Friday, January 13, 2006

May I sit down, sir?

I did have my doubts before returning to India - my experiences with Indian HR had not been pleasant. I had never been promoted in a single Indian company. During performance review periods we were expected to submit essays about why we deserve a raise and promotion. To me, it was a throwback to English class in secondary school. I would labor over the review essays for a week, consult a dozen people and submit a patchwork of "achievements". Then HR would return it back to me and ask me to work further on it. I remember spending whole nights working on my essays.
My first experience in company W was instructive - I waited two hours in the lobby. Then the guy offered a hasty apology about the waiting and proceeded to dismiss my salary expectations as unreal. Then came the standard question - "Why did you return back from the States?".
Now, this question bothers me; I can understand the question, "Why did you leave your company?" The question about my return seems to suggest that there is an ulterior motive behind the dumb guy that was "sent back" from the States. Who in their right minds would leave the States of their own volition?
I always end up offering labored explanations that involve my patriotism, the ills of capitalism, globalisation and my wife's studies. People are not really interested in the answer. An unsettling question is supposed to throw the candidate offguard and show their "true" nature.
Much of the famed HR interview is about this clairvoyant, X-ray visioned super men that HR has become and their power to gauge if the candidate will go psycho in the middle of a project. Hence the offensive questioning. See, these guys should fight crime.
Remember in Victorian English novels (including Sherlock Holmes) the author or the narrator always determine strength or weakness of character by the width of one's chin? HR in India is in that stage. You think I am overreacting? Wait till I describe the other interview.
Anyway company W never responded after the HR interview. So, I put my profile in I got a call one day from a consultant (recruiter). He wanted to setup an interview with his Boss. I had to interview with the Boss before I interviewed with the client.
I land at the Boss's office. I walk in, the guy gets up, I shake his hand and say "Nice to meet you" and sit down. Little did I know this would cause a chain of events that would keep me jobless.
The guy asked the usual questions about my background. He apparently had a background in HR for a long time. Suddenly he said, "I am saying this like a father or an elder brother - why do you present yourselves as so aggressive?"
I was surprised by this.
Then he said, "When you walked in you were stiff and unsmiling. Why didn't you say 'May I come in sir?' or 'How are you?' or 'May I sit down, sir?'?"
Since he said he was talking like my father, I readied myself for a beating. Usually that followed the mere talk.
He asked me, "Didn't your wife or mother-in-law say something about this to you?"
Why would my mother-in-law be involved?
Then the guy went on and on about positive thoughts and how I radiated negative thoughts, first impression being the best impression. Then he mentioned body language. Aha! Now I understood where he came from.
I knew that there was a book about Body Language that came out when I was in college. Just as "The Secrets of Positive Thinking" (Norman Vincent Peale) had convinced a generation to try control their thoughts, Body Language had given Indian amateur psycholgists (the same guys who read "How to Win Friends and Influence People") a splendid opportunity to pre-judge others. The book promised that you can gain insights into the "other" and predict their actions and thoughts from their unconcious body language. It was the modern equivalent of the width of the chin
Why is the other an enemy? Why would you want to predict their actions, influence their thoughts?
Anyway, this guy was one of those body language specialists. He started talking about the way I leaned forward, I leaned back and I leaned sideways. He also offered to counsel me on these issues.
The last thing I needed was counselling from an amateur psychologist. So I left and never returned.
The other thing I noticed about Indian companies is that your experience does not matter. They still want your Secondary School marks.
One of the "proofs" they want is your passport and photograph. When company W asked for these prior to my interview, I refused. I am sure asking for your date of birth before an interview is illegal. But Indian HR is the master of all they survey - after all they are the providers of invaluable jobs, Air-conditioned cubicles and promotions. Where would we be without them?