“Can you please talk to my father? I had just finished explaining the offer of a full-time job we were extending to one of our contract engineers.
“Your father? Why?” I asked.
“That way I can honestly tell my friends, who want me to take another job, that my father insisted that I take this one.”
Despite the decade long boom, mini-busts and other bumps along the way, the Indian information technology job market and prospective employee behavior has remained as consistent and confounding as ever.
The recession helped managers find better candidates given the overall market slowdown. Now, the challenge of candidates who’ve accepted your offer actually showing up is likely to reappear. It almost seems as though we have a cultural inability to handle the simple matter of accepting a job or quitting one in a forthright manner.
A hundred years ago the nationalist poet Subramanya Bharati wrote of domestic help and the stories they’d make up for absenteeism: “It was the 12th day since my grandmother’s death” and “there was a scorpion in the rice bowl and it bit me with its teeth” were two of the more outrageous – some say creative – excuses.
Present day job seekers (and changers) have dwarfed Bharati’s imagination with their far greater range of reasons for quitting or not joining after negotiating — often hard — for a better deal.
“I want to work only on communication systems” (or Java or some other flavor of the month.) This from a boy who can barely spell his name. Or, “I plan to go to business or graduate school.” Those are among the most common (and rarely truthful) reasons I’ve heard.
Two of my perennial favorites, even when not true, resonate since they build on the cultural reality of the family’s still influential role in a candidate’s career decision.
“My (future) father-in-law wants to me to work for a multinational corporation” or
“My father wants me to join the family business.”
Of course, none of this can hold up a candle to the candidate who just plain disappears. Emails are not responded to, phone calls are not returned and old-fashioned registered mails are returned undelivered.
Talking with folks who work for us and with peers elsewhere helped identify a number of reasons for this behavior.
“I felt they’d pressure me and I wouldn’t be able to say no.”
Or, “I didn’t want to lie, which is why I didn’t return the calls.”
Or, “I had another offer and was just shopping.”
Or, “I was too embarrassed.”
A surprisingly large number of reasons seem to be about a prospective employer not losing face or potential dire consequences with their present employer. Which makes me wonder about our hiring practices!
As a reader of a previous column suggested, rather than merely wring our hands, here are three things I feel each of us can do to change this.
- Talk about it with the folks you interview, with your employees and hiring managers in your company and with your peers in other companies. While all of us have moaned about it to others, moaning is not talking. Talking about it makes it easier for all to admit we have a problem and to begin discussing ways to solve it: through greater visibility for hiring managers and HR folks and greater comfort for prospective candidates or resigning staff.
Having a simple script that emphasizes the need for honest and full disclosure and committing to your part of it, as an employer, is a great place to start.
- Rope in colleges & recruiters The sooner we catch ’em the better. Sharing expectations and observed behavior with colleges and headhunters helps bring on board folks who have a stake in the outcome. They can influence the candidates a lot sooner. Much like interviewing or presentation skills, how to handle an offer or to decline one can be discussed with — if not taught to — job candidates who, all too often, rely on their peer group. In the Indian context, I’d extend it to building bridges with the families of your employees in a sensitive and non-patronizing manner.
- Don’t contribute to it How often have you pressured a prospective employee to come on board right away? To buy out their notice period or even to renege on their commitments to a current employer or prospective alternate employers? Quit doing that and we’d have taken a small step towards a better – OK maybe not better — but more predictable and professional staffing scenario.
This article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal as My Father-in-Law Wants Me to Work for a MNC & Other Fables online.