Chitra Narayanan

How Airtel improved its offer-to-joining ratio

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on January 08, 2018

Wake-up call Airtel had to alter its formula to hire the best

The story of how the telecom giant arrested candidate drop-offs and began attracting the right talent

A few years ago when Bharti Airtel began the process of digital transformation within the organisation, it faced a huge hiring challenge. The company was, itself, transforming – from a telecom company it had grown into a big group with three verticals and wider talent needs, yet was attracting only telecom professionals.

Airtel now needed to hire not just for telecom, but also for its entertainment division (Wynk, Airtel Movies, and such) and the new payments bank division. Even within telecom the profile of the candidate it was seeking had undergone a radical change as it needed completely new skills. But, a bigger problem was that even when it identified the right talent, the candidate was not biting. In 2015, only two in every 10 offers that Airtel made converted into jobs. The offer drop percentage was as high as 80 per cent. Something needed to be done urgently.

How Airtel overcame this challenge is a fascinating case study.

The background and context to this challenge, says Srikanth Balachandran, Global CHRO of Bharti Airtel, is that digitisation and digitalisation are both gathering terrific momentum and transforming the way organisations work. Telecom is no exception. The product and experiences have now got to be delivered to customers in an online form rather than in physical form. So, Airtel now needed digital talent, and Big Data specialists. Even among the engineers it now needed diverse specialities – IOT, cloud, and such. “We needed very different talent from the traditional network engineers,” says Balachandran.

When it began analysing why the right talent was not coming its way, Airtel faced some sobering truths. For starters, the engineers they were trying to attract felt that Airtel was not a relevant place for them. Clearly, there was a need to reposition Airtel as a technology company to the engineering community, where not just supervisory but hard-core coding work was done. So Airtel unleashed a social media campaign as well as created stories on television that described the engineering work at Airtel. It got testimonials that it put on LinkedIn.

Balachandran also describes how Airtel also took a hard look at its own internal processes. Was the hiring process too long? They found it was taking three to four weeks. “We crashed it to 3-4 days,” he says. Whenever it did bulk hiring or batch hiring, it tried to close it the same day.

It also changed some of the ways in which it was hiring. Hackathons and coding tests were introduced. “We also hired recruiters who would know the skilled talent that we wanted,” he says. Airtel also added an AI tool. “We started working with HR tech recruitment company and used its tools,” he says.

Another issue that came up during their analysis was compensations. “We found we were benchmarking salaries against traditional telecom companies. Now, we decided to create a different technical track for engineers,” Balachandran said. Even the internal job grading was very telecom-oriented, with designations such as Assistant Manager, which Airtel found held no appeal for the engineers it was trying to attract. “Developers want designations such as Principal Engineer, or Senior Developer. So we decided to talk the language they understood and created those designations,” he says. The creation of the Technical Track within the organisation helped them introduce these new roles.

And, then finally, a big hiring innovation that Airtel did was to create a bench for prospective candidates. Airtel cast its net and identified talent that it felt would be a good fit and seeded them the idea of a job with it at some point. “When the right time and the right opportunity comes, we told them we will talk to them,” says Balachandran.

The efforts have paid off. From the 80 per cent drop off in 2015, Airtel cut down the rate to 50 per cent in 2016 and this year, it’s down to 26 per cent. That means now, around seven candidates in ten accept.

“Does that mean we have arrived?” asks Balachandran. “ No, it’s a continuous process. We are still fighting for talent,”he admits. But certainly hiring at Airtel now has the right ring about it.

Published on October 25, 2017

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