About the project
How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features graduates from the Higher School of Economics who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences, and talk about the big shots they’ve schmoozed and how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
Nowadays, psychology has a very specific application in the world of business, as not a single large company in the world is able to get by without a staff of professional psychologists. Ksenia Babat, Senior HR Manager at Puma, tells Success Builder what a business psychologist does, how to start building a strategy for professional success as a student, and why she holds coaching sessions on the weekends.
You were among the first class to graduate from HSE’s Faculty of Psychology. Why did you decide to continue your education in the master’s programme?
I wanted to do my master’s right after undergrad and decided to make my knowledge more specific and focus on a particular direction. I decided to apply for the Business Psychology Master’s Programme. I really wanted to work, make money, and build a career, and I think business psychology gives me that opportunity. This is a pretty natural source of motivation for a student.
Did you plan to work at a large, well-known company, or did everything just turn out that way?
I started working fairly early when I was a sophomore in college. I knew exactly what I liked doing, but I didn’t understand how to build a career. I just went with the flow, and saw this as a time for experimenting. Now I understand that I would have been very thankful to have someone close who had already found themselves and could give me advice, examples, and answers. I didn’t have that kind of person in my life though, which is why I am now happy to meet with students and share my experience. Work – even freelance work – helped me decide on a business direction. I was 21 when I randomly got my first job with a Russian real estate company. I was tasked with creating a learning system at the company. Of course, I agreed to construct the system from the ground up because this is precisely what I had learned at the university. I also realised that this is exactly what I wanted to do, and having read over lecture notes from HSE in cafes, on the metro, at lunch, I tried to put the concepts from every single lecture into practice.
Did it work out okay?
Absolutely. I put the cases and knowledge directly into the working structure. In the evenings, I would listen to a lecture and participate in a seminar, and the next day I was already using this information at work. This was really convenient and everything worked out. It wasn’t that I was using the company as a guinea pig, but I really gave the company a lot and I am still close with people from the company. When I was finishing HSE and my German classes, I realised that my time and energy were being freed up for something more, which meant I needed to go further. And I went forward, already having an acute awareness of exactly what I needed for my career.
students took the Intro to Psychology class at Harvard University in 1898. American professors lamented, ‘Why does the country need so many psychologists?’
I thought about going to Germany to study. In any case, though, German wasn’t a bad decision, considering the fact that the main office of Puma, where I currently work, is located in Germany.
Can you tell us what a business psychologist does exactly?
As concerns what I do, I first and foremost work in the department of personnel management. This includes hiring, training and development, assessments, internal communications, and corporate culture; that is, everything dealing with close communication and cooperation with staff. Sometimes personnel management departments don’t have people with an education in psychology, but as a professional psychologist, I see the value of my education and understand how to build communication effectively, how to construct this or that process from an academic point of view, how to launch a project, and how to do everything correctly and systematically. People who aren’t professional psychologists acquire knowledge by doing and when the risk of making a mistake is high.
Psychologists who don’t work in business deal with psychological counselling and psychiatry, or they work with children. If you look at my classmates who chose counselling instead of business psychology, for example, they are involved with psychotherapy. They hold individual consultations, work at kindergartens and schools, or work on hotlines.
What about psychology as a scientific field? It seems to me that the modern day psychologist can achieve pretty stellar results, as the field is quite broad and deep.
In response to the question of why you chose psychology, the majority of us say, ‘to help people and be a good mother.’ And life is one way for a psychologist to put their knowledge into practice. To this day, when I meet my friends who are psychologists and went into the scientific side, I’m a little sad. After all, it’s so rich with discoveries, research, and discussions – which is all invaluable – but there are nuances here. Science requires patience, and it’s time consuming. Plus, satisfaction might not come as quickly as it would working in business, where there are goals and deadlines, and where it’s very clear what you have to do to achieve a certain goal. In science you can research a hypothesis for many years, but then it doesn’t pay off, and there is a high risk that you’ll be disappointed and lose resources. I’m not prepared for that. I’ve also always aimed for financial stability, which comes much faster in the world of business. I need a certain dynamic. Quick self-realization is important for me.
Exactly how are you fulfilling your potential now? By working at Puma?
Puma, as is customary for large corporations, opened up incredible opportunities for me. The word ‘incredible’ is key here – not only can you advance in your career, but you can also do what you love, that is, propose your ideas and watch them become a reality. I also came here four years ago to construct a training system for staff. After carrying out my first big project, the company gave me the opportunity to grow, and I’m very grateful that they trusted me and gave me the freedom and prospects for growth. This includes creative growth too – all of my ideas and projects. I’m currently the senior personnel manager and am responsible for Puma’s entire employee development cycle in Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey. It’s inspiring when people trust you to carry out a certain project and see the results of your work. The office staff have been there for many years, turnover has fallen in stores, and the results of the involvement questionnaire have been growing consistently from year to year.
Evening conversations with friends over tea are much more useful than controversial interviews from psychology magazines for housewives.
What is a ‘systematic’ and professional approach towards work?
When I arrived, they told me they needed a training system. Thanks to my education and previous work experience, I started with diagnostics. In order to understand where you’re going, you need to know where you are. We analysed the company’s activities, and based on this information, we built a staff training system. So every time a task arises, I know exactly how to solve it ‘scientifically.’
I now have a team of four individuals at the company, and despite the fact that they are located in different countries, they work cohesively and systematically. In my work, I try to find a balance between employees’ interests and the interests of the business. I’m certain that this is the formula for success at advanced companies that are happy with the work of their employees.
What’s it like working at such a renowned international company? Are there specific pluses?
Objectively speaking, Puma isn’t the largest of international corporations, and we only have around 500 employees in Russia and about 1,000 in the entire region. But what I like about it is the close relations we have with our parent company in Herzogenaurach, Germany. This link makes us feel connected and united by global goals and a mission that our department shares and brings to employees. For me, this sense of belonging to something global has become very important. We regularly have guests from Herzogenaurach, and in turn, we’re invited to meetings in Germany. As an example, I participated in the international project ‘Puma University,’ which is an unforgettable experience during which teams from different countries come together to share their experiences, cultures, and emotions. There were 15 of us from different countries, and now, when I go on vacation anywhere, I know that I have ‘my kind of person’ in any foreign country.
How do you feel about psychology as a human endeavour? Where does popular psychology end and real psychology begin?
As a person with a university education, I think I know this brink fairly well. Everything you can analyse research, pack into numbers, and make conclusions about – that is real psychology. As for pop culture – it’s important to filter and select tried and tested sources of knowledge. You also need to talk to people more, I think. Evening conversations with friends over tea are much more useful than controversial interviews from psychology magazines for housewives. You develop a positive atmosphere and trust, and you are able to walk through a problem, which is one step closer to resolving it.
Do you apply any psychological knowledge and tricks to your own life?
Yes, of course. But psychologists haven’t completely done away with a sort of professional deformation, and it’s sometimes hard for me to determine what stems from my education and what doesn’t. Analysing and controlling a situation are skills you learn when you’re a student, and these skills have become a part of me. When I teach people things that are obvious to me, I sometimes see a look of surprise on their face because what’s obvious for me might be new for someone else. When I carry out trainings, I try to remember this so no one loses track, which allows me to give participants enough information, examples, and time to work things out and discuss the issues.
It’s a good idea to think seriously about the question of what you want and where you see yourself in 10 years and work backwards – in five years, three years, one year – so you’re able to build a plan of action while you’re still in your undergrad.
What is the career of a psychologist like as concerns growth? What can a psychologist ultimately do with their career?
I would actually ask who a person can be irrespective of the profession they chose. A lot depends on the goals you set for yourself. When it comes down to it, business psychology involves working at large companies with personnel and consulting. Here, a lot really depends on a person’s determination. A psychologist is able to achieve exactly the same career heights any other specialist can.
It’s a good idea for psychology students to think seriously about the question of what they want and where they see themselves in 10 years and work backwards – in five years, three years, one year – so they can build a plan of action while still in their undergrad. Everything in life changes, of course, but the main thing is to know what you want. As for me, I want to be an HR Director, and I’m quickly working towards this goal.
As strange as it may sound, external projects help me do my job well at the company. I learned a lot myself after finishing my master’s. I’m now involved in coaching and I hold outside consultations. I see this as an opportunity to broaden my horizons and maintain my skills. I hold trainings on weekends, which helps me understand what’s happening on the labour market. Then I go to work with a new energy and passion. I even find time to work during my lunchbreaks. A lot of students come to me asked what they should do after the university, so I invite them to mini coaching sessions that I hold for students free of charge. I feel like I have the experience and that is my debt – helping.