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#Hiring: The Fallacy of Job Descriptions…

...and how ex-Air Traffic Controller became the best Sales Person in Tech major.

#HR #Talent #Human Resources #Hiring #Job Descriptions #Bias #Resume #sales #India

This is not a story of rags to riches. This is not even a story about the candidate. This is the story of how strong our biases are in the hiring process and how limiting our job descriptions are in selecting a great candidate.

A job description, as defined by Wikipedia, is a document that describes the general tasks, functions, and responsibilities of a position. It specifies the qualifications, experience, or skills needed by the person in the job.

Almost all HR and hiring managers swear by Job Descriptions. But have we ever realized that Job Descriptions could also limit our searches, resulting in potential false negatives? I was once hiring for the position of Regional Channel Sales Manager (CSM) in Singapore. The role would primarily be to drive sales and work with the many channel partners across the Asia-Pacific region. The CSM would need to build and maintain relationships with the distributors and resellers and meet revenue targets. The job description required the candidate to be ‘self-motivated’, with an ‘eye-for detail’, amongst other things. As was the practice, HR would send the standard bunch of resumes of candidates with vast experience in other technology companies.

During the search process, I got a reference (from another friend) about a ‘smart guy’, an ex-Singapore Airforce who was looking out. I was curious and agreed to meet him. I met him informally at a Swimming Club, and the candidate did not even know I was evaluating him for a role.

This guy was in his late-20s, an ex-Airforce regular. He had been an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) for 6+ years and had a two-year experience in a small tech company in their Business Development function. He wanted to get to a more prominent organization in the tech space, an industry he loves, he said. He shared that at most places, he was not even getting shortlisted after the resume stage. Most hirers apparently considered the Airforce experience as irrelevant, and the HR/ Manager was not willing to risk it by giving him a chance.

However, when I went to meet him (remember, I met him at a swimming club informally), the following four qualities were striking, and I was fortunate to make a note of them and not miss them.

  1. By the time he walked 20 meters to where I was seated, he was met and greeted by a dozen-odd people with hugs-et al. And during the 30-minute meeting, many others came ahead, greeted him and had a friendly banter.
    Quality required for the role – This was a clear highlight for me, for the role would mean being friendly and conversational with hundreds of resellers and partners. Check.
  2. He spoke with extreme confidence and conviction. He was out to prove himself in the ‘civilian’ world, he said.
    Quality required for the role: The fire in the belly to become something with hard work was evident. Check.
  3. He shared his Airforce/ ATC experience and explained the high pressures of that role- long hours and often called in at odd hours (like 2:30 am). There was no room for error. The job required one to keep calm, for any stress-related error could mean catastrophic results and lives lost.
    Quality required for the role: The role needed someone working with 30 distributors and 1500 resellers. Working in high-pressure situations. Check.
  4. And to top it all off, he claimed (and I could see he was a hardcore Sindhi – they are like entrepreneurial Jews) to be highly shrewd in business and would never leave money on the table.

Quality required for the role: Revenue and Profit maximization, and this seemed to be in his genes. The fire in the belly to become something with hard work was evident.

I later requested HR / Senior Management to invite the candidate for a formal interview process. They were reluctant initially but relented. We had an SVP of Sales and SVP of HR interview this candidate and even the CEO got involved. The candidate’s first interview was a 30-minute appointment at the airport lobby as a ‘by-the-way’ thing.

What happened later was interesting –
As the SVP was boarding the plane, I got a terse message before he switched off the phone. “Rajesh, we need this candidate to join us. Period. We do not have hiring approvals, but spin your magic to ensure we do not lose him.” The line went dead.

Over the next few days, I had to justify to HR and to the CEO to hire this candidate who did not fit the JD that we ourselves had designed. In fact, I had to give my personal assurance to hire this person, putting my reputation and credibility on the line.

5 years later (today):

Today, (I am still in touch with this person) this hire is the star in the organization. He is a top performer and has been able to take on additional responsibilities with ease, meet sales targets, take the pressures easily and has been the most loved salesperson in the company thanks to his gregarious nature.

This hire though is not an exception in my career. I see a pattern. Not too long ago, in IBM I hired another candidate from Pepsi to drive high-end technology sales and that person today heads Financial Services for a #1 Software Company worldwide.

What is your experience in such areas? Do traditional job descriptions become an impediment to hiring good talent?

Rajesh Soundararajan
#CEO #Futureshift #ZMOTly Consulting #Futrlabs Innovations #BetterBhavishya Social Impact #Agropreneur #LeadershipWriter
The author is an entrepreneur with two decades of senior leadership experience in India and Asia-Pacific and now runs Futureshift, a boutique consulting outfit that helps businesses chart their digital marketing strategy with the @ZMOTly framework to achieve impactful outcomes. He is available at

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