Literature & Fiction | 10 Chapters
Author: Ritesh Agrawal
‘Fried & Fired’ is the story of Manish- a young and naïve HR professional, and his short stint in a new job, wherein he finds himself amid a non-stop whirl of fast-paced turns and twists- amusing and bewildering at the same time. Presented with a golden opportunity of an investigation on his competent but whimsical boss, should he support power politics to get his boss fired or listen to his conscience? What happens next?
:::: 4 months back
:::: A Monday morning
‘Hi Manish, good morning. Just wanted to confirm that you are on your way to meet Rajey?’ preened a sweet voice from the other side of the phone. It was Natasha, a consultant from NextBest Executive search firm, headquartered at Mumbai with offices in major cities in India, Singapore, and Dubai.
‘Yes, of course, Natasha. I am just about to leave home. Given that it is 8:00 AM, I should be able to make it in less than half an hour. Not to worry. I will be in time- rather much before time,’ I replied, toweling myself. I had just come out of the bathroom, having taken an early bath.
‘Great Manish. Good to hear that. Rajey would be waiting to meet you at the Coffee Den. In fact, he texted me just now that he has already reached there. You know he is a stickler for time. He said that he was meeting another candidate, starting at 8.’ Natasha was relieved to learn that I was on schedule.
‘And, All the very best, Manish. I will call you at around 09:30 then after your meeting is over. Or just call me, after you are done’, crooned Natasha.
‘Done- I will call, and thanks for your wishes, Natasha,’ I said and disconnected, before reaching for the light blue expensive formal shirt in the wardrobe that I had earmarked especially for such occasions.
‘These bloody consultants…’ I was almost swearing in my head while putting on my black formal trousers. I knew from the time the phone rang that it had to be Natasha. Who else will call so early in the morning?
Having attended a few interviews recently in the last few months, I had figured out the world of search consultants far better than I had understood as an HR professional in the last few years. I could comfortably predict the behavior of a search consultant now. ’Very soft, delicate, respectful, articulate and impressive in the initial phase; persistent and pushy in the 2nd phase, lasting a week or so, till the time they have persuaded you to send your resume, only to be followed by the third phase of a lull period, ranging anywhere between a few days to a few weeks, till the time prospective Company short-lists you for a meeting. The consultant then again gets into a hyperactive energetic mode to make sure that you drop everything and appear for the interview on the date and time preferred by the prospective organization- most often, the next day itself.
This is followed by the next phase- the shortest, lasting a few hours only, when the consultant suddenly becomes extra sugary sweet and concerned- just like your girl-friend! You guessed it- This is on the day and/ or the penultimate day of the interview, but only till the time interview is over. ‘Trust you know the route to the venue?’; ‘Have you started?’; ‘How much time will you take to reach the venue?’; ‘Have you reached?’; ‘Hope you did not find any difficulty to reach?’ type of calls or texts take place only in this time window.
This phase is followed by an extra curious and hyper inquisitive stage - immediately after the interview- wherein the consultants want to know everything in terms of how did the interview go- like your mother- and all this, finally ending with a cold sentence.‘…We will get back to you’….which may or may not happen!
‘I have placed your regular breakfast on the dining table - bread and egg omelet with a cup of tea- Finish it fast, before it gets cold.’ Neha was tossing between the kitchen and the dining table.
My chain of thoughts broke. ‘Yeah, that’s fine, Neha. I am getting late, too.’
‘Consultant’s call- right?’ She knew the sequence of events playing out, by now, having seen me on my job search trail in the last few weeks.
‘Yupp,’ I muttered while stringing the tie-up around my neck.
The day ahead would eventually change my life forever.
::::: An hour later
‘Hi Manish, I am Rajey Das, Vice President and Head of HR at Wresh Labs.’ greeted Rajey, albeit a bit sheepishly, as I settled into the comfortable red leather sofa, tucked away in the corner of Coffee Den, a posh coffee lounge on the Outer Ring Road, a prominent hub for IT firms in Bangalore.
Pleasantries exchanged, and coffees ordered, Rajey soon came to the point. ‘So, tell me something about yourself?’
This is one question, which I always stumble upon. Though not that I was not expecting this. After all, I had asked this question myself a hundred times, if not more, while being on the other side of the table, when I was interviewing the candidates, as the HR Manager at Zing Life Insurance.
‘I mean, while I have gone through your resume in detail, I would want to know a bit more about you, your family, your work- something that may not be mentioned in the resume, you see.’ murmured Rajey, shifting his gaze between me and my resume, continuing to be a bit sheepish.
’Sure, Rajey!‘ I cleared my throat.
This was showtime.
‘As you would have noticed from my resume, I am an HR professional with 6 plus years of experience. I am an Engineer from the National Institute of Technology, Surat, and an MBA in HR from XLRI, Jamshedpur. I would like to present myself as a business-oriented, analytical, and a conscientious professional, with proven expertise in various domains of HR, such as recruitment, compensation & benefits, performance management, and a little bit in Learning & development as well,’ I had prepared rather well this time.
‘Hmm…very well.’ Rajey nodded his head gently while flipping my resume in his hands.
‘Before we go deeper into your professional experience part, and if you do not mind, would you like to give me a bit of your family background, please?’ pat came the second question on the expected lines.
In the meanwhile, Rajey called one of Coffee Den staffers, signaling a hand wave. ‘What is this, boss? It has been more than ten minutes since I ordered coffee. Is there any possibility that we will get our coffee before midnight today?’ Rajey snapped at the poor staffer, with a full-on sarcasm and utter disdain, written large on his face.
’Sorry, Sir. There was a small issue with the coffee machine. We have just repaired it. I will get back with your coffee in a minute.‘ was all that the poor guy could manage to say, in his defense, and rushed towards the counter.
‘Sorry, please carry on.’ Rajey turned his stare back to me. ‘So, where were we?’
‘Yeah, sure, Rajey.’ I mumbled, a bit shaken after this unexpected development in the last one minute.
I took a breath, reminded myself to wear a smile, and ooze energy while speaking, ’I come from the middle-class family background. My parents live in Lucknow. My father just retired from the Corporation Bank of India, and my mother is a housewife. I was born and brought up in Lucknow and received education till class XII in Lucknow. I was a good student throughout, and going for Engineering was an obvious choice…‘
’Very good…Yeah, I can see that you went to NIT Surat, class of 2010- Mechanical.‘. I noticed that Rajey was actually underlining the name of the college and the year of passing out, etc., as mentioned on my resume in a tabular format under the heading ’Education‘ on the first page.
‘Yes, that is right. I completed my engineering from NIT Surat in 2010 and joined Essar Steel right after. I was one of the toppers in my batch and very few to be selected by Essar Steel as a Graduate Engineer Trainee at Campus. I worked there for 2 years before heading to XLRI, Jamshedpur for MBA, specializing in HR. I graduated from XLRI in 2014, and since then, I have been working as an HR professional.’ I completed my answer.
‘And how about your immediate family? How long have you been living in Bangalore? Rajey asked, sipping on his coffee that had just arrived.
‘Yes, I am married. Married for the last 5 years, Rajey. My wife, Neha, is a homemaker. She is an engineer herself and was working for a few years after our marriage when we were in NCR. She took a break soon after the birth of our son, Ayush, who is just turning 3. In fact, it is his birthday today. We relocated to Bangalore about 2 years ago, and we love this city.’
‘Really- even with the horrific traffic snarls?’ Rajey feigned a peal of laughter. ‘Where do you stay in Bangalore’? And, by the way, please do convey birthday wishes to your son, from my side.‘
‘That’s true, the traffic jams are a bit of pain, but overall, I like the city, especially the weather and its people.’ I replied. ‘We live in North Bangalore. In the Hebbal area. If you are aware of the topography of North Bangalore.’
‘Oh yeah, I am well aware of North Bangalore. One of my distant cousins stays there. I have been there a couple of times. Good area, this Hebbal is. It is coming up in a big way. The property prices are zooming there despite the real estate slump in the last few years- with Modi, and DeMo, and all that.’ Rajey was simultaneously making some notes on the backside of my resume.
‘Hey, wait a minute’. Rajey suddenly lifted his face which was dug into my resume thus far.
‘So, what made you go into HR, completely switching over from the Engineering domain?’ Rajey enquired, with a curious expression on his face, as if he was about to discover the secret formula behind Coke’s fizz.
I gasped again.
This was another question that always stumped me. Right from the time I sat for the XLRI entrance interview, over eight years ago, this question has continued to haunt me. From friends to colleagues to strangers, all of them have enquired about this earlier, and still continue to do, be it a friendly chit-chat or an introductory conversation in a conference, let alone formal interviews. So much so that even Neha, her parents, and her sisters had asked this question to me, when I met them for the first time, before marriage.
In fact, there has not been a single formal interview, I attended in the last six years, where interviewers have not asked this question, attempting to discover the secret formula behind Coke, with equal gusto.
‘Oh sure,’ I began. ‘Actually, I always harbored a desire to pursue a Management course since my Engineering college days. And working for 2 years at Essar Steel on the shop floor further reinforced this desire in me, when I realized that not only would I have a much more value-adding and satisfying job profile, I could also grow much faster if I went for an MBA. Thus I applied to a couple of prestigious B-schools and got through XLRI. While I did have an offer from one of the IIMs and MDI, Gurgaon, for the business program, I chose an HR specialization program at XLRI over IIM, as I realized that an HR role gives one a bird’s eye view of the entire organization and one can add significant value. And as XLRI is known for its prestigious HR program, this was a dream come true.’ I beamed, deliberately putting on the excitement of a newly-wed, while replying.
I had experimented with a couple of answers to this question in the past, ranging from the frivolous to naïve to realistic to believable, and to over-engineered ones. Over a period of time I had learned the art of articulating the most context-relevant answer, obviously having learned from my mistakes.
For example, in the good old early- career days, I once replied, ‘Sir, actually this was the only course that I could get admission to, while I had applied to several B- schools. As the HR program at XLRI has a lower cut-off for entrance as compared to the regular business program, I deliberately opted for this program, to cover my risks.’
I was rejected as the interviewer made the following inferences ‘1) Does not demonstrate achievement orientation and persistence in the wake of challenging goals. Takes the easy way out. 2) Is not clear about life goals and does not plan in a determined manner towards realizing the same.‘
Learning from my mistake, next time, I improvised further. ’Consumed with a burning desire to broaden my perspective and horizon, through an MBA, I had applied to several B- schools, I deliberately selected the HR program at XLRI as a risk trade-off strategy, to balance higher CAT percentile programs at IIMs. And that worked. As I did not want to delay my MBA by another year, I made amends with my ambition and went ahead with the HR program at XLRI.‘ Unfortunately, this modification also did not work.
In another interview, I tried to be brutally honest. ‘Having worked at Essar Steel for 2 years, coming in night shifts and working amid deafening noise and sweltering heat caused by molten steel, I woke up to the fact that I would not let my entire life be cast and buried in steel slabs alone, in the dark nights, staying in a God-forsaken remote place such as Hazira, miles away from the city. An MBA was the only passport to a good life that I desired. It did not matter whether I specialized in HR or Marketing.’ The interviewer, unfortunately, did not like the ‘honest’ answer at all and gave feedback to me right away. ‘So, you are not passionate about HR as such.’ I tried to reason it out, but I was not selected. I had learned an important HR lesson, the hard way. "Being diplomatic helps!"
‘Yeah. A career in HR does provide good run-way and immense job satisfaction to competent and enterprising professionals.’ Rajey brought me back into the conversation.
I was not sure if he had used this term ‘competent and enterprising’ for himself or if he had actually seen these traits in me so quickly.
‘But why did you choose HR only in the first place? You could have chosen Strategy or International Business from IIM, for example, and aspire to become a CEO, to add much more value, and to create impact. HR professionals do not become CEOs as often as the folks who have majored in a business stream. Isn’t it?’ Rajey was not the one to be easily satisfied.
I wasn’t exactly prepared for this follow-through question. I considered it best to be my real self rather than parroting a prepared answer here. ‘Actually, I never thought that far. I consulted a few friends, seniors, and relatives, and all of them strongly advised me to go ahead with XLRI. And that’s what I did.’ I said, hiding my embarrassment under a broad fake smile.
‘So, it was accidental.’ persisted Rajey. His hopes of discovering the secret formula behind Coke had almost crashed.
‘Not really. I would say that it was a mix of 2-3 factors. One, a carefully thought through and deliberate plan to go for higher studies; Two, sheer hard work and Three, a bit of luck and providence.’ I quickly clarified. I must admit that this answer was on the rehearsed lines.
I noticed that Rajey was picking on my words and would hurriedly make notes on the backside of my resume. I saw a few phrases, like ‘Worked on a thought-through strategy,’ ‘Hard worker,’ ‘can stay the course’ and ‘consistent and congruent.’
Rajey carried on further. ‘So, how has the going been? Do you like what you do? Give me a sense of what have been your major accomplishments so far.’