How to Get a Job in HR at a Technology Company
This week for the Duma Works What It Takes series, we interviewed Eric Kariuki, the Head of Organizational Development and Learning at Techno Brain.
HR is such an interesting field because it somehow brings together people of all sorts of backgrounds, depending on what type of company it is. For example, since Techno Brain is a technology company, members of their Human Resources department are highly technical and have IT backgrounds, Eric being the prime example.
Having a background in a diverse number of sectors helps when you go into HR because you gain an understanding of the people in the various departments you are serving
- Being able to build systems and processes is one of the most important parts of being a good HR practitioner. You need to be able to blend company strategy and the goals of your team members with a key focus on delivering value for both
- When applying to a job, be creative with your CV to stand out and show ingenuity. Simply, what value differentiation will you provide?
And now enjoy our interview with Eric! He is a diverse business person who has been in the field of HR for a while and has many gems of wisdom to share.
So Eric, tell me about your career path.
My career path is a not the typical HR journey and does not follow a systematic trajectory. I never studied HR except for 1 course in University. I actually studied IT for my undergraduate. When leaving campus, I used to work for a social enterprise that had developmental goals. I actually got to travel a lot in pursuit of these development goals for the company. I was in Chile and Argentina for one year and I worked for 3 months in India and four months in Zimbabwe.
When I was in Argentina, I started working in HR management for a social enterprise, so when I came back to Kenya, I got this job. I believe the primary reason I was selected for my current role is because of my IT background and experience in HR management.
How did you get into HR in Argentina?
The organization I worked for a period of 6 years was global in a 110 countries and I wound up working in a myriad of roles.. Latin America as a whole was a different experience, culture and context but one of the most life changing experiences.
I initially started in business development sales and then for the last 2 years I wound up in talent management.
Why did your bosses think you would be good in talent management?
One was exposure – Since I had previously worked in different countries and cultural environments,this provided a comparative advantage and matched well with the Company’s expansion trajectory. Secondly, people could see that I was able to connect how we drive organizational performance while effectively managing and developing people and talent. That’s one of my key strengths – I think I can strategically drive business but also see how to develop people so they can achieve the company’s and their own personal goals.
I think I’m good with this is because of my diverse experience in different fields. If you come from a purist line, you see it from the point of – “this is what HR does, this is what sales does,” etc. But if you come from a different background, you also understand the dynamic of how to understand business and how people correlate with that strategy.
Actually, my current boss is from a business background, so we deal mostly in business and HR.
My third strength – I’ve been told my strength is building systems and processes, and using data to come up with solutions. Due to my IT background, I build structures and systems to figure out how we use data to inform strategy.
What does your day to day look like?
I would say it is a constant learning experience. One of the main things I do is process mapping. My job is to work with policies and see how to operationalize them through procedures. So today I dealt with our disciplinary management system.
Or when I first took on recruitment, the first thing to do was create a process flow on how recruitment is done, what documentation is needed, and then how we automate our recruitment processes.
We just bought an automatic recruiting solution from a 3rd party vendor right now, which is helping structure our processes. It helps us channel the random requests from all over other departments, manage recruiting timelines, and bring everything together in a system so we could focus on nuanced aspect of recruiting while giving the candidates a good experience.
I also have a team based in Kenya, one based in Dubai, and one in India – so we have a global team. Remote management has its positives and negatives but since I’ve had experience with it in Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, you learn to think – “Ok, I can do this, how do I manage this.”
My role at Techno Brain is currently global – we are in 25 countries. So this means understanding local reality and global strategy aligns is very important. As much as we want to standardize and streamline, we need to take care of local context as well as focus on global.
Is there a skill you wouldn’t be able to live without?
I guess being able to be analytical – because you are flooded with so much information on a day to day basis. I work in a very dynamic and fast moving environment and decisions need to be taken quickly. I need to manage, truncate, and navigate data to make real time decisions.
The second skill is emotional intelligence. You deal with the complexity of human issues in HR. You can’t just make a quick decision. You need to understand what context are they operating in, how will they engage emotionally, culturally etc. So you need to bring in emotional intelligence to every challenge that comes your way in Human Resources.
How have you grown with Techno Brain as the company has grown over time?
I mean, I’ve definitely learned chaos management. When you are at a company that is constantly growing, changing, and needs high-intense demands, there is no clear answer, process, or standard to work with – it’s chaos. So you learn to manage chaos. You ask yourself – How can I get this done, what is the best way, and how do I keep myself emotionally grounded to handle the daily pressure.
The second thing is conflict management – because sometimes I see the amount of disagreement or conflict on the table, and you learn to listen to both sides diplomatically. I need to be able to handle objections and conflict while still retaining the best outcome for each person and the organization.
These are the two biggest areas I think I’ve grown in.
Have you done HR courses since graduating?
I am going to do a Masters in Systems Engineering Management, which is sort of a hybrid – it brings elements of IT, but looking at them from a business engineering and structuring aspect.
With the people we have hired, mostly we look for people from economics and physics backgrounds. This is because these people actually think of things from a different perspective. They internalize HR best practices, but are also able to compare them with other other elements.
What is your best advice to candidates applying to HR jobs?
I guess the best one it to understand what value you can contribute to the organization. One of the things I often see is people writing on their CV as a career objective: “To work in an organization where I can utilize my skills to develop this company…”
I’m like – this statement doesn’t make any sense. Instead, if you come to me and say – “these are my skills, knowledge, and experience, and this is the VALUE I bring you,” I will buy into you as a candidate. If you just come and tell me about your experience – I don’t want a random person from the job market. I want someone who has understood my pain point and can help me.
Is there a best cover letter you have ever seen?
If I was not the one who wrote it..? Haha…just kidding.
Haha, yes, I have seen some good ones. For me – a cover letter needs to tell me 3 things – Who you are, What value you give, and why should I believe you.
And if you can word it in such a way to give me those 3 things, you have sealed the deal.
What does a good CV mean to you?
One of the best things when applying for jobs is coming with a bit of innovation on your cover letter or CV. I was telling a group of young guys – the first CV I did was actually a video. I thought to myself – “you don’t always have to go traditional.” This is one of the things I am very particular about. We have around 60 roles across Africa. We get over 200 CVs for each role . If you can give me a video CV or some sort of different media or playground to position your personal brand.
Also, if you give me your CV, I will Google you, check your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These mediums are actually other pieces of your CV and they tell me a lot. So make sure those are up to date and frame your personal brand nicely.
What would your next career move be based on the experience you have gathered so far?
Well, one of the things I want to dabble in for a couple of years from now is the social enterprise space. I have learned a lot from the corporate end. I would love to start out my own outfit.
One of the things I appreciate from working at Techno Brain is that I needed to learn a lot of things to perform well on the job. HR sits in a place that allows you to interact with a lot of different stakeholders and understand how the company can work with our people to strategically push the goals of the business.
Thank you so much, Eric, for these fabulous insights!
I really enjoyed hearing about the interdisciplinary nature of being in an HR position – you touch every department, and form strategic decisions around all the different team prerogatives.
I hope you enjoyed the latest episode of What It Takes! If you liked this and want to read more, try our post about Yvette Ondachi and how she went from Pharm to Farm.
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