Interviews- The best platform to gauge culture ?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

It’s been a while since I attended job interviews. But some of my friends and colleagues keep telling me about their interview experiences and choices in recent times. I do get to interview my new colleagues and my favorite question to everybody who wants to join us is “how do you choose your next employer “? Most people list the first four,

1. Role
3.Culture of the new organisation
4.Opportunities for growth

Some in the passing insert the fifth. Are Interviews the right mediums to evaluate our next employers of Choice? It has an element of doubt/ risk and we need to back our instincts, luck on getting it right. I rather dissect the interviews through my baggages and see if it’s a worthwhile hypothesis.


I don’t know how one can join an organisation based on the role description alone. In the joining desperation, it’s quite possible that everything about the role can sound convincing. Once, I hired a senior person for a role. I told him it was a tough and thankless role and there was a lot of crap he had to clean up. After he came on board he started to moan that it’s more complex than I had originally described. My battles with him to convince that we have discussed this before sounded in vain. Obviously, we eventually separated. On the other hand, hiring organisations can get very romantic about describing the role while hiring, especially if the role is newly created one. The romance may last like honeymoons in marriage and the reality will strike faster.

There might be too many caveats attached to the romantic part of the role leading to lack of eventual takeoffs. Most of these assumptions on roles happen during Interviews.


The supervisor’s angle is even more interesting. All of us have a unique way to represent ourselves in our first and second meetings. Some of us are blatantly transparent. If we are having trouble with our current boss, this aspect becomes very important to determine. My first interview during my entry to one of my employers is now worth remembering. Shaun my interviewer used to throw questions at me and when I start answering he would start working on his laptop. As irritated as I got with his behaviour I would continue to answer. The whole thirty minutes of the interview went about like that. Then he called me again a week later in short notice only to make me wait for an hour. But, I got interviewed by Charu who had no role in my assessment but was the filler as the ‘to be boss’ got busy.


A month later I was working in another city when I got a frantic call saying I need to come the next day without fail to collect my offer. Taking leave from my employer I landed up in the office only to be told that I needed to meet one more person. In desperation, I ignored my interview experiences with my boss and joined the company after that round of interview. I realised later that this boss of mine was famous for not looking at reportees who stood in front of him for solutions unless they were from the opposite gender. He never had any time for reportees and was always busy with his so-called work and attended to us when his Boss visited us. I was lucky, soon enough he got promoted to have a new boss who turned the tables for me.

But, there were enough hints during the interview which I ignored which could have turned costly in a not so friendly job market those days.


This is equally fuzzy. In the era of lack of emails or mobiles, it was even more difficult to evaluate this, was unimaginable. My sad story started when I was without a job between my first and second job for three months. It was frustrating to attend many interviews (including 3M, Café Coffee Day) and not got selected.

I thought in spite of my ugly nose, I was this handsome, energetic well-dressed youth. sufficiently trained by a fortune 500 Pharma company for a good time. Then I attended a walk in interview for an area manager’s role in an Indian Pharma company famous for antibiotics.

Interview Drama

After waiting from 930 to 1430 at their lobby without water or food, a bunch of people pretended to interview me. They asked me for my achievements. When I listed them they said it’s not possible as they felt they were the market leaders in that territory. Then a debate started among themselves on this topic. One of them even placed a call in front of me to the dealer in that territory to verify the sales figures I had quoted. They were either showing distrust or trying to apply pressure. Either way, they weren’t impressing me for sure. This drama went on for 45 minutes, then they declared they were hungry and a lunch break for themselves, they walked away promising to debate further on return.

The hapless receptionist who was managing these nerds and hungry aspirants like us since morning walked in and asked me to clear the room to spread the lunch for these hard-working professionals. So at 315 PM, I walked out of their office in search of lunch. However, unknowingly my bike got the message. It took me home and I never walked back to entertain the Best Pharma professionals I could have worked with.


This is difficult to gauge during the interview. However, if the role offered is a step up from what we are currently doing its a good enough bait. The danger though is if that role has further growth embedded in it. We know this is dynamic and based on the organisation’s future context. If they grow there would be further opportunities. if you perform and have better relationships with bosses growth would be even better?

In conclusion, Interviews offer great insights into the culture of the future employer. Sometimes we ignore the warning signals against our own instincts and regret later. But, desperation, push to exit from the current job, money makes us take decisions which in retrospect looks silly.

But, we are all wise on hindsight?


800 371 Kamal Karanth

I was excited about KLIA 2 airport, so I gave it a try in the first week of its operational launch in Malaysia. Was I in for a disappointment? The ground staff did not come for 30 minutes after the aircraft parked; the pilot was embarrassed but honestly admitted this fact. After we got off the aircraft, we were made to wait outside the aircraft for another 30 minutes as the hallway was not cleared for exit. It was 1 hour after landing when we finally got to leave towards immigration!

We then had to walk a few escalators; take some turns; literally climbed a few mountains before we finally got to our immigration, collected our baggage and sat in our taxi!

The experience left me exhausted! Hence when our cabbie asked me how was KLIA2, while my wife said ‘good’, I said ‘bad’. The cabbie smiled at our differing views. What he said next surprised me. He said, “Transition-lah. It’s just 5 days since KLIA2 opened and soon it will be fine.”

His experience of transitions seemed more mature than mine. And it also got me thinking that the differing opinion on the part of my wife and me on KLIA2 was because our expectations and experiences of the past were different.

I am as afraid of transitions as much as the people who receive me as their new boss. Transitions are touchy affairs and some of my old transition scars remain.

The 1st was 20 years ago when I replaced a successful colleague. Every customer and competitor I met talked always about him; customers who supported him reacted by taking away some of their business from me. I tried to rationalize it as much as possible but as a 22 year old, it was difficult to face lack of acceptance. I hated my predecessor for being so memorable.

Another experience was when I came to Malaysia 10 years ago. Most of the team members I inherited wanted me to return from where I came. They had no qualms shedding tears openly and telling me how devastated they were to have me as their new boss. In fact there were only two excited people in that town hall that day – my boss and I 🙂 It took me a long time to get business off the ground to speed as we were battling lack of trust in a in a turnaround business situation in a new country!

Skill Anniversaries

800 371 Kamal Karanth

I just completed 20 years of my professional life today. I worked in 4 different organisations to complete this milestone; except me nobody else will recognize this moment unlike in an organization setting where tenures are recognized with trophies and goodies. I am a touch uncomfortable wishing others on their work service anniversaries as much as accepting people complimenting for mine 🙂

I reckon its right to recognise the contribution of people in terms of what they achieved or the efforts than the time spent. When I hand over service anniversary mementos, I seek to know the challenging times they faced and how they overcame that. My favorite question is “how many times you felt like quitting in this journey “The character and grit people demonstrate to fight tough customers, non-appreciating bosses, competing peers, and non-favorable appraisals amidst their personal challenges is what interests me. Otherwise number of years in an organisation is just ‘time spent’ for me.

Many times we mistake the number of years spent as experience, whereas it could just be service or tenure. Some of us get emotional about the tenure as a great service to our employer, whereas today’s organisation measures our critical impact over that period of time.

One of the organisations I joined had many people with tenure. In my initial days people used to flaunt their tenure as a great favor to their employer. “kitne aaye, kitne gaye, hum ne sab dekh liya” was the welcome statement to me. One of my colleagues even asked about what plans I have for him as he was in the company for many years and he claimed “sab kaam kar liya”

The old bandicoot tag is only relevant if we have evolved with the organisation needs. Today’s organisations are as disloyal as the employees when it comes to choosing to recognise their next genre of talent. Like employees leave for greener pastures, organisations also tend to favour people who have critical experience and skills

If the experience gained is incremental every year in terms of skill addition or critical in terms of technical know-how, it’s likely that organisation will also be happy about the tenure of the employee.

“I have been in the organisation for so many years, I have stayed back with the hope that I will get to become ‘x’ one day”, many people who have joined after me have gone ahead of me. I don’t want the time I have invested in staying loyal to become detrimental to my growth” told one of my colleagues to the HR manager. HRM wanted to be nice and said wait, your time will come, nobody confronts the situation with reality check on whether the tenured employee was ready in terms of skills, mobility, performance when the opportunities came along.

Sometimes we keep writing our own JDs and career paths oblivious to organisation plans and directions. Our own passion to certain paths and roles render us dysfunctional to some otherwise obvious growth plans.

My input to meaningful service anniversaries. Try to have some skill addition plan every year which you and the organisation can both vouch for. Be more adventurous in terms of being part of new initiatives, start reading at least 30 pages a day, begin some new routines every year to accommodate new plans, take some short term online course which allows you to discover more areas outside your comfort zone.

The Fuzzy State!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

It felt like a long day in office and to make matters worse it was exactly like it’s commonly said, “time goes by so slowly for those who wait!” And finally when I glanced at my watch for the umpteenth time, it was 6 o’clock – the official end to the working day and I promptly switched off my laptop!

This is not a typical day for me. Until the day before, I had so much to do. It has also become a daily routine for me to end my evenings with long list of pending stuff which needs to be addressed the following day. But not today! Well, I was moving into a new role and the announcement had just come in. Though I knew I was getting into a new assignment for some time, I felt the full impact of it once the news was made official; it felt like my shoulders dropped on the work front.

Sounds familiar?

When we are leaving an organization, this mindset is even more pronounced. However, movement within the same organization also leads to the following:

1. Loss of emotional connection to the “old” role;
2. Almost sudden lack of motivation and energy for the “soon-to-be-left” areas of responsibilities. Dare I say that our own discipline takes a backseat – faltering timeliness; late arrivals but early leavings; lengthy lunch breaks; more and more personal phone conversations, etc?
3. We begin to put thoughts in place (and plans!) for our new role as the current responsibilities begin to lose their importance;
4. Not discounting the fact that our bosses/colleagues also begin to prepare (verbally and/or otherwise) for our exit by beginning to give importance to the new incumbent; and naturally (if we’re in leadership roles), we stop making key decisions;
5. Our direct reports (and sometimes, indirect too!), getting the cue from this, stop coming to us for resolutions. It’s not a surprise that their productivity takes a dip as they struggle to deal with our ambiguity. Ironically, this is accompanied by numerous send off lunches; farewell dinners; etc which are all at once nostalgic, gossipy with the much “dreaded” photo opportunity sessions!

In short, our entire ecosystem slows down especially if we are in leadership roles and are on notice period. In fact, we are in danger of being a distraction to the rest of our colleagues! So how do we minimize these transition distractions?


800 371 Kamal Karanth

I’m proud to say that I was the perfect poster boy for myself on how I switched between my work & family. Trust me, Having made deliberate choices about which opportunities I wanted to pursue and which to decline, I successfully engaged meaningfully with work, family and leisure.

But alas, over the last 9 months I have digressed from my own principles and work ethic – clocking 16+ working hours each day with few hours of sleep! Spending time on aircraft/airports every week; shifting my energy to pick up the work load of a new responsibility in a different country in a different time zone; and then trying my best to make up for lost time with my family, I’m inclined to say that I felt ‘cooked’ to the core! 🙁

For the first time I started to look at “work/life balance” in these 4 dimensions

I Just Updated My CV

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Now don’t raise your eyebrows! I had a fabulous year which included a stretch assignment overseas that gave me valuable insights; my team accomplished the goals we were set out to achieve in 2014; and these with a cherry on the icing of having been offered with another interesting role within the company – all of which means my bosses must be happy 🙂

It looks like 2015 is set to become yet another year of great promise even before it’s begun. And despite these good tidings, I updated my LinkedIn profile and CV.

Yes, I know that at this very moment, I might come across as being ungrateful to my organisation but I’m going to ask you to hold on to your seat. I did not update my profile or CV with the intention of changing my current employer.

On the contrary, I was realistically evaluating if I had actually added something of value to my career in 2014 which was worth including into my profile. I think it’s a fair assessment to make at the end of every year if you are career oriented. Do you agree?

Today’s place of work is a tough place to be. With runways towards success getting shorter and narrower by the day, employers too expect you to be multitasking while being productive at the same time. So as an employee who has put in laborious hours at the workplace, it’s only fair for me to evaluate if I’m receiving similar returns to my career from the efforts I put at the workplace.

And I do this by updating my CV annually to see if it looks ‘positively’ different from the previous year. If it doesn’t then I know that it’s time to have a courageous conversation with the bosses.

In 2015 and all the years moving forth, make it point to commit on getting you and your supervisor on-board about new and relevant expertise you will acquire year on year. And if you think the response is mere lip service and there is nothing really promising for you, please begin updating your profile and CV for new career prospects out of your current employer.


800 371 Kamal Karanth
10 months into the job, one of my peers got promoted. I was shocked as to how a 22 year old guy out of college can be a manager so fast. Of course he was not my friend during our training period which further aggravated my misery. So next 8 months I waited , working hard, showcasing my results, projecting myself more during meetings, poking bosses about what next. It was difficult to accept that I was waiting in a company that openly encouraged promotions of their young workforce in a systematic way. 8 months down the line came the promotional interview. Some 14 of us attended and 3 of them got promoted. I was told I did well but those 3 were better than me at that moment. I was told I was next in line, this “wait” was even more frustrating. A month later when I got promoted it was more of a relief to get out of my “waiting” than being happy to get my first promotion in life!

Do you think organizations make talent “wait” and need to improvise on their harvesting methodologies? Yes and no, I believe large organisations have an organised way of doing and entrepreneurs have an adhoc but timely way of nurturing careers. But in a long career I believe, there are moments of long “wait” which costs organisations precious talent.

My reasons for this “waiting”
1. Organisations have leaders who are disconnected to their talent reality. For me this means
leadership team assume that organisation’s brand is bigger than their talent strength.
2. Leader’s arrogance that they have created talent and can continue creating it.
3. The lack of foresight of the HR team on talent requirements of tomorrow and the deficits in
today’s talent.
4. Leader’s belief that their best talent will forever be loyal. How untrue, isn’t our best
talent always going to be aware of their capabilities? Even if they don’t, the competitors and
head hunters will tell them!

Waiting can be pretty frustrating to talent and detrimental to organisations productivity as we might have pool of talented people who are under-deployed with lowering quotient of loyalty.

Waiting is depressing!

I have waited many times in my career; as I would like to think based on my own assumptions that I had to grow, or get a new role, promotion or new designation. Every time I was on the verge of thinking of leaving when the “waiting” gets frustrating, the organizations/bosses would spring a surprise by offering me something new. Sometimes, the “something new” could just be an assurance, but it worked!

Last Lie

800 371 Kamal Karanth

In my new workstation this year, I have an advantage of having a thorough view of the floor. This accessibility has provided me with some very insightful interactions. On their last working day when colleagues come to bid their farewell, I tend to ask them “so where are you heading to next?” To which I receive many different responses. I think it’s a normal question to ask which leads to interesting conversations of trust and beliefs.

“I have 2 offers on hand which I will decide next week”; or “still thinking which one is better,” or the classic, “I might take a short break before deciding on my next move”! Sounds familiar? Yes, these are clichés. I have heard those more times that I care to keep track hence depending on my mood, I’ll merely smile or cockily say, “Oh Common!”

Why do you think some people refuse to reveal where they’re heading to next in their career with a few going to the extent of putting their new role on LinkedIn as “Confidential”. It’s as though they’ve joined the CBI! I can understand people concealing their new employer when they resign so that there is no backlash during notice periods and that there are dignified exits. However, shouldn’t an exception be made on the last working day?

Having said that, there are instances when an employee CAN choose NOT to reveal his/her next work exchange if the following applies:
1. …the truth can jeopardize the next employment prospects;
2. …the truth will not go down well with current superiors and colleagues (or even family
and friends);
3. …personal belief system and upbringing which makes them uncomfortable being “openly”
4. …personal perception on the culture of exiting an organization;
As much as we might work in organizations which does not indulge in witch-hunting when you disclose information about your next employer, individual baggage also play a huge role in whether we choose to tell the truth or otherwise when we’re on our way out.

My direct reports (DRs) have given me numerous experiences in the last 2 decades when they resigned. There were a few whom I thought I had a good work relationship with and who concealed their next career move and made me feel untrustworthy. Funnily, I thought trust was built but they proved otherwise! Nevertheless, I have learnt to let go so today whenever someone tells me a “Last Lie”, I try to move on!

The Counter!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Asking your resigning employee to stay back is not new. The manner in which we handle counteroffers often has to do with how we value the person who is resigning; his/her personality; the employee’s history with the company; and not forgetting why on earth you are counteroffering. Realistically, there shouldn’t be anything typical about counteroffer scenarios if we, as employers, are clear from the onset that no counteroffer or negotiation would keep any employee from quitting again (and again!) in the future! I believe we are just postponing the inevitable.

“Kamal, she is a strong employee whom I can always count for positive deliveries at speed. While I know that’s she’s asking for a 40% hike to be retained, she’s of immense value to us right now. Reluctantly, I relented while at the same time predicting a 2nd resignation from the very same reportee. This inevitably happened 3 months later for a similar reason (more money!) much to the disappointment and embarrassment of my manager. But I knew she was trying her best to retain her trusted colleague.

It’s been 11 years since that incident and I have witnessed an avalanche of counteroffers in the workplace with similar disastrous ending: 90% plus of those who have been counteroffered predictably leave the company within a few months. I’m at a dilemma to which I hate more – having to see employees whom my managers have negotiated a higher salary leave the company soon after with no sense of responsibility nor remorse for having exploited their managers; or watching my managers celebrate short-lived victories resulting from poor counteroffer judgments only to lose their own trust in people!

My take is that counteroffering to retain an employee is both dangerous and futile. Dangerous because the word gets around (oh yes, it almost always does) and many others will follow the trend; and futile as I strongly credit resignation to the point when employees are already having an emotional disengagement from their job and the company. The so called “disengagement” seeps into the mind; gets parked there; and now awaits for a trigger or two to be reactivated. Money is just a default motivator simply because it is measurable and tangible!

I can’t help but think that perhaps the reason for the failed counteroffers is that we fail to address the underlying issues that led to individuals resigning in the first place: The reasons for resignations are plenty but these are my favorites:
1. Role
2. Title
3. Manager
4. Money

I believe that if you have not addressed any of these 4 while an employee is working for you, it would be unprofessional to offer these only upon resignations. Can you blame an employee for choosing to walk over you and your counteroffer a few months down the road when your actual reason to counteroffer was to selfishly tide over the situation rather than rewarding your employee on basis of merit and capability?

You Like Working From Home?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

It was the weekend; I dropped my friend off at his place and said, “see you tomorrow”; he replied, “no buddy, see you on Tuesday. I’m working from home this Monday. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Does that conversation ring a bell? Do you frown or pass jokes on people who work from home (WFH)? Why it is difficult to accept that “work” does not necessarily take place only at the office? As much as WFH has become a norm in many sectors, we still find it tricky to seamlessly integrate this into our minds. Does your employer or boss allow you to WFH? If the answer is yes then you are lucky. Wait a second though as I have a few questions for you:

  • Do you feel a touch shy when you inform your boss and co-workers that you’ll be WFH on a particular day?
  • How does your boss and colleagues react when you or some else in the office decides to WFH on any given day?
  • Does your organisation have any meritorious metrics in place to measure productivity of those who choose to WFH for long periods of time?
  • Do more women opt for the WFH policy in your organisation and as a result have you noticed a better retention rate with the fairer sex?

Some of my HR friends had the following things to say on Work from Home:

  • They are ambiguous about any sort of tangible increase in productivity as a direct result of this policy.
  • Organisations by and large have not placed any adequate and measurable metrics in place to measure the effectiveness of WFH.
  • While employees are generally very receptive towards the WFH policy (why shouldn’t they?), bosses are displaying mixed reactions more so when their direct reports (DRs) opt to work from home on Mondays and Fridays 🙂
  • Surprisingly, this flexibility has NOT contributed to any significant increase in retention rates.

I receive mixed messages on the utility of this policy as it appears be too loosely managed internally for its effectiveness to be well measured. And hey, it does not help that every single individual at work want it for themselves but not for others!

“I’m not sure when she comes or goes (“kabaatihaikabjaatihai” to quote him in verbatim). Her response rate has also dropped!” remarked one of my colleagues about his peer who had chosen to work predominantly from home after she had her 1st child. I got worried as she was our top talent and my 1st WFH experiment. Naturally, I promptly asked her immediate boss for some verification on her so–called dip in productivity. “It is the men at work who need to get rid of their chauvinism. We all love to have our wives and sisters given the option of WFH yet we somewhat have difficulties in accepting the nuances when we don’t get to regularly meet our female colleagues at work,” he concluded.

“Why should only women be looked at as needing the WFH policy more than men?” my better half argued. I have to agree with her. The few times I tried WFH, I was an overall pest – objecting to the sounds of mixers; cookers; calling bells from friendly neighbours; the sound of the TV interfering my calls, and more! It got me thinking that perhaps the gender mix on WFH is changing considerably and is no longer a “woman’s need only”?

Despite these arguments, I’m in the opinion that long stints of WFH deprives you of precious personal development opportunity as when we are physically at work, we are continuously learning from the workings of others and not focused merely on “just doing our job”. There have been few who have told me that they dislike WFH for these reasons: