Hiring the best is not always the best way to hire

Abhijit Bhaduri works as the Chief Learning Officer for the Wipro group. He lives in Bangalore, India. Prior to this he led HR teams at Microsoft, PepsiCo, Colgate and Tata Steel and worked in India, SE Asia and US. Bhaduri is an alumnus of Xavier Labor Relations Institute (XLRI), Jamshedpur and has written two bestselling novels Mediocre But Arrogant and Married But Available. In this interview he speaks to Vivek Kaul about his latest book Don’t Hire the Best.
You write that companies can either hire the best or they can hire the right person. What do you mean by that?
I believe that successful hiring happens when there is a fit between the person, the role he/she is expected to do and the culture of the organization where the person will work. Most hiring tends to get limited to checking what is already written in the resume. People get hired for their competence and fired for personality. It is possible to teach someone how to craft strategy but it takes many years to teach someone to be resilient or dramatically change their ability to handle stress. At the time of hiring spend more time assessing what the job needs and what will take a long time to train the person in.
Around 95%of the hiring happens by what people write on their resume. You believe that should not be case. Hiring should be based on figuring out competencies and personalities or what you call the right fit for the job. Could you explain that in detail with examples?
The first step the hiring team should put together is a set of requirements for the job. This is called a Success Profile and has four components – Education, Experience, Competencies and Personality. 
Education can be understood in terms of academic qualifications. Does the person need a degree or license to ensure that the person has been trained in? For example, if you are hiring a doctor, look for the degree in medicine or surgery. 
Then look for the quality of the experience that the role demands. Don’t just speak about years of experience. What kind of experiences should a person have is a more relevant question. Some people may have gathered that experience in a shorter time and some may have taken longer.
Can you give us an example here?
For example, you could say the person should have developed three new formulations, instead of saying, that the role demands someone with “10-12 years of experience”. Then look for the competencies that the role needs. Don’t look for a laundry list. Identify the two or three most important competencies, which if missing will make the person fail. For example, the ability to coach and develop a team would be a valuable competency to look for in a leader whose success depends on coaching the team. Finally, add the missing piece – personality. Identify the one or two personality elements that will impact the success or failure in the job. For instance, writing software often will means have the ability to concentrate for long stretches of time and to be very detail-oriented. Just hiring a qualified software professional who has the years of experience may not be enough.
My first lesson in hiring was that it did not matter what I asked,” you write. That statement sounds a little paradoxical. Can you explain what do you mean by it?
Interviewers will often find clever questions to stump the interviewee. ‘If you could be an animal which animal would you be?’ I know an interviewer who will invariably ask the candidate to name the capital of some obscure country. These questions give the interviewer an ego massage but do not yield any insight. Every question must yield an insight about two things: the ability of the candidate to do the job well or to be able to fit with the culture of the organization. I am assuming that someone has assessed the technical capability of the individual. For example an ad agency will give a candidate a “copy writer’s test” to assess writing skills and proficiency levels.
Why is it very important to assess the personality of a candidate while hiring him? All this in a way sounds too complicated. Wouldn’t just flipping a coin be a more accurate way of hiring?
Most interviewers are able to evaluate how the education and experience of the candidate fits the role. Competencies can best be evaluated through what is called Behavioral Event Interviewing. Personality assessment needs skill. There are hundreds of instruments that one could choose from. It takes a trained person to know which is the right instrument to use. That is like saying, there is no pint checking your cholesterol level, if you have a problem with your hearing. So it is not good enough to use any instrument – you need to find the right instrument that will tell you about the aspects of personality that will impact job performance. For example if you are hiring someone to be an Air Traffic Controller, which is the most stressful job in the world, it is useful to know if the candidate has a high ability to handle stress. Flipping a coin would be more accurate of your current approach to hiring is successful less than 50% of the time.
You talk about people taking interviews making mistakes. One of the mistakes is you point out is articulation bias. What is that?
Interviewing as a process is heavily stacked in favor of those who are strong in communication. Interviewers very often tend to believe that those who are able to articulate ideas well will be able to learn what they do not know. The reverse is also true. Sometimes people who are doing technical jobs do not need to be great communicators. The assessment process must be able to distinguish where the bias is coming into play.
What are the other mistakes that interviewers tend to make?
Not thinking through the role: The biggest mistake interviewers make is to not think though what is really needed to succeed in that role. That involves all four aspects of a Success Profile: Education, Experience, Competencies and Personality.
Not explaining enough details of the role : why has the role been created; who are the stakeholders; what results would the incumbent be accountable for etc
Trying to oversell the job or the organization: This is a sure recipe for disappointment. The candidate and the employer must take an informed decision.
Talking about resumes, do candidates fudge their resumes. What is your experience in this regard?
Some people deliberately misrepresent their qualifications and work experiences. There are people who have sent resumes that detail degrees which don’t exist, from colleges that never were there and worked for companies that never existed on projects that didn’t happen. These are thankfully the exceptions.
Can you share a couple of very different interview experiences with us?
I once interviewed a person when I was in an ad agency, who answered the first question with a limerick, the second one with a poem and the third with a song that he had composed. He was being interviewed for a job as a copywriter. We hired him.
It is said that people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their bosses. How true is that in your experience?
The boss represents the organization in most cases. The boss has the ability to reward or punish or recognize or even ignore. People quit when they feel they are not being treated fairly. Very often the actions of the boss give people that feeling. Having a great boss can make even a tough job very rewarding. That’s why the personality of the person who manages you matters a lot.
There have been cases in the past of some big Indian software majors hiring engineers just on the basis of a written test because they need to hire so many people.  How do you see something like that?
Whether a test is the right thing to do or not depends on what the test is supposed to measure. The B-School admission process also has a written test that is given the greatest weightage in most institutes. Intellectual capacity, ability to comprehend language etc can be measured through a written test. A good hiring system looks at getting multiple data points using different methodologies eg written tests, interviews, psychometric tools etc.
What are you tips to people giving interviews? What are the five things they should keep in mind? 

1.      Research the job
2.      Research the organization’s culture
3.      Be diplomatic but be honest about what you want.
4.      Think about the skills that you have that the employer would need. Highlight those.
5.      Be relaxed and well rested. The employer also wants to hire the right candidate. Make it easy for them to select you.
(The interview originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on November 3,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/business/hiring-the-best-is-not-always-the-best-way-to-hire-513418.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])