work as a great motivation for a good attitude towards the idea of collaboration.

The More the Merrier? Not Always:

A very basic and obvious sounding pointer to keep in mind: the key to collaborating effectively is not simply to involve a greater number of people but to involve the right people.  An analogy of a team-sport like football can work here: when the team is not playing well, more players are not added. Instead, some players are substituted for new players who might be feeling less tired, or who might have the specific set of skills needed to win the particular game.

Moreover, the ‘substitution’ is not seen as a lack of skill of the player who is replaced- their skills might be used better in a different game. The ‘substitution’ is not simply a replacement per se– it is rather letting the one who has the relevant skills for that context take the lead. The substituted player still has a place in the team.

Similarly, when a task or a project doesn’t seem to be working out too well, the key might be to recheck the kind of skills and competencies that are needed for the task, and ‘substitute’ the team members accordingly.

At an organisational level, this ‘substitution’ can simply be seen as letting one department take the lead on the particular project, rather than replacing anyone or anything entirely. It’s a win-win situation. Again, taking on the lead doesn’t mean that there is no delegation or no walking together towards the common goal- the team remains intact.

It is widely being accepted that in the contemporary world of work, it is collaboration and not competition that is key to thriving, as we have talked about in one of our earlier articles. And to collaborate effectively, a shared sense of purpose, and a willingness ‘to learn and let others learn’ are some pointers to keep in mind.