Focus should be on practical and relevant skills rather than solely relying on bookish knowledge

In his career spanning 32 years, Ajaya Mishra has worked in the government, media, banking and healthcare sectors and has garnered vast professional experiences. Currently, he is CEO of Norvic International Hospital. In a conversation with the HRM, Mishra talked about his first job, experiences and advice to young job aspirants. Excerpts: 

Tell us about your first job. How did you get into it?
My first professional undertaking was at the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) which is a prominent government organization in Nepal. There I worked as an Account Officer at the young age of 21. I was located at Doti district for my job responsibilities. I had recently graduated with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration (BBA) and was able to secure the job. The recruitment process of any government job in Nepal is pretty much the same. I took a written examination and passed it, followed by an interview. This was back in 1991.

How easy or difficult was it for you to get the job at that time?
I would say it was relatively moderate. There was a total of 140 potential candidates for merely two vacant positions. Initially, it seemed a little difficult to adjust to a new job setting, especially since this was my first job, and I had no prior work experience. Moreover, I was not provided with any formal training or orientation to familiarize myself with the ins and outs of the governmental book-keeping system. So, it took me almost six months to learn it on my own.

How important was the job for you in terms of the building blocks of your career?
It was merely a starting point for me. It helped me gauge the professional work setting in the government facilities. I worked there for just about 15 months and quit. I did not find the job particularly enjoyable, but it most certainly helped me understand the professional work environment. Furthermore, through this job, I learned to maintain amicable relationships with stakeholders. 

What challenges did you face at that time? How did you overcome those challenges?
The first challenge I faced was adjusting myself in Doti. It was a new place for me, and it took me a while to acclimate myself to it. I was still a young man with huge ambitions. When I landed at Dipayal airport, I became wary of unfamiliar faces. I was raised in Kathmandu, which is a big city. Going to a remote place like Doti was definitely not easy. The second challenge that I faced was learning how governmental processes function. It took me over six months to understand the work environment and the location in general. Fortunately, peer learning helped me cruise through these issues with ease. 

Did the sector/field match your academic area? 
 I graduated in management studies, so this was the apt area for me at the time. But there is a huge gap between the world of academia and the industrial realm. For a recent graduate with no prior work experience, it is almost impossible to perform at a stellar level right away. There was an immense need for formal training and grooming. The conceptual topics of accounting and finance that I had learned in my classes did not help me in a real-world, pragmatic setting as an Account Officer.

What major lessons did you learn during the first job?
One of the major lessons I learned during the first job is that theoretical knowledge has its limits. It is not practical to solely rely on theoretical concepts while devising decisions in the real-world setting. It is, therefore, equally important to be humble and unlearn things to gain new skills. In managerial positions like this, people management is a vital skill. 

What were the major achievements for you professionally and personally?
I have been fortunate to climb the corporate ladder swiftly in various organizations. I worked as the Chief Executive Officer during my late thirties in several A, B, C and D-class financial institutions. I have successfully pulled off six mergers and acquisition processes, which is the highest tally for a CEO in Nepal. Currently, I am serving as the CEO of a prominent, international hospital. In the professional world, I am often considered a trouble-shooter and organization transformer. In addition, I have raised two capable children who have excelled both in their academic and professional lives. This, in itself, is a huge achievement for me professionally and personally.

You have worked in the media (television), banking and financial sector and you’re now involved in the healthcare sector. How have these shifts in your career been for you personally and professionally? How challenging have these changes been in the career paths for you? 
I am a huge advocate for freedom in decision-making. I have my own idea of successful work culture. When I feel like I have exhausted my abilities in an organization, I prefer to quit than compromise on job performance. This is primarily why I have worked at 14 different organizations in a 32-year professional career. Every place that I have worked at, I have learned a dozen new skills. Most of the organizations hired me to help transform their organization, which is a challenging task. However, I firmly believe that I have always given my 100% every time and created milestones for every organization I have worked for.

How have these sectors changed over these years in terms of work culture and environment? 
Professionalism in these sectors has significantly improved over the years. Organizations have started prioritizing human resource management and development. Building an efficient and healthy organizational culture has become the top priority for top management. HR is finally being considered as revenue centers instead of cost centers.

How competitive is the healthcare sector now for young graduates compared to past years? 
The required skill set in the healthcare sector is quite different, especially in behavioral aspects. Soft skills like empathy are much more important now than they were a few years ago. Additionally, we are constantly looking for people with creative and innovative mindsets. On a side note, healthcare institutions are managed much more professionally now and have an ample number of opportunities for young aspirants.

What advice would you like to give to aspiring youths planning to enter the job market? How can they achieve healthy career growth?
My biggest advice would be to focus on practical and relevant skills rather than solely relying on bookish knowledge. Moreover, it is important to enjoy your work. Your career should reflect your passion for your work. And while you do so, remember to prioritize your mental and physical health.

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