When I was leaving for the land of the somewhat free, for my PhD, many chose to speculate on it being a permanent move. That I would be settling in the US with a job, never to move back home, at least not willingly. Though presumptuous of them, it is not without precedence. An American degree has been the traditional path towards employment in the US. With the process fairly streamlined from F1 to OPT to H1B and finally a Green Card, it is generally considered to be a mutually beneficial means for companies to catch good talent while providing decent jobs to international students.
And it was true even in my case. I never said I am a trendsetter! I too finished my degree and set out to join a fairly large company to make the most of an opportunity dreamt up by so many and landed by so few.
However, I did return home as not predicted, after a few years of sweating corporate beads. And yet again, it became quite clear to me that I was not leading any pack. Students return home all the time. Some decide to do so right after their graduation while others after earning a few years of dollar’d salaries. Some are driven by personal reasons while others by extraneous factors – loss of jobs, better opportunities, US elections! (Read Reverse brain drain – Why Indians are returning home)
Quite naturally, the returnees try to plan ahead for their employment, in India, as they prepare themselves with the other essentials (Read My experience of returning from USA to India-NRI Checklist).
Let’s just begin with what the Indian economy looks like. The Indian GDP was in the neighborhood of 1.8 trillion, in 2012, with an annual growth of around 5%, expected to grow even more if 1.2 billion people keep their fingers crossed. Add to that the fact that as of 2015, a Nasscom report puts India as third in the world, when counting the number of start ups (4200+). And with the future of immigration policies being unpredictable, in the US, the move back home has become a distinct possibility.
With your sights set about a return to India, what kind of information will help you gauge the job prospects here? Remember, at every step you will be competing with a large number of candidates who have domestic degrees and are already well versed with the domestic structure.
There should be no doubt in your mind about the influence your choice of University or field has on your future. Even in India, the brand of IIT or IIM carries a much more significant weight as compared to a lesser known University. This doesn’t imply that other institutes produce any less. It is all in the perception of the employers. Give any candidate a few years of work experience and they will have enough opportunities to level the playing field. Until then, an MIT, Princeton or any Ivy league degree will make an employer drool a little more than other universities. According to a study done by a Market Entry Specialist firm, SANNAM S4, the employability of Indian students with a foreign degree, in India, depends on the employer’s knowledge of the University, among other things. The study, which produced two research papers in 2014 and 2015, surveyed various levels of small to large sized companies (<100 to more than 1000 employees) and students from various countries and universities.
The Executive Director and Head of Education at SANNAM S4, Lakshmi Iyer, shared her insights from the study and from her 14 years of experience in the Indian and International Higher Education Sectors. She said and I quote, “The challenge for returning graduates lies in articulating the value proposition of the institution that they have attended and what they can bring to the table as a potential employee. This is more so in the case of those individuals who don’t have prior work experience. Indian employers who are mass recruiters have institutionalized processes that they follow to fill up vacancies and they have their time tested institutions that they recruit from where they know the calibre they will get and have experience of inducting those cohorts into the workforce. With foreign institutions, firstly there is no scope to do mass drives and many hiring managers are risk averse. If something isn’t broken, why fix it?”.
Her insight shares the lack of exposure of Indian employers to foreign universities. Consequently, Indian employers have very little idea as to what to expect from a candidate from a US university.
However, the opportunities for getting hired increases if the employer has international scope, with enough awareness of US universities. Companies that encourage a versatile employee population, are also open to hiring foreign degree holders.
She also expressed her views on the importance of the thought that should go in choosing your University and degree of study. “You should do independent research.”, she said, “speak to current students and alumni to understand about their experiences. Indian students are very ranking conscious, however subject rankings should also be considered before deciding where they will go for further studies. I always maintain that degree selection should be done based on aptitude and interests and not on the basis of what everyone else is doing. A degree is for life and you may as well choose to do something that will help you enter a field that you will find exciting and enthused about.”
Worldly wisdom dictates that employers like to see how you have been post the brahmacharya stage of your life, you know when all the raw knowledge comes together to be useful skills. Lakshmi insists on the importance of a relevant work experience. “It is important to have experience. Job seekers should not shy away from taking unpaid internships to get the work experience. We find many returning graduates not willing to do so.”
You might find it harder to convince a hiring manager about job related skills if you were fresh out of school. Indian employers usually don’t have campus placement arrangements with US universities, making their pool of inexperienced freshly graduated applicants almost entirely from Indian universities/institutes. Having a few years of work experience provides the credibility recruiters look for.
The study also suggests that employers perceive international graduates to have better lateral thinking, communication and in some case better technical skills.
So maybe once you are quite determined to make your move, chalk out a plan to get visibility in your sector of expertize. Employers are not mind readers, you know. Use professional networking sites like LinkedIn, focused discussion groups or blog to start exhibiting your knowledge in your field of interest. Keep in touch with the latest developments, join focus groups, and contribute actively. Chances are that by the time you submit your CV or Resume, you would have created your own brand to legitimize your knowledge (Read Build, Improve or Change your Career by Blogging, Careerizma).
It will also, no doubt, open up your chances of getting connected with an existing network in India. And trust me, once you are in, you are golden.
There is no harm in sharpening your edge in the Indian market by adding a bit of some extra effort. Leave spring break for the next vacation and get hold of an internship program using your CPT (Read How is CPT different from OPT?). It will help you get recommendations for jobs, and perhaps even give you the chance to return after graduation. American Universities are also quite flexible in their course structures. So if you feel that a certain coursework or certification can add stars to your armor, go for it. A couple of extra credits will not be that heavy on your pocket and in any case knowledge is one of those things money can’t buy, for your credits, there’s Mastercard! And whatever you do, save. Prepare yourself to be secure while looking for a job either while in the US or when you return.
To conclude, being a job seeker anywhere is an unenviable situation to be in. But the economy, the inclusion of young thinkers and the explosion of start ups have been making the Indian job scene quite favorable. So whether you are someone who is planning to come back home or someone who is chalking out his move to get an MS or a PhD from the US, you should definitely keep a watchful eye on what’s happening back home. And if you are someone like me, you will appreciate not having to dedicate your time, money, effort and three shelves for the paperwork required to keep your legal status from running out of gas.
So educate yourself with the possibilities ahead. Learn what you can do with your options, both in the US and in India. Information will empower you to make the right decisions. And for that which is beyond your control, here’s wishing that the policies may forever be with you!
Image for representation only: Credit – uwm.edu