A midlife career switch can be a good idea—but be prepared for challenges along the way. In 2014, over a beer, childhood friends Kamal Karanth and Anil Kumar Ethanur decided to quit their high-paying jobs as managing directors of competing international staffing firms and start a business together.
“We never imagined we would start our own company,” says 45-year-old Ethanur, “but I saw entrepreneurship as the ultimate challenge and wanted to give it a shot.” Karanth felt his career was stagnating and wanted to tap into the fast-growing staffing industry, pegged to grow to a $20 billion (around ₹1.3 trillion) market in India. “We weren’t making any difference to our clients beyond filling their recruitment needs,” says 46-year-old Karanth.
Never accept the first salary you’re offered, in desperation. HR managers, and even hiring firms, are incentivised to keep hiring salaries low and negotiate hard with individuals. Which is why, the first and foremost rule for good negotiation is that you should be able to walk away if required, says Kanchan Mukherjee, professor, organizational behaviour and human resources management, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.
“Desperation or your need for the job shows in your body language, how you speak, and that’s used by companies to hammer down salaries,” he explains. In India, with high competition for jobs, this desperation level is higher, giving an edge to companies.
“Our research shows that you will end up losing up to ₹2-4 lakh per annum on a base salary of ₹10 lakh if you don’t negotiate,” says Soujanya Vishwanath, co-founder, Pink Ladder, a career support company for women based in Bengaluru.
The negotiation starts with the first interview. “The interview is all about building your bargaining power,” says Mukherjee. “You need to make the company and the interviewer want you and realize the value you’ll bring. The more the company wants you, the better you will be at the salary negotiation stage.”
Listen well and you will know the truth. Over a cup of coffee in February, Akash Manohar, the director of engineering at Synup, a Bengaluru-based marketing start-up, made a suggestion to its millennial founder Ashwin Ramesh—change the work timings, because late hours don’t allow the team to pursue hobbies.
“The norm for most tech start-ups is to start late and end late,” says 26-year-old Ramesh. “However, I thought there’s no harm in implementing it and seeing how it goes.” Two days later, Ramesh changed the reporting timing for the tech teams, asking employees to come at 8am and leave by 5pm sharp. He was surprised to see a 20% increase in productivity within a few weeks.
Listening is a skill you must acquire
Ramesh is glad that he picked up the skill of listening to colleagues, and making collective decisions, early in his entrepreneurial journey. In 2016, he also implemented advice on using networks and contacts for hiring rather than advertising on job portals; the suggestion came from Raison D’Souza, also director of engineering.
Working with drones is still not a career for most. Take Bhavesh Sangani for example. While studying at an engineering college in Tumkur, Karnataka, in 2009, Bhavesh Sangani bought a small toy: a remote-controlled helicopter. Before he started flying it, he tied it with a thread, just like a kite, scared it might land somewhere else. Something worse happened—the flight crashed and the toy was wrecked.
Drones is cutting-edge tech
What remained with Sangani, however, was the desire to fly something with a remote control. The same year, he started a club in college that made DIY remote-controlled flights or drones. “By the time I graduated in 2011, we had built 36 remote-controlled electrical planes, all self-taught through the internet,” says the 28-year-old. The hobby helped Sangani land a job as an engineer with Quest Global, an engineering services company based in Bengaluru, straight out of college.
In 2012, when Sachin Gupta graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee with a job offer from Google India, he faced a conundrum. He and his college mate, Vivek Prakash, had been building a software system, HackerEarth, for engineer recruitment. They had an offer from GSF Accelerator, a Bengaluru seed-funder for technology start-ups.
It came with a caveat: GSF wanted the two in Bengaluru, working full-time on the start-up, if they were to get the initial money. “That was our first challenge,” recalls Gupta. “If we wanted to do this start-up, and we so did, Vivek had to miss a semester in his degree while I had to leave my job.” Prakash wanted to get his degree.
Being a trailing spouse can be stressful as you quit your job to follow your partner’s career. However, with perseverance it can work.
When Saba Menezes, 32, decided to marry her childhood sweetheart Richard, a petroleum engineer with Shell, they knew one of them would have to give up their career.
Menezes, a Delhi-based litigation lawyer, had been unhappy with her job, and decided she would take a break. After marriage in 2013, the couple moved to Rio de Janeiro; by 2015, just as she was becoming proficient in Portuguese, Richard took up a job in Brunei. “Even though I knew this was going to happen, it took me time to accept that law as a career option for me was over as we are going to keep moving,” she says.
According to a September 2017 study released by InterNations, an international community of expatriates, only 45% of the spouses who move with their partners to a new country end up finding work. More than 80% of the spouses are women. Work permits, education degrees, language, or the career itself are some of the challenges these trailing or travelling spouses, as they are known in business parlance, come up against.
Online learning is the new way millennials are educating themselves. When Lucky Gautam decided to take the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) during his final year as a BTech student at Amity University in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, he was worried about the stiff competition he would face from students of India’s premier engineering institutions.
On a friend’s suggestion, he signed up with the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), an online platform that offers free courses (but charges a minimal fee for an exam for certification), to brush up on topics like analogue circuits and the principles of signals and systems.
Online learning has become the norm
A government-funded initiative by seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), NPTEL helped Gautam earn an all-India rank of 58 in GATE and a job offer from Indian Oil Corporation. “Sometimes books and a library just aren’t enough. With this platform, I could learn from the country’s top faculty at my own pace,” says the 25-year-old.
Other than providing high-quality content in high-demand fields, online courses are affordable and flexible, and therefore easier to access.
Cognitive computing, automation and globalization are impacting the nature of jobs and the skills required. One needs to be a lifelong learner to stay relevant. “We can’t afford to stop learning and still expect to grow in our careers. Online platforms are the most accessible for this purpose,” says Raghav Gupta, director for the India and Asia-Pacific region, Coursera.
The formulaic framework of online courses or webinars can be a millennial’s best friend. “Millennials have an intrinsic trust and connect with technological tools and advances, adapting to new technology rapidly,” says Andrew Thangaraj, professor, electrical engineering department, IIT, Madras, and NPTEL coordinator .
Artificial assistants in smart speakers can do some tasks for you to make your life easier but they are a long way off from turning you into a couch potato. Vinay Ram, a 30-year-old product manager, bought his Echo Dot (Rs4,499, Amazon.in) as soon as it was launched in India in November. “I’d seen an Echo a year ago when Alexa could only understand the American English accent, but mine is very responsive to Indian accents, switching seamlessly from Odia, Malayalam and north Indian English accents,” he says.
How smart speakers work in India
Ram who works for a Bengaluru-based smart-home automation company, Silvan, has set up the TV set-top box with Alexa and now asks the device to change the channels for him. Alexa also controls the air conditioner and room temperature and is automated to switch off all lights if the device hears “Good Night”.
Ram’s wife, Sapna who works from home, plays interactive games like Hangman with the smart speaker, and streams music from Saavn. Together, they give Alexa up to 50 commands in a day. Though he loves it, Ram reluctantly admits, “It’s a luxury rather than a necessity.”
According to data released in January by Amazon, Alexa smart speakers now offer integration with more than 12,000 skills tailor-made for Indians using its digital voice assistants, including the ability to play devotional songs, interactive games, services like Housejoy, Zomato, music apps like Saavn and informational apps like ESPNcricinfo—all of them free, without any subscriptions.
Kitchen gadgets that will practically make the food themselves
It’s time to try something new kitchen gadgets. Retire your drab old whistle-cooker and wok, and bring home smart appliances that use the best of technology to make cooking easy. We tell you of the best ones.
Kitchen Gadget: Prepd pack
The Prepd Pack lunch box is a smart one with an app that helps you plan and prepare your lunch, and track your food’s nutritional value so you can control what you eat. The start-up began as a Kickstarter project to raise $25,000 and ended up raising more than a million dollars for reimagined lunches.
The main case is an elegant rectangular box that can house a versatile modular system of containers with smart magnetic cutlery. The highlight is, of course, the app (free for iOS, Android) which helps you prepare lunches in advance. Prepd has tied up with chefs and nutritionists to create a library of prep-friendly recipes tailored for a broad range of diets, appetites and health goals. The app also makes a shopping list based on your choice of lunches for the week, and tracks calories. It can connect to other health apps like HealthKit on iOS, to track your health and fitness.
We love our chairs. However according to a study published in September in the Annals Of Internal Medicine, longer bouts of sitting are directly correlated to greater risk of death. “However, you can use the same chair as a tool,” says Paul, “if you can take out 20 minutes in your day during office hours and stretch those muscle groups.” Our experts list a few exercises that enable you to use your chair as a prop.
Soften those shoulders
Thoracic extension: Hold the back of your chair with your hands. Keeping the arms straight, push forward, expanding your chest by squeezing your shoulder blades. “Now try and look back on either side,” says Kamal Chhikara, owner and head coach, Reebok CrossFit Robust, a fitness studio in Delhi, “and you’ll open up your chest, reducing shoulder pain.”