Balancing the Grind with Tariq Shaban, Senior Assessment Consultant APAC at HireVue

Tariq Shaban is the Senior Assessment Consultant APAC at HireVue. Through his role at Hirevue, Tariq works to develop workplace assessment and survey solutions and their associated reports.

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To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

 My career was and is a roller coaster. I originally trained as an aerospace engineer and started out doing research and design work on what was called, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs – which we now know as drones.

I liked the work but I didn’t see myself in it, so I decided to pursue my passion in animation. I found a job with a multimedia company in their animation department, and really enjoyed the work. So much problem solving is involved to get the technology to do the things you want it to do. While it was my passion, it wasn’t the perfect fit for me career-wise. 

From there, I worked in a call centre to pay the bills and I steadily progressed to more senior roles in management, which led to a degree in HR management and subsequently management consulting. My work in management and leadership consulting exposed me to the world of workplace assessments.

That’s where I saw a link back to science and engineering and I was driven to figure out how those assessments were constructed. It took me ten years of working to finally figure out what I wanted to do, so I decided to go back to school and get a degree in Organisational Psychology, which ultimately landed me at HireVue. 

 I don’t think anyone could say that it was a traditional path, but it has led me to where I am today and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

The first step in my routine is getting the kids off to school. Then I often have an hour or so in the mornings before I start work where I have time for myself. I’ll read the news, go through podcasts and select what I want to get through during the day and then I’ll start my work. 

I get to wear multiple hats working in IO Psychology. Most of my role means working with clients to select or fine tune their assessments and to be sure these assessments are working as intended. However, like the rest of my colleagues in the IO Psychology team, I also contribute to the research and development of our assessment products and support other teams in promoting the products. 

I may start the day doing a job analysis, the afternoon presenting findings on the diversity of applicant pools and hire rates for a client, and then end the day by running statistical analyses on research data for a new product. I’m always looking for tools that can help me automate my workflow. I know we live in a day and age where people want more and more features, “… but what if the product could also do X?” but I believe workplace productivity tools should actually be as minimalist and simple as possible.

The less invasive they are, the more people will engage with them. That is your objective afterall – you want employees to engage with the tools, complete tasks, collaborate with others, and share their work. If the tool takes them away from achieving any of that then they’ll soon lose focus. If you are looking for productivity tools that meet those criteria, I’ve found that both Basecamp or Monday work really intuitively.

What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

For me, it’s about not defining myself solely based on my achievements at work. It’s about understanding that I, as a person, am more than what I do at work. I’m a husband, father, friend, amateur cook, I like anime, ancient history, and macro economics.

You see, I used to derive my entire self-worth from my work and so I would pour everything into that; neglecting all the other amazing aspects of my life that were more important. It isn’t easy to come to that realisation because you’re often caught in the moment, caught in the ‘doing’ so you rarely have time to sit back and reflect. 

Over time I realised that I had a few problems: I worked too much and didn’t know how to detach from work. I mostly worked remotely over the past 15 years, so well before it became popular I had to face issues like work-life balance without the guidance we have now on how to deal with it. I also had to be open to why I was wired the way I was and it ultimately came down to asking myself hard questions that helped me realise that I was plagued by something called ‘imposter syndrome’. 

Imposter syndrome is a condition where people feel unworthy or incompetent and can be found in most professions or levels but is most common with people who don’t fit the common norms of a community, so women, minorities and immigrants. Because of that, I would always feel like I needed to do more than others to prove myself ‘worthy’. It’s the most likely culprit behind why I have three degrees, apart from the joy of learning. I don’t mind sharing this because I think it’s important that people know about all the bizarre reasons behind why we do the things we do. 

While I still work remotely, I’ve learned to embrace its perks and avoid its pitfalls. The culture at HireVue is great and my colleagues are all very supportive. Because of that I feel more grounded, connected to our clients and what they face so I’m able to better recommend solutions to their problems.

Lighter weekly calls that don’t have agendas act as water cooler moments and are helpful in connecting with my team, though remote work in tech and creative industries needs more than that so we all relish opportunities to meet face-to-face and collaborate on bigger projects. I think organisations that have successfully embraced remote or hybrid work know that balance and get it right. 

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In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Not in the past 12 months. I don’t typically do New Year’s resolutions so I don’t have regular major changes in my life. Ironically, when lockdowns came into effect, they naturally forced self-reflection and realignment so there was a backlog of things to deal with at that time. I think it’s safe to say that I’m not alone in that.

Reflecting on those changes and decisions, I think the most important thing was to spend more time with my boys who are transitioning from primary to high school and from high school to college. They’ll be heading in their own paths soon so it’s more important to be there for this part of their journey in life.

Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I have two books and a podcast that compliment one another. The first is It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried. My amazing wife bought the book for me as a gift for what I now realise was part of a mini intervention.

Remember, I lived for work and overworked, so it was a fitting and timely gift that I still appreciate to this day. The book had the best framing I can think of for the problem as it came from accomplished business owners based on their experiences, where they made a compelling argument that having a healthy work-life balance was ultimately good for your productivity and higher achievement. This was in a pre-pandemic world, but their general work ethos was aligned with what I wanted to achieve being involved in a tech-start up and working from home. 

The other book, Rework, is also a podcast by the same authors. It takes the same arguments made in the first book but frames it for business owners and managers on how to create smarter, more productive workplaces.

If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

A very easy question though I’ll have to reframe it. I wouldn’t want to simply read this interview, I would want to conduct it. It would be with renowned filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. The reason why I would conduct the interview is because there is a disconnect between his own work ethic and that of what comes through in his films, what his protagonists face and how they deal with overwork, self-worth, and achievement. 

Miyazaki is known to be an intense workaholic. I think his typical workday starts at 9 am and ends at around 4 am, so that’s not healthy or sustainable by any means. What’s confusing about his work ethic is that his protagonists don’t suffer from it, they prioritise life and while they may not always realise it, they often come to the conclusion about how to have a healthier relationship with their work. It’s a strange topic to cover in films and probably stranger that it’s done alongside telling stories about mystical worlds, WWII era romances, or witches journeys, but it is still an undeniable theme of most Miyazaki’s movies. 

In his film, Spirited Away, there is a clear allegory about our toxic obsession with work. The protagonist in the film is a young girl who is spirited away to another world, much like Alice in Wonderland, though in this case she finds herself working for a witch. Ultimately, she succeeds in breaking free of the witch’s hold by finding confidence in herself and focusing on what’s important – the relationships she has made along her journey. His protagonists’ decisions are at odds with his own and I’d like to explore that. Is he trying to tell us not to repeat his mistakes? Does he regret putting most of his energy into his films that he’s still working at the age of 82 after having come out of retirement twice? 

Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

It’s something that you have to learn to appreciate for yourself. There are always times when you have to go above and beyond,  put your nose to the grindstone to get things done, but these are extreme cases that shouldn’t become a habit or the norm. Our productivity is going up despite whatever minor dips we may see from time to time, and we’re still in the realms of all time highs. 

Productivity is only going to continue to rise with automation, so figure out how to work smarter, not harder and always be clear about why you’re doing what you do. If career is your goal then that’s fine, but make sure you have equally ambitious goals for your personal life.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.