The Shortest Job Interview

Aside from holding a high-ranking position at airBaltic, Daiga Ērgle is also a professor and doctoral student who often delivers presentations at conferences in Latvia and abroad. In this interview, she talks about the importance of career growth and looks at personnel management from an unusual standpoint.

How did you begin working at airBaltic?

Although I had already agreed to work for another company, airBaltic invited me to a job interview for the position of vice president of human resources. The offer seemed intriguing, so I went. That was my shortest job interview ever! Since I teach students and other personnel managers how to conduct job interviews, I can say that my interview deviated from standard procedures quite a lot! [Laughs.] Just 15 minutes after the interview had begun, the former company president asked me if I would be ready to join the airBaltic team in a week. I’ve now been working here for seven years, which is my longest job posting to date. It hasn’t been an easy time, as I’ve had to deal with many difficult situations, but it certainly has been event-filled and exciting. Interestingly, years before assuming my current position, I wanted to start my professional career as a flight attendant at airBaltic but was turned down! Very often, when your career takes a negative turn, you may see years later that what seemed like a setback was actually a good outcome in the greater scheme of things.

Does human resources (HR) in aviation differ from HR in other fields?

The field in which a company works is just one of several distinguishing features, along with the company’s own corporate culture, traditions, size, structure and the differences among employee categories. Usually there should be no more than 15 people working under a direct supervisor at any company. However, at an airline, the largest employee groups consist of hundreds of people – pilots and flight attendants, who are not in daily contact with the head office and management. It’s a very big challenge to work with groups of people who are physically distant and to get them maximally engaged with the company. In addition, aviation is a field where, due to the fierce competition, profit margins are very thin. That’s why it’s hard to invest in nice-to-have things like soft skills training. We spend a great deal of money on training, but this is mainly mandatory training. It’s related to professional standards and requirements for airline employees such as pilots, flight attendants, engineers and technicians.

After a hard day at work, how do you find the time and energy to give lectures to students?

My work is also my hobby, which is why it’s hard for me to separate my work from my free time. I think this is an ideal that everybody should try to reach, for once you have found your true calling, you no longer have to work a single day in your life. I like to do several things in parallel. I teach human resource management for the professional business administration master’s programme and run a leadership module for the executive MBA programme at the Riga Business School. I also entered a doctoral study programme two years ago. I like to call it my “pension plan”. If I see that my skills are no longer in demand in a corporate environment, then I’ll be able to switch over to academia. In addition, I’m actively involved as a supervisory board member at the Latvian Aviation Association, which we founded a year ago to unite aviation industry representatives and to pursue our industry vision in Latvia.

What attracts you most to teaching, and what do you try to convey to your students?

I want my students to see people management as a very broad field, where one can always learn something new. I feel like I’m on a bit of a mission, because through my teaching position, I’m helping to create a better work environment and culture at many Latvian companies. I try to instil the idea that people management is far more encompassing and deeper than functional expertise, controlling others and delegating responsibilities. You also have to realise the responsibility that comes when you assume a management position. Managers have an extremely large influence on the lives of those who they are managing. If managers and workers don’t establish a mutually enriching relationship, then that can have a negative effect on business results. Working with students is very rewarding. Even after finishing their studies, some of them still write to me, send me interesting materials and consult me about their situations at work.

Have any important changes taken place in the HR field of late?

Indeed, large-scale changes have taken place in the HR field, particularly during the last few years. Data science and analysis are being used on an increasing basis in people management. For example, companies are looking at people with the best job performance and results and are trying to discern what traits these people share. After conducting such a data analysis, one might spot certain common features in these people’s past experience that helps them to fulfil assigned tasks better than others. Then future employees can be recruited based on similar desired traits. We’re looking at different creative ways to position ourselves in the employers’ market. We’re cooperating intensively with marketing, social media and corporate communications teams in order to build a more interesting and recognisable employers’ image and to show the world what makes us stand out from others. Recruitment no longer involves just the HR department; it has rather morphed into recruitment marketing. Borders in HR management have become blurred, often overlapping with finance, business intelligence, marketing, sales and communications. People management has become more complicated and more closely integrated with other functions. Perhaps many would disagree with me, but I think that people management is becoming increasingly less essential as a stand-alone function. I laughingly say that my ideal vision would be to manage myself out of my job. A true HR manager for one’s team is a team’s manager him- or herself. Once a company understands this and fully operates in that manner, then the HR function may no longer be required and I can concentrate on my activities at the business school, teaching future managers to assume full people management accountability.

What job positions is airBaltic offering?

We are constantly looking for flight attendants and pilots, whom we are recruiting in large numbers during our current phase of growth. Vacancies regularly appear also in the technical and IT departments. Employee referrals are one recruitment channel that has proven to be extremely effective, all around the globe. In the recent past, it was not considered proper to recommend or to hire your friends, relatives and acquaintances. Only relatively recently have people managers begun to understand that the opposite is actually true. Most people are honest and would never recommend someone whom they would not be ready to vouch for. We also take in young people for internships all year round. They are students in various fields from both Latvia and abroad, and many of them eventually become fullfledged airBaltic employees. Internships provide employers with the opportunity to get to know their potential employees better, while internees get to establish whether they really like the profession that they have chosen and whether they want to continue working with our company. The chance of hiring a good employee who has already interned at the airline is much higher than through the regular recruitment process. However, I derive the greatest sense of satisfaction when we manage to fill a vacancy with someone from our own ranks. This means that one of our employees has been able to take a step upward on his or her career ladder, without changing companies. That is very inspiring, and I’m glad that airBaltic offers such career growth opportunities quite often. BO