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Stories of distress, hope on LinkedIn

According to an analysis, the average number of applications per job posted on LinkedIn has doubled from around 90 in January 2020 to 180 in June.  (Photo: Getty Images)Premium
According to an analysis, the average number of applications per job posted on LinkedIn has doubled from around 90 in January 2020 to 180 in June. (Photo: Getty Images)

  • The networking and hiring platform gives a peek into white-collar workers’ thinking. It’s not a pretty picture
  • The pandemic has resulted in a sprinkling of good samaritans who have devoted their personal time to job matchmaking. They use simple tools such as Excel to collect and share information

NEW DELHI : Dear All, I lost my job due to covid-19 and it’s been two months now. I am facing a huge financial problem," a young graduate with two years of experience in business intelligence recently posted on professional networking site LinkedIn. “It is tough for me and my family as I am the single earning source. I seek your help."

Manoj Kumar’s response to this post was tucked in between those offering work-from-home offers and random suggestions around starting a business. He is an astrologer and a palmist. “Sorry to hear that," Kumar wrote. “I can help you by seeing your planetary positions. I can help you know when you will get a new job and the starting letter of the new company."

On another page, an engineer from Hyderabad, whose company stopped paying salaries because there were no projects, had a similar appeal: “My father expired this year. And now, because of the pandemic, I am facing a huge financial problem. It is very tough on me and my mother. If I get any opportunity, I will be extremely grateful."

Kumar’s response: “Sorry to hear about your father and the financial condition. If you want, I can offer spiritual advice for one rupee."

In times of distress, LinkedIn has evolved from being a networking and hiring platform to an online place where those who have lost jobs seek a dose of hope and make desperate appeals for help. Like any social media platform, there’s a lot of anger too. Frustrated employees call out employers they have fallen out with or publicly shame recruiters when negotiations break down.

The large presence of professionals and recruiters—LinkedIn currently has over 69 million users in India and over 50 million companies use its site globally—makes the platform a reasonable barometer for white-collar hiring activity. Between February 2019 and January 2020, the company added about nine million users. In the next six months till August, basically the post-covid era, LinkedIn’s user growth shot up by five million more, the company stated.

Scrolling through its pages, one can pick up how those out of a job are vying to be noticed by CEOs, the stress on senior professionals willing to work for 50% less and the agony of those who are the only earners in their families.

Once upon a time, job hunting used to be discreet. The post-covid paradigm is about being loud and public. Recently, LinkedIn introduced an optional feature where job seekers could embed a #OpenToWork photo frame with their profile pictures to signal to recruiters and other users visually.

While the first phase of the covid-19 outbreak impacted India’s frontline workers—the daily wagers and other blue-collar workforce—the second phase started impacting the higher paid white-collar jobs. In May, Mint predicted that about 20 million white collar jobs were in peril. CMIE, in August, reported that salaried jobs totalled 86 million in 2019-20. By July 2020, the number had shrunk to 67 million—a fall of 19 million.

Worryingly, a report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and International Labour Organization (ILO) stated that the youth would bear the brunt. Over six million Indians in the age group of 15-24 could lose their jobs this year. However, this estimate cuts across all collars. “I am getting a lot more requests from my network for jobs. People are saying ‘I really really need your help’ kind of thing. It appears that there are quite a lot of corporate layoffs, which is happening quietly," said Ravi Venkatesan, founder at Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship, a coalition working on local entrepreneurship.

Venkatesan, the former co-chair of Infosys and the former chairman of Bank of Baroda, among other companies, has 241,000 followers on LinkedIn. “There is clear evidence that if you have hot tech skills, there is plenty of opportunity. There are recruitments going on in artificial intelligence (AI), big data and so on," he added.

White collar workers not in these in-demand domains could have it tough for a year. A sizable number of small and mid-sized companies, struggling with demand side and cash flow issues, could go under in this period, exacerbating the country’s unemployment nightmare. “Our estimate is that 30-40% of MSMEs would go under. Depending on the sector, large businesses are stressed as well. There will be a lot of pain yet even as we are beginning to see a recovery in some parts," Venkatesan said.

Chasing influencers

On India’s Independence Day, Manu Jain, vice president of Chinese phone maker Xiaomi, posted a message on LinkedIn along with his photograph. He posed in a red kurta and jeans, holding the national flag. The backdrop had a Xiaomi signboard and balloons in tricolour.

“Let us always remember our freedom fighters, who sacrificed their lives for us," he wrote. “My special tribute to our doctors & medical professionals who are keeping us safe and our factory workers who are working very hard even in the middle of pandemic".

The post attracted both trolls and job seekers. The trolls demanded a ban on Chinese products and commanded, “tell your master to tell their master not to encroach our land". The job seekers had a pleading tone.

“U have a job sir, please?"

“Is there any job openings for sales?"

“I have completed my BCA degree. Need a job badly. I beg you for help."

Other executives on LinkedIn narrate a similar story—their feeds are replete with people seeking work. Senior professionals are more sophisticated in seeking out openings—they ‘like’ a post made by an influencer, or perhaps make an intelligent comment before sending a connection request.

Recruiters, in the meantime, appear to be biased towards hiring those who are junior and less expensive. Job descriptions, LinkedIn members pointed out, aren’t that inclusive. It is about “looking for a young candidate". And when job posts do mention ‘senior’, the definitions can be fuzzy.

Take the case of a digital content specialist with 15 years of experience who lost her job at a BPO company in May. Over the next few weeks, she tried everything, including the #OpenToWork photo frame but is yet to receive a single offer. “Someone posted a job for a ‘senior copy writer’. When I clicked on it, I figured out they needed someone with three years of experience. I wrote a subtle rant saying this is not fair. You are abusing the word ‘seniority’," she said, declining to be identified.

The fact is that corporates are in a belt-tightening mode. “Because of work from home and everything happening electronically, a lot of middle management jobs may come under threat," Haresh Chawla, partner at True North, a private equity fund, said. Every company, he added, carried slack because of a variety of reasons. “Sometimes, the performance management systems were not great. At times, companies were growing and doing a cut of employees became a negative signal," he explained.

That’s the past. Now, mediocre senior talent gets the pink slip.

Tight race

A week ago, Rahul Israni, a category manager at UrbanCompany, a home services firm, announced a hiring plan on LinkedIn.

“Hey, we are looking at hiring new category managers at UrbanCompany," he said and went on to list what was expected of the employee. Ensuring maximum income for those who deliver the service; the best of experience for both service givers and customers; and keeping a check on customer loyalty, among other duties.

The post received 2,023 comments with many saying ‘interested’ or ‘please consider’. A few gave out their phone numbers.

The new normal is characterised by stiff competition for work where at any given point in time, there are far higher numbers of applicants than jobs. LinkedIn’s own analysis underscores this—the company stated that although hiring activity between early-April to end-June improved in India, the average number of applications per job posted on the platform doubled from around 90 in January 2020 to 180 in June.For certain prized jobs, the number of applicants would be in order of magnitude higher. Facebook, for instance, has an opening for a director of WhatsApp Payments based out of Gurugram. The job posted two weeks ago has 1,239 applicants thus far. Amazon has an opening for a team leader’s role based out of Delhi. The mid-senior level opening has 1,258 applicants. Times Internet Limited has an opening for a deputy editor’s role. There are 579 applicants.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s paid membership programme for professionals, Premium, provides higher visibility in the jobs marketplace. For instance, its algorithm suggests jobs where one could be a top applicant. This writer’s account showed he is in the top 10% of nearly 2000 applicants for an editor’s role in Dezan Shira & Associates, a consultancy, but has zero chance if he were to apply for the Facebook opening mentioned above. LinkedIn uses machine learning to make the matches and recommend, the company told Mint.

A premium account also offers insights into the lateral hiring process. Facebook, for instance, has been hiring professionals from Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Uber, InMobi, Adobe, Zomato, Cisco and LinkedIn.

Good samaritans

The LinkedIn page of Covid-19 Free Jobs Forum appears to have been cobbled up quickly. An image of a worker on a laptop is flanked by two messages: ‘Helping out HRs by providing a free database of candidates’ and ‘Helping those who have lost jobs during covid-19 for free’. The forum, in short, collects job seekers’ details and shares them with recruiters who are hiring.

The pandemic has resulted in a sprinkling of good samaritans who have devoted their personal time to matchmaking. They use simple tools such as Excel or Google Forms to collect and share information. “We are now reaching out to college students whose offers have been reversed through LinkedIn and Facebook. There are about 12,000 jobs seekers in our database and over 650 recruiters," Suyash Jain, one of the founders of the Forum, said. In his day job, Jain works at Bijnis, a B2B e-commerce platform.

Meanwhile, the good samaritans also include CEOs who write out-of -the-ordinary recommendations. A week ago, Munish Kumar, CEO at staffing company Innovsource posted a recommendation on LinkedIn for the entire staff of Jet Airways, which is now grounded.

“Jet Airways was my first love in the skies and its strength was its employees. They carried the highest levels of work ethics," he wrote. “I am calling out to every erstwhile Platinum/Gold/Silver member of Jet Airways to come forward and #EachOneHireOne #ExJetAirwaysStaff. This is the least we could do for that service with a smile, those countless upgrades, those extra glasses of wine and helpful second servings of our favourite dishes." Kumar tagged 15 CEOs and senior executives in his post.

In times of distress where there is a mass outpouring of resumes, it is empathy such as this that resonates with those seeking work. Senior professionals do know the realities of the economy and how long it could take to get back on track. Nevertheless, they would still like their connection requests, texts, and mails to be treated with compassion.

Jyoti Bowen Nath, managing partner of Claricent Partners, an executive search firm, told Mint that her requests for connections on LinkedIn have gone up significantly from professionals who studied in India’s best institutes. “You accept an invite and they reach out to you asking for an opportunity. You can see the anguish in those messages," she said. “Unfortunately, we cannot help everyone. What we can do is respond to everybody with a certain amount of empathy. I always acknowledge the mails because that makes a difference. It is about being heard."

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