Express Pharma

Hiring right: Pivotal to progress


Amogh Deshmukh, Member, Key Leadership Team, DDI India, speaks on the role of HR leaders in ensuring that the right person is hired for the right role in pharma organisations

20160331ep26In the last two articles we saw how rapid growth in the pharma sector can lead to challenges in succession planning and leadership development. But I want to remind all that a good leadership development programme cannot substitute a poor selection process. Statistics will show that middle and senior levels of most pharma organisations are stable and they don’t have attrition figures that would bother anyone, but that does not take away the importance of hiring the right fit for your organisation.

Over the years I realised that there are two types of HR leaders when it comes to hiring; and the other type of leaders who with time and experience learn to spot the right person for a job. Many of us might believe that we can tell who is the right person for a job. Well, in a few cases you might be right, but not always. Most of us have a huge blind spot and rather find it difficult to accept that we need to develop this skill.

Retrospect on the few of the recent interviews you have conducted and think of the type of questions you asked the interviewer.

20160331ep27The first question and a favourite at almost all interviews is, ‘Tell me something about yourself?” Most of us don’t ask this question because we really want to know about the candidate. It’s often because we have not found time to review the resume. I can see you are smiling. Well, research shows that reviewing a resume is one of the most important steps that the interviewer must complete before the start of an interview. This step is to prepare the interviewer. On searching for questions like, ‘How to crack an interview’, ‘How to prepare for an interview’ etc, you will find that there are many websites which inform the interviewee what to say and how to say it. Remember, that a smart interviewee knows how to lead the interviewer to a place where he/ she wants.

Then comes, ‘Tell me how series’ of questions. Most interviewers go through a series of very fact-based or knowledge-based questions. For e.g., Tell me how the following is done; tell me how this works etc. These questions are very theoretical in nature. So, most good candidates would have refreshed themselves on these queries just an evening before the interview.

Next is the, ‘How would you series’. These are questions that do have lot of theory but I like to call them fantasy-based questions because the candidates may not have experienced such a situation but is allowed to answer how ideally he/ she would have dealt with it, if it occurs. It’s the easiest ball to hit out of the park and the candidates are well prepped to give answers to questions that are based on hypotheses. Most of the interviewees are well aware that even if they get selected they may never have to live through these situations in actuality.

Another commonly asked question is, ‘What do you know about this company and the job you applied for?’ Candidates know how to respond to this question as well as most of the information about the company and the job is provided on the company’s website.

Thus, it means that the candidates nowadays are well aware of the questions they might be asked at an interview. Like I said earlier, a smart candidate can lead you to ask questions he/ she wants. Another fact is that all these questions are heavily tilted towards knowledge and knowledge alone. Hence, if a candidate has prepped an evening before it becomes relatively easy to give the ‘right answers’.

Some important facts that every HR leader should know:

1. The top talent of your competition need not always be the top talent of your company
2. Top talent will not leave their organisation unless something has gone majorly wrong
3. The most average talent would like to portrait them as the top talent of competition

If the above statements are true then how would you differentiate talent and hire the one you need. I would recommend three simple steps:

1) Define the target role well

It all starts with the end goal in mind. Whatever the role, one needs to understand what it would take to be successful in this role. We call this a ‘Success Profile (Check figure A). It comprises knowledge, experience, competencies and personal attributes. As we start going higher up in the hierarchy, personal attributes become very significant. In fact they get so critical at the top that they can over shadow every other factor if not managed well. But for lower levels the other three aspects are more relevant and rather than interviewing for conceptual clarity one need to assess the applicants’ experience in the past job. By interviewing the leaders and employees of the target role one needs to build a clear picture of how the role plays out in the organisation. It would be difficult to compare and contrast with other competing organisations as the drivers of these elements are very different. They are impacted by the culture of the organisation, the stage of evolution that role or organisation might be in at this point, etc. The best solution is to define it as per your organisation’s needs. If you anticipate any changes in external factors (market, government policies, etc.) in future and require changes in the role then modify it accordingly. This will allow you to review what works for your organisation.

2) Interview the applicant to understand his/ her knowledge and competencies in the past job

A simple rule of the thumb that works is, ‘Past behaviour predict future behaviour’. Hence, the questions need to be targeted towards the recent past jobs of the applicant and how he/ she applied his/ her learnings into it. This provides the interviewer with the right information as it highlights whether the candidate is really experienced and how he/she would respond to a similar problem, if it occurs. A few might argue that it doesn’t take much to fake the same, but a trained interviewer can pick up clues and judge whether the candidate is being truthful or not. This approach calls for a big mindset change from the traditional approach, as it interprets an interview as a data gathering exercise and not a judgement call. Hence, this is a radical shift from what we are trained for. When you suspend the judgement, you get less impressed by the responses and your focus is on data collection. Post the interview, the interviewer gets enough time to review the data and score/ decide on the next steps. This prevents biases from creeping into the interviewing process.

Now the interviewer is working towards a plan, he has set questions to get responses, and can score/ compare them between the candidates reviewed. This allows reducing the Type A/ Type B errors during interviewing.

3) Define and hire the right person towards the target role

We link this towards the retention likelihood of the probable candidate in the job at your organisation. A very simple study needs to be undertaken to understand culturally what your organisation and your job has to offer the prospective candidate and whether he/ she enjoys the same. For instance, if the job has lot of quick decisions to be made on operational tasks and the candidate doesn’t enjoy the same, you know the person will feel very frustrated in this job as he/ she will be confronted with decisions too often. On the flip side, if the job has too many processes and procedures to be followed and the candidate loves to follow processes you have your guy. He will enjoy a job where there is less ambiguity and more well documented processes to follow. Similarly, there are many elements that the organisation, its culture, and the job has to offer which to a person working day in and day out will not notice or feel is important. But, this can be a big enough trigger for someone to stay in the job or leave immediately. Interviewing for these along side other things is highly recommended so you are not up for unpleasant surprises.

In conclusion, the war for talent is only going to get fierce in the pharma sector and leaders need to be equipped to hire, develop or grow talent within the organisation. For long we have looked at hired and developed employees for the technical side. Make in India could be a distant dream if the softer elements of talent and leadership management are ignored. With capital one can buy equipment, but it is people who are needed to run them. If we don’t start investing in them right now we might be ignoring the most important element – ‘the human capital’.

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