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About Success Builder

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 HSE University graduates who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences and lessons learnt and talk about how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.

In the latest edition of Success Builder, HSE alumna Olga Filatova, who is currently the Vice President for HR and Education at Mail.Ru Group, explains the ins and outs of hunting for talent nationwide, and she also talks about what it’s like to work in the United States and whether jobseekers’ social media accounts are important.

How did you find work – during the university or after?

At the start of the faculty of management programme there are several courses we took in the evenings. That’s why I was able to work during the day, and I’ve been working since I was 16. Our evening instructors were the best and most experienced because over the course of 20 lectures you can tell as much as you want to as many people as you want, but try doing all of that in just 10 evening lectures like they did. The teachers factored in the fact that we had jobs, and there was a culture of understanding, respect, and partnership.

One of your first jobs was at Yukos. Was it easy getting into such a large company while being a student?

It’s a story connected to HSE. One of the evening instructors was Doctor Tatyana Lobanova. She came up to me after one of the lectures, praised me for one of the group discussions, and suggested that I intern at Yukos. At the time, they would take on younger students to study cases from inside the company. ‘I lecture there and will recommend you,’ she said. Wow! I thought. So that’s how I ended up interning in the HR department, and this is where I quickly started to grow from a consultant and teacher into a project manager.

Before, a recruiter would post an ad in the paper, find a resume, and interview someone. Now the first interview is done by a bot that finds you on social media

What’s it like being a new person at a large corporation?

It depends on the person. Of course it’s nice to try out everything to understand what fits. One person might want to begin at a startup, another at a family-owned business, but I went for size so I could immediately get into a corporate juggernaut and learn a lot quickly. I think this is perfect for someone just starting his or her career. You’re always successful at a startup and family business. It’s not important if you’re new or an experienced specialist – if you inherently don’t fit in at the company, your job there won’t last long. In any case, this is a useful opportunity to understand your field. I enjoyed it. For me Mail.ru Group is the smallest company I’ve worked at. Yukos Severstal, Mars, etc. – these are all giants with 140,000 staff members.

What are the responsibilities of an HR specialist and what does the hierarchy of an HR department look like?

HR encompasses several roles, one of which is the HR manager, who helps employees and department heads work effectively on a team, find enjoyment in their work, and realise their full professional potential. There is also HR recordkeeping, and the HR professional is an administrator that supports these kinds of processes within a company. In addition, HR serves as a centre of expertise for wage distribution, hiring, training, and development, and this centre monitors the internal practices of different departments, as well as the changes that take place on the market. Lastly, we introduce leading practises to the company as a whole.

Do universities factor in such a complex set of competencies for future HR professionals?

The HSE Department of Human Resource Management, for example, gives students the fundamentals of theory and practice, after which they gain experience at a large company in order to master the entire range of HR duties and try out different roles. Or even better, they can go to a company where HR is a source of revenue. Because of the specificities of business, we at Mail.ru Group often take on students with a technical education, but we also have graduates from HSE’s faculty of management. Active changes are underway in the field of HR as far as technology is concerned – technology that educational programmes cannot always keep up with. Before, a recruiter would post an ad in the paper, find a resume, and interview someone. Now the first interview is done by a bot that finds you on social media. After this, a test case is sent to solve, and only then do candidates talk to a real person.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev

Can you give some advice to the job hunter who wants to catch an HR professional’s interest?

There’s a secret – update your profile or resume on different sites and social networks, and when a recruiter looks at the people who applied, the system will show them the people whose information is freshest. It’s important to make information about yourself available, as well as to list your projects and express your opinion about different relevant topics. Recruiters from Mail.ru Group are well versed in IT; they read technical articles and participate in dissuasions at technical forums and chats. That’s why you should be active, show initiative in your posts, and demonstrate professionalism. This all plays into your success.

What websites do you use to find employees?

Oftentimes Habrahabr and other top-name internet communities. A lot of them don’t allow you to post vacancies, so you just have to participate in discussions, look at people, and communicate with them individually. Job vacancies only get responses from people who are actively looking for a job, but oftentimes you have to find an expert who isn’t looking, as a job posting won’t work, even if it’s personalised using targeted advertising.

There’s a lot of software for HR. For example, say you’re looking for a cool interface designer, but he or she isn’t currently looking for a job. You can make it so you get a notification when something changes in their public status. This might just be the perfect time to call.

In the U.S. 33 is the age of a beginning professional who in the best case scenario is going to be working on some smaller project

Do recruiters look at jobseekers’ personal pages on social networks?

This is currently a painful topic. On the one hand, there is legislation being pushed in Europe that says employers are not allowed to look at public information on social networking sites without informing the potential candidate. Moreover, they cannot reject someone based on the information they find on social networks. When a candidate has already made it through various stages, the recruiter might look at the information available about the person in order to prepare for a face-to-face meeting. But what a person posts on social networking sites hardly characterises what the person will be like as an employee. He or she can post pictures of cats and still be a technical director. So what, I won’t hire them because of cat photos? Only if we are a company that hates cats… Maybe the person is posting them because they hate cats too. But in any case, interesting and expert-level posts on social media that are timely and relevant always give you points as far as creativity and uniqueness are concerned.

Have you yourself always interviewed and gotten a job at the first place you selected?

In Russia yes, it turned out that I’ve never really had to look for a job. Everything happened on its own. I was recommended for the Yukos job, and Severstal found me. The only job I actually looked for was at Mars. When a vacancy opened up at Severstal’s American office, I decided to increase my level of freedom and go. It wasn’t easy in the States, but it was great, and when Alexei Mordashov sold all American assets, I decided to stay and find another interesting job. I was spoiled, of course – at 33 I had already been the vice president for HR at three huge factories and joint ventures with workers unions whose members later went on to work for the Obama administration. I had been spoiled by the complex set of problems, the dynamics, and difficult negotiations, and I wanted to find a similar job. In the U.S. 33 is the age of a beginning professional who in the best case scenario is going to be working on some smaller project. At the interviews, people were welcoming, they liked me and said ‘fantastic,’ but they didn’t believe that at that age a person had been able to achieve this level of success in an honest way.

How do HR practices in the U.S. differ from those in Russia?

When I worked in the States, I encountered certain legal practices. In America, suing your employer for something is as common practice as brushing your teeth in the morning. The first training I did in the U.S. was with a labour lawyer who explained to me how serious things were there. You can’t pat someone on the shoulder or open the door for a woman, and if you give someone a compliment three times and it’s not reciprocated, then you have to stop immediately or else this could equate to harassment. It’s hard to convert your brain after Russia; here, if a woman doesn’t get a compliment at work then it means the day is out the window.

Does an HR professional delve into the field they work in? You worked at Severstal and then suddenly went into IT, for example.

I had a good little bridge. My international experience made Mail.ru Group consider me a viable candidate for this position. After I returned to Russia, I spent a year and a half as the director for investments in HR and EDUTech businesses, so I understood the industry, employees, difficulties, etc. It’s very hard to just switch from a natural resources and production company to IT. These are two different universes really.

A person can post pictures of cats and still be a technical director. So what, I won’t hire them because of cat photos?

How is Mail.ru Group’s structure unique? Do employees there differ from others in the industry?

Mail.ru Group is made up of 40 different teams and a large group of brands. Strategy between the teams is really important to the company. We have a lot of different topical subcultures, including the culture of VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, Delivery Club gaming studios, the post, etc., but they are all joined together by practicality. They are all smart, free, quick, adventurous, and brave.

There’s the phenomenon of ‘novice syndrome’ at Mail.ru Group where a new person gets lost in the office and can’t get to his or her desk. They drink a glass of freshly squeezed juice in the morning, then they shave, work out, get a massage, take part in a scavenger hunt, go to the anniversary celebration for some project, play a video game then a board game, take a nap, drink some coffee, talk to their colleagues, and then it’s time for lunch from a food truck followed by some ice cream. This often happens with professionals who are just starting out and haven’t yet developed the ability to organise their own time. We warn everyone about this at orientation; it’s tempting to use all of the liberal achievements of the office and lose focus of your work performance. Have you seen our office?

Oh yes.

Everyone is really informal and free, and not just because they are young. It’s because employees aren’t forbidden to express themselves here. At a lot of companies, it’s common to work by instruction only, follow a dress code, and have to get orders and approvals from a ton of departments and managers, but at Mail.ru each project manager is independent and personally responsible.

We hold around 150 events a year, including meetings for professional communities, project anniversary celebrations, a summer office party, New Years celebrations, tons of sporting events, parties for employees’ families, company anniversaries, and a lot more (all in addition to 250 training events). This is also important and improves communication among employees.

Do a lot of the interns you take on from technical universities get jobs at Mail.ru after?

We specifically train more students than we need; it’s our mission to develop IT education in Russia and teach students about innovations first-hand. We end up keeping on around 100 interns. More than 200 of our employees teach at five of Russia’s best technical universities, and they subsequently end up taking on the best students into their departments. The field of IT is very fluid, and new practices are always arising, which is why fundamental university knowledge is not enough.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev

A little about the future – what competencies should students gain now in order to be competitive on the job market in the future?

We’ve seen the example of the Superjob study, where professionals from different fields were surveyed and asked, ‘When do you think you’ll be replaced by robots?’ The leaders of the survey were bakers who assumed that pastries would soon be made using 3D printers. Drivers on the other hand didn’t think that anyone would replace them, despite the emergence of driverless cars. The fields with a lot of intellectual labour and decision-making will stay, and only the tools will change. Each industry is digitising, which is why ‘programmer’ will soon be the most popular profession. Well, big data specialists as well.

When did fate bring you to HSE?

HSE entered my life when my sister studied in the economics faculty and suggested that I go here. At the time, no one taught economics on such a deep level, and I really valued the university as a whole and its approach. It was a wonderful time. Despite the fact that I studied in the evenings, I was still able to be active: I was in theatre, performed at festivals, went to the dance studio, and then got a job at HSE. My day was 24 hours of HSE. Now I go to the HSE Department of Human Resource Management and talk about the HR profession, then I take students on a tour of Mail.ru Group. I’m also a member of the board of trustees and a trustee in the endowment fund for outstanding HSE students. So we’ll continue to encourage research and internships for gifted HSE students. I gained a lot at HSE, and now I’m happy to give back.