Friday, May 5, 2017

The "Art" of Headhunting

I have never worked in any HR role throughout my career. But I had the opportunity to interview candidates for senior positions from time to time. (I had also gone for interviews many times, for job openings, of course.) I have come to learn a few things, which I would like to share with friends.

Many organisations are happy to entrust the task of searching to headhunter firms. This has its merits, since headhunters usually have a large pool of potential candidates to tap on. But I have also come across a few who are responsible for recruiting in these firms desperately asking help from me! One glaring shortcoming in this approach: headhunters tend to go for “fit” – usually in the technical aspects. So-and-so has in many years as a hotel accountant, therefore he or she is proposed if you are looking for an accountant to work in your hospitality industry. Ditto many other similar needs. This is fine if you are looking for functional roles to fill.

However, if you are looking to fill more strategic positions in the organisation, chances are, this stereo-typing approach will land you with one who may prove to be a disaster. Technical fit is but a small aspect of such leadership considerations. Cultural fit, resourcefulness and ability to strategically problem-solved matters are in fact more important. These desired traits could only be discerned if the interviewers are discerning themselves!

Panel interviews are not helpful in these exercises. Interviewers tend to hold back difficult questions or awkward questions, since they are also do not want to look stupid to the eyes of their colleagues. In most cases, the candidate who has been recommended by the headhunter firm are accepted as a matter of course.

Ideally, the candidate should be arranged to see those-who-count in the organisation on an-one-to-one basis, in a number of situations – in office, factory, and lunch room and over dinner. It is important to put the candidate at ease and questions should not be the “do you know this or that” type. Such line of questioning questions usually does not bring out real weaknesses or inadequacies in a candidate. Rather, one should ask for the candidate’s approach if he is placed in a certain situation – knowledge wise, skill-wise, and attitude-wise. A good interview normally frames his questions deliberately - not too long but be very probing. While he listens to the candidate's response, he also looks out for the usual telltale signs – from facial expressions, hand gesture, body language, etc. - to form an overall impression.

Many interviewers are also not capable of playing a discerning listener's role. Many have the tendency to talk too much. They invariably lead their interviewee to answer what they want to hear. Remember, LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN and OBSERVE, OBSERVE, OBSERVE.

I shouldn’t be teaching bosses how to suck eggs, should I?

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