Aug 15, 2010

Hiring Talent in India

I have been in India for about 8 months now and am launching a new business in emerging markets. During this time, I have experienced quite a few things about working in India. One area that's worth sharing about is my experience with hiring. You would benefit from this post if you are setting up a team either at a large company or at your startup.

When I started it was just me driving this business. We are now a team of 15 of which 9 were hired and 6 are from an existing team. We hired 1 product manager, 1 technical lead and 7 contract engineers.

Engineers need room to be innovative
Large IT firms are the starting grounds for many fresh engineering graduates. These firms are bustling with neophytes who have had little exposure. The IT services model encourages engineers to write code according to well defined specs and are incentivized by how many KLOC are written. We had a tough time time finding people who had real-world experience building mobile Internet services. We finally decided to pick individuals who we thought we could mould. We encouraged the hires to think innovatively and have an opinion on the stuff they were working. The net-net is that if you want to build standard stuff with a well defined process leave the entire thing to the outsourcing firm. If not you will have to manage the engineers on your own.

Hiring a Product Manager
It was quite difficult to come across candidates with the right blend of experience and innovative thinking. We sifted through several resumes and had a difficult time even shortlisting candidates. Most candidates could not even articulate PM responsibilities. We often ended up with candidates who were more project managers and less product managers. We filled this opening with a candidate from Yahoo! Lucky for us, many people were leaving Yahoo! and we got our hands on one of them. Realistically, referrals are your best option to fill non-technical managerial positions.

Specialized tech skills are difficult to find
I thought it would be quite straightforward to hire a tech lead given all the brouhaha about Indian IT firms. However, I was surprised that it was not so. While we received lots of resumes, most of them didn’t have any practical experience managing and leading teams. Many were aspiring to leave hands-on work and become ‘managers’. We finally found someone in Singapore through a head hunter. We are now on the look out for an operations engineer to setup and scale our Internet servers. Let’s see how that goes. Your best shot for specialized tech skills is looking through head hunters.

Over emphasis on experience
Generally speaking there’s too much emphasis on ‘years of experience’. Throughout our hiring process, I didn’t see a single resume that was less than three pages. In fact one HR person who I complained to told me that they filter candidates based on the length of the resumes! This culture leaves little room for meritocracy. Therefore you often see the smart kids chasing MNCs that don’t merely focus on experience or join startups where they get more latitude.

Finding talent is not that easy here. In my opinion there are two main reasons. One is that people don’t stick to a single job long enough which is required to develop professional depth. Second, there aren’t sufficient role models. For example you need good product managers around you to become a good product manager yourself.

In spite of all this, the trend is very positive. One consistent theme is that people work really hard! They’ll stay as long as it requires. That’s a very positive thing. And as they start to realize that to differentiate hard work alone is not enough, they’ll start focusing on learning new skills to differentiate themselves.

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