Talking to Richa Saklani
Ms. Richa Dwivedi Saklani, Founder & CEO at Inomi , a career guidance company based at Gurgaon. An IIM Ahmedabad alumnus, Richa worked as a corporate banker and a stock analyst before entering Career Guidance in 2003.
Please tell us about your background.
About my background – I am working as a career guide for about 14 years now. I published a book in which I have written a little bit about my journey and how I got into this career.
I grew up in a very typical, small family in Jharkhand. Most of my batch mates in school did turn out to be engineers or doctors and they are placed well in different parts of the globe, today. That is the sort of environment I come from. Having said that, I was looking for something more creative and social science oriented. But, our school didn’t even offer options other than PCM/PCBM.
After schooling, I did Economics and completed my MBA at IIM Ahmedabad. This was not in true joy but, reluctantly. It did work out for me and I began working as a stock analyst.
At that time, one of my colleagues happened to tell me about a book of theirs. That inspired me tremendously because I have always wanted to write a book.
I quit my work at that point with the thought of doing something that I have always wanted to do – write books and work with people. I started working as a freelance trainer and did some corporate training work as well. I really enjoyed the work that I was doing; working with people and making a difference in their lives. It was much more fulfilling than my work as a stock analyst.
From there, I looked forward to set up an organization through which I could help people find work that they enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis and feel fulfilled. This began in 2004. I was working, initially, more with schools and I developed my understanding of careers and what works for which student, how people can figure out what careers are right for them over the years.
I have been trained in this space and have extensively studied the Holland Career Code and multiple intelligences. Over a period of time, by working with multiple students I got an idea about the kind of personalities that impacts specific careers.
In the last 5 years, I have worked a lot with individuals – both students and the working folk, helping them chart a career path for themselves and helping them create a vision based on self-discovery. I have published a book called the “Ultimate Guide for 21st Century Careers, 2017” and am currently working on the second volume, which explores careers of the future.
Where are you based out of?
In Gurgaon – I have been in Gurgaon forever, well almost!
What has your experience with schools been? How do you go about it?
I have worked extensively with various schools when I started and found it very fulfilling. In schools, you work with batches of 25 kids or so.
I realized that all the psychometric things that we or anyone else uses are based on the students’ ability to answer them in an open and productive way. So, when I work with schools, I give recommendations that aren’t as customized as when I work with individuals. The other side of it is, of course the great fun part working with children.
A large part of our program is about advising children on career options and they have so many questions around this area. Of course, many of these questions are around the earning potential and they are so excited.
At times, we realize that they don’t know anything more than 6-7 options that their parents have been telling them about. If a parent is working with technology, for instance, they would keep advertising about coding and selling that idea to their children. Then, there are others talking to you about arts, consulting, about corporate law and about education and everything that can happen – those are the areas which we never often think about because we all grow up in this tech-savvy world.
So, when we give them many options, children get very bright-eyed and excited about the career guidance program.
So, visiting schools and doing presentations – is that how your guidance company works or does schools refer students to you?
The bulk of our work now is individuals coming to us. By individuals I mean students or working folks.
We do conduct presentations in schools. We work with Patrick School, Noida for instance, with whom we have been working for around 5 years now. We do talk to them about career options. For example, we were talking recently at Tagore International School and we were talking to them about careers of the future. That is also part of what we do – essentially more like an outreach activity. It generates awareness of the work we do and creating awareness among parents about the options around us. But the actual work that we do involves individual connecting to us through references.
And, how old would these children generally be – 13-15 years?
I do have random children reaching out at the age of 13-14 years of age. Having said that, I find more productive work done with students from standard 10 onwards.
We do have some students in grade 9 who are working with us. But I don’t always find that they are mature enough to act on the recommendations that are made to them. There are times when we work with even younger children who come over and say that they aspire to become a paleontologist, astronaut etc.
It is not that they can’t do these things but if you talk to the same children when they get to class 10, they will have a more pragmatic approach. So, I think, grade 10 is much more suitable for this program.
Our program works through self-discovery; so, unless the children are ready, it doesn’t really have an impact.
How does career guidance work these days? Please walk us through the road map of this engagement? Do you suggest options based on aptitude tests?
A career guidance session is a 1:1 session of about 4 hours. First you have fairly engaging conversations with students about the options already introduced to them, and then we talk about more options available to them. We answer their questions and this is the part where students create a long list of 10-15-20 careers that seem interesting to them. Some of the options may be what the student is interested in and other may be what the parents are interested in, etc.
Then, we discuss this long list and map it to psychometric tests and we use a tool called Signature Sense – a tool that we have built, we use a game around goals, etc. At every stage, the 15-20 lists keeps getting contoured down. Finally it gets filtered to 2-3 options that are most suited to the students and we build this into a flowchart to show the recommended path, the backup/alternative option, etc.
At the last stage, we invite parents as well and we have a three-way conversation because I truly believe that the action actually happens only when parents and children are aligned in their goals or else there is a lot of conflict, which is hardly productive.
That takes me to the next question – ours is a country where parents, relatives and the society at large wants to decide what each individual has to do for a living. How much scope is there for others to influence these decisions in a significant way?
That is a slightly complex question to answer. I do see that a lot of the parents who come to us are parents who are open to whatever is right for their children. That is another difference when working with schools vs. with individuals. In schools you have parents saying engineering + MBA is the best option. But, that is not quite how it works with individuals. We notice that parents who come to us – who have self-selected us are the ones who are open to understanding what their children want to explore. That, in itself, makes them free-spirited.
At the same time, students today are under a lot of pressure. There is a lot of pressure to perform. The parental pressure of the yesteryears have transformed into peer pressure. Hence, this pressure depends on the college you go to. Nowadays the thought of going to a particular college is the ultimate goal.
Most of the time, yes, I get to meet free-spirited children these days.
What will the economic background of these children be?
I do want to work with students from the lower middle class economic families and the privileged students but at the moment these free spirited students are from financially well-off families.
Couple of institutions has reached out to us. But, I find our knowledge to middle class and upper middle class careers, at the moment. I am best in that area.
To work with kids who are underprivileged and look for vocational roles, I need to do a lot more research to guide them. It would be fulfilling to get there though.
In your recent article in THE HINDU you mention that the students shouldn’t get over worried about the brand name of the institution. Tell us more.
To give a little context for that article, among the students that I work with, I do find some students going through a lot of stress. These are very bright children too. They are students who can articulate things very well and can perform above average and they stand to get through a good college.
But their definition of good is so high that they are simply not happy with what they are doing and because of this they undergo so much of stress that it becomes a vicious circle. They can’t perform well, because of the stress and because of that the potential of what you can do goes down and that creates more stress for you. That vicious cycle seemingly becomes unbreakable.
The only way to break it is to let students understand that these things are not the be all and end all. I try to make students whom I am working with understand this through my own personal stories. I don’t know if that article would make sense to them because I haven’t shared it with any of my students. You do your best and reach some point. It is important to tell students that wherever they reach, they can always carve a way from there.
This idea of doing aptitude tests, figuring out what the aptitude is and then deciding a career – do you really see that working? Is it a fool-proof method? Lot of decisions we take is not so clear cut. We all do something and then something else, etc. in a process to discover what we are doing.
You know what; I do have a view on this. When I started in 2004, there were lots of resources on existing tests. I finally went with one that I understand it very deeply. Having said that, I will not use a test to give an answer! Though I keep toying with the idea that I somehow be able to transit that!
We have so much AI in the world today that I need to be able to translate what I do into some sort of simple and easy test that people can just take online and get the answers.
But, the truth is that our answers are very self-discovery based. The question then is, why use the psychometric tools? They are meant to reveal an idea of who you are and therefore help you make a choice.
I have always felt that the answer is right inside you and there is no test in the world that I can use to tell you that x or y is what you should be doing. And, you wouldn’t do it anyway because you would do only that which seems right to you. Having said that, the tests that are popular and that work, for example, the Holland Career Test gives you about 30 options that are right for you. That is because human beings are extremely complex and it is very difficult to say, based on any test, that this person can only do x role.
It can be that a child only has creative skills rather than analytical skills and could be an excellent investment broker as well as an excellent architect. Now, how does a person make a choice among those options? The person could be good with technology, arts and also might be good at educating other people. If you just do a test you would get at least 30 valid responses. To choose from those will require counselling and the self-discovery process.
I don’t think that any test is the final answer, nor do I think that any test is really wrong because most tests give you very obvious answers. For instance, it may say that you are good with people, which is something that you might already be aware of.
To say what to do with that information for a bright career is a gap that a test cannot bridge.
In short, how you use these tests are what matters.
Is there anything else, Richa, which you feel I may not have covered?
Well, I can share a little bit of what I am doing now. I am trying to get a view of the world in the future and how children need to be raised and what the future holds for them. I worked with grade 9 students today. By the time they hit the job market, it will take at least 9-10 years from today.
It is very important for students to understand that and so, it is important for them to pick up things that are becoming trendy and that can be the future rather than just looking at the work in a very static manner.
Often, parents do not have that dynamic view because they have the view that they grew up with. That is where opinions such as Engineering + MBA is the best option, stems out.
They don’t understand that education is being revolutionized and that it is one of the fastest growing industries today. They don’t realize that what is happening in therapy and psychology today is expected to change the world tomorrow.
I think that it is very important for children to understand future trends to be able to make intelligent choices.
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