Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Head Hunter Who Loved Me

Readers may be interested to know that I've been unemployed for the last 4 months. How come? Talented, young, energetic and good looking engineer having a long time to relax.

My recent stint was at Cummins in Indiana where I had a fantastic time engineering and validating turbochargers for heavy duty diesel engines. Ironically, my native country's sluggish economy was touted as the reason I found myself among the 2000+ people laid off from the company. If you're in the automotive sector, you'll know that this vital lesson in globalization comes every 2 years.

I've certainly enjoyed the time off - traveling to distant places, meeting people, learning new things. But it has also been a chaotic period where I fully became aware of the challenges, some very interesting, faced by a displaced foreign skilled worker in the U.S.

For beginners, unless an employer gives an advance warning that you will be terminated, there is really no cushion to continue staying in the U.S without work. A terminated H1b worker is no longer an H1b worker, you're out of status that very moment (technically). This period is one of utter turbulence, a period when even families who have children going to school  may have to stop everything, pack their bags and make arrangements to leave. Not making this stuff up.

During my own 'turbulent' time after being laid off, I went 200% all out to find a new job. It was in my best interests to survive and if anyone can convince me this is a crime, sure write me a nice hate mail. But perhaps your job is already done. I can convince you that I went through a softer version of hell facing the ridiculous corporate red tape against sponsorship of foreign workers.

Imagine you're on the phone having a great conversation with a recruiter for Honeywell or Caterpillar or John Deere. They're interested in what you have to offer, they say, because they can't find anyone with your skills. There is a shortage of skilled professionals, that's a favorite line. But then comes the dreaded question of whether you would require sponsorship to which you say yes and slowly but certainly, all conversation stalls there. Even if you convince them that you can sponsor your own relocation costs, the rest of which should only be loose change to them, there is no negotiation room.

Is it really the company's fault that they cannot hire a displaced foreign worker for jobs where previous experience is blatantly evident? Or is it the United States' immigration policies that give foreign workers such a hard time finding their footing. I don't know.

I'm not a recruiter. But I've been told that when it comes to recruiting, head hunters have a side responsibility of reporting their numbers. Even if they don't really care about you, speaking with you will give them a chance to market the company and put a hard number on the hiring metrics. That's the recruiter's bottom line.  Its like this screenshot from a video game.

In my humble experience, I found this to act like a conflict of interest.  For instance, I found it was quite common for recruiters to sound super jubliant in the first couple of phone calls to me. However, after I had supplied them extensive information about myself, they would vanish into a black hole, never to be heard from again. A courteous and timely follow-up is not something they take seriously. In the frenzy of fishing for new heads, if your head is not so nice, you're pretty much left to drown I suppose.

Other recruiters who spoke to me in drone voices doing first time compatibility checks made me wonder whether it is the talent hunters that really need talent?  .

In a select few cases, after much pushing and shoving from my own end, I obtained interview opportunities. A notable case ended in disaster and I guess that makes the topic of my post.

One recruiter working for a Fortune 500 giant of company was curiously interested in me from the gun shot. She calls me up one fine day and that first impromtu phone conversation lasted 2.5 hours. By the end of the behavioral barrage of questions, and after much chit chat and laughter, I wasn't sure if she wanted to hire me or marry me.

On one hand, I give it up to her for the unconventional style to pry me out which I liked as opposed to the boring, canned approach used by most recruiters. She wasn't asking predetermined questions from a list. She was having a real dialog with me, often very Socratic in nature and I love those conversations. She said she really wanted to know if I would be a good fit and whether the company would be a good fit for me. Some words of advice were even offered from her own life going through unemployment. I mean, it was great! I didn't demand all this.

So what was I getting into? After that and a couple of emails, she informed me that I passed the screening and my next and only battle was to handle the technical portion of the interview with the hiring manager. Up until this stage, she had full awareness that I required visa sponsorship and that I fit the bill for a genuine candidate.

The humor was there as well. Hardly could she hide the fact she liked me. In fact  she told me that when pushing my name to her immediate boss to sign me up for the interview, her exact words to them were 'I LOVE Ron George, we need him'. Thanks ma'am for the openness. I love you too. :/

Great, so this individual goes ahead and notifies me of my interview date, time and agenda. Everything seemed great on paper. I loved the job description, so I burned midnight oil to prepare myself for the interview, all my questions and answers laid systematically on multiple flash cards. I knew exactly what could be asked and how I could answer it. SOAR stories you know. [SOAR stands for Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result]

Come interview day. 2 or 3 hours before designated time, I get an email from her saying that my interview was put on hold, that they would need to check some additional things before giving it a go.

I became suspicious.

Curious as I was, I wrote her a barrage of emails inciting an explanation.  Would there be an interview on another day? Err, sorry, not at this time.

She called a few days later, perhaps out of her distress, to tell me that while she was convinced I fit the bill for a candidate, her superiors thought this was slightly unprofessional , you know, the approach she was taking with me. Well, like that was not awkward for me!!

It was when I pressed her for more information that the cat really popped out of the bag. The real reason I didn't get the interview was that global HR headquarters was still debating whether foreign citizens could be allowed for the interview. It was after I get an interview date that they conveniently thought they should close the opportunity for me. Or was that even the real story?

Fortunately, I have a good network of contacts so a couple of weeks later, another 3rd party head hunter who sought candidates to fulful the same job position informed me that since this company tried and could absolutely find no American engineers for the role, they were opening it to business majors!!! This was a bit heart breaking and alarming at the same time.

If this organization was really trying to cut costs by barring foreign workers a sponsorship, how much more cost effective is it to hire someone who has absolutely zero engineering background performing application engineering for this product? I guess I do not want to find out how this item will do in an end customer's application. Or their overhead training this guy to do what he's not used to doing.

A few weeks before I left the United States, I heard a speech by Obama on television calling for a complete overhaul of the U.S immigration policy, particularly the way the country facilitates opportunities for skilled workers. More visas, more green cards, more quotas. Sounds great on paper. While I write this, the legislation has been unveiled in Congress. While it awaits many months of debate and more debate, I hope something of value will be left for the taking for skilled workers.

Meanwhile, don't get romantic with any head hunter. Watch out! 

1 comment:

Rizz said...

Man, that is awful. I wondered why you went to Dubai. Come to Australia, you'd get a job easily and we seem to love giving them away to foreigners.