21st July, 2021
A few weeks ago, Mukesh*, a Talent Acquisition Specialist at Amazon, reached out to me on LinkedIn. He believed my profile was well-suited to the Senior Software Development Engineer (SDE-II) role at Amazon, and asked me to share my resume if I was interested.
Mukesh probably thought I’d be a good fit because I was an SDE-I at Amazon four years ago. I’d gained entry to their hiring process through a referral; I still believe that referrals are the fastest route to get interviews at most big companies, whose HR departments are inundated with resumes pouring in unchecked through their sites.
Having since been part of hiring processes as a recruiter myself, I understand that reaching out to potential candidates on LinkedIn—some of whom have graduated from their engineering careers onto entirely new professions and industries—is likely an act of desperation. Inbound CVs somehow don’t fit the bill; one needs to tap into networks of suitable candidates who match requirements of background and qualifications.
LinkedIn is an easy place to browse and filter candidates by such criteria. As of 2019, its Talent Solutions comprised of more than half its total revenue, which otherwise come from premium subscriptions and advertisers. In 2021, however, this traditional method of sourcing talent may work well only for established tech companies.
BharatPe, a fin-tech company and one of India’s new-age tech hirers, decided to adopt unconvential, viral publicity as a strategy to generate inbound interest.
On 19 July, BharatPe announced two packages, the “Bike Package” and the “Gadget Package”, for all new tech hires and referrers within the company, including alumni. It would also host its entire Tech team—to be tripled in size by FY22 before the launch of many new products—at the T20 cricket world cup in Dubai later this year. Appraisals with 75% increments had also been fast-forwarded by eight months.
It is easy to mistake BharatPe’s two packages as simple freebies or incentives that would boost its tech hiring efforts. Because what typical engineer—individualistic, probably introverted, coding at home amidst a global pandemic—would want a BMW G310R, or a Jawa Perak, or a KTM Duke 390, or a KTM RC 390 or a Royal Enfield Himalayan? What hidden passion for biking will suddenly be unleashed on India’s water-clogged roads among the country’s top techies?
Whether the Bike package is appealing to engineers, however, is less important than the reactions it evoked online. India’s funny Twitterati likened BharatPe’s team meetings to scenes from racing movie Dhoom, and India’s non-tech talent to villagers from Lagaan, the colonial-era drama film. Someone even asked if BharatPe would include petrol.
The next day, BharatPe’s stunt—nothing less than an orchestrated marketing effort aimed at a well-defined audience—was trending on LinkedIn News, which reaches about 5-6 million Indian readers daily, according to a source in the company.
The broad costs of this marketing plan, as it stands, is whatever it takes to disseminate the announcement online, plus the package that is redeemed by the engineer and/or referrer at the time of hiring. The announcement seems to have been driven mainly by organic tweets and posts, and a PR release to news websites, which costs a few thousand rupees. The major costs of this plan, therefore, would accrue whenever a package is chosen; along with the T20 World Cup, these might then even be budgeted under salary costs rather than marketing.
Now, the Bike Package consists of items ranging from at least Rs 1.5 Lakh to Rs 3 Lakh or more. On the other hand, the Gadget package—which has products that might actually be useful to an engineer, or anyone spending a majority of their time at home right now—ranges in costs from around Rs 20,000 to Rs 1.5 Lakh.
BharatPe decided to get attention for the more expensive, less relevant, but totally outrageous “Bike Package” offer. And hedges against it actually being chosen with the more practical, less expensive “Gadget Package”, which, incidentally, includes a Firefox Typhoon bicycle. (Does BharatPe have openings for Category Manager, too?)
According to Naurki Index, a measure of hiring activity across a range of industries in India, demand from the IT sector was 55% higher in June than it was in January, and 51% higher than it was in June 2019. This demand has reportedly pushed up tech salaries by 20-60%, with companies rushing to make counter-offers to retain talent. Although about 15 lakh engineers graduate from India every year, only 3% land high-quality tech jobs with salary packages of 8-10 LPA. Several online upskilling courses and platforms compete to fill the gap between the outflux of tech candidates and the high standards sought by industry.
It is this concentration of demand for top-tier tech talent, and the limited supply there, that has produced a parallel industry of employer branding and marketing. Consider, for example, a new opening from recently turned unicorn and fin-tech company Razorpay: Senior Brand Manager, Razorpay Engineering.
In short, the Brand Manager for Razorpay Engineering will have to position Razorpay as the place for Indian engineers to work at, which will hopefully rub off on Razorpay’s overall brand as the cutting-edge fintech solution, while also providing it a stream of talent to ensure that. Similarly, inMobi's Talent Branding Lead will have to "support the company’s engineering talent goals by promoting InMobi’s technical prowess, image, and values through integrated communication efforts across PR, events, social media, video, and other channels/ formats."
BharatPe, Razorpay, and InMobi aren’t just competing with each other for top tech talent, though. They have to position themselves as promising career alternatives to the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, as well as scores of other traditionally non-tech businesses, who are now looking towards digital transformation to succeed in the post-pandemic world.
And the competition isn’t just local. In what is being dubbed the Tech Talent War 2.0, recruiting and retaining effective tech talent mid-pandemic has become a global business imperative, plaguing multi-national corporations, startups, and various other companies equally.
The first war for tech talent, in the early 2010s, unfolded in Silicon Valley between the likes of Facebook and Google, who drove up tech salaries and bonuses. So much so that, in 2017, many staffers on Google’s self-driving cars project quit because of the financial security they’d gained from their jobs. If this is any indication of the success of a hiring-marketing effort, perhaps BharatPe should worry about its engineers auditioning for the next Dhoom film.
Meanwhile, the rest of India’s tech-seekers will have to get creative too.
PS: All this reminds me of mattress company WakeFit’s “sleep internship”, where interns would be paid Rs 1 Lakhs to sleep for 9 hours a day, for 100 days, at the end of which a Sleep Champion would be awarded Rs 10 Lakhs. The story behind their viral campaign, as told by Wakefit co-founder Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, has been penned here: http://www.chaiposts.com/wakefit-sleep-internship-viral-campaign-2019/
*Mukesh's actual name was changed here for fun.