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Ladies, jumpstart your career!
Even in the face of the ongoing US meltdown (see end of article for more details) the BPO industry provides some of the most lucrative job opportunities on the market today. But how do you get into this market? And, once there, what do you need to do to make the big bucks that people keep promising? We take a look at some of the answers.
One of the most attractive things about some processes in the BPO industry is that they need only a basic 10+2 to enter. No international BPO unit hires an employee who is less than 18 years old, although domestic BPO outfits do (this isn't a problem if you have a sneaky headhunter).
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What is definitely required from a candidate is good communication skills and a willingness to learn. Many BPO companies hire candidates with basic qualifications and then train them. A company will pay a candidate more if s/he already possesses the necessary skills. Few companies will only hire employees who have had some kind of previous work experience.
High Attrition Industry
Even after years of experience, the HR departments of BPO companies have to deal with huge attrition levels.
One of the reasons is the fact that many view the BPO industry as a short-term, lucrative careers option. The odd hours, routine nature of the work and the stress of constantly dealing with irate customers also take their toll on the workforce. These aren't the only reasons though.
"Among those committed to the BPO industry, there are many reasons to leave a job," says Lokesh Manu, who worked as a third person collection executive at 24/7. "A major one is that BPOs frequently poach each other's employees, so you may get a better -- that is, higher paying -- job elsewhere. Also, many BPO employees move to Knowledge Process Outsourcing companies, which pay better and are also more interesting. And of course, some people, who enter the industry with the intention of staying, leave because they're turned off by the hard partying lifestyle."
Kinds of Work
Other than the well-known call centres (called voice-based processes), there are many higher-end BPOs which handle value added functions like invoice processing and research.
Another trend which promises to prove to be huge is the emergence of Knowledge Process Outsourcing. These are companies that handle high-end back office transactions like data analysis, planning etc. Legal Process Outsourcing is an example of this trend. Such companies hire skilled workers: MBAs, lawyers etc and have attrition rates in single digits. They also pay much better than BPOs, since they require employees with CAs, PhDs etc.
Levels of Work
An entry-level employee in a BPO unit is known, among other things, as an 'agent', 'associate' or 'executive'. The entry-level positions exist for those with under two years of experience. At a voice-based BPO unit, the salary at entry level is roughly Rs 12,000-20,000 per month, depending on a person's educational qualifications, experience and whether or not he or she has had any previous training, relieving the company of the need to train him or her.
At a non-voice based BPO unit, entry-level salaries vary from Rs 15,000-25,000. KPO units, requiring the high-level talent and qualifications that they do, pay Rs 18,000-30,000 per month.
BPO companies tend to have a relatively flat hierarchy. After three or four years of experience, an agent may be promoted to team leader.
A team leader in a voice-based BPO makes Rs 24,000-32,000 per month. A team leader in a non-voice BPO makes Rs 27,000-35,000 per month. A team leader in a KPO can rake in Rs 40,000+ a month.
The project manager is the highest level at which one is directly associated with processes in a company. A project manager at a voice-based BPO company makes between Rs 45,000-50,000 per month. A project manger at a non-voice BPO unit earns Rs 48,000-52,000 per month and a project manager at a KPO earns Rs 50,000 per month.
Training and Cross-Functionality
BPO companies, on a scale and with willingness absent in other industries, encourage their employees to take up training programmes that strengthen their skills or help them develop new ones. Not only do they grant employees the leave required to take up these programmes but some even fund them.
These programmes vary from those that teach agents to communicate more effectively with customers to MBAs in certain disciplines for managers. The key to progress in a BPO is to acquire new skills. Since the structure of the organisation does not change very often, it is easy to evaluate what skills -- and, by extension, courses -- are needed and what impact they will have on your career.
BPO units reward a person who has the ability -- and will -- to acquire new skills. A crucial component of one's career is internal job rotation: swapping job roles within the company itself, thus building a skillset that cuts across functions.
"This is very important as it sends out a very strong signal about the person and his work ethic." says Lokesh, "Companies want someone who can take on new challenges. I've had many friends who have been re-hired -- at good salaries -- by companies they've left who want to use the skills that the employees have gained while working for another company."
Employees will receive performance reviews every six months -- in some company's, every three -- which serve to gauge an employees' progress. At this point, new roles are assigned and training programmes recommended. This mobility is the key to success in the BPO sector, where talent is always short and good, enterprising employees are the most sought after commodity on the market.
With the US economy sagging and appearing ready to go into recession, BPO units are set to take a hit. However "It's still a very high growth industry," says Lokesh, "The cost-saving power of outsourcing is so powerful -- and potential so vast -- the industry will continue to grow even through hard times. The growth will be slowed down, and raises and promotions severely hit, but it's still one of the best options available to a young professional."
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