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How to beat mid-career crisis
Pankaj Anup Toppo, Outlook Money | September 08, 2006
Kamal Hingorani started his career some 20 years ago as a reservation-ticketing agent at a foreign airline. A science graduate, he had got admission at Cornell University, but couldn't afford the fees. So, he made the best of his job, was promoted to senior reservation-ticketing agent then to a supervisor and then to a sales representative at the same office.
He also realised that management education would take his career ahead, but knew that he could not afford to take time off to enroll in a full-time course. Instead, he signed up for a one-year diploma course in management offered by the local YMCA. "Classes were held in the evening and it was also close to my office. I could do my course and my job, simultaneously," says Hingorani. He paid the Rs 10,000 course fee out of his savings.
From then on, there was no looking back. Hingorani began a rapid ascent up the corporate ladder, first as senior sales representative and then as sales manager. When he decided to move to another airline, he moved as sales manager controlling a bigger territory, and was soon made country manager. From there, he moved to Kuoni Travel as vice-president. But Hingorani was still not satisfied.
He knew that the management course from YMCA was now obsolete. "Most of the concepts that I had learnt at that time had changed," he says. So he decided to join the first batch of the Executive General Management Programme floated by the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. He finished his course and stuck it out at Kuoni for another year before moving to ITC Travel House as an executive vice-president.
It's not difficult to see how Hingorani grew - hard work, dedication and constant re-skilling to stay abreast of latest developments. The last is possibly the most important, as hard work and dedication is pretty much taken for granted. Outlook Money takes a look at the efficacy of mid-career programmes and at what you should look for before you decide on a programme.
Need for re-skilling. "These days, most skills have a very short shelf life," says Ambarish Raghuvanshi, CFO and director, Infoedge India, which owns the job portal naukri.com. That's why you need to keep abreast of the rapid changes in space where you operate. How soon do skills become redundant? It's hard to put a number to this, as it depends on the industry you work in. If you work in the IT field or in taxation, for instance, rapid changes cannot be ruled out.
New rules and changes in technology will render your current skills obsolete before you even realise it. "The need for re-skilling in the present day is critical. At different stages, you need to evaluate yourself if you need to acquire new skills to remain competitive at the job," says Deepak Chandra, assistant dean, Executive Education, Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. There are two ways professionals learn. One is on the job and the other is when you make a conscious effort to pursue a programme to upgrade skills.
Bakul H. Dholakia, director, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), offers another point of view, saying that only a few make it to the good management schools every year. Those who don't, either join relatively unknown management schools, or join a profession. When these people move up the corporate ladder, the need for quality education rises. "As a result, demand for quality mid-career programmes is immense in India," says Dholakia. This is one reason why IIM-A plans to commence its executive education programme in the latter half of this year.
When to re-skill. "Waiting for the mid-career wake-up call is not the best way. One should proactively take an inventory of the present skill sets, identify the needs for the next levels of management and try to do a programme to bridge this gap. If you wait for signals, you may not be able to move with external changes like technology, business models and mergers and acquisitions," says E Balaji, CEO, Ma Foi Management Consultants.
Having said that, it also depends on the organisational need and evolution of an industry. "Industries like IT, retail, telecom have fast-changing paradigms in the market dynamics," says Achal Khanna, country general manager, Kelly Services India.
However, there are signals you can look out for, which would suggest that you are in need of re-skilling. "One indication is if you are paid less than your peers within the organisation and within the same industry," says Raghuvanshi. The other indication is how you are perceived within your own organisation. If you are not given due importance and are not involved in decision-making and your peers are, then you should seriously consider evaluating your profile and identifying the areas where you fall short.
How to re-skill. Once you have identified the areas you need to beef up, how do you choose a programme that adds value to your profile? "It is better to choose programmes that complement one's career aspirations by leveraging past experience," says Balaji.
Take the case of Vivek Varshney, 37, head, Project Implementation, Siemens Information Systems, Gurgaon. A maths graduate from Agra University, Varshney also has a PG Diploma in Computer Science, as well as a masters degree in Computer Science and Application. After his post-graduation, he worked for numerous organisations in the IT field, including a Noida-based company called Network Programs. "Although it was a small company, it gave me many opportunities to grow and learn on the job," says Varshney.
From there, he moved to Perot Systems, where he learnt of IIM-B's management course for working professionals. "I had around 13 years of work experience and felt the need for a structured management education as I was moving to positions that required more management than technical skills," says Varshney. The course was for less than a year and the classes were held on weekends. His big break came after he completed his course. "I got the job at Siemens more because of my experience but the IIM-B course did give me an edge," says Varshney.
Choose right. Varshney did not have to do too much homework regarding the quality of the course and the institute, since IIM-B is well recognised. But if you aren't sure, spend some time in finding out the quality of the course and the brand value of the institute conducting the course. Also, make sure that the course timings suit your work schedule.
Your best bet could be online learning, a concept that's rapidly gaining importance. Most premier institutes conduct executive development courses using broadband technology. These days most such programmes focus on management education. However, there are mid-career programmes for professionals working in other spheres as well, generally offered by skill specific institutions. For instance, ICFAI conducts a CFA programme, and QAI conducts programmes on quality and project management.
However, if you plan to take any of these courses, check if you are eligible for the same. Most courses require a minimum amount of work experience. For instance, to be eligible to apply for the programmes to be launched by IIM-A, you need to have at least five years of work experience.
The cost. Mid-career programmes typically cost between Rs 40,000 and Rs 2 lakh. Shorter duration courses cost less. However, short-duration courses conducted by premier institutes may set you back by more than Rs 1 lakh. For instance, the six-month programme conducted by IIMA costs Rs 1.8 lakh. Banks usually finance these courses through education loans. Or, like Varshney, you can fund your own studies.
No matter how much you pay, remember that there is usually a commensurate benefit. "These programmes are really effective in terms of bringing fresh ideas and creative thinking to old issues," says Khanna. "I came back with a different mindset after completing my course. It changed my perspective towards management," adds Hingorani.
Varshney adds these courses also give you a chance to network. "In our class we had 108 students from diverse fields. The opportunity to gain from their experience was immense," he says. In the case of both Hingorani and Varshney, the knowledge gained through these programmes propelled their careers, which also translated into heftier pay packets. And, of course, there's the brand value of doing a course from a reputed institute.
"These programmes should be viewed as an investment in self development that would help during future career opportunities," says Dholakia. However, make sure that the course that you select adds value to your profile. If you choose with care, you can rest assured that rewards will follow.