Exit Interviews : Do not Burn those bridges

Burning Bridges

There is quite divergent piece of advice with regard to burning your bridges as in when you are exiting your current firm.

Lets first look at the issue of exit interviews.

If you have decided to leave your firm for better opportunities – you might be filled with a desire to let it loose, give it back to them.  Now that you are free from the shackles of the current employer  – there is nothing to lose.

My suggestion to you would be to hold your horses.

Avoid doing or saying anything that you might live to regret.

You never know when the tables might turn.

Recently one of my candidates interviewed with a client. The candidate a senior professional had a difference of opinion with his current CEO but had his paths covered or so he thought. He had a good reference from the managing director of the current firm and a few other referrals from the earlier organisations. The interview went off well. Turned out the CEO of the firm he was interviewing with and his current CEO were class mates.

This is a true story which is currently playing out. The reason I share it is because you don’t know who is going to be connected with whom and you end up regretting some act.

Moral when you are leaving an organisation don’t burn your bridges.

This advice is especially relevant for employees early in their careers. Generally we see that by the time you are in the 30-35 year bracket you have matured enough and realise the importance of maintaining these weak relationships.

What you need to remember is that you are not required to cozy up to your boss and the current employees with whom you may not be having a great relationship. But Maintain a polite , civil relationship, spleen venting can be done in the confines of your room or over a beer with a very close friend . Not with your boss or your boss’s boss or your HR. Definitely not the HR.

An HR manager doesn’t want to hear, during your exit interview, that you think your manager was a jerk. While it may be irresistible to use the meeting to unload, once you’ve made the decision to leave an employer, airing your gripes won’t do you any good. Your time to talk about concerns was while you were employed. Vent ahead of time, not during the interview.

Many reasons. Mainly the HR has its job cutout. They have to maintain peace and harmony. They have to manage the egos. And in the pecking order of things – your Boss is likely to have a greater say on matters. He might have more experience, more knowledge on the subject, better qualified or maybe just closer to the leadership. So your sabre rattling is only going to show you in a bad light.

So however piqued you are about your work and the current state of affairs – make your departure pleasant so that when you meet the people again in a business setting you are able to maintain a pleasant conversation.

One way to prevent any frustrations from boiling over during the interview is to vent it out before. Write down a no holds barred letter to the soon to be former Boss, detailing out every thing that you felt disgruntled about and that contributed to your decision to move on. Don’t post the letter. Save it for later reading. That will help in having a non-emotional exit. You could even frame your opinions in a way that shows that you are thinking of the best for the company.

Exit with grace by focusing on the positive. Criticism is not easy to accept especially not from a person who decided to move on. If you do not like a situation the easiest option is to vent out. The more rewarding option is to give feedback in a non-emotional way.

Companies do want to improve – they are aware that excessive turnover is not good for them. But companies being what they are corrections take a while coming. The likelihood of improvement or positive change is higher if the employees presents his feedback in a non emotional, professional manner.

From a professional perspective workplace relationships are unique and have huge implications for the individuals in the relationship. It does’nt require an Eintenien intelligence to realize that workplace relationships directly affect the employees ability to succeed. The times of exit, the times when you are about to leave an organisation, can throw up moments, tempting, enticing moments to act in a manner that jeopardizes these relationships forever. Keeping that natural human tendency in check has a huge upward impact potential for your professional life.

 Prakash Francis is a Talent expert based in Bangalore.

 

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Recruiter:Are you biased?

workplace-diversity-RS-770“You must work with people whom you don’t like because a workforce comprised of people who are all best office buddies can be homogeneous, and homogeneity in an organisation breeds failure.”                                               Eric Schmidt – How Google works

A diverse Workplace is a high energy workplace. Diversity in hiring and employment allows for the development of a robust, well-rounded teams that can perform better in v.u.c.a environment.

A high diversity workplace is likely to have more differences of opinions, different view-points getting aired leading to vociferous discussions, raging disagreements but in the end a better product a better service. The biggest hurdle to such a diverse workplace is the very human bias towards sameness and conformity. This bias in recruiters can be detrimental to hiring for a diverse and innovative workplace.

What is recruiter bias? Recruiters have been blamed for a lot of mischief but this is one which is not exclusive to recruiters alone – it is part and parcel to all individuals. As Daniel Kahneman in his Nobel Prize winning book –Thinking Fast and Slow says our default thinking mode Thinks Fast and Jumps to conclusions he calls it the System1 our rational mode is the System2 which is lazy and slow. So by  default we think fast and take quick decisions hence – our tendency towards bias.

But this is the very tendency which needs to be avoided if we want a diverse workforce.

How do you change something so deeply ingrained in the human psyche – something over which you have almost no control. It starts with awareness. Just by being aware that such a bias is affecting our decision making will help us in exercising caution. Leading firms are making it mandatory for all employees in decision making roles to undergo bias training.

Human race is not homogeneous. People from countries that fought wars 20 years ago over religious, cultural, racial differences are now on the same table sharing workspaces. The basic instinct of survival – our lizard brain triggers our bias against people who not from the same pond.Recruiters are no different.

Typically the biases to which the recruiters remain susceptible are the following:

Affinity Bias

“Birds of a feather flock together”.

I am reminded of my dad and this very old saying which he used often. Whenever we kids sided with mom during fights – he would call us birds of the same feather. Sarcastic Offcourse. Nevertheless there is truth in this saying.

As we are so we associate – says Ralph Waldo Emerson. We are most comfortable with people we understand, with whom we share some kind of common linkage. As recruiters we tend to hire people with whom we share some sameness. When we talk of culture fit in companies it helps businesses to run smoothly. It is the same sameness which also is a barrier to diversity, inclusion and innovation.

Confirmation Bias

This is when people have prior beliefs and look for ways to substantiate those beliefs. It is an innate tendency to seek out confirmation for our preconceived notions. An example is in the case of college passed out from. The recruiter might form a favourable or unfavourable opinion purely based on the college of the candidate in question. Once the opinion is created He/she looks for evidence to support that opinion. He/she is giving in to confirmation bias. School can be replaced by village, town, state etc for the confirmation bias to trigger.

Gender Bias

This is one of the strongest biases in the workplace. Multiple experiments have repeatedly proven the unconscious bias we have about men and women. At the workplace males are believed to have better leadership qualities even if research shows otherwise. Even when a woman’s voice is thought to be trustworthy, clear, and comprehensible on its own, her credibility is lowered when her voice is compared to a man’s voice – even if the man’s voice was deemed as not-so-reliable or intelligent on its own. In an  experiment by Harward Business School more than a decade ago, the Heidi/Howard Roizen study showed that when the exact same story was told with different names (Heidi vs Howard), participants said the woman Heidi was selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for,” while the fictitious Howard came off as appealing.

All in all, when women are compared to men, they lose. And as you can imagine, this kind of “gendered listening” is a huge problem in hiring, as you might assume someone is best for the job, but you’re not really hearing what they’re saying.

Racial Bias

Racial bias remains another strong issue. Candidates with ethnic minority names are less likely to receive a call back on submitting a resume. Many companies shy away from hiring minorities for a more difficult reason. They fear customer pushback.

Whatever be the reasons these prejudices exist. Recruitment plays a crucial role in building a diverse, forward-thinking environment in fact it is the first step. Unfortunately, the hiring process is incredibly vulnerable to the influence of unconscious bias, which can hamper objective decision making and ultimately become a roadblock to the pursuit of diversity.

Hence it is important to take steps to contain this bias.

How do we do that?

Time

Give, devote sufficient time to the hiring process. Avoid quick decisions. Let the decision rest for a few days. This would allow the System 2 of Daniel Kahneman to kick in and give us a better more rational decision. Studies have shown that allowing enough time to do evaluations increases accuracy and reduces any bias. So, allow plenty of time to read interview materials and take notes.

Structured Questions

A set of structured questions asked to all the candidates in the same sequence sets the stage to compare apples with apples and prevents bias. Research has found that structured interviews are more predictive of on-the-job performance.

The idea is to standardize the interview process to make it more fair, objective, and accurate.

Accountability

Increased accountability reduces the effect of any kind of bias and increases the accuracy of evaluations. Hence a culture/requirement for interview note taking, and evaluators using named forms, and each interviewer selection decision is justified, documented and filed. Here again the google system of using a hiring packet is worth emulating. The Hiring Packet contains all known information about the candidate based on his progress through the interview process. All members of the hiring committee get the exact same information and every decision is based on the same set of data ensuring that there is no room for bias. An important tenet they follow is that only information in the packet is considered, if its not in the packet it doesn’t get considered.

This goes to show to what extent the top firms are willing to go to get the best talent on board. The talent selection process should reflect the vision, value and goals of the firm. The best available talent that helps the organisation to realize its vision should get hired. If individual biases are impacting the hiring process in a negative manner immediate corrective action needs to be taken.

Prakash Francis is a talent expert based in Bangalore.

 

Interview: How not to Suck when asked “Do You Have any Questions”

6a0133f30ae399970b014e88179ee5970d-piTowards the end of interviews it is the norm for the interviewer to ask “Do you have any questions?”. The common response from candidates is a “ No, not right now” or something to that effect.

Per-se there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that answer. It seems to be polite, courteous and modest. All good traits to display.

But think about it, why wouldn’t you have any questions?.

You will spend a chunk of your waking time at this place if things work out. Would’nt it be good to have complete clarity on what you will be doing, how you will be doing and maybe even why?

It is an opportunity. Take it.

So, lets get into the details of the Why, What and How to respond to the query “ Do you have any questions”

Lets start with Why?

Why you should have questions to Ask? The benefits are multiple, and the three most important ones are –

  1. These questions help to build clarity on your role, the company, and your boss.Interview is a 2 way process. As you are being interviewed you have an opportunity to evaluate the company environment, and the work. These questions will help you do just and put you in a position to take a more informed decision.
  2. Building rapport with the interviewer is a major objective for any candidate. Rapport happens with engaging conversations and the right questions asked sincerely are the lubricants to ensure a smooth conversation.
  3. The third point is a by-product. Relevant questions will mark you out as a well-prepared and keen candidate, who has done his homework.

Those are the 3 key reasons as to why you should use the opportunity to Ask. Now lets move on to the what?.

What to Ask?

Once there is clarity about the objective of asking questions – deciding on what to ask becomes simple. These questions fall into 3 broad categories

  • Role related.
    • Ask questions to get clarity about the role in case there are areas that you feel have not been thoroughly covered in the earlier part of interview. Sample questions could be –
      • Can you share more about the day to day responsibilities of the position?
      • If I am hired, what would be expected of me in the first 90 days? ..
  • Culture related.
    • We spend a majority of our waking hours at work. You are more likely to enjoy your time at the workplace if you fit into the workculture. You are likely to develop better relationships and be more productive at work. A few sample questions are –
    • Can you share your thoughts about the company culture?
    • What is the culture like?
    • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • Boss/hiring manager related
    • These would be questions relating to your prospective Boss’s working style, how does he prefer his reports whether email or face to face, or phone. How often does he prefer being reported to. Is he a micromanager or a hands-off chief . A straightforward question to ask would be –
    • How would you describe your working style?

And as he responds you could ask questions to probe further.

These are just a few sample questions to ask, they are not an exhaustive list. You will find enough resources on line which provide such lists. The thing is that with a clear understanding of why you are asking – the what to Ask becomes easy. Infact the best questions come to you as you answer the questions the interviewer asks. So when a question pops up, jot it down in a pad to ask at the end.

What not to Ask?

Just like there are questions that are good to ask, there are also questions to avoid asking. This would be –

  • Question relating to Personal topics, family or last working assignment.
  • Queries about happy hours, non- work activities, lunch and vacation times.
  • Salary is a topic which is best left to the interviewer to bring up.
  • Filler questions. Avoid asking questions for which you can get the response by Googling.
  • Lastly avoid too many questions. And what is too many? If the interviewer is getting restless or is subtly giving indications of the interview being, take the hint. At best 2-3 well thought out questions should be good enough.

That brings us to the How?.

How to Ask?

Let the questions be open ended. For example you could phrase the questions as .. “Can you tell me about …?, “How would you describe ….?. Framing the question in such a manner makes it easier to probe further, thus opening up the conversation. Avoid yes and no questions.

Further, open ended questions set you up for follow up questions. Based on the interviewers response these help you to dig deeper. Follow-up questions give us greater insight, letting us form a clear opinion.

A key aspect about asking questions is waiting for response. A thing to remember is that it is not just about asking questions it is about building conversations. Let the interviewer take his time in responding. Don’t interject or try to fill in the silence in anyway. Get comfortable with silences. And don’t interrupt when the interviewer is speaking. For one it interrupts his train of thought and the other it is disrespectful. Not quite your objective.  deer-in-headlights

Moral of the story is when asked “Do you have any Questions” – don’t be like a dear caught in the headlights. Be prepared with a list and ask 2 to 3 relevant questions. Art of the Ask is in engaging the other person in this case the interviewer. It is about building rapport and getting clarity.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition expert based in Bangalore.

Interview Question:What is your greatest Weakness?

I have come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.

Jeff Weiner (CEO Linkedin) 

The question “what is your greatest weakness” continues to be one that stresses and stumps candidates. Sort of putting them between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand you do not want to appear insincere, on the other you are not in a position to highlight something that could be red flag for the interviewer.Strengths and Weaknesses - Internal Part of a SWOT Analysis

You might wonder why ask such a question – and make candidates uncomfortable?

The reason is simple. It is to find out how aware you are about your weaknesses and strengths. Further, it gives an indication about how open you might be to receive some constructive feedback. This question in a way helps in developing clarity about your fit for the role.

There are multiple ways to handle this question and the online sources have a number of them listed out. But most of the listed advice is cute to say the least. One often quoted suggestion is to turn a strength into a weakness – I am a perfectionist. The problem is that the interviewer is likely to have read the same blogs, and he is going to know where you are coming from. This kind of response makes you appear evasive, and raises a red flag on your honesty.

Instead consider scenario shared below. Note how this candidate tackles the question in an open, transparent manner.

Interviewer: Ravi, can you tell us about your greatest weakness?

Ravi(candidate) : Sir, I assume you mean with respect to the job I am interviewing for.  

Interviewer: Yes, You are right.

Ravi: I feel I need to work on my organizing ability and productivity. Let me explain. I have a good record at my work so far. I have consistently achieved or surpassed the numbers and have been commended for the same. I have excellent ability to approach and persuade prospects and clients. I am good at asking questions and am good at follow-up. But where I fall short is in not being completely organised. I can be better at managing my time and in organizing myself in a manner that I my productivity improves and I am able to achieve much more. 

Interviewer: Mr. Ravi, does that mean you are saying that you are not productive enough.

Ravi: No that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that with my existing skills I am good on the job considering my overall performance – but I can do a lot more. But to move ahead in my career –I need to work on my ability to organize myself, so that I can handle greater responsibilities with ease.

Interviewer: If you are good on the job and that is shown by your performance results that means it is your strength. We would like to see an example of your failing.

Ravi: I see where you are getting at. But thing is that I do not like to fail so I try to anticipate such situations and prepare myself accordingly. Based on self evaluation I realize that – if I do not work on my skills of organizing I will have challenges while taking up greater responsibilities and work loads. Hence I am preparing myself accordingly – by reading books on the topic and enrolling for courses.

I hope I have answered to your satisfaction , I would appreciate if you could share your thoughts on areas that I could improve upon.

This is one way to handle the question. Have a frank discussion about your weaknesses.Inability to stay organized is a weakness – yet it is a weakness a number of candidates struggle with especially in the early years. The other thing is that the candidate is open about how he is tackling the situation and his keenness to improve himself.

This answer displays

  1. the candidates thought clarity,
  2. Self awareness
  3. Willingness to work on himself.

All attributes of a positive, career focused candidate.

The writer is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.

 

 

The curious case of the utter uselessness of interviews

On April 8th Jason Dana an Assistant professor of Yale came up with a provocative write up on NY Times titled – “ The utter Uselessness of Interviews”. His argument kicked up a fair bit of dust.

If you read the post right till the very end you realize that his title was misleading. It should have been ” The utter uselessness of Un-structured interviews”. In the post he argues for Structured Interviews as against unstructured interviews. But you realize this only at the very end , only in the second last para.

I read the post assuming that the argument was about the uselessness of interviews. But in a climactic twist the last scene revealed that the villain was actually the hero. Everything was right with interviewing(villain turned hero) – solution was to conduct a certain kind of interview( structured).

Then why this Title?

Misprint?

Cannot be – not on NY Times.

Possibly Mr Dana wanted to have some fun at our expense. Send us on a small wild goose hunt and maybe get some readership.

Life can get to be boring, at times.

 

What is a Structured Interview?

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Job Interview

In a structured job interview all the candidates are asked the same set of questions in the same order. This ensures that they are assessed on the same parameters, translating to a fair and objective assessment.

The flipside to this style of interviewing is that they may not elicit much information from the candidates.

Unstructured interviews on the other hand are conversations that follow promising lines of inquiry as they appear. You get to know more a lot more about the candidate this way, but it makes comparing the candidates difficult.

Which is the best bath? Depending upon the requirement it could be a either or neither. In my opinion the best path would probably the middle path. No i am not referring to the path showed by the Great Gautam Buddh.

middle-path-sign

What i mean is, stay flexible in your line of questioning – but have a core set of questions common for all the interviewees. By preparing these core questions in advance – you can be assured that all key points are covered.  While, the unstructured element of the interview opens the door to productive areas of enquiry which you may not have anticipated.

 

 

The grateful candidate

“I need money. Can you lend me 1000 Rs?” a man asked Mulla Nasruddin.

“I won’t give you. Be grateful for that!”

Angrily the friend replied , “that you don’t want to lend the money I can rather understand. But asking me to be grateful for that is downright disgraceful.”

“My dear friend, ” answered the Mulla , ” You asked me for money, I could have said,  Come Tomorrow”. Tomorrow I could have said ” I am sorry , iam not ready to give you yet, come the day after”. If you came the day after i could have said “come at the end of the week.” This way i could have held you off till the end of time, or atleast until someone else gave you the money.

But, you would not have found anyone else to give the money because all your hopes would have been with me, and you would have been counting on me to get the money. So in all honesty i am telling you I am not going to give you the money so that you can look for it elsewhere and make your fortune there. I have saved you so much time and effort, So be grateful to me.

The recruiter and candidate relationship is similar to that story.

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The candidate comes looking for a job and the recruiter in his attempt to be polite raises the candidates hopes. Finally all the hedging tactics don’t help as the recruiter does’nt have a suitable job and he starts ignoring the candidate calls and mails. This results in mental agony for the candidate and utter waste of time. After a few weeks or months the candidate finally realizes that nothing is going to happen and decides to heap insults on the recruiter.

Who is to blame? the recruiter, off course.

Instead of hedging, if the recruiter had told in all honesty that he cannot provide the job and asked the candidate to focus his efforts elsewhere, the candidate would have been saved the agony.

But, would the candidate have been grateful?

No way!