Human Capital Outlook

Do strong hiring criteria bring out superlative performers?

Every company has a desire to hire the best talent like the desire of an individual to work for the best company. It is commonly believed that the ones hired through a most stringent evaluation process deploying narrow criteria & competency definitions would propel business better, implicit is the assumption that they would turn out to be the best performers as well. This is akin to an invalid corollary arising from an observation that all IIM graduates are successful & hence all successful professionals are IIM graduates!

Besides various functional criteria (including previous performance) used for evaluation, factors such as educational & professional pedigree, personality & leadership traits etc are key in any hiring evaluation. Research on the validity of such criteria is either not existent or limited at best; given the talent situation, most hiring managers are falsified in their belief that these factors are most important & that more stringent criteria imply a better hiring plan.

Talent in India is a supplier’s market. With a severe crunch afflicting all sectors at various levels, there is a need to rethink & analyze the evaluation criteria most commonly used. In corporate India, we are in the process of creating a ‘cult’ around people who have attended certain universities or worked at certain organizations. It is being assumed that because of them, a company will be more successful than competition. This falsified assumption then leads the company to hire or atleast seek only such professionals. However, has it been empirically proven that all the hired turn out to be best performers? If this were true, there wouldn’t have been any need for such ‘pedigreed’ professionals to look for a job outside since the company would have taken care of their best performing talent.  

In a dynamic business environment, what has been successful or what is successful in a particular place may not be in another & also may not be relative to time. What was a winning competency set here may be a losing one in a different set-up or environment. Many times, people who find success in a job & perform well in the same, could be in a function that may be remotely related to their degree, and or does not reflect prior work experience. Interview skills are thus surely not an indicator of future success.

Over the past few years, most Indian companies in almost all sectors have repeatedly debated- how hard it is getting to get the right talent. Right talent?

In India today, talent can be mostly divided into two groups- the ‘Tortoise’ & the ‘Rabbit’. ‘Rabbits‘ are candidates mostly with an Ivy league education pedigree like an IIT- IIM combination coupled with an equally strong set of companies worked for, strong personality, authoritative, excellent communication skills, thinking, reasoning & problem solving skills, global mind set, cultural adaptability, strong presentation skills, etc. Essentially, they will tend to be the first choice & the strongest candidates for any job. Such candidates enjoy a headstart in any interview & hiring managers admire such candidates. 

The turtles are mostly from relatively lesser pedigree institutes, have developed most of their skills on the job, have invariably started slow in the beginning of their careers with lesser known companies (with many amongst them finding difficulty in finding their first job), have a strong ‘grounds up’ experience and a drive to grow. They are not authoritative in their communication but want to build the same, not brash or aggressive & definitely not with an incorrect attitude. They can be easily molded, cross trained & redeployed into another function if required.

If a tortoise expects a salary of X, a rabbit expects 2X. Besides, the expectations of the rabbit in terms of the role, job profile, etc is also higher, far higher. The importance of working with the right brand & on drop of the hat, moving on to a better opportunity- rabbits are generally not seen to be loyal. And so was the experience of one of our clients who mentioned that attrition rates have dramatically reduced with a change in hiring policy of recruiting candidates who are only from top universities to a more meaningful shift towards evaluation criteria based on overall credentials and not too much weight on the educational institute.

The argument to hire with the consequent cost, effort, and time spent in getting the ‘rabbits’ on board is further weakened if one were to analyze the background of corporate CEOs at several sectors in the country- a majority of them are not from pedigree education institutions like the IIMs, several of them have not even attended any formal business school! Despite the lack of distinguished academic pedigree, such ordinary professionals have worked out well for companies & that’s why they are there.

Personality of the candidate including his/her articulation & command over English is important for all white collar jobs in India. Consider Japanese companies which are of global scale, whose management style & philosophies are world renowned despite the lack of English speaking skills of their managers. Personality cannot be the fundamental driver for promotion, performance should be. The latter has come to be associated with the former which is again falsified given numerous instances of successful people & high performers not having the smartest personalities.

Clearly, the need to hire stars for every job is a misguided ideology; hiring stars can never guarantee performance. Great performers tend to emerge over time, rather than be fully detailed & predicted at the interview.