Chai Talk with BFF/HR Superhero – Her 10 Best Career Tips

Chai Talk with BFF/HR Superhero – Her 10 Best Career Tips

Fake chais for our ghost conversation

This whole week is ‘5 Days Of Career’ on the blog where I’m sharing profiles of super relatable and confident working women, tips from HR pros, workwear inspiration and a whole lot more.

My best friend in the whole wide world is Sumika, who’s all kinds of amazing at everything in life. From 9 to 5, Sumika leads the HR function for a Fortune 500 company, is responsible for an organization size of roughly 1000 individuals and is a superstar at work.
And while having such a demanding job, Sumika somehow always has all her stuff in check (masha’Allah). Other than being the most stellar friend one could ask for (she’s unbelievable, I can’t believe I’ve been so lucky), she’s super caring when it comes to her family, has an insanely adorable 3 year old that she’s super hands-on with, and is kickass at her job. She’s the person you can trust to remember everyone’s birthday and show up to everyone’s important events. And she works out regularly (I suddenly hate her). If all of that wasn’t enough, she’s (Insha’Allah) about to launch some incredible personal projects as well, which she’s been working hard on like a nut – I could not imagine doing half of all that while having half her responsibilities.
So basically, she’s the person you want to talk to when you’re feeling like a mess and need help resolving your shit. So I asked Sumika to have an informal talk with me about her top ten career tips – stuff that’s helped her succeed at work, stuff that she sees others do right/wrong (organization management is her bread and butter) and stuff that lets her manage all of the million priorities she has on her list.

There are a thousand career tips you’ll find on the internet like ‘find a mentor’, ‘network’, etc. All of those are great, but I didn’t want the usual.  I wanted stuff you won’t find in every other article on the internet. So I asked Sumika to share those tips she’s only discovered with experience. We talked candidly over the phone one day and I decided to do this post just like that: as an informal chat versus an interview. Hope you guys enjoy it.

Me: Hi, Sumika.
Sumika: Hello, The desi wonder woman.
Me: Lol. It’s so weird to be talking to you like this. Like this formally.
Sumika: Yeah man. But I’m ready.
Me: Did you get coffee? Because coffee is mandatory. Also, you’re being recorded.
Sumika: I have my coffee! And I’m okay with being recorded.
Me: Okay great, I have chai here with me.
Sumika: As expected.
Me: Acha chalo, let’s begin. Tell me. Your first career tip. I hope you remember I don’t want the usual.
Sumika: Uff, the pressure. Acha, so let’s just get into it. I’m going to start with ‘humility’.

Me: Hain, humility?

Sumika: Yes, dww.

Me: Please elaborate.
Sumika: It can be one of your biggest career assets – the understanding that there’s always opportunity to learn. By this I don’t mean being uncertain about what you know or not having confidence. It’s about being humble about where you can grow – no matter how good you are at your job, or how young or experienced you are in the company. I actually see a lot of people, particularly the more recent graduates, with this sense of entitlement. There is an increased focus on swiftly moving through levels, but not enough on how to actually get the skills needed to do that. When you don’t develop the humility to understand that there’s opportunity and growth required by everyone, it shows in your work – you’re never going to want to master something because you feel you already deserve it.
Me: But then you see people at work who aren’t so humble and yet successful.

Sumika: Yes, and you’ll notice that while they may be growing professionally through levels (I firmly believe such growth is short-term), there is not much personal development. No one sees them as inspirational or actual role models. And they don’t actually enjoy their work, they’re just ‘working’.
Me: True. I’ve never learnt holistically from someone like that. I’ve learnt technical details for sure but that’s where I’ll stop.
Sumika: And you’re at your job for about 9 hours of the day and you have to decide whether you want to make all of that time worth your while by being honest at your job and being true to what you’re doing.
Me: EXACTLY. I think you’re doing well with these tips so far.
Sumika: Thank you mam.
Me: No problem. What do we have next? Your next tip, please.

Sumika: Self-discipline, which is my absolute, personal favorite. If I had to keep just one thing for my career and leave everything else, it would be discipline. Because getting things done is where most people get left behind. You can think great, you can come up with fab ideas, but bringing things to closure is what matters at the end of the day. You’ve got to plan things out well, not wait until the last minute to attempt your deliverables, keep the right buffers in place for unplanned shit to happen, and deliver a quality product.

Me: True. But sometimes even with the best discipline, you end up working round the clock?
Sumika: Yes and which is why you absolutely must master the 80/20 principle in parallel. While discipline can be a game-changer, perfectionism isn’t. You have to decide where to draw the line and when things are good enough to be finalised. It takes time to get the hang of it, and honestly, a lot of courage as well to let go of things before being ‘absolutely perfect’. But this is how I feel you manage to get all the important things done while promising quality.
Me: I love that. I think I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I know that it often holds me back from doing all that I want to do because I get sucked into the tiniest of time-consuming details.
Sumika: Totally. Anyone who’s good at their job faces that at one point or the other and you have to teach yourself to manage it.

Me: I feel like it’s time for tip no. 3.
Sumika: Jee. I’ve got work life balance.
Me: Oooh nice. Go ahead.
Sumika: Okay, so work life balance. My tip is to remember that this is something that evolves with time and not to let a temporary imbalance from enjoying your work. Work life balance as a concept is something that I feel is misinterpreted and therefore a lot of people can’t seem to implement it the way they feel they should.

Me: How?

Sumika: As you grow within your level and role, you develop mastery on what’s needed of you, and automatically start investing your time in a more valuable way. Someone young in their career may spend extra hours trying to get up to speed on their job – they may not be required to, but they may end up doing that anyway. When you’re younger with less responsibilities or relationships to take care of (no spouses/aging parents, etc), work life balance is something you can play around with. Which is why I always talk about work life effectiveness.

Me: What does that mean?
Sumika: It means that your formula of work life balance should be your own choice and you should know what that formula is. It should be your choice how many hours you want to put in, how the formula can change at different phases in your life (if at all) and at all times you should be in control of your schedule and you are the one whose calling the shots. Effectively managing your work and life together the way it fits your schedule, versus trying to conform to a leave-at-5-pm-sharp-everyday principle.
Me: Got it. I think when you’re young in your career, you can choose to put in the extra bit, as long as you’re happy and content with your overall well-being. Things change as your life status changes.

Sumika: Yes. By the way, I feel very hungry.
Me: If we’d been having this discussion in person, we could have ordered pizza right about now.
Sumika: Oh god, I don’t want to think about pizza. Now I’m thinking about pizza.
Me: Same here. Let’s just discuss your fourth tip.
Sumika: Acha. It’s ‘Respect your boss’.

Me: Some bosses can be assholes.

Sumika: Yes. But still, I’m going to say this, respect your boss, it’s SO important. Not in the ass-kissing sort of way, but actual respect kind of way. I know someone may have a manager who they feel is not competent enough or just a general jerk, but you have to find a way to respect him/her. You need to look for a reason to develop that equation, because I’ve seen some people actually let their disrespect for their boss get in the way and not be able to do their best at their job. A negative emotion like disrespect can consume your overall perception of that person, therefore disallowing you to focus on any technical expertise they may have that you can benefit from. If you try, you can more often than not, find some reason to attribute respect to them – and eventually help yourself learn.
Me: I never thought of it like that. I once had a bad manager who I just could not bring myself to like but now that I think about it, they were a pro at some things like getting stuff done through difficult people and if I had allowed myself to consider them worth teaching me, I could have picked up so much that I was ignoring.
Sumika: Yes, you don’t have to love them as a person. You just have to find some way to respect them and learn something for your own good. Most bosses don’t last longer than a couple of years so you find a way to make it worth your while. It’s about you, not your boss.
Me: I LOVED that. I think that can be applied to any work relationship actually. Because you can even end up with shitty colleagues.
Sumika: Yup.

Me: Awesome. Let’s talk tip 5?
Sumika: Always plan breaks.
Me: I already feel like that’s my favorite tip.
Sumika: Jee. Same here. Acha, so science has proven that your brain needs a break every once in a while and we all know that but when there are deadlines and crazy projects happening, breaks move to the end of the priority list. But I believe in the power of breaks and when I say breaks I mean both short and long breaks.
Me: Short breaks?
Sumika: These are the ones that you take during your work day. Short breaks can really recharge you and going non-stop at something actually drains you more than the usual. If you really cannot manage any time off during your day, then you should plan your schedule in a way that you separate your interactive time with people (calls, meetings, trainings, etc) from the quiet time (drafting proposals at your desk, emails, etc). Just separating the two can help slow you down and create a ‘short break’ for you when you can’t actually stop.
Me: That’s such a great idea. And long breaks?
Sumika: Vacations. SO important. I know this sounds bookish but a true, completely disconnected-from-work vacation can do so much, not just for your mental health but also for your career. You always come back stronger when you’ve recharged your brain. It can be anywhere from just 2-3 days to a couple of weeks. You don’t even have to go anywhere, just take time off and hang out at home. Just walk away from work, with no access to emails or work phone calls.
Me: Do you remember the time when I crashed super bad at work? I had been working non-stop for months and on a sleep deficit and one day I just couldn’t get out of bed? My boss told me to get a ticket back home to Lahore because he said I can’t do anything with you while you’re mentally switched off.
Sumika: Oh man, that was so bad. I totally remember that.

Me: It was such a wakeup call for me. Anyhoo, tip 6 is coming up?
Sumika: Always let your work drive your motivation. Not your level. If you’re coming to work everyday for a good part of your life, focus on actually being good at it by learning the inside out of what you’re doing. Work to learn. Let your knowledge be your motivation. So many people get caught up in the race to jump up levels. I’ve done that too and it distracts you from the real purpose. You’re always going to want to jump to the next level until you retire. You have to stop yourself and ask why are you here: to be in a rat race or learn about what you’re doing and know it better than anyone else. Let your work drive you, don’t compare who got promoted faster. In the long-term, none of this matters. Your reportees will respect you for what you know, not how quick you moved up the ladder.
Me: I know, I’ve been that way too. It’s something you pick up as you grow older. It’s all about the experience, never about the level. Chalo, tip no. 7 discuss karain?

Sumika: Jee bilkul. Be an early riser.
Me: I love waking up early so I’m on board with that. But some people just work better later in the day. How can this work for everyone?
Sumika: It may not work for everyone. But if your work situation requires you to be at work at a certain time in the morning but you’re caught in the struggle to work late, you’re always going to be in  catchup mode. I’ve seen so many people come late to work, postpone things while saying ‘I’ll do this at night when I can think better’, stay up late, come to work exhausted and just never be able to feel at their best. If you work better late in the day, ideally your work hours should match with that, and then, sure, you can be a late riser. But most typical jobs will ask you to be present early in the day and if you can’t develop that habit, you’re going to have a few unproductive hours in your day, Our bodies are chemically wired to work during the day and rest at night. Don’t fight it. If you wake up early and sleep on time, there’s no way you’re not going to be pumped to get started on your day. You don’t have to be chirpy, but you’ll definitely be mentally present. 
Me: When I used to work in a typical office setting, I would come an hour before anyone else because it was the best time to get things done. Faster and with more focus. You and I both used to do that.

Sumika: It’s actually the best time of the day.

Me: Not going to argue with that and going to move to tip no. 8.

Sumika: Make routines and optimize your capacity. This is more to do with managing the rest of your life so it doesn’t interfere with your career.
Me: I get the first part about routines but what do you mean by the rest?
Sumika: It might sound clichรฉd but I’m a big believer of establishing daily routines, especially if things are overwhelming you. When you slot things into a routine, more often than not, the things that appeared to be spilling over, suddenly harmonise with your other things.
Me: Okay, I understand that routines help. But are you saying that someone who’s already functioning at 100% capacity can take on more despite not having space for anything else?
Sumika: For me, it has always worked. Before my son was born, I always thought I was functioning at 100% capacity. I had crazy work hours and a social life. Then my son came along and coupling everything related to him with managing work and home, I thought I was finally full. Then you know, my personal project came along (sorry guys, can’t share at this point) at a point when I thought I couldn’t add anything else onto my plate, but I did, and now it’s a regular part of my everyday. And I don’t feel overwhelmed, in fact, I feel more energized because I’ve found a way to do all the things I love.
Me: So how did you do it? Sounds kind of impossible.  
Sumika: I relooked at my schedule and I optimized my capacity. I truly believe that all of us aren’t always operating at our 100% capacity. We can be operating at our 100% energy but capacity is something else.
Me: Still not clear.

Sumika: When you don’t have a routine, you could be dispensing your energy on wasteful things or being inefficient about some tasks. A routine will make it all efficient. Within that routine, you can manage things in such a way that you add on whatever you want to have in your life, sometimes without needing to drop anything. You and I both have unused capacity that we are not aware of, we always feel that we’re at optimal capacity, but there’s always, always room to play with if you’re smart about it. Especially, when you’ve been working within a routine for some time, you can always challenge yourself and slip more stuff in (that you genuinely want to do). Because when you do something repeatedly, you do get better and faster at it, and it just allows you to spend less time doing the same thing that you took to do before. 
Me: Okay, I feel super enlightened and I’m shocked we’ve never talked about this capacity thing before. I’d have been a little cautious about what you’re saying but since I’ve seen you practically add things on while having a kid to take care of and a full-time demanding job, I’m really buying into this optimizing capacity thing. I actually love it.
Sumika: It works. It’s all in your hands. Of course, some exceptions will always exist but there are so many cases where you can make things happen. Don’t underestimate your capacity and always revisit your capacity from time to time.
Me: I also think, you can make a routine and then drop some things if you want. You don’t have to be moving on 100% capacity if you don’t want to. But if you have a lot to manage, then this is definitely something you should look at.
Sumika: Sometimes, I’ll visit a relative where my son also loves hanging out and has a great time with other kids and that’ll help me knock two things down in one go: 1) bring my son out of the house for entertainment (usually we go to the park) and 2) also help me stay in touch with people I want to. Optimizing capacity and multi-tasking.
Me: Bro, that was my favorite tip. I feel like revisitng my capacity right now.
Sumika: Haha. Do it.

Me: Chalo, tip no. 9 batao.
Sumika: Have your priorities clear for the bad days. Always know when you have to choose, what comes first. It’s not everyday that you’ll have to make such a choice but at some point in time, you’ll have to use the ranking to make a decision and that’s when you should be clear instead of letting that mess with your head. For example, it’s my personal objective to pick my son up from school at 5 pm  everyday, no matter what. A lot of people are not done by 5, you know that, and a lot of times, people will ask me to join a meeting at 5. I know my priority at that time and I choose that. I’ll definitely work around it, so that either I move my schedule around to make the meeting happen earlier or I’ll join through  a phone call later once my son is asleep, but I keep my priority clear and in my sight at all times.
Me: Love it. I feel like I’m saying that to all your tips.

Sumika: Works for me. Should I talk about the last tip?
Me: Yes please. 
Sumika:  Read effective books.
Me: Umm. Those can be so boring.
Sumika: Sure, it may not be for everyone but it’s worked for me a lot. When you read books related to careers and growth, etc, you’ll always find someone addressing an issue which you’ve struggled with and that’s what really inspires me because I know it’s not just me who’s dealing with it. Especially because often work issues can’t be discussed with colleagues the way you can discuss personal issues with friends, so finding relatability is harder when it comes to work. I think such books are very underestimated. If you don’t enjoy books, then you can forget about this tip. But there are some of us who do enjoy books but aren’t able to fit them in – if you make time for them, I can guarantee that once you’re done, you’ll love what you walk away with. 
Me: I don’t know if that’s for me but I do love how you’re always buying such books and making time for them. Kuch toh hoga.
Sumika: Bikul hai.
Me: I think we’re done? Thank you so much, man. You’ve been super helpful. I don’t think I’ve read 80% of these tips anywhere and that’s what makes this speshul.
Sumika: I enjoyed being on the blog SO much. Did we talk too much?
Me: Probably. Are you still thinking about pizza? 
Sumika: Maybe sushi or Hot ‘n Spicy.
Me: Hot ‘n Spicy.

That’s it! It was long, I know, but I loved Sumika’s tips and just didn’t want to cut anything out. Also, interestingly despite not being in corporate anymore I realise that I can still use ALL of her tips. I hope you guys loved our chat and liked the tips (please say yes).

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here by Sumika are in her own personal capacity and do not reflect those of her employer.

Look out for two more stories from the Women At Work segment, coming this evening, bros.

See the entire 5 Days Of Career series so far, here.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

+ There’s a super cool giveaway up with where you can win an AED 500 voucher for travel from UAE to Pakistan or from Pakistan to UAE. You can enter on Facebook here or on Instagram here. Anyone can enter as long as they use the voucher between these two locations ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. best comment on the blog ๐Ÿ˜€

  1. what a refreshing post! I totally enjoyed the conversation format. And the tips are really something new. I am really enjoying this series!

  2. Very refreshing tips. All of them,and I dont think I have read much of them anywhere. Very very effective session. This career thing is a great initiative,S !!!!! Thank you for reaching out to us. I am 25 and having worked day and night for 5 years at the top three employers in the world, I have to say very relevant stuff about work and life balance!!!

  3. Thank you so much for these useful tips…. amazing… just loved it… I totally felt like this conversation was done for I can relate each and every point of it with me…

  4. This has to be my favorite post from the career talk. Its so full of information and inspiration both. I would like to thank Sumika a ton for listing these things down because they are not just for woman but for man equally. I will definitely share it with my husband also. Thank you Shehzeen. You both are gem.

  5. I love the optimal capacity bit! Great tips for women who have to multi task their work, life, family, home, appearance and health without a complaint! Thankyou!

  6. Absolutely loved it. More so as I was having a pretty rpugh day at work and this has pumped me well. Many thanks. Can you ask Sumika to suggest something like top 5 career or personal development related books in her opinion? I love to read such books but as she sounds such a pro would love to know what books are on top of her list.

  7. Great, great tips! Is Sumika able to recommend any books vis-ร -vis tip #10 that you can share with us?

  8. Loved this post! I guess you dont find this stuff on the internet. Can we have a post on how sumika went about optimizing her schedule.

  9. Girl, I loveeeee the idea of this career talk and this is so so refreshing!!! I hope it motivates many including me ๐Ÿ™‚
    Great job shehzeen
    You are too good at what you are doing!
    Keep it up ??

  10. Great post! Already feel optimized and motivated. Awesome TIPS maaynnnn!!
    My bad I saw this post lunch hour break at work, so just finished reading it in 3 tiny breaks; always catch up on your blogs and take these much needed refreshing breaks during work hours. Loving the Career week! (Y)


  11. my first comment on your blog..even thou I am a follower since you had 100 people here! Loved it Shehzeen!
    Please list down names of book you found helpful Sumika !!! Help Shehzeen!

  12. My god.. what powerful tips but more so what excellent way to do this just so casual and hence so impactful. Thanks s and dww u guys rock

  13. Shehzeen can you please please ask Sumika to share her list of best self-help books? I am the kind of person who is totally into books but i find self-help books stupid and unhelpful :p Can you please ask her what books helped her in her career? i'd love to read them too.

  14. This is brilliant stuff – so so insightful and if we think about it, so true! Sumika is a rockstar!

  15. Wow! I'm actually inspired to do better now! Love all the tips esp the one about respecting your boss as the lack of respect is actually what's holding me back these days. Anyway sumika sounds super smart and just the kind of HR person one would want in a company:-D

  16. bhaee bohat he alla.. one of the best article/blog i have ever read on career development tips…sumika is SPOTON for every issue and/or tip she addressed.

Leave a Reply