Fishing in Troubled Waters

Back in my final year in college, I applied for a job at an FMCG major hiring for Techno-managerial roles. I cleared the eligibility criteria and the group discussion. The short and not-so-sweet interview went something like this:

Q: Did you apply to any core companies?

A: Yes, I applied to X and Y.

Q: What happened?

A: I did not clear the written test.

Q: What were the tests about?

A: They were technical tests.

Q: Why do you think you did not clear?

A: Majority of questions were from courses taught in my second year. Since I had not brushed up on concepts, I could not answer many questions.

Q: We expect our hires to know their domain. We cannot train them. It’s clear that you do not know your domain. Thank you for your time.

A: (Thinking)… wow what just happened???

I was asked the same set questions in a subsequent interview and, needless to say, I did not repeat all my answers (though I did not lie). The irony of it all is that, not only was I made an offer, I accepted the offer, spent 8 years in that organization and did fairly well in a core technical role!

Since I moved over to the other side, I have kept revisiting to my own experience in that FMCG interview. My key takeaways are:

  1. Aptitude or natural ability matters orders more than knowledge in a particular domain, especially in entry level roles.

  2. In today’s dynamic landscape, it is almost guaranteed that specific skills will become obsolete with time. Therefore, the relevance of employees will persist only if they have the ability to learn new skills. Once again, natural ability and mindset will come to the fore.

  3. There was no Google in those days. Nor had anyone imagined Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Today, any half-serious candidate can dig up a bunch of information on a company’s recruitment process, right down to the kind of questions asked in tests and interviews, in no time whatsoever. Generic questions will lead to rehearsed “correct” answers, which have no correlation with the actual aptitude, mindset, skill or aspirations of the candidate.

I find it amusing that many organizations still follow the same two-decade old formulae to hire people. To be sure, it may very well work for certain organizations. However, it is worth taking a dispassionate look at whether your process indeed works like you expect it to. Are you convinced that you are not ending up hiring the “wrong” folks, or worse, missing out on the “right” ones?

Arijit Dutta photo Arijit Dutta
Arijit started his career as a chip designer in Motorola (and subsequently Freescale Semiconductor). In his 8 year stint in the semiconductor industry, Arijit led critical design functions and methodology formulation for Motorola’s next generation chipsets and managed cross functional teams across locations. Arijit holds 3 patents in this domain. Next, Arijit turned an entrepreneur and ran a company that developed and sold internet platforms and content in chip design, mobile application and web development. He graduated in Engineering from IIT Bombay. Arijit is a martial arts and music enthusiast.