32 minutes | Aug 18th 2020

Fixing the experience to retain quality candidates from other industries post-pandemic - Preeti Shirke VP of TA at Teleperformance

Welcome to the recruitment hackers podcast show about innovations technology and leaders in the recruitment industry brought to you by Talkpush, the leading recruitment automation platform. 
Max: Hello everybody. And welcome to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. I'm your host Max and today I am delighted to be welcoming you on the show  who is Senior Vice President of recruitment at Teleperformance, Preeti. Welcome.
Preeti: Thank you, max.  Pleasure to be here.
Max: Pleasure to have you. Last time we met was a few years ago in Mumbai. I believe that at the time you were working for a company called, Intelinet,, but now it's part of Teleperformance again. Can you explain to us a little bit,, how you ende, up in your current position as the senior vice president at Teleperformance?
Preeti: Certainly. So, firstly, thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure, always to speak with you. I think every interaction with you has been very, very enriching and very rewarding. So, thank you again. Let me take a, maybe a step back, down memory lane. When I started off, this was back in 2001, as an advisor in a call center, that's what we used to call them back then.
This was before the term BPOs and business process outsourcing and BPMs came into play. Back then it was plain vanilla call centers, and that's when I started. So that was my journey into the BPO spectrum, as an advisor, part of, a semi tech process. We used to handle calls with customers.
That was my first experience of understanding that we can actually service customers to another country with them having no idea. We're not really in the country from where they're calling. So that was an exciting journey. And I think that was my first interface with technology and how it's making in the world really small.
It didn't matter where I was sitting. I could still speak to a customer actually, and resolve something that was work related. Personally, obviously you could make calls to anybody you wanted, but this was work related. So that was an exciting journey for me when I started in 2001. And, I think from then on I never really looked back.
I've had an extremely roller coaster ride in the BPO segment. I've done multiple shades of roles starting from being an agent to taking on some roles in the operations teams, as an assistant manager, as a manager, And that's when I folded into recruitment. I wouldn't say that it happened because it was something that I dreamed off or something I had planned for myself.
I think it was just a natural course of journey for me. The best part was that the organization was open enough to adapt and absorb someone who didn't come with that background into a leadership role. And I think those are things that you will only find in the BPO segment, where we're so open to allowing people to explore their potential.
And we're not fully so bogged down with experience. We know that people have potential. We allow them to take up roles and start delivering and sometimes experience does not really become a limitation for you to pick up something new. So I guess that was an interesting learning point for me.
Max: I've seen a lot of people in talent tech position and the BPO sector that, that have that first experience as an agent, or that first experience in sales and, at the same time, often the industry is a little bit old school where they say, oh, we only hire people with past PBO experience and you could see why it’s because they've got a very high dropout rate right in the first three to six months on the job. A lot of people give up, but for those who stick around, then, they can adapt. They're tough. Right. 
Preeti: When I joined Cytel, that was my first experience. I still recall those days, the first time I joined the organization, I went with the mindset that I'm going to probably stick around only for six months.
Because at that time it didn't seem like a career opportunity. It just seemed like something you do until you figured out what you wanted to do. So it wasn't something that I was planning for myself, but I guess the industry just grew on me. It gave me the opportunities to learn, to grow. To do stuff, which, I would've otherwise never planned for myself.
So whether it was learning how to manage, to work with people, to work with data, to work with processes, and to work with a certain kind of discipline. I think the BPO industry just grew on me and I guess I just chose to stick around. So as I progressed, I think the talent acquisition piece came as more of a... 
And I'll not go too much into the details those are pretty boring, but yeah, I think the talent acquisition piece also started with a similar experience that let me try this, you know,  it's different from what I've been doing for the last four, five years, let me try and do something different.
So the opportunity was there. I picked it up and, from then on, it's been 10 years now. And things have just looked better and better. And today I'm able to at least reflect back and say, what was it like 10 years ago? So, yeah, I think Teleperformance as an organization, while we’re really, really large, I mean, we're 300,000 people today and we're spread across the globe.
We've got a footprint practically, you name a country and we exist. So I think for us, today, there’s no limit to what each one of us can and will be able to do considering the fact that we're part of such a large organization. So, prior to Teleperformance, even when were Intelinet, we were about 50,000 people strong and, I guess, with India being such a strategic partner in the entire scheme of things with us now being taken over a large organization, like Teleperformance, the best part has been that nothing's changed in our DNA.
Nothing's changed as far as our values are concerned. I guess because these two organizations were so similar in their value system, it didn't seem like there was a takeover or there was a company buying out someone. That didn't feel like, I would say, at the ground level, you obviously have the more legal changes and the more backend changes.
But as an organization, we just seamlessly transitioned into Teleperformance.  Considering the values were a match, the people were a match. The direction we were heading into is a match. So, I guess everything looked the same. It was just the fact that we changed our name. I guess that's what it seemed like to people on the ground.
Max: Yeah. In Teleperformance you said 300,000 people worldwide. A decent amount of turnover, a decent amount of volume, really big volumes in some cities and in some countries I think in India is probably your biggest market in terms of headcount?
Preeti: Maybe not anymore, actually. We're neck to neck with Manila. The English world. We write ourselves here. We're fairly a decent size. I think if I were to just refer to the India headcount we’re close to about 80,000 people today. Spread across nearly 14 cities in India. So we're pretty much there from the North to the South, to the West, to the East. So yeah, we're pretty much everywhere in India.
Max: Okay. I think you, you touched on this topic a little bit. You said, you know, you, weren't thinking about talent acquisition and you weren't thinking about HR. And when we think about these functions, often people, I imagine somebody who studied sociology or psychology and was interested in doing competency mapping and working in training and learning and development.
And I think in your industry, we have a different kind of profiles that go into talent acquisition, slightly different, and a little bit more numbers driven, a little bit more aggressive. I'm wondering how that's evolved over the last five, five years. And if you're seeing some new competencies that are becoming more critical for the success of a recruiter in this space.
Preeti: if I go back 10 years and if I reflect on how, and maybe I can compare to what we were as talent acquisition, in our own family, versus if I compare ourselves with competitors, I think, yes, you used the right word, we're a fairly — talent acquisition is a fairly aggressive setup by default. it is about numbers.
But I think the way we've evolved today is that we've not limited ourselves to numbers. We've instead started focusing more on experience. We've started focusing on being able to deliver, so while time seems to always be the most critical attribute as far as acquisition is concerned, because if you do not have people at the time when you need them, you're gonna derail everything that's coming up ahead. You're the first piece in the value chain. And if you differ, if you default, you impact the rest of the value chain down the line as well. So that makes talent acquisition a really critical piece in the whole train.
If I say running a train, then we'd probably be the one right up ahead, you know, steering how that train is going to move and whether it's going to reach the destination on time or not, Maybe that's a good analogical thing. So essentially we have transport.  It is the engine. I mean, not to say that other functions don't matter, butI think talent acquisition is what kick starts, everything. It's being more, I would say more, um, collaborative. Considering, you know, we need other functions to feel important as well.
Max: Well, the audience should know that we're talking on a Saturday and so the other functions are probably sleeping right now.
Preeti: Recruitment is working today. Recruitment was working late night yesterday. And recruitment’s going to be working tomorrow as well in some of my teams. 
Max: I don’t know if that's something that's gonna attract a lot of talent to your team, this 24/7 kind of activity. And so the experience, huh? So you're talking about,  people who are building, I mean, designers, people who design a candidate experience onsite or digitally, that stands out. So people who are more about,  crafting a design rather than simply processing interviews.
Preeti: Right. It's not enough to just, you know, allow a person to feel that someone who’s coming, looking for a job. It's no longer just the employer’s market. It is a job seeker’s market as well, which means, the job seeker is now that much more vocal about the company they want to join. And sometimes the experience of recruitment can also be a deciding factor for them to take us as a premier opportunity or not, and no longer can we assume that if I have to hire a hundred people I'm going to get thousands of them who are vying for that position. That's not going to happen because if I need to get a hundred people, I'm not going to have the luxury of time and effort to be introduced, to hire, to interview and screen maybe tens and thousands of people because firstly tens and thousands of people don't exist.
Max: Even in India?
Preeti: Even in India. So it's not such a factor of population versus people available for the right kind of job. Because today, as much as we believe that, you know, people who go to work in a BPO, anybody can do that. It's not going to be that easy anymore.
There's so much more that we take out from an employee who is servicing a customer. There is so much more that's being put on that person's shoulder to harness those responsibilities. Of how do you take care of customers? How do you take care of stakeholders? How do you take care of your metrics? How do you take care of so many other things that it's no longer, just someone who can walk in and do the job, even if they don't have the skills for it.
And hence, it's important that if we do not invest, in a good experience for that employee or for that candidate who is still deciding our effort. But sometimes determine whether he or she is going to take up our offer or not. And it's not enough to just say we're offering a job. What do you want?
Max: Of course, the experience begins and often ends with, having a good interpersonal contact and, and being, courteous and being on time and all those basics, there are bare necessities, but those are not really technology trends. They're just good behavior. Are there some changes that have happened to the digital landscape that you've had to take into account in order to be more centric and offer a better experience?
Preeti: I think the whole pandemic has kind of turned our lives upside down, as people. And what we have come to realize is that when you're able to speak. And I think this isn't new. I mean, this is age old, you know, communication strategy where you seem to communicate better when you're with people and when you're talking to them in person, because there are so many nonverbal cues, there is so much about your body language transferred as part of that communication.
And in the digital world, there are going to be so many moments when none of these nonverbal cues are going to be available to the person you're speaking with. Which is going to mean that everything that you do is going to start to be that much more important and not enough of what you see. You can do the same interview in person.
You can do the same interview on the phone. It's going to have radically different outcomes. And that's why traditionally recruitment's always been, I want to see the person, no, I want to meet the person. They've never really warmed up to doing something remotely or digitally. And hence, culturally, traditionally, I would say recruitment is a function, no matter which country everybody wants to see the person.
No one wants to assume that if I've interviewed someone digitally, I'm not satisfied. That's generally the feeling inside. You still feel, maybe if I meet the person, I may have a different perspective. Having now transitioned into a work from home or a digital environment. The recruitment team as a whole is having to go through that transformation where they're going to have to be convinced that if I am interviewing someone on video, or if I'm interviewing someone digitally, that's good enough.
Max: It's such a psychological thing, right? It's almost like, if you can, if you couldn't bother to put on a suit, take the bus, come to the office, come and meet me, then I can start to trust you. This was a barrier before now, we have to come up with a new barrier in order to ask the candidates to demonstrate how much they want it.
Because if you start giving out jobs to everybody who raises their hands, then it's going to be very hard to get a real sense for who really wants it.  How do you measure today? Whether a candidate really wants the job compared to before, considering that, you know, it's so easy to just jump in front of a camera and start to do an interview. Maybe you end up with a lot of candidates who drop out or, or are not going to be that motivated to join. Have you seen the volume of dropouts and people who try and after a few months increase as you moved towards to work from home?
Preeti: Let me answer that in a different way.
Let me say,  we're still in the middle of the pandemic. There's a huge, I would say influence of how the pandemic has affected people around the country. And there's been a mixed bag of situations where people have lost their jobs. There are some who are on the bench. There are some who are still trying to figure out if they're going to have a job or not.
So there's a fear today that exists. And until we move away from the pandemic situation into a business as usual, where we work from home is offered as an option, not as a driver because of the COVID situation. I guess then metrics and numbers will look probably more different, but if I were to stick to the here and now, yes, we've seen a surge of people who are applying for jobs who probably may not have done that pre-pandemic because this wasn't the industry for them.
There's such a huge shift in the kind of people that are applying today. They come from all different industries. And unfortunately the industries that have gotten impacted significantly because of the pandemic, have let go of staff. And obviously those people are now looking for options. The BPOs do seem to offer a good option for them because it was the customer service or it was support there.
They're still able to see themselves working in the BPO sector. And hence, we're starting to see a lot more flux of people coming in from different industries and from different backgrounds. People who are willing to try and start working all over again in a different industry, even though they never would have thought about doing that maybe a little before March, that's when India went into a lockdown.
Max: That's a great opportunity for the industry to. If you can afford to hire them, and they're quality hires from other industries and they're willing to overcome their natural sort of reticence towards the industry then, yeah, you're  planting seeds for tomorrow.
You're hiring people that were outside of reach. We've seen it even at our level as a small tech company. We were able to hire over the last couple of months, people that would not have been available otherwise. 
Preeti: So if you look at it, I mean, let's say, let's say if we name industries, we know travel got impacted significantly.
We know the hotel industry got impacted significantly. Obviously they will bounce back. Now the decision that lies with the recruitment teams in a BPO is do you invest in this talent today knowing that they may also be here for a temporary period of time? And chances are that tomorrow when their industry bounces back again, they're obviously going to prefer them over us.
Now with that being the confusion in the mind of a recruiter, I think that's the part where we're trying to fix to experience because there's a possibility that some of them will still maybe go back once hotels come up once travel starts again, I guess people will shift back, but there will still be a huge population of people that we can hold back with us.
Only because of the experience that we were able to get. So those would be people who work from their previous industries to maybe the BPOs. And I guess that's what makes our job that much more particular. If we fix the experience and not just focus on the numbers, because we get the numbers today or we get them tomorrow, but if we can fix the experience, then we can hold these numbers back and not make them a stop gap arrangement.
Max: Alright, bouncing from the topic of experience, to the topic of the Indian market and specifics, the powerful position that vendors and staffing firms have in the Indian market. Do you think that the current pandemic has tilted the market in favor of the employer so that the employer can control more of the experience compared to before where a lot of the vendors, the staffing agencies would really control the entire candidate experience until the point of hire.
But maybe that sort of monopoly or that dominance in the industry is starting to crack  a little bit given the new dynamics. 
Preeti: If I were to give a one word answer to that I would say yes. If I were to explain why I say yes. So India in a huge number of cities has been extremely dependent on external agencies or partners who would recruit for us, but the basic grounds or the premises on which the design of that hiding was built was that they would bring people into their facility.
And because they're partnered with multiple organizations, their value proposition was that if you walk into my office, I'm going to make sure you walk out with an offer. It could be company A, it could be company B, because they're obviously contractually working with so many firms. 
Now with the entire premise of can I walk into your office now? With that piece shifting to can you make sure that you can still give me that same value proposition, but not make me come to your office? Now for me to be able to hold on to an audience without physically bringing them to my facility, I guess that's a challenge that every organization is facing, because sometimes it seemed very simple that people would just walk into your office for an interview.
But just that simple activity seems so much more difficult now because everybody wants to see, do you have something on the offering, which does not force me to come and physically walk into your facility? And unfortunately, the agencies or the vendor partners weren't prepared for something like this, because they were always dependent on bringing people to their offices because that's their way of securing an applicant or a candidate and giving them that assurance that we will make sure you get an offer somewhere. 
Now with everybody shifting to a digital platform. It's an open market today. If I can attract talent by virtue of my organization's name, then yes, the dependency on me sourcing through external partners is going to go down, but it's never going to go away.
And the reason being that an agency in a recruitment set up, always works as additional capacity. 
Max: Yeah. You need that. And then to do some backup and to do some pointed search and sometimes competitive work, you always need to have that middleman, but, I mean, it can go down from being 70% of your volume to 7%, over a period of 10 years or something like that.
When I interacted with Teleperformance a few years ago in India and they told me that they were advertising Jaipur as a really great destination to go to because of the great weather and lots of access to greenery and not as polluted as Delhi and Bangalore and I had a very different mental picture than what I saw when I came to Jaipur.
Jaipur is a big city. There is a lot of traffic jams
Preeti: But if you compare Jaipur with Delhi, you have the benefit of not traveling beyond a certain distance. So you would always have the opportunity to compare distances, but you know, if you actually meet people in Jaipur, they're going to make that little distance also sound an inconvenience.
So someone living in a big ground is always going to feel that traveling for 40 minutes is okay. But if you were to place those 40 minutes for someone living in Jaipur, they're going to be like, nevermind, I don't need this job. I'm going to look for something closer to home. 
Max: Well, it makes sense. I think I'm on the side of the Jaipur people on this one, that commuting time needs to be cut, cut to 10- 15 minutes.
I like a little bit of commuting time because it gives me a moment to stop thinking about home, start thinking about work and vice versa. But, maybe there are tricks. You can also create that commute time within your home because you're stuck at home. But I was thinking about Jaipur.
I was thinking, When I went to Jaipur last year, I did not find that beautiful, full green place with birds singing and and pink palace. I thought it was still quite, quite rough. And I was thinking maybe I need to go to an even smaller city, to go see, you know, a more untouched part of India and less industrialized.
Is it possible today for your agents to work in even third tier or smaller cities than that? Or are you finding the infrastructure is still too much behind? 
Preeti: So that's an interesting one Max, and maybe I can spend some time explaining how we've transitioned into having a dependency on moving.
And if you see the erstwhile, traditional cultures in India, people would generally move away from their homes to bigger cities. Because the bigger city offered the opportunities, the infrastructure, there's so much more that used to be tied behind a big city. And there was generally a feeling of growing up, just for the lack of a better word. A child would feel that, you know, once I'm done with college, I'm grown up, I can live independently and hence I'm moving to a bigger city for seeking a job.
Now, not that shift has now happened in a way where people feel that, yes,I have to go, but I don't want to go.
To the earlier impression where people were, we used to look forward to moving to a big city, because it seemed like a new experience for them. Now that shift has happened where people are being forced to move from their families, move away from their natives, purely because they don't have opportunities that exist in smaller cities.
And hence they have no choice, but to move. Now, the fact that the willingness is in question. There is always an option where people feel that I'd rather go back home. I'm going to work for some time, but my heart is still to go back home. Nobody wants to live away from family.  India is very heavy into family.
We want to be together with our families for as long as we can. And that's one of the pull factors where people feel that I get something where I live, where I have my family. Then I would want that. And, fortunately, or unfortunately, obviously the pandemic was an unfortunate situation, but the fortunate activity that came out of it was the multitude of options where everybody was willing to explore a work from home culture, work from home opportunity, which made sure that the recruitment team was able to reach out to a person with a value proposition saying, look here. I have an option for you. You don't need to move from your home. You don't need to walk out of your house for now. You're not allowed, but at the same time, anytime you can continue living with your family and you can still choose to be part of a large global organization. 
And how am I being able to do that? Obviously, technology is supporting me. A person just needs to make sure he or she is having a system. They have internet connectivity, which is pretty much everywhere they are today. And I'm connected. I do not need to move to a big city, I don’t need to leave my family behind. I don’t need to go and find a place where five people can live together because I can't afford to live alone.
And all of those things have gone away and it's just been a matter of four or five months. We've not seen this transition over years. We've just seen this transition in the last four or five months since the pandemic hit. And it was a quick and, you know, swift shift into moving people into a work from home option.
Max: Okay. I guess that's been the massive positive that's come out of this. And, and to tie back, to close the loop on where you began your career. Did you make that big move when you were coming out of college and moved to the big city? 
Preeti: Actually, yes, I did.  I've lived in, in multiple cities. I've lived in another country before this.
So when I grew up as a child, I lived in the Gulf. I've lived in Saudi Arabia. That was where I grew up. That's where I did my schooling, but I shifted back to India sometimes in my high school, when I came back to India and I lived in two different cities. And then I finally settled down in Mumbai, thinking that's where I want to do a job.
And yes, and I've lived in Mumbai ever since, I guess it's been a really long time. So, I guess you have Mumbai as being my workplace, my dream place, you can call it whatever you want, but yes.
Max: I like the city. It's got a beautiful architecture. The recruitment offices were a little crowded for my taste before, but,  I’m glad to be here india embraces the work from home revolution and what it might do to keep families together. And to expand the talent pool, to change the culture of the whole country. I'm excited about what's to come.  I'm gonna come back as soon as travel is allowed.
Thank you for sharing your story with our listeners and we wish you all the best in continuing the revolution and making the best out of a difficult situation with the pandemic. Thank you very much Preeti.
Preeti: Thank you so much, Max. I'd like to just close off by saying, it's such an interesting conversation, always with you.
I guess we in India seem to be looking very promising as a hub where work from home opportunities are going to grow multi-fold; it's not going to be a stop gap arrangement to cater to the pandemic. And, the only message I'd like to give to the entire recruitment fraternity is to never say no to any person who's applying for a job, because you never know who's going to stick around and who's not.
Sometimes those traditional biases of this isn’t the right profile or this isn't the right fit. As recruitment, as organizations, we need to learn to trust our instincts on potential, on people's ability to adapt to a job, not just by virtue of what they bring to the table, but by virtue of what the organization has to offer as well.
So as much as people need to shape up and fit into a skill or a competency matrix for us, I guess the organizations also need to start being more adaptive and open to exploring so many more profiles. So many more people who are seeking jobs outside today. And I think we can safely say that for Teleperformance.
You know, everybody matters to us, every interaction matters to us and we're very hopeful that people will look at us as an employer of choice. And we're working very hard to become that. 
Max: I don't doubt it. I've seen the content on social media. I've seen your CEO promote this work from home revolution and  I'm with you. I think this is a transition which represents an enormous opportunity for talent acquisition professionals that could very much be something we look back on as the best thing that could happen to our industry. So, thanks again, Preeti.
Preeti: Thank you, max.
Max: I had a great conversation with Preeti, which went on a little bit longer than the usual interview and went on after we stopped recording because India is really going through an exciting time, exciting revolution with people working from home, changing the landscape for the whole industry. Hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please sign up for more and subscribe to the podcast here and share with your friends.
Play Next
Mark Played