Muskaan Singh – Fractional Chief People Officer and 2x Startup Founder

Breaking Barriers and Being a Boss Lady: Meet Muskaan Singh, an ambitious and resilient multifaceted professional (Service Delivery Manager, Software Developer, Sales Manager, Director of Talent Management, and Corporate Full Cycle Recruiter as well as a 2x Startup Founder).

In this week’s remote worker spotlight, we had the chance to speak to a Triumphantor who has used the power of resilience, confidence, and hard work to break barriers and build a household name for herself as an immigrant in the United States. Read more to discover Muskaan’s experience as a remote worker, female startup founder, immigrant and her strategies for thriving in a competitive job market, and insights on overcoming gender bias.

Hi Muskaan, thank you for honoring my invitation. Firstly, when did you start working remotely, can you give us a brief summary about you and your remote work life experience?

Sure, let me start from the very beginning. In a world where most teenagers were busy worrying about school, I decided to dive headfirst into the corporate realm at the tender age of 16. My debut? A call center representative. With just my 11th-grade qualification, I embarked on a professional journey like no other.

Through the power of distance/remote learning, I continued my studies in India while immersing myself in the corporate world. This unique setup allowed me to work full-time for esteemed companies, all while pursuing two undergraduate degrees—one in computer science and the other in accounting.

As my expertise blossomed, so did my career. I advanced from a technical support engineer to a software engineer specializing in the intricate world of application virtualization and deployment. Climbing the corporate ladder, I eventually landed the role of delivery manager, overseeing a team of 60 dedicated individuals. Little did I know that this would be my gateway to the captivating realm of HR recruitment.

In a truly remarkable turn of events, I orchestrated a grand job fair, attracting over 10,000 applicants eager to join our ranks. With strategic finesse, I successfully hired 1,500 exceptional individuals over the course of a week. From crafting assessments and icebreakers to conducting group discussions and behavioral tests, my team of 15 remarkable individuals and I pulled off a recruitment extravaganza for the ages.

But my story doesn’t end there. Fate had something extraordinary in store for me when I made the bold move to the United States. A fortuitous introduction to a company’s Co-founder and CEO presented me with an incredible opportunity. Recognizing my diverse skill set encompassing management, software, and HR roles, they offered me a three-month stint in business development. Serving as a liaison between the team and clients, I thrived in this remote role and discovered a newfound passion beyond coding.

This pivotal experience propelled me to embark on an entrepreneurial journey, founding not one, but two successful startups. Now, with 18 years of industry expertise under my belt, I find myself on the cusp of building my third venture. Armed with two master’s degrees from the United States and two undergraduate degrees from India, I am currently charting the course as a Chief People Officer (CPO), where I help companies build their teams and organization, HR policies and help hire employees in every continent of the world focusing on remote work. 

My journey thus far has been a tapestry of bold choices, diverse roles, and the unwavering pursuit of growth. From call center beginnings to carving my path in the realms of technology, management, and HR, I have thrived on the thrill of pushing boundaries. And as I continue to help companies shape their strategies and assemble dream teams, I eagerly anticipate the next thrilling chapter that awaits me and I strongly believe I’m only getting started.. more to come, and like I always say “Sky is my benchmark”. 

Oh wow, you’ve really done a lot.  I am honestly inspired, you are a really amazing woman. Congrats to you and well done! Was it ever difficult for you to migrate to the United States? Did you have your family or friends over there? Was it lonely basically working remotely? And if it was, how did you cope with it?

Well my experience moving to a new country, I must admit, wasn’t without its challenges. Moving abroad is a significant transition, and even though I had always anticipated such a move, I still encountered a cultural shock. Interestingly, my friends had been encouraging me to make the leap for quite some time. Strangely enough, while I had considered Australia and Canada, the United States never crossed my mind as a potential destination.

Adjusting to life in America proved to be quite demanding. Growing up in India, calling someone “stupid” was never considered a major insult. However, I quickly learned that in America, it carries significant weight. I faced many such initial hurdles communicating with fellow Americans, however, my adaptable and resilient nature allowed me to embrace their way of communication. I also adapted quickly to American food, culture, and even movies with relative ease. Having been a fan of American movies back in India certainly helped in this regard.

As for your question about moving alone, that is indeed the case. I arrived in the United States without any friends or family by my side. Fortunately, I had come here to pursue my master’s degree, and university life presented the perfect opportunity to make new friends. The camaraderie I developed with fellow students helped ward off any feelings of loneliness. Besides, I had grown accustomed to living alone from a young age. In India, I started working at a tender age, and my job was situated on the opposite end of Bangalore from my parent’s residence. Therefore, it made sense for me to have my own place nearby. I would visit my parents during weekends, maintaining a connection despite the physical distance. So, when I made the move to the United States, although I was physically alone, I never felt lonely because I have always been at ease in my own company.

In summary, while the transition to a new country came with its share of challenges and cultural adjustments, my adaptable nature and comfort in solitude allowed me to navigate this chapter of my life with resilience and a positive outlook.

Hmm. That’s really nice.

In terms of forming connections and friendships, I have always excelled in that area. Holding conversations and establishing rapport with people come naturally to me. Additionally, my professional experiences have provided me with numerous opportunities to connect with individuals whom I have helped secure employment. Over time, many of them have become my friends. This goes to show that even in a remote setting, geography is not a barrier. With the world at your fingertips, it all depends on how you choose to utilize it.

Feeling lonely is not a necessity. It is up to you to determine the amount of time and priority you give to nurturing relationships, as well as the kind of person you are. The physical proximity of individuals is not a prerequisite for expressing emotions, demonstrating love, exhibiting compassion, or being a good friend. In fact, some of my closest friends are in India, despite not having seen them in nearly eight years. We maintain our strong bond, and I remain their best friend while they remain mine. As long as communication is ongoing and we keep in touch, the physical distance becomes inconsequential. This is my personal belief and experience—it truly doesn’t matter to me.

I totally agree! Have you ever faced any gender discrimination or race discrimination when applying for a job remotely? Also, while being in the United States in your workplace have you ever been discriminated against based on your race?

Yes, I have encountered instances of a pay gap, unfortunately, more than once in my career. In one particular company where I was hired, I discovered that my male counterpart, who was performing the same role as me, was earning a higher salary despite my having more experience. Naturally, I approached my boss to discuss this disparity, but my concerns were not well received. Consequently, I made the decision to leave the job within three months.

Furthermore, there was another incident during an interview where the interviewer directed offensive language not only toward me but also toward my countrymen. Immediately after finishing up the call, he called me again using a different number and used derogatory terms, and asked me to go back to my country. He had the nerve to write me an email to top them all stating I don’t belong in this country.

I’m really sorry about that. How are you making up for that to ensure you never get paid less than your worth?

In my journey within the field of HR, I’ve discovered the importance of salary benchmarking. This practice involves assessing the market standard for a particular role to ensure that I’m not being underpaid. When I apply for a job, I make it a point to conduct thorough research and aim for the highest salary possible. For instance, if the market rate for a role is around 250k, I confidently request a higher amount, typically adding an additional 15 to 20 grand. I firmly believe in knowing my own value and never hesitating to negotiate for what I deserve. If you’re currently seeking a new role, I strongly encourage you to do your due diligence in understanding the correct market rate for your job profile, the associated responsibilities, and the demands of the role. In many cases, particularly within startups, individuals often find themselves performing the tasks of multiple positions, so it’s only fair to be compensated accordingly. This level of confidence stems from self-awareness and the firm belief that you deserve to be properly rewarded for your contributions.

From your experience recruiting and managing teams, how can job seekers navigate the downsize, tech downturn, and the competitive job market to still get opportunities?

Navigating downsizing, a tech downturn, and a competitive job market can indeed be challenging for job seekers. However, there are strategies and approaches that can increase your chances of securing opportunities:

  1. Stay adaptable and flexible: During periods of downsizing or a tech downturn, industries and companies may undergo significant changes. It’s important to be open to exploring different roles, and industries, or even considering contract or freelance work. Adaptability and a willingness to embrace new opportunities can set you apart from other candidates.

  2. Focus on upskilling and continuous learning: The job market is highly competitive, especially during challenging times. Enhancing your skillset through training programs, certifications, or online courses can make you more marketable and demonstrate your commitment to professional growth. Stay updated on the latest industry trends and technologies to remain relevant and valuable to potential employers.

  3. Network and build connections: Networking is a powerful tool in any job market. Attend industry events, join professional associations, and connect with like-minded professionals on platforms like LinkedIn. Engage in conversations, seek mentorship opportunities, and leverage your network to uncover hidden job opportunities or gain referrals, which often carry more weight than traditional applications.

  4. Showcase your accomplishments and adaptability: When applying for jobs, emphasize your past achievements and demonstrate your ability to thrive in challenging situations. Highlight instances where you have successfully adapted to change, demonstrated resilience and contributed to team success. Employers value candidates who can navigate uncertainty and drive results.

  5. Tailor your applications and leverage online platforms: Customize your resume and cover letter to align with the specific requirements of each job application. Highlight relevant skills and experiences that directly address the needs of the employer. Additionally, make use of online job platforms and professional networks to search for openings, set job alerts, and engage with hiring managers and recruiters. Proactively reach out to the job poster with your application via email/LinkedIn message.

  6. Prepare for virtual interviews: With the rise of remote work and virtual interviews, ensure that you are comfortable with video conferencing tools and familiarize yourself with the best practices for virtual interviews. Practice your communication skills and be ready to showcase your abilities in a digital environment.

  7. Seek feedback and learn from rejections: Rejections are a part of the job search process. Rather than getting discouraged, use them as opportunities for growth. Request feedback from employers whenever possible and learn from their insights to refine your approach and enhance your future applications.

By combining these strategies with persistence, resilience, and a positive mindset, you can position yourself for success even in challenging job markets. Remember to remain proactive, and adaptable, and continuously work on enhancing your skills and professional network. 

This has been an enlightening session, to our final question, what advice would you give to any remote worker out there feeling depressed or down due to stigmatization, low salary, or maybe things are generally not going too well for them?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed and downhearted when facing the prospect of job loss. However, it’s crucial to keep that thought in the back of your mind and focus on being the best version of yourself. If you find yourself feeling depressed, try shifting your focus to helping others. From my personal experience, lending a helping hand immediately uplifts your spirits and gives you the strength to overcome your own challenges. While it may seem difficult at the moment, I urge you not to give up. Each day, take the time to jot down ten things that bring you joy and gratitude. Whether it’s the simple act of someone waving or smiling at you, express your thankfulness for these little moments. I personally believe gratitude grounds you immediately which in turn boosts a person’s morale and ability to face the challenges at hand. Additionally, I often rely on a mantra that has helped me during challenging times: “This too shall pass.” Remember that, no matter how tough or demanding the situation may seem right now, it is temporary. This knowledge is a powerful reminder to persevere and hold on. Just stay strong and hang in there.

Ps: You can reach out to Muskaan via herLinkedin