Career
Personal Finance Exclusive
Job Interview: Loaded questions

What if a job interview is merely a cover to collect information? G Venkatesh writes about such a case

A few days ago, one of my friends (a security surveillance expert) got a call from the HR head of a second-rung, Bengaluru-based, real-estate developer (with a supposed turnover of more than Rs1,000 crore). He mentioned that he had found my friend’s profile on Naukri.com and enquired...

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Personal Finance Exclusive
Are you hiring correctly? -2

Team dynamics play a vital role and therefore need to be considered while hiring. Many firms are taking the right steps by conducting personality assessments to gauge the ability of a hire to work well in teams

Despite all precautions, there is no way to tell accurately whether a new recruit will be able to perform. It is a gamble. To reiterate, the performance delivery of an employee is dependent on so many factors-most important being empowering an employee to take decisions. Delineating the job responsibilities is also a sensitive process. If it is far too complex, it may scare the wits out of the prospects. It is also important to link the job responsibilities with the business goals.
 
Team dynamics play a vital role and therefore need to be considered while hiring. Often, employees who have been in the organisation (where the entrepreneur is at the helm of the affairs for a long time) resist change and can prove to be a bane when the firm's business model changes. Their emotional attachment to the past (and the entrepreneur) will make it impossible for the organisation to move ahead for executing its strategy. This is mostly the case in those organisations that are not process-driven. Such employees may no longer fit in the new scheme of things. The matter needs to be handled with utmost sensitivity. Such employees will have to be retrained. Expectations from them have to be realistic.
 
Candidates are smart nowadays. They are well-informed (thanks to the Internet and social media) and so they use all their ingenuity to overstress their strengths and underplay their weaknesses. Candidates with king-sized egos can find it a bit of a challenge to settle quickly in a new organization. Mr Surendran, a consultant who worked for Personal Search Services, says that candidates who have worked in multinational firms find it difficult to adjust and adapt to the organizational climate in start-ups and Indian firms.
 
Many firms are taking the right steps by conducting personality assessments to gauge the ability of a hire to work well in teams. No employee can afford to bad mouth his present organization in front of his potential employers. However, recruiters can seek honest feedback from candidates about the real reason for leaving. Candidates are well-advised to give honest opinion that is constructive and subtle. For instance-instead of saying that the current organization does not reward talent, a candidate can say that the organization has a policy of not discriminating between performers and non-performers.
 
The values in an organization are greatly dependent on the CEO and his outlook (this is more so, if it is a sole proprietorship firm). Hiring candidates who can meet the long term goals of the organization is a good strategy. If one is focused too much on hiring candidates with similar skill sets, then this may not always lead to a successful outcome. Placing more emphasis on the future is also a step in the right direction. Too many recruiters focus on what the candidate has done in the past. Very few look at what the candidate can deliver in the future.
 
In India, there is a tendency for recruiters/organizations to look down upon people who voluntarily apply to an organization. Recruiting is an on-going process. Even if there is no vacancy, firms can preserve resumes and source them when there is a potential opportunity. The response given to such candidates says a lot about the mindset of the top teams.
 
Use of social media, tapping the information in journals and magazines, sourcing candidates from the membership details of professional organizations, using industry trade shows to spot talent-these are some of the innovative hiring techniques used by some organizations. What a candidate does after office hours is also gaining credence as part of the recruitment process. The locations for conducting an interview are also changing. The days of an intimidating interview panel asking questions to a candidate sitting across the table are over. Informal interviews in coffee shops and restaurants are in. This is a welcome change for sure.
 
Let's end with an interesting story of mindless hiring process that got corrected on the spot. A past president of a Tata Group firm used to tell interviewers "be friendly with candidates and ask relevant questions". He told an instance where as an observer during an interview, he noticed that the interviewer was asking the candidates questions which were not relevant. The interviewer continued to frame some more similar questions that bordered on the absurd. At that time, the president politely asked the candidate to wait outside and informed him that he will be called back. Then he asked the interviewer, "will you please give me the answers that you put to the candidate?"
 
The interviewer was shocked. He did not expect such interruption from president but mumbled "sorry sir". The president patted him and told him to refine his interviewing skills by preparing relevant questions and then called the candidate inside. The reframed questions elicited correct answers and the candidate was selected and became one of the top executives in the company. In this episode, the guidance of the president is to be appreciated.
 
In another instance, a group of supervisors and a HR person were interviewing candidates for the post of fitter, turners and machinists.  The supervisors were happy with the candidates whose basic knowledge was sufficient to get work out of them. But the HR person suddenly asked "who is the prime minister of Sri Lanka?" which baffled the works manager who was observing the procedure. He got up and courteously called the HR person outside the room and told him "If the candidate is so much knowledgeable to know politics and know names of presidents and prime ministers, he could not have stopped from ITI course-the crowd in ITI stream is lower middle class who cannot afford a newspaper. He further said "Am I right in suggesting that to this type of candidates, we will stop short of asking basic technical questions?" The HR person acknowledged the guidance of the works manager.

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Personal Finance Exclusive
Are you hiring correctly? -1

You can’t select a candidate just because he was an outstanding performer in his previous job. Neither can you reject one because of mediocre performance in his last role. Are companies thinking creatively?

Amol Kale (not his real name) is devastated. A star-performer in a well-known multinational, he joined an organisation in the sunrise industry to escape the monotony and stagnation in his earlier job. There was not much scope for him in terms of career growth opportunities in the multinational organisation where he worked for more than a decade. This prompted him to accept the offer to join this little-known firm that held lot of promise for the future. There was a lot of scope to perform, learn & unlearn and contribute to the growth of this organisation. It sounded pretty much exciting to be part of a growth story of an upcoming industry. However, Amol is currently on the look-out for another job - barely fourteen months after he joined the new organisation.
 
The reasons are crystal clear. What works for one organisation seldom works for another. The leadership style varies from organisation to organisation. Star performers in an organisation succeed because there is a synergy between their skills, aptitude and capabilities and the organisational culture and infrastructure. In the absence of such factors, it is an enormous challenge for star performers to replicate the earlier success story in new organisations that they join. For instance, budget availability in cash rich multi-national firms may not be an issue for new initiatives; however, the funds may not be so easily available in Indian companies unless there is a clear business need for the same.
 
There needs to be a change in hiring techniques employed by organisations. In a fluid business environment, where change is the only constant, organisations need to use creative thinking to hire the best talent. A resume can say a lot about a candidate's skills, experience and competence, but very little about the intangibles. It is easy to look at the profiles of candidates who have similar experience for a new job. However, there is a need to look beyond. It is also important to understand the reason(s) behind a candidate's desire to seek a job change. This is why a reference check or a background check is assuming lot of significance nowadays.
 
You can't select a candidate just because he was an outstanding performer in his previous job. Neither can you reject one because of mediocre performance in his last role. Performance is relative - it can never be absolute. Firms need to use psychometric tools as one of the techniques to gauge the suitability of a candidate. But the decision to hire a candidate must be made on the basis of cumulative factors.
 
One has to accept the fact that, on most occasions, personal interviews are subjective affairs. A candidate who speaks passionately about his role and shows pride in his work can be easily labeled as one with loads of attitude. Many candidates fall into the trap laid by interviewers regarding the compensation. In his book 'What Color is Your Parachute', Richard Bolles says that compensation should always be discussed at the fag end only when there is a clarity that the organisation is keen to recruit the candidate and that the candidate is willing to take the bait. In reality, most firms use the "CTC" (Cost to Company) numbers to reject candidates.  
 
Besides looking at qualifications, the scope for sharpening the learning curve of a candidate through on-the-job training needs to be explored too. Many candidates are asked to jump onto the fray right from day one. A warm-up time to settle down in the job, understand the organisational culture and team dynamics is vital. This explains the need and relevance of induction programs.
 
Hiring a right candidate is similar to the process of buying your own home. Hasty decisions can be counter-productive. If an organisation takes too long to decide, then they may lose a good candidate. An employee who is on the look-out for a job, almost always behaves like a patient in a hospital who has recovered from a major illness and is to be discharged soon. So, it is necessary to communicate the decision about a selection within a reasonable time-frame. Some organisations do not communicate any decision at all - which is even worse.
 
Amit Malhotra (not his real name) is embittered when a chemical firm in Mumbai (Galaxy Surfactants) shortlisted him for a job after conducting an interview and subjecting him to psychometric assessments. The HR head then asked him to send all his salary details of the last 16 years - month on month. Amit was seeking a change after 16 years in an MNC.
 
Amit who was pretty much organised did that. He typed out all the salary details in an excel spread sheet. But the appointment letter remained elusive. The HR head simply refused to take the call. This happened despite the fact that Amit had spent a whole day filling up application forms and appearing for the interview which seemed to have gone exceedingly well. Later on, Amit came to know that they were not willing to pay him the kind of salary that he was currently drawing. Rather than being spot-on about it, the firm used devious tactics to reject him. Such hiring practices do not augur well for an organisation's future. Many candidates do accept a lower remuneration if the long term job prospects are good. Why the hesitation? It is a myth that all candidates who seek a change are doing it only for money.
 
Most entrepreneurs have expressed their views that they have always felt the need to do a second guess while hiring a candidate for senior most roles. Sometimes, they may ask others in the organisation to re-evaluate a candidate. Though this is the right approach, one has to be circumspect about the strength of the re-evaluation panel. Too many members and their diverse opinions can only compound the confusion. Experts have advocated the use of gut-feel to decide on a suitable hire when everything else fails.

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