B-school job interview

What I look for in B-school candidates

I have been interviewing and hiring from B-school campuses for over a decade now. And I keep getting this question time and again, "What do you look for in a candidate when you hire her from a B-school?"

And I have a simple mantra for hiring, borrowed from the legendary Warren Buffet.

“Look for 3 things in a person. Intelligence, Energy, & Integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.”

Integrity or Trust is the single most critical competency that I look for when making a hiring decision. Why is this competency so important? To understand this, we will have to dive deep into the way a knowledge worker of today works - in "teams" sharing information (many a times confidential), trusting each other for the work they do together on projects and gaining the confidence of the team and the team leader that what has been assigned to that team member will get done within the given resources and to the best of her ability. This may sound utopian, however, this is the most fundamental premise on which teams operate. And I never hire a person who may sound untrustworthy or tries to take shortcuts in her work as these are demotivating factors for a great team.

Now the next question that arises is "How do we gauge for Integrity or Trust in a 30-40 min interview?". Well there is no straight answer to it and it is a skill (a hunch or an intuition) that gets developed over a period of time by reading people. And the hypothesis further gets validated through the interview Q&A.

I also follow the central tenet of our Indian legal system that "A defendant/convict/accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty" and assume every candidate to be high on Integrity and Trust. And during the interview, if I start getting feelers that she is not being true to what she has mentioned in her resume or stated in an earlier answer, I probe more to validate my hypothesis. For e.g., if the resume says "I am an avid book reader", then I probe more on the last 3 books that she has read, who is her favourite author, what other books has that author written etc. And if the answers shared don’t give me the confidence, I negate my hypothesis.

Another common mistake that students make in order to showcase their leadership ability is that they write on their resume "Acted as Vice-President of the Marketing club". Now all the recruiters coming to B-school campuses have seen this, done this as a student. They all are very well aware that if the batch size is 300 students, then there would be 600+ leadership positions available. What a recruiter is looking for is not what position of leadership you held but is more interested in what you did and how it benefited the student community with you holding that position. This is another trust buster question usually students fail at.

Provided there are no red flags on Integrity and Trust parameters, I then check the candidate on the other two critical competencies of Intelligence and Energy.

Lets talk about Intelligence first. And here I am not talking about her ability to do complex calculus problems. By intelligence I mean how well has she represented herself on her resume. She claims certain strengths on her resume and I as a potential recruiter need to test her in her claimed area of strength. E.g. What projects (academic or professional) has she undertaken (as mentioned on the resume), probing deeper into those projects to understand her methodological approach and ability to comprehend the problem and think through all possible solutions. And if a person has not been fully engaged in the project, it shows up in the quality & depth of her answers. The intelligence is displayed in the way the candidate communicates, ability to listen and understand what is being asked.

And lastly, I check on the energy levels of the candidate. Energy levels are displayed through the passion with which the candidate answers the situational and behavioral questions, almost reliving that experience in her mind (I call it "Dil se awaaz" aana). Only a person who has lived it, experienced it first hand will be able to speak about that incident or situation with passion. But why is energy or passion so important? Today's knowledge workers role is no longer limited to implementing what her supervisor has told her to do. She has to constantly learn, unlearn, relearn new tools and ways of working, recreating more efficient processes etc. And this competency is best displayed through the knowledge workers passion and energy for relentless perseverance and constant learning.

Hence, while competencies required vary from job role to job role, these three competencies -  Intelligence, Energy, & Integrity are a must have in each candidate that I recruit. After all, my role as a manager is to get the smartest and the brightest team player for my team with whom working is fun.

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