Just last week, we were hiring for a key position in operations, and we landed a very promising candidate. Just before I was to meet the guy (I will call him Mustafa), we got a mail from him, saying he would not like to take the process forward.
In his mail, Mustafa said: “The A-team here is really banking on my contribution and our transformation plans. So, deserting the wagon, without completing the job, would be an ethical crime.”
And then, he went on to say something that I thought went to the nub of the issue. “I guess temptation had taken over for a while, not sure how. Typically [I am] immune to it.”
This was a rare candidate. Mustafa, in fact, made it a point to come to our office and apologize for having taken up everyone’s time.
But more often than not, in our hiring experiences, we are encountering behaviour that ranges from disappointing to shocking. The “start-up environment”, as we have all started calling these heady times, has a lot to do with it.
The demand for talent has risen exponentially in recent times, especially from e-commerce companies. And their hiring requirements are large. With large funds at their disposal, many among them are throwing large sums of money to solve this problem.
Given the speed at which these companies are growing, this approach is probably working for them as well. But it’s created bigger challenges in the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem.
A few years back, when we first hired, we attracted smart, talented people not because we offered big compensation packages (we paid existing market rates). People joined us, despite the obvious start-up risks, because they wanted to challenge themselves with something unconventional. They wanted an opportunity to learn something new, and grow faster.
Today, a lot of people are looking at the start-up opportunity very differently. One very talented user interface designer we almost hired did not join because we just couldn’t relate to his salary expectations.
In the past four years, in his job, his salary had grown at the rate of 15-25% annually. To join us, he wanted a 100% hike. Why? “I know that salaries in funded companies are higher.”
He was a good guy, with no obvious red flags in his track-record: great design skills, hard-working, and what attracted me the most—he was really hungry to learn more. Probably, “temptation had taken over”, as Mustafa self-analyzed earlier.
In our conversation with recruiters these days, we hear that a lot more people are seeking younger companies primarily for a big spike in their compensation trajectory. It’s just a notion that currently prevails in the market.
With our immediate requirement of over 20+ specialists needed in various roles in digital marketing, ranging from sales to technology to design, hiring has become as strategic as customer acquisition.
We have come up with the following rules-of-thumb to navigate our way through the job market.
Track-record over qualification: We don’t give much weight to degrees. Actually, we never did, but now this has become a more conscious approach. Why?
We have found that track-record in previous jobs—how fast they grew, how their role and responsibilities grew—are a much better indication of their abilities than their professional degrees.
Our best designer does not even have a college degree. Our most creative writer has a chartered accountancy degree, no kidding.
Test, regardless of experience: This makes it tough for our hiring team. They often get told by experienced resources, “See my work. I am not going to write tests now in my life.”
They have a valid point. So what we do instead: I meet them, and interview them. And offer them to work together on a short, paid assignment. Our point is simple: this will also give you an opportunity to assess us.
We make sure it is always a paid assignment, so that our serious intent with the candidate is evident. But we don’t hire without testing, or paid assignments.
Sensitive antennas about ethical behaviour: Sometime back, a very promising candidate was joining in business development. She had fantastic track-record (even had a degree from a premier management school); came across as a thorough professional. On the day of her joining, when HR called to coordinate logistics with her, she didn’t pick up the phone. In an hour, an email arrived: she had joined another company in Gurgaon instead.
We tried asking ourselves later if there were any flags about ethical conduct we missed, but we couldn’t. In our experience, this is a tough one to catch. We have some rules that help us.
For instance, there are sites now where candidates who are currently serving notice period list their availability. We scan these sites to a priori reject candidates who are listed on such sites and were on our shortlist. Typically, these candidates have already accepted a new job offer, and are now fishing for opportunities to get more money from another prospect.
Our hiring team is strongly sensitized to never encourage ethical violations. However desperate our hiring requirements, candidates who suggest they can leave in a hurry without their employer’s consent are politely rejected by us. We never make an exception to this rule.
Short-termism is an unfortunate outcome of our accelerated times. We all want a lot of things for ourselves, fast. This applies both to companies and the people who they want to hire. Staying true to the essentials can be helpful.