Corner Office Q&A: Raman Malhotra

Raman Malhotra is Vice President of Talent Acquisition at Leidos, a defense, aviation, information technology and biomedical research company. Although she’s been in recruiting for two decades, it was never her intention to be in the industry. But since she made the jump, she’s worked her way successfully up to her current management role.

Here, she talks with Monster about moving into leadership, the importance of thinking long term, and how to build a successful veteran recruiting strategy.

You’ve been in recruiting almost from the start. Talk to me about your career trajectory. 

I didn’t plan to be in recruiting at all. I have a degree in information systems, so I started out being a programmer. I did that for about six months and quickly realized that this was not it — I was not the person who’s going to sit in front of the computer and write code. I’ve always been fascinated by the HR field. To me, HR was always about helping people, whether it’s a generalist role, and honestly, I didn’t know a recruiter existed. When I was in college, the HR field wasn’t sought out, in a sense, because I often heard from my friends and the people I knew that an HR degree doesn’t pay you enough. So here I am, an immigrant, I need to go to school and make money, and the IT field was very hot back in the 90s. Most of my friends were in the computer science area, so I ended up doing that, and when I got my full-time job, I was like, ‘This is not it.’

But I wanted to still use my degree, I didn’t want to just throw it away. I found out I could be a technical recruiter, and that way I could speak the language and I could recruit, so I worked in an agency environment for six months, and then I got my first corporate job. I saw a job ad that said, ‘Technical experience required,’ and not necessarily recruiting experience, and I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to take my chances,’ and I got the job.

How did you take the leap into leadership?

I had good mentors and good sponsors, but I always wanted to be a leader. When I moved to Washington, D.C.,  I was working for HP, and I’d shown interest in management. My supervisor came to me and said, ‘You have high potential, and we have a manager role open. However, it’s in public sector.’ I had no idea what that meant. All I knew was that public sector means you support the government, and I had zero experience in that, but I wanted to get into management, into leadership. So that’s where I started my role as a leader, and ever since then, I’ve been in a leadership role. I never knew I was going to end up in recruiting, but here I am.

What would you say has helped you the most in your career?

I would say, the moment when I decided that I wanted to grow in my career. I have two children, and back when they were younger, I had an option to work remotely, and so I did that. Both my husband and I are very career-oriented people, so between the two of us, we’ve decided that one of us will cool off or hold off in our career, so that was me. But once our children were at the right age, I said, ‘Now I want to focus on my career.’ And that’s when I started thinking, ‘What can I do to get that management role?’ Whether it’s stretch assignments, looking for opportunities that are going to give me exposure to the leadership team, even leading the projects, I always sought to raise my hand, knowing that it’s not my regular job. I’ve got to do something above and beyond. I firmly believe that in order for you to continue to grow in your career, you’ve got to do the role first, and then be promoted into that role. I was always looking for that opportunity, and I made sure that my leaders knew that I was looking for career growth. I was always looking for opportunities that were going to help me, that were going to stretch my knowledge and give me the visibility I wanted to have.

What hurdles have you encountered along the way?

I think my obstacle, growing up in the same family in recruiting, was ‘How do you transition from being a recruiter to a manager, and managing the team you are a part of?’ Now, all of a sudden, your peers are your direct reports. So that was a huge obstacle for me, because now I have to look at these individuals differently. They’re still my friends, but I had to remove myself from that casual relationship in the sense that ‘Hey, there’s got to be that distance between us.’ It was a very different transition at the beginning, because I had to earn their trust, to make sure they know that I’m capable as a leader to lead them, but also that they could continue to trust me as a manager, as a friend. It rubbed some people the wrong way, and other people understood and helped me and got me to the right level.

The second obstacle in my career was, ‘How do you look at the big picture?’ To me, my focus was always narrow: We’ve got a job to do, we’ve got requisitions to fill, we’ve got to generate revenue. My focus was today, the present. As a leader, you should be looking at what the focus will be in the next two to five years. I would go to my manager and say, ‘I don’t understand why we’re not moving forward with this initiative or that initiative,’ and they would say, ‘How is this going to benefit us in the long run?’ I went through a lot of reading leadership books, articles, talking to the people that I know, my mentors, saying ‘How do you do it?’ Having to expand your thoughts about the bigger picture, that was definitely a hurdle for a few years — understanding why some of my leaders were thinking in the long run versus the short run.

Leidos has a strong veteran workforce. Can you talk about best practices you’ve learned in terms of veteran recruiting and hiring?

Leidos has been doing this for a while. You start out small, and you grow it organically. It’s a long process, so you need to be consistent and you need to be with that community. We have a dedicated program at Leidos called Operation MVP, and we have a dedicated program manager whose sole job is to create and maintain relationships with our veterans, whether it’s through associations, through the military transition assistance programs, the National Guard or reserve units. It’s a critical aspect of our business — we support the government, we support missions. So right now at Leidos, over 20% of our population is veterans.

It’s not that hard for us to attract veterans, because the veterans have supported the mission their entire life, and by coming to Leidos, they’re continuing to support that mission. That’s our focus — to continue to support the mission, to continue to do what they were doing. It just makes it easier for us. We’ve hired over 13,000 veterans since 2013. We also have the military spouse program which is equally important.

What qualities or assets do veterans add to a company? 

To me, veteran hiring is no different than when we talk about inclusion and diversity. When we talk about the diverse workforce, and we talk about inclusion, the veteran community is just one of them. If you’ve never done it, I would say, figure out where you want to focus. Maybe you want to start with one region or one local area and start working from there. The goal is to have that structure in place that outlines the process as to what you want to do. Once you perfect that, it’s a lot easier to grow.

I know that when we hire military folks or veterans, the transition can be challenging. But once you have the process in place, you just start out slow, and from there, it’s the referrals. In recruiting, there’s nothing better than getting referrals, because you know those are trusted partners. Instead of just targeting to be big, start with a pilot program and see if that works. And more important, is veteran hiring aligned with your corporate strategy? If not, you may want to rethink what that strategy looks like for your company.

Any advice for companies hoping to boost their veteran hiring game?

Once you know you’re bringing in talent, the biggest and next challenge becomes, ‘How do you retain them?’ Creating some sort of community that gives them that sense of belonging is going to be important. We do that all the time. We have nine employee resource groups (ERGs). Our ERGs are a wonderful way, especially with us being a mid-size to big company, of making sure our employees still feel that they belong. We have one called the Military Alliance Group, or MAG. It’s a way of having these employees create a community and connection across the organization. You’re bringing in the talent, and you’re able to retain it, which is going to help you, because if employees are happy they’re going to want their friends and family to work here. They’re going to feel like they belong.

Want to learn more about hiring Veterans? Monster’s Veteran Hiring Guide has advice from companies who’ve done it before. Download Monster’s Veteran Hiring Guide.