Meet the new interviewer and jobseeker

KAMAL KARANTH | Updated on May 20, 2020 Published on May 20, 2020

New realities Can enterprises accept a blanket response of ‘Covid’ for the “why you” question, remove the stigma around lay-offs?   -  Tero Vesalainen

As lay-offs become common, will we find more honest jobseekers and empathetic interviewers?

Lay-offs have been like weight-loss programmes for companies. But for employees, being shed as a part of an enterprise’s flab is not a great start for a job hunt. Failed business models, poor management and client losses — the usual answers that candidates give to explain lay-offs are passé now. Even the fittest of companies have got a jolt in Covid times, so can we just say Covid when asked “why” and get to the next question? But that’s easier said than done!

A typical interview

"Are you still with the company?" the CTO asked the VP candidate she interviewed last week. He said yes. But he was actually serving notice after being laid off. After the interview, I asked him why he said that. He said, “I thought if I told her the truth, she might think I am not good enough.”

“But your relieving letter would bare it all. And you may not get this job,” I said with some agitation. This guy had had three promotions in the last seven years and was a director with an insurance tech company. Then I turned my attention to the CTO and asked her why she was still asking those old questions. By that I meant checking for antecedents than focussing on skills and potential. She did not like it. But I am hoping she and many others would change their ways of interviewing and not look at laid-off people with a coloured lens.

The shadow of lay-offs

Picture any job interview in the past; the interviewers and the job seekers more or less played the roles described above. The interviewer interrogates the candidate on why he or she wants to leave the current company, and checks the motive to join the current one. The job seeker gives those perfect answers covering the track on why they were leaving. Most interviewers focussed less on skills and fitment. Their eyes were on the ‘why’ which is difficult to compare when you have multiple candidates for the same role.

The mysterious shadow of a lay-off has, in the past, always lurked around while meeting a candidate. Especially in India and some of the eastern nations. Lay-offs receive a different response in various geographies and cultures. Sweden supports laid-off employees till they find their next job, and German enterprises allow time for a cool-off, but Japan has its “chasing out rooms”. A baseline stigma, if not taboo, has always existed around lay-offs in India. I am trying hard to recollect a laid-off job seeker who walked in all peppy for an interview. The burden of a lay-off, irrespective of the context or reason, is often heavy enough to dwarf the candidate.

Why You

The whole process of hiring has been done under a cloud of suspicion. CV fudging, tenure manipulations, inaccurate role descriptions, presenting inflated salaries, have decreased the trust of employers. We know many employers who have rejected high-potential senior leaders purely because reference checks revealed s/he was laid off or fired from the previous job. The larger let-down has been that the job seeker did not share those facts during the interview. Enterprises were right to consider these as integrity violations. However, from the job-seeker’s point of view, Indian enterprises haven’t shown enough character to accept and hire laid-off professionals easily.

From now on, can the enterprises transition to accepting a blanket response of ‘Covid’ for the “why you” question and thus remove the stigma around lay-offs? Everyone with a pink slip now is a victim of a force majeure, and that should be a huge leveller of sorts.

Short-circuited careers

Hiring decisions are supposed to be driven by a candidate’s future potential powered by past credentials. Recruiters will have to be less judgemental on what they see on CVs. The cornerstone reasons for hiring decisions, though, will remain the same, but the context of lay-offs should make for some honest interactions. After all, most of us by now should know someone personally or professionally who have lost their jobs due to Covid.

The helplessness of not being able to fully assist our near and dear ones with new jobs should translate into more human interactions while interviewing similar people. Job seekers, on the other hand, will need to find the confidence that Covid lay-off is definitely not a taboo during interviews. The onus, though, will be on the hiring manager to provide that confidence.

New beginnings

In 2006, when recruitment was at its peak in India, one of the famous posters by an MNC read, “Trespassers will be Recruited.” To make jobseekers get a similar sentiment and confidence back again, we may need bolder statements from employers.

How about hiring managers starting the interview by stating, “we don’t care if you have been laid off recently; we are only interested in your expertise and possible fitment.”

I would tell the job seeker what Mark Twain once said: “Honesty is the best policy when there is money in it.” It’s time for some authentic conversations than interviews!


Kamal Karanth is co-founder of specialist staffing firm Xpheno

Published on May 20, 2020

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