Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Job market looking up!?

I just got back after a splendid holiday-feeling great and rejuvenated! And as I browsed through the local newspapers in the past fortnight, boy- it is really encouraging! Suddenly -the job market seems to have perked up with a vengeance :-)!
Here are some of the stories I noticed in the media just in the last 10days!!:
Top level hiring inching up. "Compensation is not really the big issue for mission-critical roles. Organisations are now able to better align payouts with the value and skills that a professional brings to the table."
Oil& Gas companies step up hiring ahead of auctions of a record 70 exploration blocks under the eighth round of New Exploration Licensing Policy (Nelp-VIII) and fourth round of Coal-Bed Methane Policy (CBM-IV). Together, exploration and production companies will need to hire 25,000-30,000 people over the next four years!!
Ford to hire 1000, Animation &gaming jobs to double, HCL to hire 2k, ...BASF to hire 5000!! ( a little more attention revealed that the same is going to happen in the next 11 years :-)!!)
Realty companies are back-trying to raise Rs 14000 crores in IPOs( 3 billion USD) Atleast 7 companies have rushed to file in the red herring prospectus -as they look to launch new projects and speed up execution of existing ones to cash in on a pickup in home demand. It is any body's guess that the hurry was perhaps due to the half yearly accounting deadline of Sept 30th!

(I have included some parts in italics-my apprehension?? I do hope I am proved wrong!)

Well, ...its a little tough to imagine things could have suddenly changed over a fortnight, right? May be it has got to do with the festive mood- Ramzan, Dussera -and Diwali coming up shortly-maybe the media does have a reason to buoy up the 'feel good' factor!! After all, it is a no brainer that this season is a pretty vital one for most marketeers-and it is essential for a customer to loosen the grip on the purse?

One thing however, that does give hope- is that most often, such surfeit of news become self-fulfilling!! People tend to get carried away-and who knows, it might even trigger off roving eyes of the employees -looking for greener pastures-almost after a hiatus of a year and a half?

Elsewhere it is interesting to note that Infosys Technologies announcement of planning a compensation review exercise for "need-based promotion" starting October 1, signalling a new employee welfare initiative.
Like they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I will like to believe a lot of the above, when companies actually 'reinstate salaries' to the previous level-even if it is restricted to a few! Or if the 'variable pay' components are merged back.
Well-let me confess, I shall be the last one to complain if companies restarted hiring:)!! Or even if they decided to start reviewing all those 'positions that went on hold' after weeks of screening and filtering? Maybe, if they actually announced the launch of all the projects under wrap!! Anyway, I guess it will take another 10 days to be sure. Would it be a Diwali of austerity again? The firecrackers will tell...
Psst-Gautam Ghosh, the appointment pages supplement is back -in today's issues of "The Hindu" and the "Times of India"!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cisco Telepresence Roundtable with Sramana Mitra!

It was technology at its best! While I was aware of the “telepresence’-it was the first time I was experiencing it! While sitting at India’s first green building, in Hyderabad, the others across the round table were physically in the Silicon Valley, Boston, and London, apart from Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai!

The topics discussed were, again, not surprising –technology focused solutions for various pain points that the society at large has been facing. The event had some (aspiring) entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas, and Ms Sramana Mitra – helping us articulate the positioning strategy of the same, while hinting whether the ideas are fundable or need to be in a ‘bootstrapping’ mode!

The enthusiasm was contagious-and a meeting that ought to have lasted 2 hours, went well past- and if it weren’t for us in India-nearing midnight, I think we could have charmed Sramana and the team (experts included a TiE member, Cisco professional and Business cafĂ©) to go on-sharing their impressions on the viability of the products/services.

We were close to 15 –and each one had a chance to present his/her business idea for 3 minutes-before Sramana, would take over –giving feedback, suggestions, and even change in business model. True, most of the discussions hovered around the case studies mentioned in one of her three books already in the market, the wealth of knowledge, experience, networking and business intelligence was apparent.

TAM analysis, organic search traffic, context specific content, economic buyer vs. technical decision makers…were the buzz words as primary value propositions were debated!

Interestingly, the majority were the youthful entrepreneurs –who were guided into thinking beyond content and advertising. “Consumers on the internet have been a spoilt lot-as they are used to getting everything free so far’!! Ideas hinging on students community and rural markets were challenged to look for monetizing services differently (B2B, using access to Endowments/ foundations…)

By the end of the evening, the concepts had transformed into ‘marketplace of small outsourcers’, ‘emergency video surveillance for security applications’,’field service console for the microfinance industry’, as businesses had to scale beyond the region, and some of the enthusiastic youngsters were chided to get experience ‘ to learn’ before getting into management consulting!

Yours truly shared the unique problem of dwindling bandwidth (read increasing number of unread mails,/reminders, missed calls and IMs…) trying to handle more than a hundred ‘returning Indians’ every month- setting expectations, handholding some thru the changes across the Indian industry-even companies had become more fussy in the recent times !! Sramana didn’t think twice about the solution- ‘charge by the hour’ to those who really want your help. Elsewhere earlier, she had cautioned- that 5% was probably the conversion ratio- as the free services turned to ‘premium (paid) services’!!
( While the revenue model from such a 'counselling service' would only supplement the income from the search /selection revenue from corporates, nevertheless, it is an exhilarating thought that -I can perhaps devote customised effort -for a select few who are committed to putting their skin in the game-and help guide them -a la specialist physician! On my worst days, I must confess I have empathised with the thankless (Indian) railway enquiry person who is bombarded with the permutations and combinations of the journey-of a passenger who may not even buy a ticket !! )

Well, here I am – more enlightened after the ‘out of the world’ experience. Now, the task for me is to find out what are the ‘value added services’ that any serious job seeker, outside of India-be it of Indian origin or expat , expect –to help him/herself know more, and take the guesswork out- for seeking jobs in India.

I sign off-with a request from each of you reading. to send me your suggestions, thoughts, opinions –offline to my personal email id ( menon@optionsindia.com)- listing out all the desirable bits and pieces of information, analysis and trends…and of course –how much would they be willing to part with –in turn –for an hour of personalized consultation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A year later- A recruiter's perspective

Today is September 15th.It was exactly a year back that the Lehman Brothers collapse-triggered off an awareness of a global economic downturn. Soon there after, the events that unfolded were to usher in a lot of uncertainty, despair, gloom, doom....

As we look back, all theories of BRIC nations being uncoupled from the West-have all been thrown to the wind. Almost all industries have been forced to rethink strategies, growth plans, and 'rightsize' operations to stay afloat. Lots have been written and debated about how long the recession would last.

In fact, over the weekend, a US Fed survey mentioned that the US recession was over! Is it time for us to reflect and learn ?

I remember, as children, we used to build castles out of a pack of cards-it would take a lot of patience and effort -at times even holding our breath gingerly -for all it needed was a card being shifted out of place- to bring down the cascade :-)! On a good summer holiday, it would be a bigger structure aided by two packs- but even more fragile at the mercy of a gush of wind / the overhead fan!

Still not in teens, we soon discovered that if we were to build structures that needed to last over night, we needed to use material lot more resilient! A stronger foundation was essential to keep the base stable. We shifted to building using mud/clay-strengthened with a little manure. In fact, it probably took us longer to build castles, but it sure lasted longer too! And yes at times, it took more vision to see that deeper we dug for the foundation, higher the 'skyscraper' we could build.

One thing is for sure. There is more need to concentrate on the fundamentals of business-Back to basics. Think "bottom line". Think 'long term'. Think sustainability! ( Top line is vanity? Defer instant gratification?

I think in the recent times, I have reflected elsewhere on this blog about the jobs amidst global crisis, role of recruiters in recession, time for us to adapt and change, even grab new business, among others- different tactics of tackling uncertainty!!

I think some of us are beginning to enjoy the recession. There is an increasing demand / more quality consciousness in the minds of the customers/clients.

May it is due to the fact that a lot of businesses have shut down. Quite a few had downsized to now feel the pinch of the bandwidth!

Shouldn't we be taking a trick from the legend Michael Schumacher -who they say prefers the rains as it tests the skills of the best and separates the best from the rest! For lesser mortals like us, staying on course itself is good enough to win on a sunny day!!


Monday, September 14, 2009

Reference checking - An art or a science?

Many years ago, (in the late eighties!!) when I first started interviewing candidates as a hiring manager, I was given a mantra by my superior. He said, "Let's try and reject as many as possible." So reject we did, for various reasons. "this resume is a cyclostyled one', 'horrible handwriting(!?)', too many spelling mistakes, gaps in education, gaps in work experience, poor marks.., and so on. And those we couldn't reject-we referred them to our "head of department'-who would then try to reject from the shortlist-and hey presto-if one could not reject any further, we had our 'select'!!

In the old economy, it was the employer who called all the shots-and so -we had the luxury of training people-and wait for them to 'get into the zone' a few quarters later. After all, things moved in slow motion then, no? People worked for their annual increments, stretched for a double increment!! (the pride of being the chosen few ...notwithstanding the amount was a 30 rupees more!!)

Well, fast forward to today's intellectual economy- while interviewing techniques, measurement, assessment centres-have all aided one-I suspect 'reference checking' has been an area that hasn't just kept in sync with the times. Some companies still go through a charade-of background checking-even checking police records-for some authenticity!!

Now as a recruiter, who prides in doing elaborate due diligence, before even recommending a candidate-from among a bunch of others I may have set out validating, it is often frustrating to see some of the corporates not utilising the opportunity to 'probe more' to know the unknown!!

There are a lot of questions that are open to be debated!

Why is it done? A school of thought is that if didn't believe the candidate's claims, then why would you believe some one else's endorsement?

When is it done? Before the decision to make an offer? Or is it to be conducted after the offer is made-and appointment is subject to a good ref check? Or is it done once the person joins?

How is it done?

A few years back, when I was informed that the CFO prospect, recommended by me-was dropped due to a ref check-I was astounded. Here was a person, with an outstanding record, impeccable integrity. Not it was'nt because I had spent hours -after research, wooing -and verifying-felt let down since he was rejected by a third party ref checking agency. Or rather, after the second negative report-based on a report filed with the help of a couple of telephonic calls made to telephone operator/HR person!!

Fortunately, my (client) CEO was open to my request for a review. After all, I clarified-a CFO wasn't on a popularity drive! His job was to strategise what was good for the organisation- A CFO was answerable to his superior-and accountable to the other stakeholders-and it was quite likely that he may have made some unhappy!! I set up telephonic calls with the erstwhile CEO of the company as well as the auditor (a partner in a BIG FOUR firm)-who rated the CFO prospect among the best he had interacted with-and illustrated some cases and decisions made while the company was trying to list at the LSE.

Who would be an ideal referee?

Would one ask the candidate to refer some persons he had worked in the recent past? Or would you seek a reference-without the consent? (After all, how often have referees given negative feedback?

Oh yes, who from the employer's side would do that reference check-if it is a senior management position on the block? Is the company sensitive enough to understand that the 'referee' is probably much senior-and is infact doing a favour, by taking time off busy schedule to add value to a decision concerning someone he could care deeply about?

I would like to believe that reference checks-should be used by the companies strategically to

- unearth specific doubts/concerns that were not entirely addressed by the candidate during the various stages of discussions.

-validate or verify some hypothesis where the individuals' contribution has to be distinctly identified from that of the group

-get a relative assessment of the referee's experience in working closely with the candidate -by seeking open ended questions.

How would one handle a negative reference? Would you share the same with the candidate, and seek his clarifications/version? Whom would you then give the benefit of doubt to ? To the referee or the candidate??

How relevant is the negative reference? It is an accepted practice to avoid checking references from the candidate's present employer. What if the person was a superior -but a few years earlier? What if -indeed the candidate then -had been responsible for having made some awful actions-or there were some ramifications of his poor decision making in the past?

Isn't it possible that the candidate would have since learnt from his/her failures?

And finally-is the information sought -used as a tool to improve the selected hires' productivity ?

I look forward to offline responses..

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Jobs in India- Mandates for Options!

Here is a pick of the jobs we, at Options, are presently working on-this fortnight!
-Director Finance for a mid size organisation @Hyderabad
-VP-IT Asia Pac for a MNC BPO @ Manila, Philippines
-IT requirements for a telecom company @Mumbai
-Engineering professionals for Power plants-locations across South India
Should you be aware of anyone -who might be interested, please feel free to let me know. I shall be glad to provide more inputs !