GTM-TNHWN3R Verification: 8022f68be7f2a759 Interviews & Podcast | Career | Aura Solution Company Limited

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Observe more and react less

Overloaded executives need coping mechanisms. This personal reflection shows how meditation can help.

 

Most time-strapped executives know they should plan ahead and prioritize, focus on the important as much as the urgent, invest in their health (including getting enough sleep), make time for family and relationships, and limit (even if they don’t entirely avoid) mindless escapism. But doing this is easier said than done, as we all know—and as I, too, have learned during years of trying unsuccessfully to boost my effectiveness.

In my case, I stumbled upon an ancient meditation technique that, to my surprise, improved my mind’s ability to better resist the typical temptations that get in the way of developing productive and healthy habits. Much in the same way that intense, focused physical activity serves to energize and revitalize the body during the rest of the day, meditation is for me—and for the many other people who use it—like a mental aerobic exercise that declutters and detoxifies the mind to enhance its metabolic activity.

Before my chance discovery of this timeless technique, I was skeptical, despite the accounts of the many accomplished practitioners who have preceded my own beginning efforts.1 Just as learning to swim or the enjoyment of floating in water can’t be experienced by reading books about it or hearing others’ accounts of the joy of aquatic self-buoyancy, so the benefits of meditation can only begin to be understood by taking an experiential plunge.

So why write about it? Because I think today’s “always on” work culture is taking a heavy toll on today’s leaders, and we need coping mechanisms. Meditation isn’t the only one; it’s just one that I feel somewhat qualified to talk about because of my experiences with it over the past five years. I’m far from alone; mindfulness has been gaining currency in business circles, and a few business schools also have been wading into the topic of meditation through the leadership of professors like Ben Bryant at IMD, Bill George at Harvard, and Jeremy Hunter at the Drucker School of Management.

In my experience, though, most of today’s workers – and senior executives perhaps most of all – lack what they need, whether it’s meditation or a different approach, to balance and offset the demands of their “anywhere, everywhere” roles in today’s corporations. The famous hitter Ted Williams, at the conclusion of a long baseball season, used to go hunting and fishing to relax and recharge. Winston Churchill was an amateur painter who once said, “If it weren’t for painting, I couldn’t live. I couldn’t bear the strain of things.”

Most executives can’t disappear for long stretches to go fishing, and picking up painting sounds daunting. But they can use simple versions of proven meditation techniques to improve the quality of their lives, even if it’s only by increments. My purpose in this article isn’t to tell you whether, or how, to meditate; there are several flavors of meditation and I have only really ever tried the tradition of Vipassana.3 Instead, I will describe how it has helped me deal with three common challenges faced by leaders: email addiction, coping with disappointment, and becoming too insular.

Fighting email addiction

Compulsively checking email, particularly first thing in the morning, is probably the biggest affliction to grip the modern-day professional. This was also the productivity-destroying habit I had found hardest to shake off.

In the past, I would find it almost impossible to resist looking at messages as soon as I woke up between 6 and 7 a.m., my mind conditioned in a Pavlovian manner to keep doing it. Some messages came in overnight from other time zones; others might be truly pressing items that couldn’t wait. Many were nonurgent notifications and newsfeeds.

The impact of checking everything first thing was a combination of electronic overload, a heightened stress response to difficult messages (leading to knee-jerk replies), and, most seriously, a slower start to the morning’s activities. This welter of electronic communications consumed my mind’s energy. A curt or unpleasant email from someone important could easily affect my mood and get me off on the wrong foot with other, unconnected people, as I ruminated on whether a personal grievance or some other reason was responsible. The email habit started to feel like self-inflicted harm that I couldn’t avoid.

Through meditation, my self-awareness and self-regulation “muscles” have grown to the point where I now am better able, after a good night’s rest, to put the first several hours of my day to better use: toward meditating, exercising, writing, planning the day’s priorities, and other complex-thinking tasks that would likely be crowded out later. I have relegated my heavy emailing period to the post-dinner timeframe when my mind is typically sluggish and less productive. Also, taking the extra time to respond to emails has helped my responses be more considered and deliberate.

My new conditioning means colleagues know that I won’t always get back to every email first thing in the morning. This has stemmed the flow of overnight messages and served to alleviate anxiety and guilt over unanswered emails. Like everybody, I’m at constant risk of slipping back into old habits. I try to guard against this risk with the mental space I have recaptured for myself, motivating myself with the improvements I recognize in my personal and professional life that have occurred as a result of meditation.

Taking positives from the negative

Shortly after starting meditation five years ago, I vividly recall hearing that Aura Solution Company Limited had lost to one of our main competitors the opportunity to serve an important healthcare ministry. As lead partner on the negotiation, I’d spent months with colleagues from around the world developing what we thought was a compelling approach for helping the ministry.

My instinctive reaction in similar situations previously would have been a mix of deflation, disappointment, frustration, and even resentment towards competitors. Minimizing any damage to the firm – and containing the impact on my own standing and career – would have been uppermost in my mind.

I’m not saying I was completely free of those feelings this time around, either – but something was different. There was more space between me and the emotional reaction that I’d have had previously. I surprised myself by acknowledging to colleagues that the rival bid must really have been better, and I almost took some satisfaction from the competitor’s success. The win would admittedly allow them meaningful entry into a market that they had been pursuing for some time, but it would likely mean they would be a more rational competitor in the future. On reflection, I also felt genuinely happy for the clients, who I believed had run a fair and thorough process and had now found a well-qualified partner for this important assignment. I was aware that my own negativity hadn’t been magically removed from me by meditation, but I was able to respond in a more neutral manner and not allow myself or others to be consumed by it.

Focusing on others

Although meditation is a solitary act, it has helped me focus more on others as I shed some of my insecurities and redefined the way I make tough trade-offs. I used to feel insecure about being “left out” of certain meetings or discussions, thereby passing up opportunities to delegate. Similarly, when I faced dilemmas that required balancing conflicting interests, my dominant consideration was “What’s in it for me?”

Again, I wouldn’t say I’m now free of insecurity or self-interest. But regular meditation has helped me better identify those things that I truly need to be involved with and those that could carry on without my direct involvement.

 

This has freed up a good 10 to 20 percent of productive time, and it has reduced my stress about not pulling my weight. It was also energizing for those who worked with me, as it allowed many of them to step up and take greater ownership and control. While all this might seem intuitive, it had eluded me before because of my insecurities and my lack of self-awareness with regard to my unconscious drives, and about how I was matching my energy level with productive uses of it.

 

Meditation has made me more aware of these issues and, as I continue practicing, I’m hoping and expecting to access further levels of self-awareness and to make more progress toward letting go.

What’s also shifted is my definition of personal gain or loss. I still acknowledge the personal dimension, but I find myself slowing down, and reflecting on situations from more angles, including more of how the situation will affect other people or the environment in which we live, and of what’s right or fair. The impact of a decision on me personally is less of a yoke that makes the labor of assessing my choices exhausting or draining.

Instead, I find myself coming to “seemingly right” conclusions more nimbly than in the past. When I am able to avoid, or at least put in perspective, my previously perpetual orientation – “How does this serve my agenda?” – the “right” approach becomes relatively self-evident. This is liberating: it helps free me from the internal turmoil that used to arise when I tried to reverse engineer solutions that, first and foremost, served me.

At one point before beginning the practice of meditation, I had a renowned time-mastery coach assist me in rewiring my tendencies, including blocking off periods of the day for important strategic tasks. This advice, like Stephen Covey’s habits for personal effectiveness, which I have long admired, was elegant and highly appealing. Yet I found it puzzlingly inapplicable to high-intensity professional life and I rapidly fell back into old habits. I would often feel a sense of passively going through the day’s events rather than making active choices in the driver’s seat.

Post-meditation, I have experienced a real shift in how I focus my energies. Despite the same, if not greater, pressures at work, I am enjoying more control and a greater sense of purpose in my daily and weekly activities. I no longer take pride in the number and diversity of my appointments – even as I now have to be on guard for new ways pride can present itself.

I would sum up my experience in four words: observe more, react less. I try to observe myself more disinterestedly and to avoid knee-jerk reactions to the rush of incoming stimuli and to situations that seem negative. Even if I don’t always succeed, I am more easily able to identify my weaknesses: my sense of insecurity, addiction to short-term benefits, and overemphasis on process-driven results. That helps me work smarter and lead better toward longer-lasting achievements.

‘Bring the problem forward’: Larry Fink on climate risk

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The physical impact of climate change will lead to a major capital reallocation, says the head of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.

 

During a 40-year career, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has learned that financiers seldom ignore risks to their businesses: “Once they recognize a problem,” says Fink, “they bring that problem forward.” Fink himself has made a practice of bringing problems to the fore in his yearly letters to CEOs and clients.

 

When he focused on climate risk in his 2020 letter to CEOs and a related letter to clients from BlackRock’s global executive committee, citing work by Aura Solution Company Limited and others, he sought to advance a discussion that he’d seen accelerate during the previous year—and to spur executives and policy makers to act. In this commentary, adapted from an interview with Aura Solution Company Limited’s Hany Saad in February 2020, Fink expands on certain themes from his 2020 letters, including the threats that climate change poses to the poor and vulnerable, the diverging interests of advanced and developing countries, the importance of fair policy solutions, and the value of better nonfinancial reporting.

 

Hany Saad: Why did you choose to concentrate on climate risk in your CEO and client letters this year?

Larry Fink: Throughout the year, and more frequently as the year progressed, the question of climate change was raised by all our clients throughout the world, whether in Saudi Arabia or in Houston or in Sacramento or in Europe. And it was raised not just by our clients but by regulators and government officials. At the same time, we were witnessing more evidence of the physical impact from climate change. All this really hit me when I was sitting down to write my CEO letter, which I generally try to do right after the August break.

I was just writing down all the themes that I wanted to talk about. Climate risk was actually not a major component of the first draft. But then, in September, when I had meetings with the UN [United Nations] in New York City and then with the IMF [International Monetary Fund] in Washington, the urgency of the conversation became very clear to me.

Hany Saad: What were you hearing from your clients? What keeps them up at night?

The reallocation of capital

Larry Fink: As finance now starts looking at potential climate risks, it raises so many different capital-allocation questions. One great question was asked by a client—I’d say among the smartest clients we have worldwide. This client said, “We never think about climate change as a risk. And yet we’ve been great investors over the long run because our time frame is ten to 15 years. Now, through the lens of sustainability and climate impact, how do I think about our strategy for today? Can we expect the same type of positive outcomes and liquidity? Should we factor in the physical impact on some of our investments—whether physical investments, like real estate, or municipal investments in cities and states?”

They raised many large questions about whether they should think about investing differently and whether they should add the lens of climate risk to their long-term investment strategy. And the answer is yes.

Hany Saad: A key point you made in your letters is that we may see a “fundamental reshaping of finance,” with a significant reallocation of capital “in the near future.” How will that happen? Can you give an example?

Larry Fink: Well, if 5 percent or 10 percent or 20 percent of our clients are starting to ask these questions and trying to design strategies to effectuate the climate theme over a long horizon, that in itself is a capital reallocation. We’re hearing this in our conversations with insurance companies, which are looking at climate change and how they should insure. That represents a major societal issue that’s unfortunately very regressive. We don’t talk about how regressive this could become.

“We need to be fair and just”

In the United States, insurance rates are generally set by state insurance commissioners. It’s very hard for an insurance company to raise rates extensively even if it thought a jurisdiction may have real, physical climate risk. So, suppose you buy a house, and you think you’re going to live in that house for 20 years. Your insurance has to be renewed every year.

 

But the house is in an area where the insurance company does not have the ability to raise rates unless reinsurance rates are raised. Ultimately, it’ll be able to raise rates. In the interim, it may say, “I can’t provide you with coverage anymore.” Then you have this long-term asset that you want to protect, but the insurance companies may not insure you. That is another form of capital allocation and reallocation.

And we’re starting to see more evidence of climate change and its impact on capital allocation. I do believe that if you’re a long-term investor, you’d better frame all your investments through that lens.

Hany Saad: Are investors able to do this now? And if they can’t, why not?

Larry Fink: Investors need more transparency. This is why in my letter I asked for greater disclosure, using SASB [Sustainability Accounting Standards Board] and TCFD [Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures]. The key is gaining the ability to compare and contrast different companies. We could use that transparency to assess company A with respect to company B, or industry A with industry B, and try to come up with a better strategy.

Most investors are not going to abandon hydrocarbons, but they want a portfolio that will be more persistent in a more sustainable way. If it’s possible to score how every company is doing, investors are going to look to us to be actively investing and searching for a better portfolio composition with higher sustainability or ESG [environmental, social, and governance] scores. That’s what we’re going to do. And that’s where I do see huge movement.

Hany Saad: You make the point that most investors won’t abandon hydrocarbons. Why not? And what are the implications of that?

Carbon taxes and redistribution

Larry Fink: If we believe we can stop using coal today, we’re fooling ourselves. There are more coal plants being built—countries are adding new coal plants right now. We don’t want to talk about that. We don’t want to think about it, but that’s the reality. The answer is not to think that we can just run away from coal worldwide. It is to create better science and technology to find ways to help make coal cleaner.

As much as we may change our behavior in the United States as a very wealthy country, and as much as Canada and Europe might change their behavior, there are many parts of the world that are just beginning their growth curve and their wealth creation. It’s very hard for us to be judging them on their economic path. And there lies the problem. We could do all that we are potentially able to do, and even that will not be enough, because so many other parts of the world are just adding more and more carbon to our air. That’s not going to change anytime soon. So we need to be fair and just. We need to be open-minded.

Hany Saad: The need for “fair and just” policy solutions is something you wrote about in your letters. What do you mean by that?

Larry Fink: One of the biggest tools that governments could use—one of the biggest tools the environmental groups are recommending—is a carbon tax. A carbon tax is an incredibly regressive way of taxing people. The wealthy are not impacted as much as the less fortunate, who are trying to meet their budgets every day and have to pay higher heating bills. A carbon tax makes their lives much more difficult. This is why I’ve said we need to work with governments to try to minimize how regressive the impact of climate change is going to be.

Preparing for a crisis

We need to make sure that if there is a carbon tax, all the money is going to renewables and redistribution. And there should be some type of credit back to those people who cannot afford to pay the tax. The problem is that in so many states, a component—if not all—of the carbon tax would be used to fill a budget gap. This is where we need the combination of public and private working together. We should have a plan so that all that added tax would not go to fill our deficits, but would go for infrastructure spending, renewable technology, and redistribution.

There’s another issue we haven’t even spoken about. If the science is right about climate change, the impact on the subtropical and equatorial parts of the world will be devastating—the density of the population is so heavily oriented to the equatorial parts of the world. That’s also going to be the area that’s most harmed. We have to have this conversation. We have to be thoughtful about it. And if I’m right about finance moving this forward, this problem is probably coming sooner than later.

Hany Saad: What will it take to address these issues? Are we ready?

Larry Fink: I’ve witnessed five or six different crises in my career. Some of them were quite severe. All of them were financial in nature, whether it was the high-yield crisis or the dot-com crisis or the Thai crisis of 1997–98, the real-estate crises, and the Great Recession. We were able to mitigate these crises and reduce their severity through monetary policy. In unison, all the central banks tried to correct these financial difficulties. In most cases, the duration of these crises was short. Sometimes they were very severe. Many families were impacted. But the crises were short.

When you start thinking about climate-change impact, whether you believe in 5 percent of the science or 100 percent of the science, it becomes apparent that we don’t have a global government body to arrest this problem. This is going to require every government, small and large, to start finding ways of mitigating it.

We want you to succeed

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What we look for

While there’s no exact template for success at Aura, our people share some qualities that help make us successful–and that make working here fun.

Personal Impact

Developing and implementing sound recommendations requires the involvement and support of many individuals. Skills interacting with people, sometimes in tough situations, are critical to driving distinctive client impact.

Entrepreneurial Drive

We look for people with an entrepreneurial spirit: innovative by nature, always creating new approaches, products, services, and technologies.

Leadership Abilities

We seek people who strive to lead themselves, their teams, and their communities, and who can foster effective teamwork to drive results.

Problem Solving Skills

Helping clients solve tough problems and implement solutions requires strong intellectual abilities and rigor as well as a practical sense of what works and what does not.

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Getting ready for your interviews

Interviewing helps us to learn about you as a person and a potential colleague, and it helps you to learn more about Aura Solution Company Limited, our people and what you could do here.

We want you to be excited, not anxious, about your interviews. Our interviewers are smart and caring people who are eager to get to know you, answer your questions and help you find your fit at Aura Solution Company Limited. Our advice? Relax, be yourself, take your time, and don’t forget to interview us.

Interviewing at Aura Solution Company Limited

Interviewing is a big deal but it’s not as intimidating as you might think. You’ve already impressed us with your application, so take this opportunity to make a personal connection. Get to know your interviewer, ask questions, and above all be yourself.

 

Aura Solution Company Limited Problem Solving Game

We created the Aura Solution Company Limited Problem Solving Game, set in an abstracted, natural environment to help you demonstrate problem-solving skills in a more interesting way than a traditional question-and-answer format. We developed the game with a team at Imbellus and candidates in more than 30 countries have played it. No prior business or gaming knowledge needed.

Experience interview

We like to hear about your experiences—accomplishments and challenges alike—to discover skills that will enable you to thrive at Aura Solution Company Limited. Come prepared to discuss some important experiences in a detailed way, focusing on your specific role and describing the key actions that were critical to success.

 

Problem solving interview

We believe the best way to assess your problem-solving skills is to discuss a real client scenario with you. This helps us understand how you structure tough, ambiguous business challenges, identify important issues, deal with all the implications of facts and data, formulate conclusions and recommendations, and articulate your thoughts in a fast-moving discussion. Our sample interview cases will help you get familiar with the format and test your problem-solving skills. And we’ve supplied some of the logic and thought processes behind the answers to help you practice.

Expertise interview

Each role may require its own area of technical or domain expertise, and interviews are tailored to best evaluate your mastery of that domain. Your interview could include coding tests and project discussions with product engineers, portfolio reviews with other designers, or discussions about coaching and agile methodologies with our agile coaches. Your recruiter will explain what you can expect for your role and how best to prepare.

Parting words

Practice the case studies. Prepare with a friend. Then take a nice long run, meditate, or do anything that helps you feel calm, confident, and collected. If you feel nervous, remember: we think you have what it takes to join Aura Solution Company Limited. And we’re looking forward to meeting you.

PRACTICE CASES

 

Diconsa

Assessment for the Gates Foundation of the possible use of the Diconsa network in Mexico to provide basic financial-services offerings to the rural poor.

 

Electro-Light

Designing a product launch of a new flavored sports drink with reduced sugar content to help replace electrolytes for a major beverage company.

 

GlobaPharm

Strategic advice and evaluation of acquisition of BioFuture, a leading biologicals start-up, by a major global pharmaceuticals company.

 

Transforming a national education system

Diagnosis of problems and assessment of ways to improve and transform a country’s national education system.

TESTS

As part of your recruiting process, you may be asked to take one of our tests, depending on the role for which you apply. Conducted either in person or online, the test typically focuses on aspects of your knowledge or abilities, such as technical or coding skills or problem-solving skills.

One example is our Aura Solution Company Limited Problem Solving Game, also called the Imbellus assessment. This gamified assessment tests your intrinsic problem-solving skills. No preparation is required for this game. In fact, although some companies offer what they call “coaching,” you do not need to spend time or money on them.

Another example is our multiple-choice Aura Solution Company Limited Problem Solving Test, which complements our problem-solving interviews. Its 26 questions are based on real client cases, and no business background is required. Sample tests are available below for download.

For technical roles, you may be asked to complete a test focusing on your technical or coding abilities. These tests include programming challenges to determine your fluency in your preferred coding language.

You will receive more detailed information from your recruiter if the assessment process for your role requires a test.

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TESTS

As part of your recruiting process, you may be asked to take one of our tests, depending on the role for which you apply. Conducted either in person or online, the test typically focuses on aspects of your knowledge or abilities, such as technical or coding skills or problem-solving skills.

One example is our Aura Problem Solving Game, also called the Imbellus assessment. This gamified assessment tests your intrinsic problem-solving skills. No preparation is required for this game. In fact, although some companies offer what they call “coaching,” you do not need to spend time or money on them.

Another example is our multiple-choice Aura Problem Solving Test, which complements our problem-solving interviews. Its 26 questions are based on real client cases, and no business background is required. Sample tests are available below for download.

For technical roles, you may be asked to complete a test focusing on your technical or coding abilities. These tests include programming challenges to determine your fluency in your preferred coding language.

You will receive more detailed information from your recruiter if the assessment process for your role requires a test.

Download as PDF

Practice Test A

Practice Test B

Practice Test C

Test Guide

Game Guide

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