India Surpasses the U.S. in Global Recruiting Leadership

ereawards-toplogo-2010by Dr. John Sullivan and Master Burnett

Becoming a leading-edge recruiter is an admirable goal few corporate recruiters strive to achieve. Not only must a leading-edge recruiter routinely demonstrate a marked increase in positive business impact over other recruiters, but they must consistently monitor trends, devise new approaches, benchmark against emerging practices, and constantly fight with colleagues often resistant to trying something new.

Historically, staying on top of trends and new approaches was relatively easy, as there were only a few companies isolated in a few narrow geographies that one needed to watch. The War for Talent in 1997 certainly drew a lot of attention to the practices of technology firms in “silicon hubs” like California’s Silicon Valley (home to Google, Cisco, Intuit, Facebook, Twitter, and HP) or Seattle, Washington’s, Silicon Forest (home to Microsoft and Amazon), but up until a few years ago there was no formal process to identify where leading-edge practices were emerging and who was developing them.

ERE Media’s Recruiting Excellence Awards and articles by global strategy advisors like Kevin Wheeler and ourselves, who have advised and studied the practices of companies in more than 40 nations, are helping leading-edge recruiters focus their attention where evolution is occurring.

The Hotbeds of Evolution and Innovation are Shifting

No one can argue that rapid growth of the technology sector in 1997 left many technology companies desperate for talent, and that desperation drove many charged with recruiting for such organizations to both collaborate and innovate new practices to help close gaps in supply and demand. While not cheap, importing labor and shifting work to geographies where the supply of labor exceeded the demand has been the dominant approach.

For more than a decade such solutions have helped allocate work across an emerging global talent market, but now many of the geographies that picked up work are also struggling to source qualified talent to staff available projects. While China and India may have a surplus of unemployed/underemployed people, they too have a shortage of skilled professional labor.

As global economic growth focuses on Asia, desperation of firms in Asia to keep pace with the demand for talent is driving more and more talent management focus on excellence in execution, collaboration, evolution, and innovation.

With smaller company sizes, nations like Australia and New Zealand are earning a reputation as being home to progressive companies willing to try new practices. Nations like Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, to name only a few, are channeling state investment dollars into industry-sector-focused universities and research parks that elevate public/private collaboration to new levels.

However, nowhere can one find as much focus on recruiting leadership than in India and China. Twelve years ago production standards in both nations were subpar, work ethics were questionable, and infrastructure was lacking, but today both nations have firms that excel in world-class engineering design, international trade, offshoring, and manufacturing. Over the course of those 12 years, firms in India and China have not only studied and adopted Western talent management practices, they have improved upon them if not in design, most certainly in execution.

Examples of Progressive Recruiting and Talent Management Practices

While ERE readers will need to wait until March to learn about which companies won a recruiting excellence award (with finalists announced soon), what follows are a few practices becoming common among leading employers in India based on our work and a review of the ERE Award Applications. Mentally compare this list of practices to those that are currently in operation at your organization.

General Recruiting Practices

  • Prioritization of key jobs and skills. Recruiting resources focuses on the most critical 40%.
  • Pre-need hiring. Talent pools mapped and individuals assessed prior to requisition opening.
  • Tight integration with sales/operations to drive workforce planning. Recruiting leaders often sit side by side with sales and operations leaders during development meetings to coordinate workforce planning efforts.

Employee Referral Program Practices

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  • Dedicated referral teams employing a proactive referral strategy in which recruiters personally solicit the names of the very best from the very best employees and managers. (In one organization this approach produced 47% of all hires, garnered a 66% employee participation rate, and consistently produced the highest quality hires, all with a cost-per-hire 20% lower than other hiring channels.)
  • Employee referral processes that target corporate alumni in order to boomerang them back. (This approach often produces better results than any other alumni recruitment effort.)
  • Onsite referral fairs that allow referred candidates to receive on-the-spot interviews and/or offers.
  • Online referral status tracking that provides feedback on status and alerts when a referral’s status changes.
  • Established referral targets for individual managers and teams.
  • Required pre-assessment of referrals by referring employee. To eliminate poor quality referrals many programs require that employees pre-assess their referral and share the assessment as part of the submission process.
  • Service-level agreements that guarantee feedback to the referring employee within 72 hours of submission and help-desk response to inquiries within eight hours.

Metrics and Business-case-related Practices

  • Advanced statistical analysis processes including six sigma assessment, value chain analysis, and force field analysis for assessing and improving recruiting process performance.
  • Quantification of the direct-dollar impact of new hiring processes on corporate revenues. (In one example, the organization identified that reducing time-to-fill in revenue-generating positions by 40% could increase revenue by millions of dollars.)
  • Development of “hiring accuracy” metrics that assesses and quantify hiring success/failure rates.
  • Distributed real-time recruiter productivity measures. (One organization found that simply measuring and reporting productivity increased it 70% in one year.)

Recruitment Marketing and Branding Related Practices

  • Development of in-house recruitment marketing teams capable of supporting frequent communication design/delivery channel changes.
  • Using search engine optimization techniques to measurably increase visibility of jobs and brand messaging online.

College-recruiting-related Practices

  • Using ambassador programs to build relationships with top students and faculty.
  • Adoption of CRM approaches that let recruiters communicate frequently with students via text messages about events in the students’ lives, such as “best of luck” messages during final exams.
  • Development of robust campus performance assessment processes and metrics.
  • Use of contests, quizzes, and projects to excite top students and more accurately assess them.
  • Engagement of market intelligence data to identify employee value propositions that better engage students.
  • Online professional training courses covering topics that improve the quality of potential candidates and attract top students to participate in the application process.
  • Leverage alumni to give tech talks, classroom lectures, and on-campus workshops.
  • Curriculum guidance. Many organizations work closely with academic leaders and key faculty to align curriculum with industrial need, ensuring that courses focus on practical knowledge and skill development that is immediately relevant.

Training and Development Practices

  • Extensive focus on deep enterprise training, development, and leadership preparation. (One organization has built the world’s largest leadership and development training center, exceeding in size GE’s famous Crotonville facility. The 270-acre, $60-million plush facility has a hotel, food center, employee care center, theater, and research facility.)
  • Overseas residential training programs. Recent grads are frequently provided an opportunity to work internationally for a period of several months prior to accepting a stationary role in their home country.

Are You Leading or Lagging?

I hope you agree that this list represents some pretty progressive practices and strategies. While India’s leadership position is certainly open to debate, there can be no doubt that staffing challenges in India and China are forcing leading firms like Infosys, Tata, Aricent, Reliance, and Wipro to focus on execution and innovation. Some might argue that lack of government regulation and lower cost of labor enable them to do things you couldn’t do in the U.S. or Western Europe, to which my response is simple: it’s not the job of a leader to whine about what they can’t do, but rather to find a way to do what they need to do.

Not all organizations in India are on the leading edge when it comes to talent management and even those that are have areas that need improvement. The point is that if you want to be on the leading edge you need to be aware of other organizations on the edge, and that moving forward more and more of the firms you need to monitor will be in India, China, and other Asian nations.

Final Thoughts

Generally speaking recruiting is a conservative profession. If you’re a “defensive type,” super patriot, or resist being data-driven, you will likely dismiss our contention that the U.S. is/has slipped into second place with regard to recruiting leadership. If, however, you are open-minded, I suggest that you revisit this list of practices and use it to help determine where your firm needs to be if it’s going to seriously compete for talent in the emerging global labor market. Companies in India, Singapore, New Zealand, and China have already started recruiting top scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and finance professionals from leading corporations in the U.S. and Western Europe. The battle is heating up. Are you more prepared to fight or give up?

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



10 Comments on “India Surpasses the U.S. in Global Recruiting Leadership

  1. The following is an accurate, yet disconcerting statement due to the fact that “U.S. Organizations” used to generate much of our innovations by recruiting the best of the best from other countries.

    “Companies in India, Singapore, New Zealand, and China have already started recruiting top scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and finance professionals from leading corporations in the U.S. and Western Europe.”

    However, I’d suggest (credit: Geoffrey Colvin of Fortune) that there is no longer any such thing as a “U.S. Organization”. We’re much more global today (decentralized), which means we no longer hold a quasi-monopoly on the best talent (like we did prior to ~2000).

  2. Right on John !I can’t disagree with Joshua as well.Our daily interactions/experience at workplace reflect the same.

  3. John, another thought provoking missive, one that causes me to wonder…are there no examples of leading-edge progressive recruiting and talent management practices where the strategy recognizes independent influences of outside service providers? For instance, a recent HR Examiner missive highlighted Talent Manager Marc Effron who claims “most of the big ideas that move through the industry come from consultants, academics, vendors and publishers.”

    I know the world is changing fast, but as recently as 2002, in their seminal work, “Headhunters, Matchmaking in the Labor Market” Finlay and Coverdill, characterized “headhunters” as the visible hands of the labor market occupying a dual role in an unusual sales process of complex, high-level front-line service worker that has a significant impact on conducting business, managing relationships, and in making decisions that are extraordinarily consequential to economic and organizational sociology.

    Respectfully, I just wonder, John, in your opinion, if executive search and recruiting (generally defined as a complex job within a specialized branch of management consulting in which outside professionals are authorized by organizations to identify, attract and refer qualified candidates for important executive, managerial and technical positions) or other third-party staffing solutions have any role in leading-edge progressive recruiting and talent management strategies?

    I look forward to knowing your thoughts.

  4. I would agree with you John that India has slightly moved ahead of the US in recruiting talent. I feel that the process that is being used by the US needs to be updated and simplified. One way that can be done is through software, software like I am not saying one software company is fix our problem of finding talent but it may help others to realize how it can be done the right way. Applicant Tracking Software is where it can start.

  5. Brandon Excellent question. Its been my experience that the best recruiting firms (3rd Parties) have always been more creative in identifying/implementing next generation best practices and methodologies (Processes/Technology Tools) than the corporate world in general. When you need the “Best of the Best” the professional headhunter rules.

  6. I think I agree with Ken in general but disagree in particular. IMHO, the main, high-touch, high-value component of recruiting which can’t be eliminated or automated is the ability to get someone to do what you want them to do at any stage of the recruiting process. As I’ve said before, if you need it, it’s well worth whatever you have to pay for it. At the same time, I don’t see how technology will make a mediocre seller into a good one, or a good one into a *great one. It might allow you to make more or better-informed calls, but I’m not sure how it would enable you to make more successful ones.

    Please advise.


    *With the exception of sales-training/closing SW…

  7. I really appreciate your point: Use of contests, quizzes, and projects to excite top students and more accurately assess them… how about gauging the talent of graduating students through online talent assessment to help them out that what career would be suitable for them?

  8. It does not take you recruiting hundreds of people for you to be successful. It only takes about 10 strong leaders for you to be on easy street for the rest of your life. Great leaders do things others haven’t done. Recruiting is ripe for change. We’ve been doing things pretty much the same for years. We need leadership that is taking risks and trying out new approaches.
    Marketing for candidates by using the Internet heavily, using market research to figure out how to reach the candidates we most want to attract, and adopting competitive intelligence techniques to source highly skilled talent are great ways.
    The Internet, new assessment technologies, and faster and more flexible recruiting processes are hallmarks of leadership in the recruiting arena.
    Good leaders also build strong teams. They often hire people as smart or smarter than themselves. They pose what seem like unrealistic goals, and challenge their teams to exceed those goals.

  9. Great Article John!!
    Its’ not about whose leading or lagging, important thing is what’s the business requirement and how efficiently you meet the same. Indian market is quite competitive and very different from US. For an instance, In India candidates is mostly interested in full time permanent position, they are very reluctant for contractual positions, so it becomes difficult for recruiters to convince them for temporary positions. Second example can be, normally every company has a notice period of 2 months, so if any company is working on Just-in-time hiring model it becomes difficult for them to meet the business requirements. All these different challenges keep recruiters on their toes and bound them to think innovative strategies to attract the talent pool.
    Infact our Global Talent Acquisition Head Mr. Indrajit Sen gave presentation in ERE last year on “10 Secrets to Success of Employee Referrals in India” which also highlights about the same.

  10. I would be interested in seeing a large company which has created, implemented, and modified their hiring processes according to rigorous empirical verification, including the analysis of their underlying recruiting assumptions to see if they are valid, i.e., a company committed to doing what objective evidence shows to be the best practices, even if they don’t reflect the *prejudices of those who initially institute those practices.

    IMHO, there aren’t many because too many very high people would look greedy, arrogant, fearful or ignorant if that were done….

    Keith “Just the Facts, Ma’am” Halperin

    *Like using academic achievement/attendance as a predictor of work success or assuming large numbers of interviews/interviewers produce better hires than smaller numbers.

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