Experience Vs Character: A Perspective on the Interview Process


One of the pivotal HR processes in any organization is the one that kick starts the employee life cycle – “Hiring.” HR teams in many organizations are perpetually busy in sourcing, interviewing, negotiating salaries and making offers. The journey from creating a job description to hiring the candidate includes processes, technology, people and most importantly few rounds of “conversation”. The last element as we all know is termed as an “interview”. Unfortunately, in the din and bustle of the series of activities, at times, the interview gets reduced to yet another task in the chain of events. I am not against a pragmatic approach to meet multiple deadlines or smart time management. However, it is imperative not to miss one point in this context: what is the recruiter’s perspective on hiring? Is it just about hiring for a role that consists of some key deliverables or is it about on boarding a new citizen into an unfamiliar habitat? Are we just about to add another employee number to the HR database or are we looking for someone who would fit in effectively into the values and cultural framework of the organization? I have been lucky to meet some excellent recruitment professionals during my career and to me, the only differentiating factor between a busy recruiter and an effective recruiter is the “perspective” with which they enter the interview room.

Let’s start with the first relevant document in the process: the resume. A good resume can actually lead to recruiter bias very easily. Actually, just the joy of finding a good resume for a role (particularly when a lot of positions are to be closed) overpowers the most significant objective of the interviewer: looking for attitudinal fitment. Core skill set is only a subset of what the interviewer should look for. The more senior the position, the lesser the role of technical skills and the more the requirement for character/behavioural assessment during the interview. An interview process is completely flawed unless candidates are probed for values, motivators and people skills. The long term tenure and success of a selected candidate will hugely depend on these factors because of a fundamental truth which everyone involved in the interview process should be cognizant of: individuals we hire will get impacted and impact the organizational culture. It is important that they are able to seamlessly settle into the organizational culture and impact the culture positively. The environment and culture that prevails in teams and hence within the organization at large is the cumulative product of the personalities, beliefs, values, and attitudes of candidates we interview and hire. Therefore, an interviewing methodology that focuses only on skill set is extremely myopic and ineffective in the long run.

The fact that attitudinal fitment should be assessed, is definitely acknowledged by all organizations- theoretically though. The question is, to what extent does this belief get converted into reality? At a grass root level, the question is; how many recruiters are equipped to conduct a behavioural interview in the real sense of the term? It would be unfair to say that organizations don’t make an attempt. They do. One of the simplest solutions is to put together a detailed interview questionnaire that combines technical with behavioural questions. However, how can a document ensure that behaviour and attitude are matched with the job role? The document might provide a tentative sequence of questions or act as a ready reckoner for the interviewer, but it will not guarantee that behavioural aspects are assessed and the fitment established.

From experience, I am convinced about one key principle of successful interviewing: It is always a combination of logic and intuition. So the question is what can organizations do to ensure character is also assessed along with skills? How can behavioural and personality fitment be assessed alongside technical expertise? The answer lies in few simple steps:

1. Upskill the HR team on behavioural interviewing, irrespective of what level they interview. This is not a skill that can be acquired in one training, it actually takes few years to master. Therefore, it is critical to pitch behavioural interviewing as a fundamental skill within HR.

2. Facilitate best practice/knowledge sharing sessions between tenured and inexperienced interviewers. Considering that most recruitment teams have challenging targets to chase, this is a simple way to maintain focus on such an important skill.

3. Use shadowing as a process to do a dipstick on interview effectiveness. A tenured interviewer could shadow an inexperienced interviewer and pitch in wherever required. The shadowing process could also work the other way round to ensure learning for inexperienced interviewers.

4. Setting the interviewing questionnaire in context: A lot of organizations have detailed assessment sheets with a plethora of behavioural questions. However, during trainings on interviewing skills, it is important to put the questions and the sheet in the right context. There are few things which must be clarified to interviewers:

– Questions are to be asked to lead to discussion on a certain behavioural aspect. However, probing has to be appropriate to drive closure. No assessment sheet can list down all possible follow up probes.

– Sometimes, intuitively, you might feel that the candidate’s answers are too good to be true. You might have asked all the questions listed on the assessment sheet, but you are still not convinced. What’s your strategy then? One good way is to resort to negative questions- for example, what was your biggest goof up in the last two years? The truth is all of this can’t be documented on an assessment sheet.

Therefore, HR teams have to ensure that their recruiters are aware of these possibilities and are developing an apt interviewing skill that combines knowledge, experience and intuition.

Never miss out on probing on motivators and values. It is important to know if the organization can provide long term motivation to the candidate and if the candidate’s individual personality and value system will fit into the overall cultural fabric of the organization.

The only way to develop this skill set is organizational awareness of the criticality of this skill. And honestly, it is not utopian to expect that every candidate is taken through a behavioural interview round. With experience, a behavioural interview can be done very precisely without having to go through the whole list of questions mentioned in the interview sheet.

Assessing character in an interview sounds like a judgmental way of going about the selection process. But it is not about assessing character, it is about assessing character fitment. Personal and professional lives are separate, but you can’t rule out the holistic nature of individual personality and value system. Every time an interview is conducted, the organization is trying to induct a human being who comes in with a set of life experiences and beliefs. An accumulation of these experiences, values and beliefs is what transforms into the organizational culture. This fact becomes rather pivotal when we look at senior roles. The value system of the individuals sitting in the board room is the culture of the organization- it is as simple as that. How then can we miss out on values, beliefs and motivators when we are interviewing?

Source by Sweta P Mishra


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