LEADERSPEAK WITH SARABJEET SACHAR – FOUNDER & CEO – Aspiration
With over 18 exciting years in media sales with reputed organisations like Bennett Coleman, Indian Express, The Hindu, Living Media (where he headed national sales across the publications) and ZEE Network (where he was Senior VPNational Sales Head for all 14 channels of the Network in 2000, Sarabjeet Sachchar decided to get into the talent and career guidance space. His company started with sourcing talent only in the sales and marketing domain, but over a period of time, expanded into offering its services across functions like creative, digital, editorial, content, finance, HR and more. Today, Sachchar is one of the most highly regarded career and talent guides in the M&E industry, offering comprehensive talent solutions across functions in the Media, Entertainment and Advertising industry assisting clients across the country.
We met up with Sachchar to provide professionals across the age- and experience-spectrum in these domains a rare, unique, exhaustive and insightful conversation in which Sachchar shares important insights and suggestions that will help both, job aspirants and employer brands, make the best employment decisions.
In what is a cut-and-keep guidance for both, companies and candidates, Sachchar throws light on the main trends in career guidance and talent sourcing, and matching aspirants and opportunities in the M&E industry. He speaks of the need for the M&E HR teams to work on honing transferable skills in their employees, and offers invaluable advice to both, companies and candidates on the most important aspects they must consider in the hiring process. He also proffers advice on how employees can keep upgrading their profiles and speaks of the enormous advantages of an in-person, hands-held approach of career guidance, the must-have-answers for questions for every job aspirant, and shares what companies can and must do to attract and keep the best talent.
Umanath V – Editor TVnews4u.com
You’ve been in the Talent and Careers space for over 15 years now. And you specialize in the Media, Marketing, Advertising and Entertainment space.Tell us about your educational and professional background first.
Let me answer the ‘Education’ bit in two parts. Academically, I have completed a Diploma in marketing management ( DMM) from NMIMS in 1985 after graduating from Mumbai university in Physics (BSc). I have also completed a residential General Management programme from IIM Bangalore.From the university of LIFE (as it is said), I have been educated with hard core experience and I have always focused on constant evolution. My belief has been that ‘if we use a different approach for the same thing and persevere , we do get a different result, and that is how we grow’.
How and when did you decide to switch from corporate jobs to your own enterprise?
I had spent 18 exciting years in media sales with reputed organisations like Bennett Coleman, Indian Express, The Hindu, Living Media where I was heading national sales across the publications and ZEE Network where I was the Senior VPNational Sales Head for the Network (14 channels).
Across my career, the greatest aspect that I always enjoyed with passion was mentoring and guiding teams and building them up to become independent. People said I am an extremely patient listener and develop that connect very well. Importantly, I had this deep desire of developing and owning a brand which I would call mine and like many other entrepreneurs wanted to enjoy my freedom and at the same time strike a work-life balance.
Specialized Recruitment Agencies were not so many in the year 2000, and I saw scope to launch Aspiration which would create a difference with the right kind of ‘ screening process ’ because of the domain knowledge and expertise I had in the media industry.So that is how I launched Aspiration which immediately received a positive response.
What did a young Head of Network Sales at the biggest Hindi network have to do to go about setting up on his own? How easy or difficult was it for you to accomplish that? How much time did it take before you were convinced it was the right move?
I always enjoyed Media sales because it does give an opportunity for creative selling . And Recruitment or cracking interviews is also about selling one’s candidature creatively. And I enjoy selling personalised services where the human element rubs on to the product. HR is a crucial function in any industry and I could see that the M&E industry would continue to mature and innovative HR practices would gain importance.
That is why I switched to being an entrepreneur in this space.
Initially, like for any new venture, there was a learning curve and I was and am lucky to have my wife Nandita, who is a partner in the firm, support me in terms of efficiently handling the Finance and Admin functions. I continued to observe and fine-tune our strategy and within one year, we were well established as a Recruitment Agency which would deliver personalised service and ensure that there was a high hit rate (out of 4 candidates, 1 would get selected).
I was clear that this business had great scope to expand further into career-related services which would offer an out-of-the-box approach and was also giving me work-life balance.
So I believe that if one desires something very strongly, the universe responds by setting up situations and events to support it. And am grateful that I could establish Aspiration within the first year itself.
While we started with sourcing talent only in the sales and marketing domain, we have over a period of time expanded into offering our services across functions like creative, digital, editorial, content, finance, HR and so forth. Today Aspiration is a Recruitment Agency offering a one-stop-shop talent solution across functions in the Media, Entertainment and Advertising industry assisting clients across the country.
By the grace of the universal power, I am gifted with good writing ability and I have been a regular blogger of career related articles on Shine’s career plus, LinkedIn and other prominent media vehicles where it has generated a positive response.
Over 15 years of career guidance and talent sourcing, and matching aspirants and opportunities in the M&E industry, what are the main trends you have noticed?
The main trends are that on the employer’s side, the M&E industry, as compared to other industries like the FMCG, Pharma and Banking,is yet to mature in terms of HR processes and systems.
There are few Media organisations which have implemented HR processes and are reaping the rewards in terms of talent development, retention and career planning but overall there is a long way to go for the industry at large.
On the candidate’s side, because the M&E organisations are yet to give due importance and initiate hard core HR practices, the grooming of talent is lacking and hence a media professional after say 10 years plus finds himself or herself in a situation wherein he/she cannot grow at the pace required. And then frustration sets in and a professional feels stuck in terms of career progress. And it is challenging them to shift careers to other industries because the skills that are transferable have not been honed. Whereas talent other industries are moving into the M&E industry and there are good examples of organisations being able to inculcate the learnings other industries. Except for editorial, almost all functions can be handled by skills developed with experience in other industries.
What is the current jobs market like, in this area? Past trends, current scenario and future expectations? From industry numbers and your own perspective? What kind of areas and skill sets are in higher demand?
The job market for senior management is relatively slow as compared to the junior and mid levels. There have been takeovers and mergers of organisations which has also meant that most organisations are at a stage of evolving new organisation structures. So the need for hiring at senior levels is a bit slow.
Digital and E Commerce domains are hiring aggressively and it would continue for some time as I see it. Most of these are start-ups and require talent across functions and levels. More than skills being in higher demand, my experience says that there are certain attributes that would be required and professionals can continue to hone themselves in those areas. For example, adaptability, learning ability, nimble footedness,conceptualisation capability, process orientation, team building ability, being hands on in terms of understanding of the digital medium and its nuances – such are the qualities which are in demand.
What advice do you give to your clients – who are on both sides of the value chain, ie companies and candidates? What are the most important aspects they must consider in the advertising and hiring process?
In terms of recruitment, we urge them to have a system of providing a systematic feedback on candidates met. Most of the times, the open positions seem to be on fire and in the haste of closing positions, there are a few critical steps that are ignored and there are mistakes that occur in the hiring process which can prove expensive.
We do advise our clients to partner with Recruitment Agencies like ours and work closely so that jointly all steps can be handled and ultimately it is a win-win situation for all concerned. And to candidates, we do advise that they need to understand and appreciate the job switch as a career movement rather than just another job.Setting career objectives, following a systematic process and using an out-of-the-box approach for their job hunt is what we advise candidates.
Professional training or education in Digital Marketing is now considered important for all, across levels. Today, everyone is scrambling to get some additional digital qualifications to update their profiles. There are many institutions and shops offering such quick fix certificate and other courses. What is your advice – what should junior-to-mid- and senior level professionals do to update their profile with reference to this area?
You are right. Am still unsure of what are the best sources available in the digital marketing space. However if one wants, a candidate can shift to the digital space. A few things that need to be done are:
- Handle your mental block: First you need to convince yourself that it can be done.
- Basic domain knowledge: The digital medium is easy to use and is interactive. One can use social media and learn the nuances of the medium. One can network with digital media planning agencies to understand basics.
- Concentrate on some important attributes: A few attributes like conceptualisation ability, a dynamic mind set, good communication skills, adaptability are the ones that need to be constantly honed as they are required in the digital space.
- Examine the best route: It might be easier to gain experience in the digital commerce space as compared to hard core digital. Candidates traditional media at mid level can try that route and then look at shifting to the digital media space.
It is such an interesting medium, and one can learn about it best by making use of it, and since it is interactive, one gets feedback too. Self learning is best at this stage, but a credible course might be helpful in terms of handling the perception of a prospective employer that one is a novice in this area.
Otherwise, in general, how should any professional, regardless of level, continue to keep her/himself updated and upgraded on the professional profile space?
Evolving oneself as we all know is most essential . In today’s digital era , information and knowledge about any subject is easily available. It is important to upgrade one’s skills in areas that one is professionally passionate about.
Networking through professional social media sites and being connected with professionals and developing relationships that increase both, one’s knowledge base and learning the individual’s expertise and experience, are practical ways and means to upgrade oneself. Ultimately as it is said when youchange, the world changes. I believe it is most critical for professionals to keep self learning by experimenting, fine tuning the approach and then re-applying it. That is how one evolves and grows. It is all about making up one’s mind that one need’s to add value to one’s own life and as a result, the value addition starts happening at the professional level.
What is it that your company can offer a well informed job aspirant who’s read this interview so far? What special advice or services does Aspiration offer her or him?
Around 2 years back, we expanded and launched a unique service – Job Search Guidance– wherein over a period spread over 6 months, we hand-hold experienced candidates and assist them in implementing crucial steps for a Job search wherein they successfully land up with an interview call and then by coaching them in a customised manner on how to crack that interview, the candidate enjoys a high success rate.
For this service, we have a promotional alliance with Shine’sCareer Plus. Additionally, we have services of Assessment Reports, LinkedIn Profile Writing and Resume building. So today, Aspiration is a full fledged career guidance and recruitment Agency.
For employers, we offer well screened candidates, follow a systematic 20 steps recruitment process so that the position closes with the ’suitable talent. For candidates, we offer holistic job search guidance services . We have a team of 18 professionals who are trained personally by me and bifurcated for recruitment across different verticals, and a separate team which handles the career guidance services.
You have launched what to my mind, simplistically speaking, is like an in-person, hands-held approach of career guidance that the online job portals offer without in-person contact through email and phone calls only. And the premium ends of both packages (offered through onlines and an Aspiration Jobs) cost around the same. Tell us how yours is better and will help the professional aspirants better. What levels do you offer this for?
We offer our Job Search guidance service for experienced professionals with 7 years plus work experience who are seeking a job change. Most of the professionals availing our service are with experience of 7 to 25 years.
The service has a hand holding format and is spread over a 6 months period and we offer it to professionals across industries. We offer a customised service for each individual. I have a separate team of 6 professionals who have been personally groomed by me who assist me in this service.
We start by understanding the career objective of the candidate , understand the challenges faced, making a protective list of hiring companies and targeting them with a customised and powerful cover note, fine tuning and tweaking the resume and sending in the application. So for 9 different jobs, we have 9 separate cover notes and 9 tweaked resumes.
We then coach the candidate of using LinkedIn effectively to improve the network which obviously includes hiring managers.
We also work closely with the candidate in terms of ensuring that a follow up is done to get him an interview call.
All activities that we do enhance the chances of the candidate receiving an interview call. Once the candidate gets an interview call, I have a personalised interview coaching session over Skype or phone.This session gives the candidate a unique and practical approach on how to answer the trickiest question in an innovative manner, for example, “Why are you jobless for the past one year?” or “ Why should we hire you when you are not the industry?” or “ Your salary expectations are very high” or ‘Why do you have such frequent job changes?” or “ Tell me something about yourself?” or “ What is the value you get to the job?”, and so on.
Then we guide them on how to follow up after the interview and ensure that their brand recall improves and at the same time the professional does not come across as desperate.
The service ensures that the candidate stands out in terms of his/her performance in the interview.
We have also tied up with Shine’s career plus for a marketing promotional alliance and we have already had over 1000 professionals who have availed of our service with great results. You can have a look at the testimonials on our website. The difference in our service is that there is a personal manager my team who handles and assists the candidate with each step of the job search process. We are very soon extending the format of this service in the form of a video tutorial which a candidate can purchase and go through it in a self learning mode.
What are the most important things that you assess a candidate on? What special services or assistance or advice does your paid service provide your candidate?
We assess the candidate primarily on his/her background, domain knowledge, achievements and how clear is his career objective. There is a system of a written Questionnaire which is used as a ‘screening’ mechanism.
On the special services which are paid, there are Assessment Reports for which we have a tie up with an American company. It is a 25-minute online test and the candidate gets a report on his/her job strengths. On the basis of the candidate’s strengths, we then write a Power Resume and LinkedIn Profile which is a unique service in India. Because the Resume includes the strengths of a candidate which are reflected through the psychometric test, the chances of the candidate’s good performance in an interview increase multifold because many interview questions are prompted by the Resume.
Then we have Job Search Guidance which is handholding the candidate for a period of 6 months in each critical step of the job search. I’ve already touched upon the service details.
When you first meet a candidate, what is it that tells you s/he will be easy or difficult to place in a sound placement?
First level of screening is based on the following factors: The kind of approach that a candidate uses to connect with us is important. The way he/she presents the Resume, how his/her LinkedIn profile is written, the brands of companies that he/she has worked with, domain expertise, achievements which are demonstrated, communication and presentation skills, stability in his/her career (frequent job hoppers don’t impress us ), candidate’s open mindedness to our suggestions/counselling.
What, in your view, are the essential qualities in a good LinkedIn profile and a good resume? What does your team do to improve them, and how much time does it take? Any correlation in the effectiveness of ‘worked upon’ LinkedIN profiles and resumes?
Today , as we all know that LinkedIn has become an important tool used to brand oneself. You may read my article on How a LinkedIn Profile introduces the whole YOU to understand the essential qualities of a good profile. A good Resume is the one which tells success stories and brands you making you stand out as a candidate. You may read my article Simple 2 minute test to rate your Resume.
When a candidate applies to a job you have posted, or even reaches you suomoto, what kind of social and online profiling do you do on your own?
We study the LinkedIn Profile and get an idea about the candidate by going through his/her summary, the kind of achievements the candidate has showcased , the recommendations received and whether the candidate has been active on LinkedIn in terms of posting updates, blogging and participating in group discussions. On FB, the kind of interaction tell us about the candidate’s communication skills and we get a whiff of his/her personality.
What are the must-have social/online ‘presences’ for a candidate and a company?
For a candidate: A LinkedIn Profile which is well written and brands the individual is important. Being active in posting of relevant updates, participating in group discussions meaningfully, showcasing your achievements are all essential.
For a company: A Company page on LinkedIn which is active and updated and reflects the company as a great place to work. The leaders and top management team members having well written profiles.A website of an organisation which is updated and reflects the brand image of the company in terms of being an attractive place to work.
What memorable examples of different or lateral-thinking career advice can you recall that you offered to clients, to change their thinking or try something different, with good results? Any specific examples?
We were doing a search for a national circulation sales head for a reputed and large print media house. Because of the specific requirement in terms of a very wide spread distribution network across the country and multiple products , we suggested that we consider candidates an FMCG background because of the transferable skills he would get to the table.
We attracted a candidate who came the FMCG background and brought in good exposure to systems and processes which worked positively and the sales improved. There was uniqueness to the approach he brought in and because he came a new industry, there was the obvious advantage of he coming on board without any bias.
Often (hiring, ie job-offering) clients look for same-sector experience. At what levels of management do you recommend same or other sector experience? And why?
There have been opportunities for us where we have recommended few candidates outside the industry in the sales and marketing domain. When the brand pull of the employer organisation is strong and where there are systems and processes in place, for certain positions, outside the media industry works well.
For example, we had a head of brand position for one of our clients wherein we had presented candidates the FMCG background. The positions could be at head of department levels wherein the individual offers direction as a leader and the team below implements and with a participative style of management, this kind of a mix in terms of experience works well.
Also, another important point is that most M&E organisations have yet to develop a structured process-oriented working style/culture and the focus is many times to achieve a short term goal(say immediate increase in sales revenues). In such a situation, the pressure is to hire talent the same industry/domain which might not necessarily be the best decision. If leaders keep constantly mentoring and grooming talent with focus on developing systems and processes for certain functions , outside the industry talent can be valuable because they get in a new perspective. Editorial and creative are primarily the functions which need talent within the industry.
In your specialized sector of operations and expertise, which are the better educational institutions and programs that carry the best credibility in the job market?
While for media planning , sales and marketing functions the top ranked MBA institutes and institutes like MICA remain the most credible, for the creative / editorial / production side of the business, there are limited choices.
What should any company in your sectors or expertise do to attract, grow and retain the best talent?
Invest in grooming up talent, training them,working on career planning and sharing it with employees, shorter period progress reviews (because things are so dynamic ) of say every 6 months or even every 4 months.Identifying leaders and grooming them and training them on team building aspects, inculcating a participative style of management and importantly keeping communication across the organisation very transparent and open.
Most of the times, organisations lose talent because of the Chinese whispers syndrome. The employee should get a feeling that he is adding value to the organization, for which performance evaluation systems are critical and also a feedback mechanism wherein the employee is provided assistance once areas of improvement are identified.
Being nimble footed is another thing that organisations should do and keep re inventing themselves. The same thing can be done in so many different ways and one needs to use a different approach to the same thing and one will get a different result. That keeps employees motivated.
Also, hiring in haste should be avoided as in there should be a structured approach to the recruitment process so that one gets the most suitable and right talent on board.
Happy employees attract potential employees and that is an effort which companies need to consciously make in positioning themselves as an employer brand which attracts talent.