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The War for Talent Heats Up

by Richa Govil, Group Manager, Infosys Technologies 

The October issue of The Economist features the war for talent as its cover story.  The article mentions how the shortage of talent has become a top issue and “how the war for talent is shifting the balance of power from companies to workers”.

In fact I have encountered some of the most unprofessional behavior in my own search for talent.  Engineering and sciences being the most sought after careers in India means that the softer skills are harder to find.  And that means that the balance of power is definitely on the side of the worker.  And it can lead to some unbelievable outcomes.

Recently I had set up a phone interview with a candidate who did not pick up the interview call.  He called me 45 minutes later saying in a nonchalant manner, “Oh, I had a missed call from this number so I am returning the call.”  When I informed him of the missed interview, his response was a surprising “I was driving”.  When I asked him whether he was aware of the interview time, he responded “Yes, but I was on another call”. So within a matter of 45 seconds he had given me two different reasons for missing the interview, neither of which sounded convincing by any means.  Needless to say, he will not be hearing from me ever again.

I am sure we can all relate ‘war stories’ when it comes to recruiting.  What is disconcerting is that such scenarios are no longer becoming the exception but the rule as Indian workers realize that the balance of power lies with them. 

But unprofessionalism can’t be good for either side in the long run.  


Maybe the war of talent can be won if we look at creating a better supply.Investments in trainings can help..
Coming to unprofessionalism, I think it is there in plenty in both sides. May be it is in the Indian nature.


Interesting. But is his unethical behavior reason enough for him to not even be considered? I have had a lot of instances where the oppossite happened, too. Would that mean anything?

Well said! Balance of power in the hands of untested young blood is not an healthy trend.

Its high time the academia revisits the engineering and sciences curriculum from a professional ethics point of view.

To some extent i would blame it on the employers, media and the system as such for having created a narrow view of the industry.

Companies have to get back to academics a bit in terms of taking the larger issues of professional responsibility, honesty and intergrity to the universities

I wonder how my dad had been working for the same organisation for 40 long years! Where did the string snap?

Dear Richa

In business and else where, win-win relationships work. In the situation described by you, it may appear that the balance of power is more with the talented pool of workers. However, the real daunting challenge is managing employee or prospective employee attitude.

The essence of win-win relationships is the negotiating ability. In this regard, empathy (seeing an issue from the other person’s angle) is the starting point. The process of negotiation involves seeing the issues or concerns in a non judgemental way. The next stage is working out a range of solutions through dialogue, imagination and soul searching. Finally a mutually satisfying position is adopted. As such we need to get over emotions, fears, and other gremlins to negotiate firmly and successfully.

This is of course easier said that done. It can be galling to see an apparently lackadaisical prospective employee. But it is not a question of balance of power; it is in fact about culture. In the long run, it is adherence to certain principles that is profitable to an employee too. Amitabh Bacchhan’s secret of success is not just his acting ability and deep baritone golden voice; but also his soft skills, values, courage, conscientiousness, etiquette and other principles.

In this case, the interviewee may have been on an important personal call. Or may be he is a little careless type of guy. One needs to go a little deeper. You could have, just as a case study (even if you felt like rejecting him outright) carried on the conversation and explored his attitude and motivations. May be there was a spark in him. Or may be it was a bad call. One can always move on.

Unquestionably, expertise power normally will always prevail. Referral power (including soft skills) is important, but this only adds to the expertise power. A skilled surgeon will always have his position and power regardless of his soft skills. The soft skill advantage works, if only to complement hard skills. If two equally qualified prospects are there, the guy with soft skills wins. But hard skills are vital.

In matters of recruitment and retaining employees, one should normally avoid deviating from certain basic principles. Businesses will continue to flourish, regardless of employee attitudes, if leadership is strong; as alternative ways of doing the work or getting the work done, will be worked out. In the case of recruiting experienced personnel, there is a certain challenge. That is because one has to pry out a guy from his comfort zone and this is a very difficult task.

With regard to your company’s personnel challenges I once again copy and paste a relevant thought below:

It is inevitable that Infosys starts a center of education like an Institute of IT for gaining students through full time, part time and distance education programmes, these students will help power Infosys ahead. Further this institute can also serve as a Research and Development center. In partnership with other colleges the Infosys Institute of IT can help strengthen the IT educational infrastructure. Further through the latent Infosys expertise virtual teaching programmes can be offered by Infosys Inst of IT.

In the final analysis, undoubtedly, win-win relationship philosophy works well. This is because 80% of decision making process is emotional (conscious/subconscious). This applies to consumer behaviour and social behavior too. To reduce attrition rates, recruit and retain best employees’; application of the principles of win-win relationship philosophy and processes will go a long way in resolving matters.

I take strong exception to the "indian nature" reasoning here. Agreed that we are at a pretty pre-mature stage with respect to new age industry standards, but professional ethics had been part of life so far in stabilized industries.

IMHO, To blame it on being Indian is not right!

As Sunil said, the entire process is emotion based and a bit of personal touches from the involved will always help. I have done it many a times and has seen positive results in interviews.

After reading your post I read with even more interest some of the comments following your post...these have evoked a rabge of thoughts, not surprising ! But back to the subject of your post, the problem, if it may be called so, is a function of a few different issues. One, as someone has laready mentioned, the supply side...I feel businesses, organisations and their requirements both hard and soft skills are evolving much faster than the "training fields". Hence the disconnect between the sought for 'profile' vs what is available out there. Secondly, after initially agreeing with your comment on the Indianness of the person, I re-considered the position and now I actually disagree with you. Its a combination of values and atitudinal training...I have had a similar situation with a candidate of chinese origin. Its pretty much to do with the individual itself..itslike how there are persons who will always habitually walk in 5 minutes late for a meeting every time !
However, the overall shortage of 'quality ' people does lend itself to a certain air of arrogance on the part of the likely candidates and thats what makes recruiting such a fine art .

In the present situation when in all probability the candiate already has two other offers before coming to an interview (a situation many of my friends interviewing in IT are facing) we may see more of such behavior.

It is high time that Indian universities introduced a compulsory career development course along the lines offered in UK and other places.

Nothing really will change on the supply side but the candiate will be more polite when s/he is not serious about an interview.

But what about when a situation like 2001/2002 happens in the IT industry? Who will teach the employers the need to be professional when the balance of power turns in their favor?

Dear Richa:
I understand the frustration caused due to your perception of the less than preferred degree of professionalism exhibited by the potential candidate and respect for other person’s time

However is it not too judgmental to out rightly reject a candidate based on one instance and also under the assumption he is not trustworthy ?

It is a definite possibility that some one got into an urgent call from his boss while driving and would have called you later with an intention to apologize for the missed interview.

Even prior to he does so, conversations could have taken a different direction.
In my personal view any potential employer - employee relationship needs to be built on the foundation of trust and mutual respect, especially in a consulting organization whose main assets are its employees.


I recently came across an interesting American Management Association (AMA) business brief titled “The New Workforce: Five Sweeping Trends That Will Shape Your Company’s Future” based on a book by Harriet Hankin


Although the article is primarily focused on US work place the discussions on Diversity and Value-based culture (see below) are 2 topics which flat world players like Infosys might already have an inherent competitive advantage that they can build upon and leverage upon

Trend 4: Diversity:
“Diversity is not about filling ethnic quotas—
Which, by the way, will be more difficult to determine
with increasing blended ethnicities. Hankin
suggests that instead, diversity “will have more to do
with acceptance, flexibility and respect.” Diversity is
not about tolerance, but rather moves beyond
acceptance and celebrates everyone’s differences
and uniqueness. The leaders of organizations are pivotal
in helping their workforce embrace diversity. The
goal is to reach the stage where differences simply
are not seen and do not matter.
A firm’s strength in
diversity can be the source of the company’s competitive
advantage. When they truly embrace diversity
they are also better able to recruit talented individuals
from a wider labor pool.”

Trend 5: On Value Based Culture –Spirituality
“Employees today are seeking an environment that
embraces a higher purpose at work—in terms of
trust and ethics. This has been referred to as spirituality
in some circles. It is not, however, about religion
in the workplace. This is about creating a respectful
environment that brings out the best in each organizational
member. This is not about a statement
printed on a wallet card, but rather is about the values
embraced and lived in the very actions of the
company and all its employees—at all levels. It is
about a company that walks the talk.
A 2003 survey of MBA students reflected a rise
in the importance of ethical conduct. Companies are
beginning to creatively address this. Xerox
Corporation offers annual inspirational retreats.

Companies are being held to higher standards
for social responsibility. The one-shot event for the
PR stunt is no longer sufficient for many employees.
Employees simply expect more of their companies.
They expect their company’s socially responsible
actions to be aligned with the corporate values. This
can provide an advantage in recruiting for firms as
the importance of social responsibility climbs higher
on the list of characteristics for employers of choice.
The benefits of companies supporting a higher
purpose include better morale, more commitment,
more productivity, lower turnover, less stress and better
financial performance. There is a ripple effect created
in the company that embraces a higher
purpose. This environment contains less fear and
more trust—translating into more creativity, better
solutions, and improved financial performance. The
company saves money (in recruiting and training)
with lower turnover.
The benefits of companies supporting a higher purpose
include better morale, more commitment, more productivity,
lower turnover, less stress and better financial performance “


A very timely post. I think a couple more perspectives thrown in the mix should make it even more interesting. Firstly, the employee's perspective-even with big league organizations like Infosys it is becoming more and more difficult to trust an employer. Trust that the truth of the position will be offered during the interview, details will be provided, fair and equal rules will apply to all. Employers have guidelines and policies, but is difficult to believe that they are sacrosanct. especially for lateral recruits who have worked at similar organizations. Since both sides start off sceptical, and believing that the other side is out to get them, it becomes difficult to connect during interviews and such.

Secondly, a business model perspective. I might be wrong, but my thinking is that the IT services business model, specially time/material and resourcing formats, actually reward organizations for being inefficient and having employees with relatively low productivity. The organization would prefer putting 10 people where the work requires 2, simply because they are being paid by using number of man hours. My point here is that there is a lot of scope for productivity improvement, as a foil to recruitment, which in turn lessens desperation in recruitment and improves quality of talent hired.

Another thing to consider might be the incentives/disincentives/ environment for the recruiting teams. Not being a part of such a team, I don't have first hand info on this, but the issue might stand some digging. Let me know your thoughts on this.

Yeah its true that the power lies with the 'workers',but that is true only as far as the fact that today workers have a lot of options(read job oppurtunities) to choose from.
Yet when it comes to that elusive 'great job' that every worker wants the power lies with the organization.The idea is to make em feel or give em the picture that the job that you are offering is 'the great job'.If an organization can do that they will retain the so called 'power' you are talkin about.

Dear Richa

The 'war for talent heats up' has produced a great many exciting comments and is indicative of the high interest that this topic has stirred up. Talent is in demand because we live in a flat world. Talent management is a major challenge in this flattening world.

The flat think/ flat world revolution is gaining ground thanks to the media revolution (which is largely IT enabled technology). In fact the media revolution strengthens transparency in society and transparency ensures that truth surfaces up sooner or later. It is due to the media that the truth is out in the Priyadarshini Matoo murder case and allowing justice to happen.

IT enabled techonology will revolutionise the way educational products and services will be delivered. The world of education will 'flatten' with the advent of internet based education and create a truly level playing field allowing access to learning and degrees to one and all. This may then alter the talent power balance(?!) In fact, this IT enabled learning will also address the challenges in India of reservation system.

Nanotechnology and convergence technology will further boost the flat think or flat world phenomenon.

And when technology (especially convergence technology), education and media will throw open learning to all; and facilitate, make working easier, & revolutionise the way the work is done, will talent get demystified and will the demand increase for talented people with lots of soft skills?

Let us wait and watch, for technology and diffusion of innovation is much faster these days (Business @ the speed of thought).

I also take this opportunity to wish this blog community HAPPY DEEPAVALI (May the festival of lights, light up hope, happiness and fulfilment to all)

I would also like to suggest an alternate explanation: after exhausting the original talent pool that led to the outsourcing boom in India, they may have created an important shift in the work culture, making it easy for youngsters to earn a quick technical diploma in order to participate in the labour market without really having an interest in anything else but benefiting from the apparent chaos caused by corporations deploying their armies of headhunters and cheap-labour tactics. You can say that some people learned how to fool the system, creating a difficult landscape for businesses, but more importantly damaging the work culture of an entire industry.

In the present day situation,given
the vast demand for talent,it may just not be realistic to find the perfect employee.But it all happens when employers face the potential employees' monopoly.Just a few years back ,the monopoly was titlted to the employers' side,unlike today.Employers conducted walk-ins where thousands
competed for a limited number of vacancies.They were made to or had to better the scorching sun,late nights,frustration or even miss out dating with their
I can say that in the second round,that is the present day situation,it seems that the upper hand is definitely with the candidates,who don't have to
think twice about missing a job opportunity.This is just a'You scratch my back,I scratch yours' kind of a situation,that must not be taken too seriously.After
all grooming the candidates can always be done after recruitment.
Lets hope for a third round where both the employers and their candidates mutually respect each others' professionalism.

To be frank... in a free world you have to learn to live with many things that may not follow preset rules & expectations

It is a simple Supply and Demand scenario. It is there and it always have been there in every part of world

- All of us remember a number stories to tell about employers when jobs were not there (Pre 95 era)
- We also remember 'body shopping' days and how firms used to deal with employees sent abroad (Pre 2000 era)
- And now we have this where most experienced (and may not be talented) candidate behave in so called 'unprofessional manner' (personally I too dont like it)

We can draw a parallel with shortage of supply in 80s when a bajaj scooter had to be booked years in advance - consumer used to chase sales

Offcourse now the tide is in favor of talent/experience

Let's learn to live with it, adapt with it

Richa sounds like an IR manager from the past. Talent will switch for money because companies like Infosys essentially do not offer job satisfaction at a technology plane - softer aspects of job satisfaction such as great design, great architecture, peer approval etc are missing. Infosys essentially does application maintenance (BAU support) of legacy systems and of some mission non critical new tech systems. The logic of its growth over the years dictates that it must have hired in large numbers. BAU support is the closest analog in IT to garbage hauling.

So it is but natural that softer aspects of job satisfaction must be missing. Perhaps Richa needs to revisit Maslow's needs hierarchy before writing such patently anti talent notes.

I agree and faced same problem with candidates. There are plenty of candidates exploiting the current war of talent. But I want to add one more point, even companies are not ethical in this war. I have seen companies paying more to candidate who turns up with other offers in hand than a candidate who keeps his words to join company.

The flaw in the Indian hiring market is obsession with hiring the best. The "best" translates into best schools and best grades. This being the cut off criteria in the first round. Testing for aptitude and temperament post that is moot.

This flaw makes the employer pay twice for this mistake. Once during hiring, second in managing this employee.

"war for talent" from the topic it self i can see the desire to recruit the best talent pool by companies and difficulties in getting them. it indiacates that every talent is valuable.....tahnx for reminding the world that.but before that i need to understan what a talent is,i mean having good marksheets and degrees proves one to be a talented one or there is something else for it ...and i must say something else. then why we r running behind good marksheets, it's true that having good scores on cards tells something and proves mettle of one.but only of one what about rest, i feel from india specific point of view that our education system needs a change .......may be many of us fels like it but what we r doing towards it .....we are simply doing nothing because we are following this system even after knowing that it is flawed and unable to provide equal chances to every one then what can we do.......and i personaly feel that education system is run by industries of the nation our country this structure is creates a long time back and is according to the need of that time and industries of that era as most of them need "clerks" in thee offices but in present scenerio of competition we need "talent" and talent can not be defined in terms of score cards wat we need to do we need to change our process of recruitinment and provide a true chance to talent ..... and i strongly feel that through these scorecard method we just can't justify the word "talent".......becasue "talent is boundless"

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