A springboard to success

No matter where you are in your career journey—first-time jobseeker or a mid-career professional making a switch to a new field—interviews can make you feel nervous, anxious, and overwhelmed. While it’s perfectly normal to feel this way, the good news is that acing an interview is not tough if you’re well prepared for it.

Before you apply for a job, take time to assess your skills by closely studying the job description. A cover letter which summarises what you can bring to the company to successfully execute the job requirement will increase your chances of being shortlisted. Reaching out to your network of professionals will help you in getting that interview call. Building a professional network will assist you in going a long way in opening future career options. While strong skills and the knowledge you already possess will help you answer the technical questions, the STAR method is a structured manner of responding to behavioural-based interview questions (like ‘what is the most challenging situation you have faced/solved?’) by discussing the specific Situation, Task, Action, and Result of the scenario you are describing.

A springboard to success in a career starts with building strong skills. Skills can be built by putting all the effort that is required to do the job, plus the extra effort that is needed to build additional as well as future skills. While building skills, remember the 10,000 hour rule (propounded by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”) which states that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery of a skill. While some skills might need only 5000 hours to achieve mastery, the important thing is to be at it.

“Being at it” is the attitude one should have in order to succeed. Sticking solely to the job at hand with the minimum required skills will limit your growth and push you further into your ‘comfort zone’. This is detrimental to skill enhancement and career growth. A career professional should consciously develop the Growth Mindset: the innate urge to learn and challenge oneself to achieve not just what is needed for the job, but to do more than that. One can develop this mindset by having the determination to achieve a goal despite the difficulties or failures one faces. Having a growth mindset is willing to fail and then starting over again keeping in mind the lessons learnt. Growth mindset is knowing that failure is not a permanent condition. Always look forward to challenges and accept negative feedback in the spirit of learning to grow. One should see every effort put in as the path to mastery, for mastery is the key to success.

UNext Learning acquires Jigsaw Academy in first year of launch

UNext Learning, the Manipal Group-backed ed tech learning organisation, today announced that it has acquired India’s leading data science and emerging technologies institute, Jigsaw Academy. With this transaction, UNext Learning will further strengthen its higher education offerings by adding specialised professional certifications in trending domains shaping the business world today. With this acquihire, Jigsaw co-founders, Gaurav Vohra and Sarita Digumarti, will join UNext as Chief Business Officer and Chief Learning Officer, respectively, and all employees from Jigsaw Academy will transition to UNext Learning. 

Speaking on the acquisition, Ambrish Sinha, Chief Executive Officer, UNext Learning, said, “Professional development in emerging tech is becoming increasingly crucial for people and businesses that are constantly innovating and disrupting. This strategic acquisition strengthens our online play in the higher education ecosystem while increasing our range of upskilling and reskilling offerings alongside our online degrees – both in the enterprise and individual learners’ segments. By driving outcome-based immersive learning through short-term professional programmes, we’re further fortifying UNext’s vision to enhance affordability and accessibility for our community of students and learners.”

Jigsaw Academy was founded to address the skills gap in the industry through programmes in artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud, and cybersecurity among others through strategic partnerships with illustrious institutions such as the Indian Institute of Management – Indore, HackerU (Israel), and NASSCOM FutureSkills. It has transformed the careers of 50,000+ students, is recognised over 30 countries, and has collaborated with many Fortune 500 companies across the world. It has been consistently recognised as No. 1 in the ‘Top 10 Data Science Institutes in India’ several years in a row.

Speaking on the occasion, Gaurav Vohra, Chief Business Officer, UNext Learning, said, “I’m excited about the tremendous market potential this new opportunity presents. After successfully building Jigsaw and helping professionals upskill and organisations stay relevant, my new role offers a larger canvas where we can impact the lives of learners across the entire higher education spectrum – starting from online college degrees to specially curated, industry-relevant professional programmes.”

Speaking on the occasion, Sarita Digumarti, Chief Learning Officer, UNext Learning, said, “The need for change in the seemingly recent but relatively old mode of online education has never been more urgent. In my new role, I am looking forward to designing a seamless, enhanced learning journey for students – complete with robust student engagement, differentiated pedagogy, interactive technologies and events, new learning content and formats, and much much more. Our synergy with UNext is set to empower students with all the ammunition they need to succeed and build a strong community of keen learners.”

With the rising preference for digital learning, this acquisition strengthens UNext Learning’s position in the Indian ed tech market. The two firms will be combining their resources to make UNext India’s first ed tech organisation that provides end-to-end learning and assessment solutions for higher education in the online space.

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How end-to-end AI-driven assessment solutions help prevent human errors in examinations

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on one of society’s most crucial systems – education – affecting almost 1.6 billion students across 190 countries and continents. The closure of schools and other learning spaces impacted 94 per cent of the world’s student population. To lessen the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic’s probable ramifications, education establishments and institutions scrambled to revamp their traditional teaching and assessment structures to make the virtual transition optimal. What began as a temporary solution to meet social distancing requirements, has taken on a life of its own. The way we view norms for education has shifted, restrictions and constraints around the industry have been lifted, and hybrid learning has become a post-pandemic reality. This has counterbalanced the ed-tech industry’s great flood of technological developments and experiments. Every part of the traditional educational process has gone digital, from attendance to teaching to exams. With this proportional shift came significant progress in the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to conduct remote online assessments.

Although this transformation offers great potential for the sector’s growth, a move of this magnitude is certain to bring its own set of difficulties. Keeping the academic year on track and ensuring learning continuity during these exceptional circumstances is a difficult challenge in and of itself. The seamless conduct of examinations has become a necessity of the hour, especially to assure uniform and unbiased evaluation for all students. Concerns about authentication and authorisation can have serious consequences for institutions. And during the administration of online tests, institutes have significant difficulty in terms of assessment security.

It is impossible to achieve the high quality anticipated of virtual examinations without first identifying and overcoming the factors that have stymied their implementation. The long lead time in question paper creation, which can cause delays in different associated activities, is one of the most significant issues faced while organising virtual examinations. Also, limited and repetitive inquiries raise issues about honesty and reliability, particularly in national-level assessments. A disconnected system can also lead to a lack of cooperation between departments, which is a big hindrance to keeping these tests efficient. Without a unified system in place to manage a large number of applications and registrations, conduct exams, and process results, the education system as we know it now will become inefficient. A unified platform with end-to-end assessments minimizes the need to coordinate and sync across multiple departments and that helps smooth each phase of the process, making the entire online exam and assessment process simple. Another key issue is the use of cutting-edge technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) in end-to-end assessments, which reduces human error and improves the integrity and credibility of virtual evaluations in general.

How will AI help to optimise the admissions and assessment process in the long term?

The education industry has experienced an increase in the number of student applications for admissions in recent months. Because of the automation of the process, applying for admissions has become easier and far more accessible. This huge influx of student applications has put pressure on the industry. Management and faculty are under tremendous pressure to meet deadlines set for the new academic year without the use of automated technology. Managing test centres across the country has become more expensive since the outbreak. End-to-end assessment solutions can make remote examination and assessments a reality by leveraging analytics and artificial intelligence to automate and speed up usually time-consuming procedures like scheduling tests, managing large admission processes, cancelling exams, and rescheduling.

End-to-end assessments can help institutes develop a quality-driven education ecosystem by generating the same degree of respect and honesty that these examinations are recognised for, which is difficult to do in a fragmented system. With the world still perplexed by the massive disruptions brought on by the worldwide Covid-19 crisis, the education sector is under tremendous pressure to rehabilitate and emerge stronger. It is critical to act now to avoid learning losses and to prepare the road for future developments.

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An exclusive interview with Sujatha Kumaraswamy

Cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence have introduced the process of automation testing. The global automation testing market size is expected to reach US$28.8 billion in 2024 at a CAGR of 18%. It has been implemented in the education sector through examination management services and automating the examination process.

This is an exclusive interview with Sujatha Kumaraswamy, CEO, MeritTrac, A UNext company, where she elaborated the use of artificial intelligence to provide skill and domain assessment to different organizations in India’s first testing and assessment company.

1. Could you brief us about the company, its specialization and the services that your company offers? With what mission and objectives, the company was set up? In short, tell us about your journey since the inception of the company?

MeritTrac is India’s first and leading testing and assessment provider. It is a part of UNext Learning Private Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Manipal Education and Medical Group. It offers skill and domain assessment as well as examination management services to corporate organizations, educational institutes, and government agencies.

In May 2000, MeritTrac was founded to develop question bank management software for IT companies that were hiring by the dozen at the time. They needed to assess people on their domain, cognitive, behavioral, and psychometric skills. NASSCOM and McKinsey had projected that the IT industry by 2010 would be a million people strong, and the team realized that companies didn’t need a question bank management software but a unified, end-to-end operation to handle the entire recruitment process including tests and assessments on a large scale. And that’s when it was decided that MeritTrac will become India’s first testing and assessment company.

MeritTrac has greatly invested in test research and development to deliver top-notch domain and skill-based assessments. It also takes care of test administration and delivery. The company has in-house psychometricians and developers who constantly innovate to create cutting-edge products. The high-end analytics allow recruiters and trainers to analyze test results and generate reports based on their needs. It helps organizations automate the examination process, right from processing the test application form to administering the tests and digitally evaluating the results. From its inception till date, it has helped more than 400 organizations across the globe assess candidates for job readiness.

2. Kindly brief us about your experience and journey and your contributions to the industry.

I have experience for over 20 years in incubating and running new businesses and functions in the education, assessment, IT services, BPO, and financial services sectors. It spans managing global, large-scale teams in service strategy, service design, new business incubation, business operations and transformation, operational excellence, margin optimization, customer experience, governance, and risk management and compliance.

Prior to moving to MeritTrac, I was leading new business, corporate strategy and operations as the Vice President at Manipal Global Education Services. Previously, I worked at Cognizant for over nine years across infrastructure services, application management, digital services, and consulting business units and led many organization-wide initiatives in delivery excellence and margin optimization. I also worked at General Electric, Wipro Technologies, and Tech Mahindra.

I had closely worked with the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) to develop the ISO 20000 standard group and also publicize and increase awareness of the same across the industry. I am an MBA graduate in finance and corporate strategy from IIM, Bangalore. I am also a certified master black belt and a graduate of GE’s prestigious financial management program. 

3. What is your biggest USP that differentiates the company from competitors?

The commitment to quality— MeritTrac assessment processes are ISO 27001: 2013 and ISO 9001:2008 compliant. And the technology platform is CERT-IN certified that ensures the highest levels of security for the assessment process. The company is proud to be one of the first companies in this industry to use the Lean Six Sigma methodology in assessments and tests. The in-house team of experienced educators, psychometricians, designers, and developers has built more than 50 million assessments across various domains. It also has a quality team that ensures that each assessment, it prepares, is accurate and relevant to the testing purpose.

End-to-end delivery of these high-stake projects entails a smooth functioning of well-oiled machinery with all parts working efficiently as well as effectively. The core strength continues to be innovation, platforms, in-house content expertise, and flawless execution, supported by an enthusiastic team to help clients at every step. It is only then that the team can provide the benefits of optimized time and cost of assessing, hiring, and onboarding.

4. AI is projected to be the next market. How is AI contributing to the making of your products and services?

As employees and learners spend increasing time working remotely, it becomes important to track and evaluate productivity and assess integrity with as much accuracy as possible.  This has been made possible with the evolution in assessment technology enabled by AI.

AI-based recruiting is finding inroads towards pre-screening candidates objectively and shortlisting the most meritocratic set of candidates for the final interview. It has enabled remote auto-proctoring tools that capture every action of the candidate and provide a trust score to the examiner or recruiter along with the examination score. This includes identifying typing patterns, tracking eye movement, capturing ambient sound, etc., and will be an evolving field as systems get more mature with time.

AI will enable assessment-backed interventions by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of people, learning preferences, and customizing learning and assessment paths for them. All of these help organizations develop talent with these long-term objectives:

  • To minimize the influence of bias and human error
  • To produce reliable results to correctly predict future behavior and performance
  • To equally and fairly assess each candidate

There is a range of tools available today to monitor and measure people’s progress and performance on a periodic basis. These inputs should be utilized and incorporated in the overall assessment framework of the organization to have a holistic employee profile and report in place. This can have other incidental benefits on career progression, cross-functional movements, etc.

5. Please brief us about the products/services/solutions you provide to your customers and how they get value out of it.

MeritTrac has diverse and rich experience of being a pure-play assessment company with over 20 years of serving clients across the board including corporate, education institutions, and governments to assess and evaluate over 50 million candidates to date.

The company has redesigned solutions across the spectrum:

Cognitive assessments

  • These assessments have evolved over the years to be very accurate in determining the job-fit based on the skills required to perform the job effectively and maintain the desired productivity levels
  • The ease of administering these assessments is phenomenal with the ability to render on any mobile device.

Behavioral assessments

  • Behavioral assessments are highly customized depending on the nature of the role for which the candidate is being evaluated. As different roles demand a different set of skills and aptitude, these must be carefully selected and modified to suit the job description
  • Online psychometry is gaining importance in remote working. It gives one an insight into the personality traits of the prospect and helps to probe them based on the report generated. This ensures the right cultural fit in the organization
  • Language-communication assessments including verbal ability, proficiency, listening, and writing for workforce development is also an important measure
  • Coding and speech assessments and other simulation assessments through a virtual environment are used by clients extensively during recruitment as well as while benchmarking employees to have an agile, updated, and productive workforce.

All of this is well supported through a robust remote proctoring platform and assessment management solution that enables self-service, custom assessment paths, and rich analytics and insight-backed reports.

6. How do you see the company and the industry in the future ahead? What are your growth plans for the next 12 months?

Rapid technology changes, internet penetration, and growing demand for a skill-based workforce have led learners and institutions to adopt a flexible learning route. From being a ‘good to have an option for educational institutes and corporates, it’s become mission-critical to have an online play. The online education market in India is set to grow 7x within five years by 2024. This presents a US$5 billion opportunity for educators.

This has given rise to a range of EdTech players across the learner lifecycle— right from pre-primary, through K-12, and then higher education and professional certifications. While these trends have opened doors in the education sector, it has also put the onus on EdTech players to do justice to what has been hitherto considered a noble profession.

Across the learner lifecycle, EdTech companies need to play a complementary role to the formal education environment rather than a substituting one. This will ensure that the quality of learning and imparting skills does not suffer from the introduction of digital platforms at various levels.

At the same time, digital solutions must be outcome-oriented so as to provide objective improvement in learner skills and be able to deliver at scale efficiently thereby making quality education accessible as well as affordable.

HR processes including appraisals have adopted digital modes already and I think the change is here to stay due to the cost-effective and agile nature of hybrid digital processes. This is a good time for organizations to go back to the drawing board and restructure their appraisal processes by incorporating a reliable assessment mechanism with the help of modern tools and methodologies.

Data-backed platforms ensure that more objective and data-driven decisions are made that can even help improve employee retention over a longer period. This shift towards digital tools for employee appraisals will lead to more efficient and effective ways of performance reviews across industries.

People have been always skeptical about the delivery of learning and assessments online, but as the learning and assessment ecosystem is evolving with modern tools and methodologies, I believe that the comfort level towards adopting technology-backed digital solutions is higher than ever.

When it comes to scale, online examinations and assessment provide a clear advantage due to the nature of technology that is far easier to track and manage from a centralized secure server, as opposed to the requirement of managing physical test centers across the country. It provides a much better semblance of control over the conduct of examinations with richer reports around assessment scores as well as trust scores.

7. How is your company helping customers deliver relevant business outcomes through the adoption of the company’s technology innovations?

Owing to the global clientele, there are regular benchmarking exercises that it carries out with the R&D arm to ensure that platforms and assessment frameworks are aligned to globally accepted best-in-class methodologies. It ensures there is enough flexibility in the system for tailor-made solutions depending on the unique need of each client.

At MeritTrac, product and technology have always been at the heart of strategy, and some of the investments made in the past enabled platforms to handle the growing need for remote assessments without compromising on the integrity of assessments. The company has been able to roll out the next-generation remote proctored platform to serve the market needs while providing a lot of comfort to the exam proctors on the integrity of the assessment. As physical invigilators transform their roles to become live online proctors, the ease of proctoring and monitoring students is ensuring better control over the assessment, with richer insight-backed reports.

The suite of assessments built over years of expertise in assessment science including coding and speech assessments are used by clients remotely during recruitment, as well as to benchmark the employees to have an agile, updated, and productive workforce. By providing access to a rich and quality content repository, it has enabled assessment-linked learning for corporates and institutions to identify skill gaps in people early on through benchmarking assessments that are then followed up through relevant learning interventions.

I firmly believe that this shift towards digital platforms for assessments will lead to more efficient and effective ways of recruitment and periodic evaluations across industries. 

8. Candidate screening to the final selection process- How technology-led assessments are helping talent acquisition teams hire the right talent?

Over the last few months, the company has seen increasing interest from all clients to re-evaluate their current processes and identify areas of improvement to make their hiring models more robust and suited to the current working environment. The focus is on replicating the in-person hiring experience to an online environment while constantly evolving tools and assessment methodologies to ensure they hire right. Remote hiring and appraisals have mandated the usage of technology that is one of the best ways to eliminate bias due to the nature of the tools and platforms used.

As most companies moved to digital tools for measuring employee effectiveness and productivity, these data points come in handy during remote assessments as well. Some examples of these include data-driven appraisals done remotely with technology tools enabling a 360-degree feedback loop as well. The output of this exercise can establish data-backed robust employee profiles with details of their proficient skill sets and areas of improvement and assist cross-functional movements and succession planning.

A lot of companies are incorporating external cognitive and behavioral assessments as part of their appraisal cycle to identify various employee profiles and establish a well-mapped career path. The usage of video sessions has also reduced the overall cycle time. This provides an opportunity to have more periodic appraisals against one final year-end appraisal.

At the end of the day, the team is dealing with human beings and there is a risk of making the process completely mechanical. It needs to be cautious to maintain a personal touch in whatever form possible, to ensure that the process remains humanized.

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Why product managers can make great CEOs

In recent years, we’ve witnessed product management professionals rising to C-suite levels across the globe. A McKinsey report stated that product management is emerging as the new training ground for future tech CEOs.

It is no wonder that Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Sundar Pichai of Google, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, and Susan Wojcicki of YouTube were product managers before they progressed in their careers to become CEOs of global tech majors. The product manager role has a perfect combination of hard and soft skills that prepare one to emerge as an industry leader. A CEO from a product management background can see the bigger picture, has defined objectives, easily understands the problems, and empathises with people. Some even view product management as a stepping-stone to the C-suite. Let’s examine how this transition happens.

Many hats at a time

A product manager is a jack of all trades. They are involved throughout the product life cycle that enables them to understand various aspects of a business. From business development to marketing to technological expertise, they don different hats during the product development stage. At every step of the way, product managers gain many skills – communication, interpersonal, leadership, problem solving, sales, marketing, and more. All these make them the perfect fit for top jobs.

Data-driven decisions

As guardians of products, product management professionals gather data from clients, analyse it, and effectively communicate them to respective teams and leaders. Data is used to drive decisions about resource allocation, marketing strategy, troubleshooting, release timelines, and other processes. Today, most decisions in organisations are taken based on data, and top leaders are expected to have a data-driven outlook. Data skills will ease the journey of a product manager to a CXO post.

An inspiring collaborator

Product managers translate the technical perspectives to business and vice versa. They represent the company in client meetings, represent the customer in the product development huddles, and communicate the requirements and progress to each stakeholder from time-to-time. Conducting customer interviews and user testing, performing market assessments, preparing roadmaps, coordinating with development teams, and providing feedback are the core competencies of a product manager. Continuous collaboration and synergy is needed between diverse teams each step of the way. By motivating everyone in the project, product management professionals try to deliver the best outcome on time. It is similar to the role of an executive leader, who influences and motivates their people for the company’s growth.

Customer-centric approach

As stated above, product managers represent the end-user in the development process. Like CEOs, product managers focus on customer needs, revenue, and the development team. With data and feedback, they find a big picture of the end user’s life and the potential significance of their product on customers’ daily life. The growing influence of design thinking principles in product development underlines the importance of the customer-centric approach and its role in business growth. With hands-on experience in this approach, a product manager can prosper in an executive leadership position.

In sum, product managers play a crucial role in product development and acquire the right skills that will help them flourish in their career and ascend to the CEO post. Though the experience and skills vary from industry to industry, the core competencies remain the same. A dynamic talent in product management will have a quick career progression in any industry. The onus remains on professionals to showcase their agility and skills at the appropriate time and find the path to success.

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