February 27, 2009
Jobs and perks draw Americans to India, a bright spot in a dark year
The Associated Press
CHICAGO — Rana Rosen can hear the stress in her friends' voices when she calls home from India. It's getting increasingly difficult for them to get by, they tell her.
So she finds herself downplaying details about her new life in Pune, India, where she moved four months ago to take a job. She has a driver and a housekeeper, both common perks for corporate types there, even younger ones like her. At age 31, she's already a senior manager.
"I almost feel guilty telling them how well it is going," says Rosen, a former freelance writer who's now in charge of setting up an internal training program for Mindcrest, a Chicago-based company that does outsourced legal work in India for American firms. "But the truth is, I'm busy, thriving and eager as ever."
That's no small accomplishment, especially in a global recession. But recruiters, business owners and employees themselves say that despite its own financial woes, India is, so far, a relative land of opportunity.
Last month, one of the country's leading financial newspapers went as far as declaring 2009 "The Year of India." Word of such optimism is spreading to this country, where Stephanie Bartosiewicz lost her job at a New York City management consulting firm last fall. A few weeks ago, she picked up and moved to India, a country that had always intrigued her.
"It sounds like a naive thing to say — but it feels like I can't lose," says the 29-year-old, who's looking for work in Mumbai and amazed how cheaply she can live there. "If nothing else, at least it's a grand adventure."
Lisa Johnson, director of consulting services with Cartus Corporation, a global relocation firm based in Connecticut, has heard the buzz, too, and believes there's something to it: "India is one of our hot topics," she says.
An annual survey done for Cartus and the National Foreign Trade Council found, for instance, that India replaced Germany last year as one of the top four countries where multinational companies planned to move employees. The other three were the United States, China and the United Kingdom.
Rosen's company has hired four other Americans to work in India in recent months, an unprecedented number.
"The American dream, as such, is there," says Ganesh Natarajan, president of Mindcrest. "I'm not saying it's gone from here, but it's that same kind of feeling."
In this economy, he and others say they're getting more applications than ever from Americans looking for work in India. And that, they say, matches well with a demand for management skills that's been growing in India over the past few years.
"There's no shortage of entry-level types of people for relatively routine kinds of jobs in India," says Colin Gounden, the CEO of Grail Research, a data-mining company with offices in several countries, India included. "But for the more skilled jobs, the more knowledge-intensive it is — those have been consistently in short supply in terms of talent."
Steve Watson, an executive recruiter in Dallas, also is seeing more applicants — from business-school graduates to experienced veterans who view international experience as a way to stay competitive in a tough job market.
"Moving up in today's world really is requiring an overseas assignment," says Watson, international chairman and managing director at Stanton Chase International, an international executive search firm.
He is among those who see India and China as the top two markets for opportunity. And, he says, India is often more attractive to applicants because it's more Western and language is less of an issue.
That doesn't mean making the transition to India is always easy.
Rosen, a Chicagoan who was working in New York before she took the job in India, misses bagels and a good slice of pizza. She also hates having to turn on a heater for hot water, which regularly runs out during her morning shower.
"That really kills me on a daily basis," she says with a slight chuckle.
Dan Baxter, a 35-year-old Canadian, has found that it can be very difficult to find work in India if you don't have a job lined up before you get there. He works in Mumbai as a senior vice president for Fleishman-Hillard, a global marketing and communications firm, but his wife is still looking.
"There is a lot of red tape and preference for hiring Indians where possible," Baxter says.
He says being a Westerner in India still can have distinct advantages.
"In many cases, it is assumed that we come with new or rare skills and can teach Indian clients and colleagues things we learned elsewhere — though I don't know for how long," Baxter says. "I'm sure that India will take our knowledge, learn it better than us and sell it back to us sooner than later."
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