Mind Your “Profession Tongue’ – The Unlearning from Akbar Birbal Stories

Preface: Akbar The Great was the Mogul Emperor who ruled India from 1560 to 1605. He himself was illiterate, but he invited several learned people in his court. Among these people was Birbal, his most favorite minister because of his wit and intellect. There are number of folklore on Birbal in India. As an Executive Search & Recruitment professional during last two decades of my professional, I have tried to Unlearn (learn new lessons) from these stories and tried to use it in my profession to the benefit of my client and talented individuals I have met and interviewed.


One day a multilingual Brahmin (a learned person) happened to visit Akbar’s court. The Brahmin had heard a lot about the wise men who advised Akbar and so, addressing the Court, he said, “I challenge you to find out my mother tongue. If you fail to do so, you will have to accept defeat.”

The courtiers asked the Brahmin several questions in different languages and the Brahmin replied to them in the language that he was spoken to. He spoke all languages very fluently as if they were his mother tongue. The courtiers could not guess his mother tongue. And in the last Birbal was asked to try it. Birbal casually walked to the Brahmin and kept on staring him in his eyes but said nothing. Few moments went by and there was pin drop silence in the court. Suddenly Birbal lifted his hand and slapped the Brahmin with lightning speed. Brahmin yelled ‘What nonsense is this? What kind of behavior is this? How can you do this to me in Akbar’s court” and Brahmin yelled in Tamil. Then Birbal very humbly and with folded hand bowed to Akbar and said “My Lord, before I tell you the mother tongue of the Brahmin, I want to apologize to the Respected Brahmin for slapping him. It was only a trick to find his Mother Tongue. And if Brahmin wishes he can also slap me. “Have you found out what is the mother tongue of Brahmin” asked the emperor. “Yes Sire I have just found that the Brahmin’s Mother Tongue is Tamil” replied Birbal. “Tell us Birbal, how did you guess the Brahmin’s mother tongue?” asked Akbar “Very simple, Sire! A man will speak his mother tongue when he is in distress or shocked or awkward situation. When I suddenly slapped Brahmin he cried in Tamil hence his Mother tongue is Tamil”. Brahmin accepted his defeat and also forgave Birbal.

The Unlearning

A person writes and speaks the language of his profession or vocation in his resumes and in conversation. We named it “Profession Tongue “

Professional Observation:

As an Executive Search / Recruitment Professional when I read resumes I read it not in English or Hindi or in the language resume is written but in “Profession Tongue”. I would like to see if the person has used the right professional expression; appropriate terminology for his level, function and the industry. “Profession tongue” is different than mother tongue. When one speaks one’s mother tongue incorrectly it does not make much difference. However professionally, you can’t be forgiven if you chose wrong terms / words or make false or highly exaggerated and irrelevant claims. While speaking Profession Tongue you need to appreciate the difference between Jealous & envy or Hate & dislike, book Keeping & Accounting or Brand Management & Product Management.   Such errors get very prominently highlighted when expressed in Profession Tongue in the resume.

Most of the resumes are normally found to be longer than desired. Some are just short of an auto biography full of micro details that one finds difficult to finish.   Sometimes one also gets resumes with little or no details that make no sense.  Length of resume is inversely proportionate to seniority in management level of the person whose resume it is. . Ideal length is between one to maximum three A4 size pages. But most important is that a resume must express true level of understanding and speak an appropriate ‘Profession Tongue’. Can you accept a general practitioner claiming to have done number of neurosurgeries successfully? One can understand bandaging or putting stitches on the skull for a deep cut but not conducting neurosurgeries.

Some persons do have a genuine handicap of expressing themselves .So they take help and assistance of others to write their resumes. These days we get many resumes written by a professional resume writing services or sites. Such resumes look aesthetic but more often lack the substance. Sometimes you get a resume of an accountant based at a Plant Site that mentions Financial Planning, Investment Strategy, M&A as person’s achievement and key strengths. With little bit of probing and observation one can even make out which Resume writing service or site was used.  It is not difficult because each writer has its own pet style and format. These writers have their favorite words & proverbs which they use liberally in the resumes they write. In pursuit of making resume look better, resume writing services end up using most of the adjectives in the dictionary and are habituated in mentioning skills, roles and result areas that are much higher than the actual working level of that individual. Such resumes may have been written in flawless English but use most wrong Profession Tongue. It becomes laughable when couple of friends or colleagues happen to use same Resume Writing Service or site and end up applying to the same job in unison. Then one finds the differences in their resumes are their names, address and contact details. If one must use a resume writing service, ensure that it speaks only what you know and should not highlight the follies of resume writer. It is my observation that self-written resume use more balanced Profession Tongue than written by Resume writing services or sites.

For Executive Search Professionals or talent Acquisition departments resume management is a daunting task. Resumes fly in from all directions. It requires data entry of resume which is very cumbersome process. Most of us use an applicant tracking system which has some resume parsing facility that automatically culls/extract data from a resume. One of my ventures SURPaaS Collaborative Technologies is developing a very unique Universal Recruitment Platform – SURPaaS. It also has a resume parser. Unlike other parsers that are Keyword and grammar based, the algorithm of this parser is Profession Tongue. Does it work? Yes! The parser is in position to analyse to a great extent to which industry, function or level the resume belongs to. Going forward it can be made more accurate. Can the parser detect the anomalies of resume writer? Not yet but in near future it would be a reality. I am sure SURPaaS is not the only one experimenting in this area.

There’s no crime In being ambitious and targeting opportunity beyond one‘s current expertise or competences. It is your birth right. Many of us are talented enough to learn beyond their practical experience or management level and learn from others’ knowledge. Such person, if writes few lines giving a balanced reasoning on why should he/she be considered for the position in question, will make better impact even on a most conservative hiring manager or Executive Search Professional. Use Profession Tongue in your resume that you are confident, capable & knowledgeable enough to discuss explain and debate. Or be prepared to be slapped with rejection at the resume level itself or face humiliating situation during the interview.  Humiliating because interrogating (yes Interrogating) technique of the Interviewer is more likely to be similar to Birbal ‘S technique in the story. First make you feel relaxed then out of a sudden slap you with a most awkward question to catch you off-guard.

The Unlearning – ‘AAA’ Personality Traits

The Preface: Akbar The Great was the Mogul Emperor who ruled India from 1560 to 1605. He himself was illiterate, but he invited several learned people in his court. Among these people, Birbal washis most favorite minister because of his wit and intellect. There are number of folklore on Birbal in India. As an Executive Search & Recruitment professional during last two decades, I Unlearned (learned new lessons) a lot from these stories and tried to use it in my profession for the benefit of my clients and talented individuals I met and interviewed.

The Story

Apart from his sharp intellect, Birbal was also a devotee of Sri Rama and would not miss his prayers at any cost. Wherever Akbar went, he used to take Birbal along with him. During one such instance, they took a route through a dense forest. They lost their way and both were totally exhausted and famished. So they decided to rest for a while. Akbar wanted to look around the place to see if he could find a house to get some food. Birbal asked Akbar to excuse him and went on to his prayer. Akbar looked at Birbal and preached “Mere chanting of the names of the Lord will not fetch you food. You have to put in your own efforts. You cannot achieve anything otherwise’.

Akbar left in pursuit of food. In a little while he spotted a house. The inmates of the house were overjoyed to see the Emperor coming to their doorstep for food. They treated him to the best of their capacity. Akbar finished his meal and took a little food for Birbal too. He gave Birbal the food. “See Birbal, I told you.I made some effort to find food and I got it. You were just sitting and chanting Rama Nama and you did not get any food.”

After finishing the meal given by Akbar, Birbal looked up at Akbar and said, “I have just now experienced the power of Rama Nama, like never before. You are the ruler of the land. But today even you had to beg for food. And look at me, I was just chanting Lord’s Name here and the Rama Nama made the Emperor himself to get me the food. Such is the power of Rama Nama!”

The Unlearning:

Most take the credit for resolving a crisis during which they had factually done nothing except for praying to their GOD.

Professional Observation

As an Executive Search Professional after having identified the individual,it is very important to differentiate these traits otherwise it can prove detrimental  At MAGNA Global we give lot of importance to these aspects to safeguard the interest of our clients. How can we be reasonably sure that the person we are recommending to our clients is the actually the one with right traits? After lot of hit and trial, I devised some matrices for evaluating Managerial and Leadership positions. One of them is named as ‘AAA’ Traits.

  1. 1st A – Anticipation – A Manager / Leader must be able to anticipate forthcoming problem or needs. In this story both Birbal & Akbar failed to anticipate the need for carrying the food with them in their journey.
  2. 2nd A – Act – They must act in time to avert or resolve it. In this case, Birbal failed to act at all though it seems to be his prime responsibility. Akbar took upon himself and lead from the front to resolve the crisis.
  3. 3rd A- Align – Akbar is yet to align the organization to find permanent solution to solution

By questioning prospective probable on AAA traits, during the interview & selection processes, one can reasonably judge the capabilities of the individuals.

Some examples are:


  1. Why were you or your company not able to anticipate the problem / need in advance? When did you actually realize the likely hood of the problem?

One who is used to anticipate will start giving many logically deduced indicators and explain the reasons for failure. One who is not used to anticipation will generally start putting the blame on someone else.

  1. How did you act? What made you to take a particular direction in response to the situation? E.g. in this story how did you decide which direction to take to find food (Of course, searching on Google cannot be the answer).

One who is the acting type will enumerate number of ways & means at his/her disposal to avoid or resolve the crisis. And you know what other kind does!

  1. Align – How did you ensure that it does not happen again in future or does not happen unexpectedly? This is true leadership trait. Managerial level can only give operational solution. The type of answers will decide their capability and maturity level.

In this story Akbar is yet to find permanent solution to align which he did later on by putting service posts with water and food along the journey path.


This matrix can also be used for self-evaluation. I suggest rate yourself objectively and in an unbiased manner (on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 being the lowest & 5 being the highest) and see how you Score on AAA Matrices. The best way to do is to take at least 5 situations/ anecdotes from your professional, personal & social sphere in the recent past and rank yourself on AAA matrix. Find out which ‘A’ you excelled and which you ‘A’ you did not do well. If a pattern emerges then that a particular “A” you seem to be lacking or excelling. That will give you a way to improve. How to improve is another question which is outside the purview of this article and frankly also beyond purview of my specialization.Rate others while selecting and see how it works for you. Ratio of each A will be different from position to position, role to role and from organization to organization. We are also trying to embed these matrices in the assessment module of my new venture Universal Recruitment platform – SURPaaS. I am sharing my Unlearning experience with a hope that it will help others and sincerely request critical comments to improve it further.