India: If you were me what would you want to know? (-6 Days and Counting)

India. 1.2 billion people. 600,000 are “unorganized”! Ok, I’ll start there. What does “unorganized” mean? Can that many people actually be off the grid? How do you get “organized” when you start off “unorganized”?

Preparing for my ten-day adventure in India (beginning next Sunday) means collecting information from lots of sources. Too much, too early and my learning will color my senses when I’m on the ground. I’ll have too much baggage to be an effective observer. I want as few filters as possible.

Too little, too late though and I’ll miss opportunities to follow my passion for how and why people are hired. I want to ask questions that dig deeper into our cultural similarities and differences (not to mention a few other problems I could encounter…but more on that later).

I’m in the midst of reading some 30 articles (thanks in part to our SHRM delegation’s organizers) and finishing up with half a dozen phone calls to colleagues, friends, relatives and others with differing perspectives about India. The time there is understandably short-no more than a single frame in a real-time movie of indeterminate length. I imagine I'm walking in right in the middle.

My wife, Diane, is not coming with me. She is happily remaining home, preparing for the holidays and looking forward to another trip I’ve promised for another time- in return for my "kitchen pass" and a Skype call every night.

Most of my sources have limited or sketchy details about the employment scene in India- how professionals, trades people and other workers are found, wooed, screened, selected, on-boarded and retained. How it was only a few years ago and how it might evolve in the next few years.

I’m looking for unique stories that we seldom encounter here in the US. One colleague for example, a staffing leader just returning from his first visit to his India technology facility, is still stunned by his experience. One of his firm’s top developers was about to get married when her work suddenly became an issue. Apparently the fact that she was not a full time employee and, instead, was hired and working as a contract employee was socially unacceptable to the groom’s family, and the wedding was cancelled. True or did he misinterpret what he was told?

I’m excited to be going with a delegation of HR peers. This SHRM led group of 20 plus will spend most of our trip in New Delhi and Mombai. One advantage of a group (there are many) is the shared conversation as we meet with government, educational and business leaders as well as tour companies and host meetings with peers who have spent years working in India. Another is I have a habit of wondering around and finding trouble when I’m traveling alone (just ask Todd Raphael [ERE] about Moscow)

Today, I'm just trying to digest a few facts:

- In India there are 397million workers. 124 million are women (but 106 million of those women are in rural areas). The percentage of women in management is approximately 2%. In the US by contrast, nearly 75 of 121 million women over the age of 16 are working full-time (75%) or part time “and women account for 51% of all workers in high paying management, professional and related occupations.” (SHRM whitepaper October, 2009- Perspectives on Women in Management in India )

On the other hand, only 15 CEOs of Fortune 500 firms are woman including Indra K. Nooyi of PepsiCo, Inc. (there are 9 more among Fortune 501-1000 companies)

Does this mean untapped pools of talent already exist or are cultural factors still raising educational, social and professional barriers? How quickly are market forces driving change? How are recruiters who work in global firms educated to their firm’s value propositions around diversity, gender, innovation, performance, community, society, sustainability, etc.?

- Historically, diversity in the US begins with a discussion about race and broadens to focus on issues around how our diversity of thought increases our ability as a business to compete. In India, the subject of diversity evokes an image of caste consciousness that is, superficially at least, connected. While India's government has long employed an affirmative-action program that reserves 23% of all national government jobs to those from underprivileged classes, 86% of technology workers at multinationals or sizeable Indian tech companies come from "from upper castes”. (Caste Away; India's high-tech revolution. Wall Street Journal. 23 June, 2007).

Many companies are leading a change to create a market driven economy that values skills, knowledge and experience wherever it is found. One multi-national CEO was quoted as saying "It's a global industry. In America, the only caste that matters is talent" (Maybe a bit presumptuous even for the US).

So just how do cultural traditions in India and elsewhere impact selection assessment and access to skills knowledge and experience? What can we learn from how our peers in India tackle their challenges?

Once started, the questions keep rolling out:

- What skills do they seek that we don’t?
- What issues about the workplace are essential to a jobseeker choosing an employer versus what people might imagine they are?
- What role do families, friends and colleagues play in a jobseeker’s decision?
- What data about the workforce is available?
- How important is location?
- What are the limits infrastructure and local transportation impose.
- What sources of hire are most effective and are they different for small versus large firms; multi-national versus national firms.
- Do third party staffing firms operate differently than the firms with the most competitive recruiters?
- What worker protections are afforded by law and custom?
- What assessments, tests, interview screens and other selection methods predominate in the recruiting process?
- How critical is technology to the staffing process?

- What wouldn’t a US employer even think to ask when considering how to construct and design a job that can be done by the available talent?

Is there anything you want to know? I’ll ask.

A special thanks to the organizations who have helped underwrite my trip:, FutureStep and Alliance Q.

Views: 240

Comment by Russell S. Moon III on December 1, 2009 at 5:22pm
How much traffic are they seeing in US companies "pipelining" strategic roles in support of workforce planning OR is this even part of the process ?
Comment by Dhruva Trivedy on December 2, 2009 at 12:54am
We all look forward to your coming. I am in league with Gautam to prefer to have you in Delhi first. Do let me know if you wish to organise an event here
Warm Regards
Comment by Gerry Crispin on December 2, 2009 at 3:46pm
Thanks Master. I'm as interested in the overarching strategy as the nuanced details of an interview script. I'll also need a way to clearly say that peanut flour is for me a serious problem. I'll have an epipen at the ready but baring that I'll definitely be eating well....within reason of the various cautionary concerns.

Dhruva and Gautam. I'm trying for a tweet-up midst the formal meetings with companies and peers (Our delegation leader, China gorman, is in favor but wants to wait til we are on the ground there next Monday). I'll publish in any case details of my agenda soon so that we might easily meet after hours in at our delegation hotel. Its all about the conversation.
Comment by Eric on December 2, 2009 at 4:15pm
There is enough said about Indian culture etc elsewhere so my focus in this reply is mainly on HR/Recruiting in India. I have worked in HR and managed recruitment extensively in private sector mainly in Engineering industry 1994-2003. I am trying to put down whatever I remember so it could be lower level detail or high level picture, may not be in sequential order.
There is big difference between how HR is perceived, practiced in public sector compared to private. Also, I do not believe Caste system has anything to do with it in professionally managed organizations and in these days. Whatever we hear is mostly political stunt. Or, it might be the case in mom-pop shops or smaller organization. But, in that case, world over that discrimination happens, why single India! Unfortunately, lot of people think India means only poverty, jungles, wild animals, sickness, corruption etc.!!
I was involved in campus recruiting, walk-in interviews (job fair), employee referrals (formal program as well as informal efforts as on-going campaigning), thru internal postings, through NGOs (have used notice boards in local Churches), Chambers of Commerce, direct phone calls (cold-calling) using print media and Internet. Have used sophisticated selection tools, behavioral interviewing, aptitude, personality tests etc. There used to be medical / drug tests too (which is not practiced in Canada these days due to more progressive legislation). Some information is mandatory information on various application blanks for candidates to supply - date of birth, spouse and children names, ages, their occupations (benefits plans cover them later, if employee declares them). The recruitment and selection process is broad, intense and thorough followed up religiously with ton of documentation. Recruitment agencies are used to fill variety of jobs, mostly in private sector. There is government's recruitment agency called Employment Exchange. It used be not so effective when I tried to use them but mainly aimed at lower end (semi-skills, unskilled) jobs in organization structure. Also, most of the resumes would start with last job first and so and so forth.
I hardly had any horror / weird recruitment experience in my professional career in India- Although, it used to be common to get referrals (with force of their authority) from politicians, local community leaders and ruling party ministers! Also, in unionized environments, referrals from Union leaders used to be commonplace. There is ‘sons of the soil’ policy practiced by politicians and sometimes there are demonstrations to force recruitment of locals in some areas; reservations for ‘backward’ classes or Quota System in public sector is well-known to bring in diversity. It is illegal to ask anyone their caste in India. Recruiting top talent is pretty competitive and screening applicants is onerous. Most of the public sector and large private sector uses competitive written exams, panel interviews, group discussions and reference-checks/drug test prior to hiring to validate skills/knowledge/experience/attitude/potential for success on job etc.
There is a lot of ‘direct’ recruiting effort that internal recruiters do than third party. Also, contract recruitment is minimal compared with perm recruitment. Again, it depends upon industry type, region you are recruiting into etc. It is easy to understand Indian landscape if you categorize them into Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D cities in order of their economic progress, professionalism by binding together common elements in each of these clusters. The HR and recruitment will not differ much in its face and practice but the response from their audience (candidates) will. There are limited options in class D cities for professionals so hard to get them motivated to work in those places. BTW, It is also important to understand and rank professional schools, universities (University Grants Commission is first step- ), colleges known in their field for shaping great talent. I could just go on, but would stop here for now. If you would like to grab an Indian Text Book (it is inexpensive) on Personnel Management, I would recommend the fat, exhaustive book authored by C.B. Mamoria
Wish you a successful trip and do not forget to share your first hand experience!

Best regards,
Comment by Gerry Crispin on December 2, 2009 at 9:40pm
Eric. Thanks for your comments.
Comment by Chandrabhan Gupta on December 3, 2009 at 1:31am
Hello Gerry,
Wecome to India!!
I am keen to know - why the age is negative factor for considering an excellent and experienced person for a job when the Top Management is in similar bracket of age i.e. no age restriction. Managing Partners / Directors are too young or old. Can't recruiters abolish age factor in their recruitment drives?. Your comments/ suggestions please.
Comment by Gerry Crispin on December 3, 2009 at 3:39pm
Chandrabhan. Thank you for you comment.

Unfortunately age is a factor all over the world. The US is a bit reluctant to share how much it impacts hiring (and layoffs) because it is a protected classification but it is a factor as much here as anywhere. I spoke Tuesday night to group of 50 out of work MIS professionals and few in the room were under 40. Age came up. it always does. The short take is that professionals over 40 are as much to blame for the problem - which doesn't excuse the employer side of the equation. But there are two areas mature professionals can address - 1) obsolescence- networking with peers of all ages through professional associations to stay current is essential even if you do it on your own time and expense and, b) give up that defensive attitude that signals you expect to be discriminated against which is probably borne of the fact that they have probably passed over folks older than they in the past partly due to bias rather than clear information about performance. So forgive yourself and move on.

An experienced pro should walk into an interview and subtly show that they get it by turning their RIm to silent mode. They should be able to point to their technical blogs, quote peers half their age who have excelled in measuring the impact of their function and note key points about tactics, strategy and policy that are current in their profession. They should be able to describe conversations they've had recently with employees all willing to refer them (no matter how they got the interview) and be prepared to argue that they expect to solve problems easily.

There is much more to this issue and there are cultural complications. In China, for example, professionals my age were likely damaged during the cultural revolution and, coupled with the fact that their second language is likely Russian instead of English, probably should be retiring (men are forced out at 60 and women at 55) and making room fro all those new grads. I promise to help keep this issue least as long as I think I might want to work. lol

The advantage of age is the wisdom to know what you are really good at. Stay current and share it while you are in a position to do so and the problem of competing unsuccessfully with younger colleagues will be minimized.
Comment by The Recruiting Guy on December 3, 2009 at 8:37pm
Comment by Gerry Crispin on December 3, 2009 at 8:59pm
Thanks Chris. This NYTimes piece is an an outstanding article that raises excellent questions around several issues- the impact of repatriation on both those who return as well as the loss from where they returned from; the implications of a "feudal" management system ( the article wasn't clear but it was mostly directed at government mangers which sounds vaguely familiar and may be more of a difference between public and private than US and India. Still the behaviors around meetings etc. at high levels suggest that leader competencies that emphasize efficiencies might fare poorly is selected for.
Comment by Chandrabhan Gupta on December 4, 2009 at 2:35am
Thanks Gerry for valuable comments.
I have also seen the above two piece of posts. No doubt they are interesting, but India and China are emerging market due to population demand and supply. Countries have to look towards these two economies now and then, as their technology servival depends on the consumption in these two markets.
Taking this view as future guard, the key demand has to be corelated to these two factors. In my view, the activity have to be relooked in relation to these two developments by researchers for their ratings as bench mark for the future. Regards.


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