When we were planning our move from Germany to India, it was for personal reasons rather than practical ones. One of our major concerns was finding new jobs in India. The normal route for most Indians, as far as we had heard, was to secure a job while abroad so that the transition was smooth and, of course, all the moving costs would be borne by our new employers.

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As it turned out, that wasn’t the path we were destined to tread. My husband decided to look for entrepreneurship opportunities, so I was the one primarily looking for employment. While still in Germany, I tried for a long time to get a position in a company in India, but the response was pathetic. I was an engineer from a premier institute in India, and it was midboggling that I was still not  able to catch the attention of employers there. My target domain was IT, certainly not an unusual field. I tried friends, contacts through my husband, popular job sites, and every other mode possible, but with no luck. We were told by friends that it was difficult to find a job  because of the recession, but I didn’t expect zero response. Eventually, I concluded that I would have a better chance at finding a job once actually in India.

So both of us quit our jobs and decided to try our luck. In hindsight, it seems crazy to just give up considerably well-paying jobs for an uncertain future. But our decision was easy enough. Unlike NRIs who are motivated by investment opportunities or doing business in India, we were forced by the circumstances of a personal tragedy to look to our native land again.

We decided Bangalore would be a good place to start the search. We asked friends to find us an apartment for rent and thought we were all set.

The first thing we did when we landed was get a cell phone number (called “mobile” in India). If there was one thing I had figured out from my job hunt so far, it was that a mobile number was more important than my qualifications! From peasant to property mogul, it turns out, the cell phone is the most important instrument in an Indian’s life. In the first two days in India, I had used my cell phone more than I had used it in Germany in the last two years.

On the second day, I waited for an interview in the lobby of a company I had applied to, a few months earlier.

The meeting was arranged in an impromptu fashion, but I was prepared for that, knowing that planning and executing are not a part of Indian culture. During the interview, I was asked questions as part of  the “technical” discussion that seemed straight out of a human resources textbook, further validating my low expectations from the hiring process in India. But what I was not prepared for was the “it doesn’t seem like you would fit in this group” talk even before the interview was over. It looked like a coordination mix-up.

Although the company had received my resume months ago, and had had ample time to look at my profile and set up an interview with the relevant department, it seemed that a random bunch of interviewers had been put together on that occasion.

I was asked to return for an interview another day. This time, hopefully, with the appropriate group.
This experience boded ill for the future. My husband and I abandoned our plan of buying a house. It was better to wait and decide based on where my future company was located. After all, each move involved a hefty deposit, and physical and logistical work that I was not keen to repeat.

The job application process in itself was confusing and logic-defying. There seemed to be some sort of technique that only those already in the system knew. To top it all, the lack of transparency made it impossible to find out the real reason for rejection or why a particular application process stopped after an initial enquiry. I was trying through three channels:

• networking to find out contacts in companies to whom I could forward my CV directly
• searching through the popular job portals to find recent openings
• searching the website of companies I was interested in for openings

I found some success through consultants at getting the word out that I was available. After updating my profile at Monster and Naukri with an Indian phone number, I got calls on a daily basis. They were mostly about getting my updated CV and promises to forward it to the client company. And that would be the last I heard …

The next step, getting an interview call,  was accomplished through direct contacts in companies. My lack of success in getting beyond the interview made me wonder if there was a cultural element involved. It seemed to me that they called the candidate for an interview because someone important in the company had done the referral and they did not want to risk offending that person.

The questions asked during the interview were another surprise. I found that I was expected to remember and reproduce information and theory that I had learned perhaps in the first two years of my engineering course.

Perhaps my inability to give a textbook explanation was a reason for rejection. The puzzling aspect was the lack of importance given to my actual professional experience. They seemed to ignore that I had worked for a number of years in the industry and had gained insight and knowledge, even if I couldn’t reproduce everything and recall every aspect of the projects I worked on.

And then there was the salary aspect, the least transparent of all the issues. After working abroad, neither my husband nor I had any idea of what to answer when I was asked about my salary expectations. It did not make sense to quote my last salary since it was in Euros, and a one-to-one conversion would have been ridiculous. At the same time, I needed to know some range within which I could quote. When I asked friends, they gave me a rainbow of views. One close friend said that it was a bargaining game, more like a vegetable market.

Companies wanted to utilize the recession to find a “good buy” at the least CTC (cost to company). A person who would normally ask for ten lakh rupees (20,000 dollars) a year probably needed to settle for something closer to eight lakhs (16,000 dollars) if he wanted the job. I got confused with the whole thing and said different things to different companies.

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The selection process itself went through more than one stage of interviews. And if an American multinational was involved, it most certainly had an interviewing stage with the California office. Why take so much time to interview candidates who were probably going to be around for a short time? (Turnover in Indian companies is high.)

The jobs themselves were not the latest cutting-edge technology projects. Barring a few exceptions, the interesting work was done by the parent company abroad and the work outsourced to India was of the routine and predictable kind. Why did companies need master-blaster experts for that sort of work anyway?

Eventually I stopped analyzing and accepted that there was little choice but to give in to the system. I had two occasions that really pushed me to the verge of despondency.

After my first interview, which was arranged through a reference in the company, I expected a response. After waiting for over a week, I called the Human Resources contact to find out the status. I could never get this lady on the phone, except maybe in the morning hours between 9:30 and 10:30. Once she heard my voice, she actually stopped talking at the other end. I kept on saying “hello, hello,” like a broken record.

Needless to say, I had to cut the call after a few seconds. I was fuming. I couldn’t believe that an HR person from a reputed global company could be so arrogant and display the maturity of a 5th grader!

In the second instance I got a call from a Program Manager of a reputed company who had received my resume through a contact. Unfortunately, he called at an inopportune time. I was waiting for another interview to commence  in the premises of the interviewing company. My immediate response was to ask him to call in the afternoon. By the time the interview was over, it was evening. My husband informed the Program Manager  that I would email him at night to reschedule. And I did!  But a date to meet couldn’t be worked out quickly enough before he got bored or miffed. One day I received a mail saying that the requirements had changed and that he hoped I would “understand.”

I am still on the lookout for a job. Every day is a struggle of a different sort. I have accepted certain aspects of the system here that were so difficult to comprehend in the beginning. I can only hope that there is light at the end of this very long, dark, tunnel!

Vidhya Balaji continues to look for a job in India.

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