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Coronavirus impact: Hiring activity resumes but the skill sets needed have changed

While companies are looking at hiring talent with digital skills at the lower and middle levels, at the leadership and managerial level, candidates need to have the ability to handle remote, floating teams

November 27, 2020 / 01:50 PM IST

When Manish Purohit, 36, applied for a sales job at an insurance firm, he was asked whether he was equipped with online selling skills. This was new territory for the Mumbai resident, as he has purely been involved in field sales in the financial sector so far. Purohit was asked to understand the basics of digital sales and come back a month later for the interview. Eventually, he was recruited in an e-sales position.

Amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the job market has slowly seen signs of revival. Sectors like financial services and insurance, IT and FMCG have begun to hire again. But what has changed in the skills that are in demand.

Take diversified financial services company IIFL Finance, for instance. The company’s HR spokesperson said that hiring has begun in full swing for the gold loan business and continues in the digital and technology space. The spokesperson said that the new skills that are gaining traction are digital strategy, digital engagement and digital lending.

What has changed in hiring?

Close to 10 million jobs have been lost across India due to the financial uncertainty around Covid-19 and the initial lockdowns imposed across States. Till mid-June, hiring activity remained muted, with several companies going on a cost-cutting spree by letting go of staff and freezing hiring.


However, human resource officials said that hiring has now picked up pace. The skills in demand, however, have a digital slant.

Vibhash Naik, Head, HR, L&D & Administration, HDFC Life Insurance, said that digital dexterity is becoming a basic competency and almost a necessity for talent that one hires. He also said that talent at the leadership/manager level needs to have the capabilities to deal with remote, floating teams.

“They need to demonstrate high emotional quotient and have the ability to collaborate and work with cross-functional team members who may not necessarily be from the same line of hierarchy,” he added.

HDFC Life started hiring from August but Naik explained that the addition to headcount is based on business criticality.

Product distribution has also moved online so the idea is to hire individuals who are well-versed with e-sales and know how to keep customers engaged.

Kapil Udaiwal, Chief People Officer, IDBI Federal Life Insurance, said that a large percentage of the workforce is continuing to work from home and this situation is likely to carry on over the next few months.

“With social distancing being the need of the hour, the digital journey of most life insurance companies has been fast-tracked. We are therefore keen to hire candidates who actively seek out digital tools and data to reach out to new customers, improve processes and enhance the customer experience,” he added.

For companies already operating in the digital space, the hiring scenario has been robust. But digital-ready talent is the first preference.

Preeti Kaul, President-HR, at edtech firm upGrad, said that the company continued to be cautiously optimistic during the pandemic, on-boarding 40 percent of the leadership team.

“For the rest of the organisation, we delved into the right mix of talent and competence, ensuring that our growth plans are amply supported by continuously raising organisational capabilities. Hiring has been on in full swing for us across all of our functions,” added Kaul.

As far as talent is concerned, upGrad is looking at ‘agile and adaptable’ individuals who can pivot with the current changes in the workplace ecosystem with remote working.

Considering that interviews are being held online amidst all the remote working, companies are also looking to hire talent by delving deeper into their behavioural traits.

Kristyl Bhesania, EVP and CHRO, Tata AIA Life Insurance, said that the key skill in demand is tech-savviness and an ability to operate in a fully digital environment. Bhesania explained that talent needs to be able to connect with consumers and make them comfortable with a contactless method.

“There are gamified assessment tools being used that are designed to predict candidates’ adaptability towards remote working,” she added.

In the IT sector, skills such as cloud computing, cybersecurity and full-stack developers are in demand among new hires.

During the company’s recently concluded analyst meet, Wipro CEO Thierry Delaporte pointed out that there is a huge focus on cloud and other new-age technologies that will drive growth for the firm and said there is a need for talent in these new-generation technologies. They include cloud computing, data science and artificial intelligence.

Emotional quotient is the new need

Emotional intelligence/emotional quotient refers to the ability of an individual to understand and use their own emotions in a positive way to resolve crisis situations and also handle stress, communicate and emphasise with colleagues/clients.

Bhesania said that interviewers are increasingly looking at EQ (emotional quotient) even more than IQ (intelligence quotient) as it is more critical than ever before and will be a key differentiator among candidates.

“The way candidates deal with situations and take decisions amidst the crisis and challenges, with equanimity, — decisions that are not just intelligent but smart and emotionally right — these are more important than ever before,” she added.

Cautious optimism prevails

Even as hiring has resumed across companies, the numbers are still not back to pre-Covid levels.

Deval Singh, Business Head, Mobilization (hiring) team at human resource firm TeamLease Services, said that while there has been a rise in hiring there is caution. “There is a 50 percent increase in employment opportunities from the lockdown days. The festival season has added a healthy hiring spike in the FMCG, Ecommerce and Retail industries. The market is cautiously but firmly showing hiring growth in the financial, manufacturing and telecom sectors as well,” added Singh.

Companies are also ready to hire someone with 2-3 years less experience than the requirement if he/she has the right digital skills.

Delhi-based hiring consultant Prateek Nandi said that the thrust in the FMCG sector in particular has been to get talented people who are active on social media and who also can help in brand building activities online.

“A new hire who has social media skills and can help brand marketing on these platforms will be valued more than a traditional marketing specialist who may not be adept at social media,” he added.

Another aspect that the pandemic has bought about in the employment market is the shift in the way companies are looking at hiring.

Singh of TeamLease Services said that across India Inc, there is caution being exercised in increasing headcount. This is amidst uncertainty about a recovery, across sectors. Apart from the IT-led skills, a collaborative approach and constant communication is being emphasised upon for new talent.

“Remote work can get very boring if a candidate is not inwardly motivated and energetic in nature. Companies expect you to be your own coach and cheerleader now,” said Singh.
M Saraswathy
first published: Nov 27, 2020 01:50 pm
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