Sunday, July 31, 2011

How do HR Managers prepare for Ramadan?

Whether you have Muslim employees or not, that is not the question. Nowadays the workplace is so diverse that somewhere somehow you will always have a connection. Besides, think about your client base. What about the suppliers? Monocultural, monoreligious, monoracial and other "monos" are extinct just like those creatures of the Jurassic Park: welcome to the World of Diversity!

The significance of Ramadan cannot be downplayed in the Muslim community: it is the most important month of the year, the month when the Qur'an was revealed, a period of fasting, repentance, increased prayer and charity. It lasts for a year and ends with Eid, day of celebration and gratitude. All Muslims (except for children, sick adults, warriors, pregnant women and some others) fast, which means that from the break of dawn until sunset they must engage in two aspects of fasting:

  • physical: refrain from food, drink and intimacy (depending on location and season may last from 12 to 17 hrs);
  • spiritual: refrain from blameworthy thoughts and acts during all hours.

Every day of Ramadan, after sunset, Muslims break fast with Iftar, the evening meal that can be consumed only after the sun goes down. If you think that you can survive for a month without water and food for 12-17 hours a day, I suggest you try it, even if you do that purely for for the reasons of challenging yourself and cleansing your entire body along the way.

"How does this affect me?" you would ask. Well, think about all the restrictions some of your fellow employees are subjected to during Ramadan and here are a few simple steps that you can follow and alert others to, in order to contribute to the inclusive atmosphere at your organization:

  • try to avoid the following for your Muslim colleagues and business partners: meetings which include lunch, meetings going beyond 5 PM, social functions (e.g. parties) 
  • be understanding that it is the most important month in the Muslim calendar
  • it is common to take vacation during the last week of Ramadan
  • Eid is day off, especially for those with family
  • greet colleagues with "Ramadan Mubarak" (Blessed Ramadan), as a nice way to cross into a new culture
  • if invited to share Iftar, go for it - it will be fun!

Even if this "soft" stuff is not for you, please consider the following limitations:

  • Holiday jams to Muslim countries begin over a week before Ramadan till three days after Eid
  • Congestion occurs on flights to and from the Gulf area during the second half of Ramadan (people visiting Mecca)
  • Working hours in some companies end earlier during Ramadan - please plan accordingly!
In the end, if there is one thing that you should do to foster inclusiveness is be considerate and supportive

Ramadan Mubarak!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How Many Case Interviews Does One Need?

If your goal is to join one of the big consultancies, be it Bain, McKinsey, BCG, Roland Berger or any other, a case interview (well… many of them) is an inevitability. Blah, I know.

You only start liking them after you have had way too many. Case interviews are truly a pain: they require a lot of preparation, and yet - no matter how much you prepare, you will always be unprepared for the situation that the interviewers have prepared for you. Let's see: in my short but eventful job searching life I have
·         Relocated an office from Germany to Dubai;
·         Saved a sinking back-office banking company from bankruptcy;
·         Figured out how much tons of goods a city-locked shopping center should receive on a daily basis;
·         Counted all the football stadiums in Russia;
·         Moved a pharma production plant from the Czech Republic to Moscow;
·         Etc, etc, etc.

Maybe I have been lucky so far, but I have been successful with all the case interviews I have had so far. Even those where I had absolutely no idea what to do (normally in cases that deal with advanced Finance or Economics - "Dear Recruiter, please don't ask me to calculate weighted average cost of capital ever again, or I promise I'll slit my wrists right there in your flashy super modern office"). I can't really put my finger on what I am doing right every time I go through those business situations: is it being logical and structured, or is it coming up with truly creative solutions, or is it establishing rapport with the interviewer? If I had to give someone a three bullet point advice on what is essential in a case interview, it would be the following three:
·         Be natural. Do not pretend that you know business better than the interviewers. If you are being interviewed by a respectable consultancy, most likely your interviewers have real-life working experience on the projects that they offer you for analysis, so if you try to prove in the room that you are the prettiest baby in the sandbox, you will lose points automatically. For arrogance at least and for losing the supporting connection from the interviewer, which is critical.
·         Laugh at your mistakes. You will make mistakes. Everyone does. Since the situations you will be dealing with are ambiguous, you will make assumptions that do not always hold water or that do not bring you to the optimal solutions. Accepting your own fallacies and errors with humor and "can-do" attitude will only position you in a better light: it means that you are not afraid of making mistakes, but can learn from them and quickly redirect your efforts. Besides, a joke always brings the tension of the interview down.
·         Be as creative as possible. Throw out the frameworks you learnt at school and make up your own. I don't believe that you cannot come up with your own two-by-two matrix - you can juxtapose everyone and everything. Companies need implementers (B-players, if we follow Jack Welch's classification). But it is the A-players that get the company that competitive edge that bring the disproportionate amount of value to the shareholders. Demonstrate that you have this creative A-player potential and they will be willing to turn a blind eye to your other small mistakes and errors.

I have to confess that I have changed my attitude towards the consulting industry this year. Before doing my MBA I was extremely skeptical about the value of consultants, "selling" their product without really trying to understand your issues, as long as they can be crammed into one of the fancy frameworks. Yet, as everything in this world - IT DEPENDS. It depends on the situation, it depends on the firm, it depends on the consultant, it depends on the corporate culture, it depends on the managerial capacity to manage those consultants, it depends on whether the company itself knows what it wants, and … it depends!

Consulting is an exciting job to do, at least for a while. You travel a lot, you work on interesting projects, you have a lot of exposure to senior people, you acquire massive knowledge about industries, businesses, processes, people, and in order to be in that cohort of highly intelligent, a tad arrogant and truly international people, I am willing to go through another couple of case interviews!

I am attaching links to Case Books from the best business schools, which will definitely help you in preparation for this excruciating experience:
·         Harvard Business School
·         Kellogg
·         Wharton
·         IESE
·         London Business School

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

HIV/AIDS: You HAVE TO Love Your Job

I went for an HIV test last Monday. This is a normal practice for me: I try to do a regular STD check-up even if I may be 100% sure that nothing is wrong. Peace of mind is one invaluable thing. Anyway, it turned out to be one of the most exciting mornings of my life!

If you are in Madrid, I would recommend you to go there just for the experience. Centro Sandoval is situated close to the Bilbao metro station in c/Sandoval, 7. So yesterday early in the morning - really, it's tough getting up at 7.45 AM when you are on vacation - I directed my steps to that center. It was a beautiful sunny morning, just like any other in Madrid in summer, and my spirits were high. They sagged a little when I walked in, though. If you have ever been to a public medical institution, you would know what I am talking about: shabby walls, narrow corridors, lines to get an appointment ticket, lack of any information readily available for patients, etc. Got ticket #3; "Not bad", thought to myself. Joy was short-lived. Even though the working hours are indicated as 8.45 AM - 12 PM, the lady in charge did not appear before 9.30 AM. She finished off the first two patients rather quickly - in a matter of 10-15 minutes - and then it was my turn. If only I had known what I was getting myself into…

 The session lasted for an hour, but maybe that was one of the most exciting medical encounters in my life. The lady, called María Ángeles, belongs to that kind of people, whom you cannot fail to like. She has
  • 24 years of experience as a psychiatric nurse;
  • Charisma larger than the consulting room we were in;
  • Ability to talk without stopping using vivid imagery and real life examples;
  • Lack of fear to call a spade a spade and no-nonsense attitude;

I was mesmerized, like a rabbit in front of a snake, listening to her. She was chatting away about her patients and colleagues and the dangers of unprotected sex and medical research and stupidity of the human nature and all those things that normally you try not to think about. Her confidence was contagious and her personality strong as a magnet. When, after an hour, she finally decided that it was enough, she gave me a kiss on each cheek and a big hug. I was having one of the best mornings of my life.
Why does it always so happen that you do not people like that at private hospitals? Yes, surely, you see medical personnel there who are professional in every way, but I have never received such treatment ever before (and normally I would go to a private clinic). Why wouldn't María Ángeles go and work at a private institution? I guess because she would not have this opportunity to connect on a much deeper personal level. After all, patients pay per visit and not for the amount of time you spend with them. It is really about love for your profession and passion for what you are doing. It is a tough job. It's a rewarding job. It's a job that few appreciate and many look down upon. It's one of those jobs that you must love!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making the Most of Who You Are: Corporate Diversity Programs

Being different is no longer is looked down upon or is it? Answering this question tells you much about the culture of the community that surrounds you, the organization that you work for and country that you live in. The levels of acceptance and inclusiveness differ greatly across borders and continents, and with this world becoming smaller and smaller, the job seekers can really choose and pick the organizational cultures that are most welcoming and inducing productivity. Hence, increasingly more companies are putting greater efforts to appeal to a wider population of diverse talent: how to pick one that would be right for you? Choosing the right culture is of utmost importance since it is not merely about feeling great – it is the main determinant if you are going to be successful in your job. 

There is a ton of information that you can get about a company even without talking to anyone there: the internet contains most of the answers if you know what to look for. Let’s take a glance at the key elements (most of them will be directly available on the company’s career website, or alternatively you can explore specialized career portals like Vault, Glassdoor or even LinkedIn):
  • Definitions: how does the company define “diversity”? Is it just women and people with disabilities? What words are they using? Do the definitions of YOUR diversity group offend you? Think about it: using “limited capability” instead of “crippled” hints at a greater degree of sensitivity to the issue; using “LGBT” instead of “gay” demonstrates awareness which is a one step further towards understanding and inclusion.
  • Statistics: many large companies would publish sustainability reports that have a Talent section in them with graphs, charts and numbers boasting great advances in diversifying their workforce. Analyze those carefully and draw your own conclusions. Having 30% of women in senior management is great, but why not 50% or 60% while it was proven by much research that increasing the number of women in senior management is positively correlated with shareholder returns?
  • Internships and Scholarships for Diverse Candidates: old proverbs generally hold water no matter what – put your money where your mouth is. One might hail the virtues of having a diverse workforce and do nothing about it while someone else will have a varied program of scholarships, apprenticeships, internships and other -ships for minority employee groups or potential candidates and not being very vocal about it. Search for facts and real diversity interventions from the company’s side rather than believing everything you see or hear coming out from the mouths of its managers.
  • Employee Groups and Networks: if there are many networks and diversity affiliate groups and they are active and closely linked to the business, it is a very good sign. What is really difficult to do is to fake the employees’ interest in something that is artificial and clearly top-down. Try to contact the representatives of those groups with any personal questions you might have about the general atmosphere in the workplace and diversity initiatives that the company is pursuing; I am more than confident that you will get honest answers.
  • Diversity & Inclusiveness Plans and Other Documentation: failing to plan is planning to fail, as a well-known saying goes. Having a solid Diversity & Inclusiveness plan in place is already being half-way there. Undoubtedly, often those plans of action mean mostly lots of plans and no action, so what would be really important is to see the progress, or what exactly the company is doing to carry out those plans. Additionally, read testimonials, corporate diversity newsletters and magazines, diversity profiles and other bits of diversity information that more and more companies are willingly share with the general public these days.
  • Diversity Statement: if it there, it’s already a plus. I agree, words are words, but often even in the way the diversity statement is phrased you can pick up the genuine corporate attitude to managing diverse talent. Whose name is signed at the bottom – is it the HR Director or the CEO?
In closing, I would like to note that looking for a job is like marrying. You will never be sure until the moment you start living together (figuratively and literally). So, I guess following the 80/20 principle is a good bet. Being 80% sure of your decision based on all the information you have collected following the steps outlined above is a high confidence level already to say “yes”. In both cases you will also suffer from the “Apple syndrome”: you always know that there is a new better version available if you wait just a little bit. 80/20 rule will work here as well: collect enough critical information and act on it.

Blending in is no longer an option – being different is your competitive advantage so make the most of it. 

Yet, be careful: not everywhere diversity is celebrated and being unique appreciated. 

If you are keen to learn more about the topic, I encourage you to explore the Vault/Inroads Guide to Corporate Diversity Programs available at


Related Posts with Thumbnails