“The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Nothing describes the process of hiring talent better than this old adage. I’ve been closely involved in hiring decisions since I began my career in 1974 and clearly, a lot has changed in both the hiring and talent eco-system. The demand for quality talent has grown several folds as both established companies and start-ups look for ambitious and capable professionals. The sheer number of IIMs and IITs spewing out young talent has risen along with the number of companies visiting campuses. These days, headhunters are available in every nook and cranny with the likes of LinkedIn, naukri.com and monster.com, making the search process simpler and data analytics improving the chances of making the right choice.
Yet, despite all these spectrum changes, I’d argue that many companies continue to make the same mistakes in hiring that they did before technology was even a blip on our radar.
Why do I say so, you ask?
Well, over the years, I have witnessed and alas, been a party to many horrendous mistakes made where an obvious cultural misfit has been hired purely on the basis of a good-on-paper CV, buttressed by glib confidence during the interview.
As industry professionals, we have failed to probe the matching of values of an individual with that of the organization and we have strangled ourselves in our searches by foolish restrictions based on the perceived notions of our self-image.
Particularly unfortunate is the fact that we have misused the tools that technology provides us to abrogate our roles than facilitate them.
On the face of it, many of the mistakes we make while making hiring decisions may seem a tad bit obvious. Yet, as you read on, I’d challenge you to critically examine just how many of these ‘deadly sins’, as I call them, apply to your own firm and your industry.
Hire in haste, repent in leisure
The entire process of ‘search’ is prefixed and suffixed with the ‘need for speed’; and we clearly forget that we are not out shopping but making a long-term investment which can impact the company either way.
The internal customer stresses speed and HR carry the need to hurry much more closely than the specifics of the job requirement. As a result, a consultant or a head hunter is given an inadequate brief but told that "speed" is crucial.
With a vague brief, a consultant remembering the need for speed inundates you with CVs galore and the confusion is well underway. If the need for a warm body was kept in the background and a little more time had been spent on giving clear job descriptions, then the need for speed would have spoken for itself and a lot of wasted toil could have been avoided.
While pedigree matters, caliber, and character are just as critical
Many organizations restrict themselves up by only looking for candidates from certain educational institutes or with backgrounds from certain companies. In certain cases, of course, backgrounds from similar industries are warranted but please do bear in mind that there are excellent people available from lesser known institutes and from lesser reputed companies who are extremely capable, much more down to earth, affordable and can adjust to varying cultures. Tragically, they often go abroad and prove their mettle. This perverse love of self-image is only to our detriment.
If you’re keen to seek validation, ask for placement data from some of the leading business schools in the country. Or look at the internal data inside your own company. A leading business school1 found that nearly 70 percent of students ended up changing their first jobs within nine months to a year after graduating!
Always trust, but verify
Mushrooming consultants, professionals dealing with psychometric tests and agencies carrying out reference checks are welcome and a useful aid to the process; but that does not mean they start doing our jobs for us. We have to grind through the mill and expend elbow grease.
I know of one instance, where on the basis of a Skype interview, a marine engineer with "excellent" credentials was hired for a role at the factory in rural India. Nothing wrong with marine engineers, but a face-to-face rigorous interview would have shown that a lifetime in the high seas may not suit a rural milieu and that too in a factory. The end result? You can guess. Another aspect is the pre-employment medicals. Once a candidate is selected there is such hurry for him to join that insufficient care is given to the medical. A case comes to mind where a genuinely good person was engaged in a printing factory because he was clinically found fit. Two months later, he was found to be color blind.
Give it your full attention, your company’s future is in your hands
The actual interview is often not conducted with the due intensity that is warranted. How often do you find an interviewer keeping the candidate waiting? The tendency to cast furtive glances at the computer, get carried away on the mobile, keep looking at the watch are invariably routine. Another mistake is to call five or six candidates at 15 minute intervals and when there is a queue outside to hurry. This is not just bad manners but a failure to perform. This is not the way to hire a person who could make a difference either way to your company’s performance.
Look not just for raw talent, but also for values
This has been touched upon earlier but needs to be underscored. When recruiting, an insufficient focus is given to the match between a company’s culture and a candidate’s value system. Added to this, we tend to rely on outsiders for reference checks. It is an open secret that the IT sector went overboard in depending on outsourcing background checks and paid the price. Others may also have done so as well and probably remain ignorant of the consequences. It stands to reason that if the reference check is misleading, the experts do not suffer, it is the company. If a candidate is worth hiring, it is always preferable to get involved in the ultimate stage.
Onboarding without handholding
It may be argued that this last one is the most difficult to control and its impact is the worst. Having gone through the pain of finding a suitable person, many organizations (again in a tearing hurry) find it unnecessary to have a proper hand holding, induction or mentoring. This often leads to systemic non-acceptance of the new comer who flounders, feels rebuffed and ultimately leaves and you are left to go through the whole grind again.
In conclusion, I have to add a rider: not all companies are guilty of all these sins, but most do commit some and there are many doing a lot — and what’s more, they aren’t even aware of the consequences.
None of this is really rocket science. All it takes is a touch of humility and loads of perseverance to ensure better outcomes in hiring. And although technology has made things easier for us, it has also made us lazy. So the next time you’re involved in any hiring decision, remember that the future of the enterprise depends on you.