Career Opportunities for NRIs in India: Challenges

Aseem Juneja from Ten Yards Advisors, a search firm, asked me a couple of questions –

  1. A lot of NRI’s (Non-Resident Indians or Indians living abroad) are looking to return to India due to a combination of better opportunities, visa problems, aging parents etc. However most of them find it difficult to land a job. What advice would you give them in their endeavour to come back to India?
  2. What advice would you give to expatriates looking for career opportunities in India?

I must confess that I am no expert when it comes to these issues and there are much-more experienced people on this subject. Nevertheless, I tried to reach out to my network and am attempting to answer Aseem’s questions.

This slightly dated article that appeared in The Economic Times points to the fact that the demand for senior roles is being driven by industries such as IT, Pharma, Financial Services, Retail, KPOs etc. The article also mentions that “living and working in India is no cakewalk. It poses diverse challenges that require a degree of adjustment and realignment, which NRIs often under estimate.”

Gurprriet Singh, a senior HR leader based in Mumbai, shared his thoughts with me.

At work, the largest challenge is work-culture. Returning Indians need to be aware of this. Very often they come back with so many “dreams of the good old times” they forget that those good times had a lot of pain as well. Cultural adjustment, inequality in the workplace, subjectivity in decision-making over objectivity (people or other work decisions) etc. are all challenges in the Indian workplaces. If at all possible, a 3/6 month secondment will give an idea of how things are, and may help you decide whether or not to move.

Money is another issue. The tax structure, the breakup of salary and how much is really net-take-home, what are the benefits – these are all relatively unclear and complex to some. Equally important is to have a clear understanding of costs and expenses. Most returning Indians assume India is a cheap country to live in. Not true. They forget their tastes and lifestyles have changed. India is cheap to live in, if you eat ‘vada-pao’. But, higher tastes require money. Simple example – a good restaurant in Mumbai has the same charges as one in New York. Most returnees miscalculate their costs disastrously.

For expats also, more than anything else, they need to be sensitive and adjusting to the culture. They’re used to delegating. They’re used to managing by exception. That doesn’t work in india. The most successful expats are those who realize that Indian organizations have little or no systems and processes.

Some Indian workplaces are process-averse; they will always do their best to avoid/circumvent process steps. This kind of culture requires the manager to have an eagle-eye on execution at all times and not just on whether execution is happening, but HOW its happening.

Achyut Menon, from Options India, a search firm with a strong focus on returning Indians says “Look at a career in India- just like the options one considered when going abroad for the first time. Don’t expect everything on a platter. Yes, some get dream jobs. Most others have to work their way through levels/movement/responsibilities.”

I also have felt sometimes that Indians residing abroad tend to lose touch with the Indian business environment. If you are looking for opportunities in the country, you need to be fully aware of what’s happening in the country. How is the economy changing? How is the business environment shaping up? What are the business drivers in your industry? And so on.

Overall, an “India mindset” is required to get an entry and thrive in one of the world’s fastest growing major economies. One needs to remember that you are competing with a very large pool of people for the same jobs.

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