India may be a single country – but it’s made up of a wide range of climates, cultures and customs. As the daughter of a military man, the young Seeja Sreedharan got to see many of them as she travelled from army base to army base around the country. But far from regarding all this unheaval in her life as a challenge, Seeja sees it as a unique experience.
“I got really good at adapting to new environments, making new friends and adjusting my lifestyle really quickly,” Seeja laughs. “I still enjoy the challenge of change – and that was one of the reasons I decided to join VFS. My background in HR was exclusively working for big name technology companies, such as Dell and Ericsson – I knew nothing about finance or sales. But I figured I’m not going to learn unless I try – so I jumped in!”
A ‘curious learner’
‘Jumping in’ and getting invoved sums up Seeja’s attitude to life. She claims not to be naturally bright or talented, but rather a ‘curious learner’ who gets results by commitment and effort. This may be false modesty, as she holds a degree in Commerce from Mysore University, a second degree in Human Resource Management from Bangalore University and a post grad certificate in HR from XLRI business school in Jamshedpur.
But why did she choose a career in HR rather than a military career that was always her plan growing up “My heart lay in dealing with people,” she says. “HR is so dynamic – it’s all about people, and it’s people who drive businesses forward. It is at the center of any business, putting the right people in the right places. And I love the idea of talent management, building people so they can take on new challenges.”
Learning by doing
Now two years into her job, Seeja looks after 41 people as the HR business partner for VFS India, based in Bangalore, a city she loves and where the 39-year-old is finally putting down roots. “Volvo is a well respected company in India, and I really appreciate how VFS has helped me learn about my new role. They even let me spend a month working in the sales department so I could better understand the challenges people face and the work that was being done. I’m no finance or sales expert now, but this experience gave me a better understanding of the talent we need to do a good job. Every day is a learning experience.”
Ironic for a woman who thinks and talks about job titles all day, in that her own matters little to Seeja. “I’m motivated more by what I can contribute to the team than a big job title,” she says. “At the end of the day I want to make an impact in the job I’m doing, and in HR I like getting the balance right between what’s good for the business and what’s good for people.
Striking the right balance
Even human resource managers need managing, and Seeja believes that VFS has been a very supportive employer. “They’ve given me a chance and I’m enjoying lots of new opportunities.” She also tries to strike a good balance between work and fun. “I try to be humble and approachable, and not wear my HR leader hat all the time.”
Outside of work Seeja is just as energetic. She may no longer be the champion sprinter she was at school, but Seeja is a keen back packer (just returning from Bhutan and Varanasi, for many India’s spiritual capital. She hopes to one day do an epic solo bike ride, and can’t resist a good rom-com movie.
What advice would Seeja give to other women wishing to progress in their careers? “My dad was my inspiration, and he had an unshakeable ‘never give up’ attitude. That’s my mantra too. There will always be challenges, but you need to give it 100% and keep going. You should also be on the lookout for opportunities, and break out of your comfort zone, even if it is daunting to learn new things. Never give up!
“I’m proud to be a woman of VFS.”