Fitting in: lessons for a returning diaspora

Fitting in: lessons for a returning diaspora
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First Published: Wed, Oct 07 2009. 09 42 PM IST

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Updated: Wed, Oct 07 2009. 09 42 PM IST
For many India-born professionals, who moved overseas as students and embarked on careers there, the urge to move back has been driven by much more than patriotism. As one of the few enduring growth stories in an otherwise-barren global landscape, India is now a veritable talent magnet. For the Indian diaspora talent—be it alumni from Ivy League colleges and/or marquee organizations such as Goldman Sachs, Apple Inc. or General Electric Co. (GE)—India offers an opportunity to experience substantial growth first-hand, coupled with the chance to be closer to families. Many are also driven by wanting to contribute to the India growth story and giving back to the country.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The past few years have seen the initial trickle turn into a flood and, more recently, into a deluge—once the lights dimmed on foreign shores, even as they burned on in India and grew brighter, albeit after a few anxious moments. This trend has not only resulted in an expansion of the talent pool, but has also directed investments into India as the returning diaspora sets up its own ventures here.
The journey has not always been smooth. Apart from making adjustments on the personal front, individuals have to learn to deal with a new work environment and corporate culture. Even while planning the move, they need to be able to draw attention to themselves amid a crowd with the same qualifications and backgrounds.
How do they make that happen? To use a relevant analogy—that of getting into the super-selective Ivy League schools, one admissions director put it succinctly—“You have to first fit in and then stand out”. But what exactly does this mean?
Demonstrate that one can get the job done—quickly and without much handholding/adjustment from the rest of the organization. This is done by:
• Demonstrating that the many years away from India and the Indian business environment have not crippled one’s ability to be effective in the Indian context. This is especially true for those who left India at an early age or immediately after undergraduate or graduate degrees, without any substantive India-based work experience.
• Recognizing that from a sector and skill-set perspective, the task is much harder in areas where the skill set is uniquely tailored to the Indian context (business-to-customer/fast moving consumer goods marketing and sales) or plentiful in the local market (consulting and banking), while being easier in areas where the local talent pool is inadequate (supply chain and logistics, infrastructure, among others).
• Exhibiting realistic expectations and flexibility, given that there is a learning curve and acclimatization. This would involve tempering one’s expectations to realistic levels on how soon one will start firing on all cylinders and expect to be compensated appropriately.
Standing out
Demonstrating the clear value one’s background and exposure would bring to the organization, much more than a local candidate can. This is done by:
• Being able to translate one’s international exposure into tangible advantage for the firm. This is a tricky one in that more often than not, candidates assume that just because it is international, the experience will be highly valued. The key here would be to make a sensible case for why a certain role or stint would prepare one to better guide the firm through the challenges that lie ahead, be it entering new geographical markets, cross-border acquisitions or navigating in an uncertain regulatory environment. This will again require some smart preparation and knowledge of the firm, as well as the industry it operates in.
• Conducting thorough due diligence on the opportunity at hand and be able to candidly and thoroughly discuss one’s own fit for the firm, the role and how one would contribute to the organization from Day 1. There is huge value in being able to demonstrate a clear sense of what one expects the initial obstacles to be and how one would succeed in overcoming those. This would involve a lot of prior preparation, including calling upon friends, current and former colleagues who might have worked in the industry or at the firm and researching the business thoroughly.
All of this may seem like a lot of work, but no move is easy, especially one to a new geography and corporate culture. Everyone in India, including employers and search consultants, welcome the Indian diaspora and look forward to their commitment towards this move over the long term. Ultimately, while the Indian gene and brand names on the résumé may open doors, it’s the preparation and effort for making the right impact that will likely seal the deal and enable long-term success in the Indian market.
This is the first of a two-part series. The next article will examine the views of Indian companies and professionals on this trend.
Anjali Bansal is with the Mumbai office of Spencer Stuart and leads the India practice. Vikrant Vora is with the New Delhi office and leads the technology practice in India. He is also a recent returnee from the US.
Send your comments to spencerstuart@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Oct 07 2009. 09 42 PM IST