HR can reject a candidate!!

Last Thursday, I started my day with a conversation with a candidate who was really not able to accept the fact that he was rejected after an HR interview. “How can HR reject me!!?” – This is what he asked me. I cannot remember the number of times I have heard and answered this question in the last 3-4 years since I have started taking interviews. I am sure that many of my fellow HR colleagues can strongly relate to this.

Now if you think that this is the only perception about an HR interview, it is not. The same day I was talking to another candidate and towards the end of the interview, just as we were about to end the call, she asked me why we didn’t discuss the numbers during that call. She thought that since it was the “HR discussion” it would be for negotiating the offer and whatever we discussed till then was just a precursor to the offer negotiation. I couldn’t help laughing out that time as it was the second time that day I was explaining to someone about the “HR Interview”.

To all of us here who would be searching for jobs at one point or the other, please understand that a candidate can be rejected on the basis of an HR interview.  It is not just an exercise done for the sake of doing it. There are many nuances of the candidate that are generally assessed during a discussion with a seasoned and well trained HR professional. They would be able to give an impartial view on how well the candidate can fit into the current role or any future roles and the organization as a whole. While the technical rounds of discussions generally focus on more objective responses from the candidate, during the HR interview, the HR professional can focus on assessing the candidates on the behavioral competencies, the personality traits and how a person would react in the most commonly encountered social situations in the work context.

It does not necessarily have to be an HR professional who has to do this assessment. It could be anyone who is trained and has a good understanding of why these skills are important in an organizational context. In most of the organizations, since HR is perceived as the torch bearer of culture, values and organizational effectiveness, the onus of this falls on the shoulders of HR. Not just that. If a candidate is technically very strong, there might be a possibility of the technical interviewer being biased towards them and overlook the gaps in the behavioral skills of the candidate. In any case, it is not even a matter of debate that a candidate has to be assessed on these behavioral competencies before the offer is made.

There is a whole argument on whether interviews are effective as a hiring tool itself and one can always argue if the HR interviews are a predictor of success at job. Many extensive studies say that interviews alone are not a very reliable predictor of higher job performance. (You may check this interesting study about this topic if you wish to learn about this further).Nevertheless, interviews are still the most commonly used way of assessing candidates and this is especially the case in start-ups that cannot afford expensive assessment tools.

I have not come across any organization that says that only the technical or operational skills matter and we don’t care about the other traits of the individual. Every organization wants people who are the best and who can do the job in the best possible way. And the best possible ways generally involve the social skills that enable an individual to work well with others as any organization gets it work done through the coming together of people. One of the very typical problems that I have seen happening in starts –ups is that during the very first years of operations, hiring happens majorly on the basis of technical skills alone. But in the subsequent years, when the company is going through growth phase, a lot of people problems start to creep in and then it becomes a head ache for everyone and companies start looking for HRs to “solve” the cultural problems. This is a very reactive approach towards the issue.

Now to the address the second perception that HR interviews are for salary discussions- No, it’s not. I understand that there are lot many organizations where HR’s role in hiring is just this- to negotiate the salary and the final terms of the offer and hence we can’t really blame people for having this perception. But any organization that has recognized the value of HR function as a business and strategic partner and has HR teams that understand the business and the context of hiring, will have a round of discussion with the HR professional, even before the final offer discussions are on the table. This round is like any other round in the process and the feedback is given significant weightage as the technical rounds and sometimes even more. I have been part of discussions where the HR has vetoed the hiring of a candidate just as any other interviewer and this should be the norm.

So, to all the candidates out here, if you are asked to appear for an HR interview, please take it as seriously as any other round of discussion. Your offer may be based on that round as well.

And to the organizations that haven’t integrated and empowered their HR teams to be a strong pillar in the hiring process, I hope you have effective assessment tools and have trained your hiring teams to interview effectively, not just to look for core technical skills, but to have a more holistic approach towards assessing the candidates.

How involved is HR in the hiring processes in your organization? Let me know in the comments.

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