Sunday, November 19, 2006

One of the most memorable interviews I attended!!

This was way back in 1984 and when we were in the final year of the MBA program –and the campus hiring season had just begun. In those days, there were only a few MNCs and large Indian corporates who did those campus visits (remember it was much before the liberalised India corporate world), and it was still ‘an employers market”. And we were part of the tier II management institutes and so the pick was that much lesser than the premier institutes! Most of us were to subsequently fend for jobs and opportunities on our own-often picking up the first job that came by!

Hindustan Levers, Crompton Greaves, ICICI, IDM, Balsara...were among the companies that visited-and one can still remember some of the chaos the group discussions created, as they filtered candidates- who would make it to the interview shortlist. In the heat of the moment, some arguments would turn ugly-often ending up in personal accusations, and suddenly, the months of friendships would be having the acid test as the ‘survival of the fittest’ happened !!

It is that context that I recall the interview process of Hoechst..the pharmaceutical company.( Sanofi Aventis of today!) –which was a very different experience.

Hoechst India had a dynamic HR head then- Mr George Menezes- who was, after his air-force and diplomatic stints, proud of leading an organization that hadn’t lost a single man-day of production due to labour unrest for 25yrs by then. After a very impressive preplacement talk, they went about the shortlist in a very scientific manner

-No group discussion!! (all MBA students would have gone thru a tough elimination round, and so their communication and analytic skills were taken for granted! )
-only personal interviews- Being a pharma company, the company wanted to consider only Pharma/Chemical Engineering and science graduates who could related to the core business!

That brought the aspirants to a handful –who were then interviewed individually-indepth- over an hour each by a panel of three.

Again, not much focus on fundas or jargons one expected in the interview!! The logic was simple. They weren’t looking for Einsteins! They were looking for bright young professionals, who could relate/interact with the existing team, be a good learner, and grow into positions of responsibility in time!! The management trainee would need to report to X, work along with some peers –and perhaps manage a bunch of people..all of whom were ‘known constants’. So, the accent was on finding a person who could FIT in to the culture of the organization. And would you believe, the questions varied from personal value systems, and beliefs, one’s reaction to reservation/caste systems, personal interests, work life balance, ..all meant to dissect the personality and understand him/her better. It was very foxing- for there were no right or wrong answers! No predetermined 'sales pitches' prepared by us could help. Just a long informal chat that enabled us to unwittingly reveal more than we ever could imagine.

Again, the emphasis was on to zero in to the attitude of the person. Given the right attitude, it is only a matter of time before knowledge and skills could be imparted to the candidate.

It is no wonder that the selected person – who after going thru the right foundation and the management training of Hoechst, has gone one to become a very succesful entrepreneur –now heading the leading Indian group of diagnostic companies- among the highest exporters, and employing over a 1000 employees in the state of Goa!!

To me, one of the rejects- the takeaway ? Help identifying those candidates who would not fit the long term interest of the corporates!! And more importantly, it has led me to my calling, helping over a thousand people find their calling by identifying the best/apt jobs they need to hone their skills on their way to professional and personal success!!

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