Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Just a staffer

Or, running commentary on "They are not foreigners, just staff" from today's edition of The Hindu.

"A German candidate essentially forwards a prolonged CV running into five or six pages whereas a Frenchman prefers a short, handwritten one. Russians indulge in detailed biographies and the Chinese present numerous recommendation letters to back them up. An Austrian candidate invariably lands up in highly formal attire, irrespective of the weather, while Americans are casualness personified. Australians display right attitude traits like honesty and straightforwardness at an interview and the Finns prefer to showcase their teamwork skills rather than their technical abilities. A Canadian aspirant waxes eloquent on his accomplishments while the British focus on competencies and competitiveness.

"To top it all, a Swede will definitely turn up with a trade union representative in tow.

"Contrary to what it may appear, this is not a satire on the individual job search idiosyncracies of different nationalities. It merely presents a window for recruiting foreign applicants in keeping with global trends. Yes, looking across the country's borders for fresh talent is no flash-in-the-pan."

The reporter neglects to mention that they must look beyond the borders because Indian applicants present lengthy CVs from headhunters' templates, then call every person they've ever met asking for internal company contacts, which they next proceed to hound for weeks until the HR department tells the applicant that the company will call the police if the person doesn't stop bugging its employees.

"At the time of hiring, it is necessary to understand the cultural background of the applicant apart from a comprehensive review of his qualifications. They should be made aware of issues pertaining to management of employees, peers, suppliers and others from local cultural issues. This calls for cultural sensitivity training to sensitise them to the nuances of customs, ethnicity and language."

Things I wish I'd been told before I started working in India: 1) It's not necessary to speak Hindi (or Kannada, Tamil, Bengali, or Marathi), but it's quite advantageous. People don't talk about you all the time in the mother tongue, but you'd be surprised at what they'll say when they think you're not listening. It's sort of like being a superhero. 2) It doesn't matter how hard you work -- if you're not sitting at your desk, it doesn't count to your manager. 3) Everyone wants to know who you are, how much you make, why you're here, and why you left the land of the free. If you don't want to narrate your entire life story, you'll probably be considered pricey and aloof.

"Employing foreigners calls for a higher payout rate. The employers have to offer cost of relocation, higher salaries, special perks and leaves at par with the country of their origin."

Really? Why didn't anyone tell me?

"A multicultural workforce can stir a hornet's nest too. The domestic employees may view 'the outsiders' as a threat or be peeved. Cultural differences may set the stage for tussles and misunderstandings."

In one of my favorite Indlish aphorisms, cultural differences and misunderstandings are there. But if there's one thing I've learned from my time in Dilli, it's beneficial for everyone if you come into the office with humility and an open mind. Don't be afraid to explain misconceptions, but be sure to hear what other people are saying -- there's a tremendous opportunity to learn about and improve yourself if you spend time with people who differ from you, so long as you don't imagine that you are superior by dint of the geographic serendipity of your birth.

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