India is a large, complex country with many cultural variances between its different regions – not to mention its more than 121 languages and thousands of dialects. „Some of these cultural nuances make their way into the business context as well – much of it reflected in the recruiting needs seen across the country. That is why our company chose to establish offices in four separate regions of the country: New Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai,“ explains Jyorden T. Misra, Managing Director at Spearhead InterSearch in India. He considers cultural compatibility considerations along with the evergrowing rising demand of high quality talent as the main challenges faced by the search industry.
Executive Search is used for more challenging searches
Executive search has only been known to a wider audience in India since the latter part of 1990s. Before that, conventional recruitment based on print advertising and databases was the norm. The change was initiated by the opening up of the Indian markets and the influx of global companies bringing in a multitude of requirements, processes and practices. With much interest in India, a large number of international executive search companies too established their presence. This was the time Misra joined the executive search sector. He along with a young founding team, set up Spearhead in 1997, fully aware that that the concept of executive search would take a while to be accepted and mature in the subcontinent. „Even after 25 years, there are certain segments of companies who still do not understand the full value of the true search model and would prefer to first adopt ‘cheaper’ ways of identifying and onboarding high-quality candidates,“ Misra explains. Perhaps a quarter of the market still subscribes to this assumption today. However, just as many companies are now convinced of the validity and value that the executive search model offers, a significant portion of the market, however, only uses executive search for particularly important and challenging searches. „This clearly shows that many companies have a fundamental understanding of the quality focus of executive search. It is also no longer just multinationals but also progressive Indian companies that are using our services and this tribe is growing by the day,“ says Misra.
India is looking for „super talent”
India is the global technology hub: the FinTech and AgriTech sectors are booming, there are over 50,000 officially registered startups in the Indian market, which saw as many as 44 ventures turn unicorns in 2021 alone. The world of Information Technology, particularly in the fast evolving areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotics, EDGE and Data Sciences are in high demand and extremely competitive spheres. The talent markets in these high-octane sectors are very volatile as there is a huge demand for talent, both at the leadership and mid-levels. The overall talent demand going beyond the tech dominated sectors is also huge and the expectations to fill requirements especially for senior and critical roles are definitely a challenge for both, the companies and their search partners. „The popular (mis)conception is that India possesses this vast ocean of highly recruitable talent at all levels but in reality, there is a strong stratification of talent categories and whilst the well-educated and well-heeled continue to be in demand, it is the super-achievers with battle-hardened and proven credentials who are in deep demand, hence making the supply side look small, says Misra. The breed of companies looking at this pool is rapidly expanding which tends to put added pressure on the compensation markets too.
The Indian market is attracting both expats and the overseas India (PIO)
On the other hand, one is also witnessing a clear rise in demands on the part of candidates, especially the super-talent group who are quite clear on the kind of multi-faceted roles and professional challenges they seek to make a change. Tangible growth and quantifiable value creation opportunities are core dimensions that are likely to motivate them. With remuneration levels in certain sectors and roles in in India, now comparable with more mature and advanced markets across the globe, combined with tremendous exposure to highly complex emerging markets that offers unprecedented scale, has resulted in an increasing number of expatriate executives and Professionals of Indian Origin based overseas, being very open to looking at roles based in India. „Many companies do find it attractive to hire Indians who have studied and worked abroad for their global exposure to multi-cultural markets and where professional work ethics have been of high standards. About 30 million Indians live outside India and you have a large number today, who are very open, even keen to return, as the professional landscape has undergone a sea of change in the last few years,“ says Misra. Spearhead InterSearch established a dedicated program for PIOs (Professionals of Indian Origin) over two decades ago, which proactively engages with the diaspora, that has been beneficial to both, the leadership talent as well as the organizations looking to hire them.
Companies are becoming more specialized and recruitment searches faster
In addition to the horizontal development of some executive search firms, Misra is also observing a vertical development: „The high demands of clients require such a deep knowledge of the respective industries that classic generalists will have a hard time in the future. More agile, specialized executive search firms, on the other hand, will become increasingly more successful.“ There are also significant developments regarding the duration of senior searches. „Normally we expect searches for C-level positions to take 6-9 months for onboarding the hire, but clients increasingly want searches completed within 5-6 months if not earlier. At lower levels, as little as 90 days are sometimes designated until a suitable candidate is found. This means that executive search consultants have to manage expectations and find ways to compress time and not lose quality – because there really are not many ways to take shortcuts in executive search.“
InterSearch assists with international searches
According to Misra, the InterSearch organization provides reach and an international footprint that is especially helpful in cross-border searches and mandates requiring multi-location coverage, where smooth, seamless and secure search lifecycle management capabilities are a must for high quality and consistent outcomes. „More and more Indian companies are entering global markets – and international companies are entering the Indian market. That is where an international network known for its consistent, ethical and professional delivery, across all markets is invaluable.“ Misra also particularly appreciates the Practice Groups within the InterSearch network, several of which Indian colleagues are major contributors to.
Jyorden T. Misra
Jyorden T. Misra is managing director of Spearhead InterSearch and a board member of InterSearch Worldwide. He has been an executive search consultant for over 25 years and is one of the pioneers of the Search industry in India.
India in numbers
GDP: 2.95 tr. USD
Economic growth: approx. 9.5% year-on-year
Per capita annual income: approx. 2,116 USD
Inflation rate: approx. 5.6% compared to previous year
Unemployment rate: approx. 5.98%.
Labor force participation rate: 46.3%
Employees in the service sector: approx. 32.3%
Source: Statista, Destatis 2020/21