Q&A: Shortlisting large applicants swiftly and accurately on merit with Jayanth Neelakanta

Every week, we schedule our weekly 1:1 with our readers. Want to be featured in an upcoming edition? Drop an email to janhavi.jain@springworks.in

This week we’re in conversation with Jayanth Neelakantha, CEO of Equip. We talk about shortlisting large applicants swiftly and accurately on merit.

The interview is edited for length and clarity. All views are personal and not linked to any organisation.

Q- What are the challenges or problems companies face when shortlisting large numbers of applications or applicants?

While shortlisting applicants, companies often face two key challenges. Firstly, the high volume of applications received makes it difficult to efficiently review each one individually. Secondly, utilising resumes or CVs as a screening tool can be unreliable, as applicants may exaggerate their qualifications or struggle to effectively showcase their skills.

The hiring process typically begins with posting the job description and receiving numerous applications. Recruiters or interns usually initiate the first contact with candidates, conducting brief phone calls to assess communication skills and preliminary fit. However, it can be challenging for generalists to gauge technical proficiency or domain-specific expertise.

If a candidate passes the initial screening, some organizations may assign them an assessment or request responses to questions via platforms like Google Forms. Completing such assignments not only evaluates the quality of their work but also signals their commitment and dedication. HR personnel primarily handle this stage.

Next, candidates who perform well on the assessments may proceed to multiple rounds of interviews, which could include case studies, technical coding rounds (for tech-related roles), or additional assessments. These interviews are typically conducted by the hiring team members, and the number of rounds may vary based on the role.

Towards the final stages, the candidates may have the opportunity to speak with senior individuals such as Vice Presidents or Directors. If they successfully navigate these rounds and receive positive evaluations, an offer is extended.

Overall, this traditional hiring process involves initial screenings, assessments, multiple rounds of interviews, and final evaluations before a decision is made.

Q- Are there biases in the CV shortlisting process based on the reputation of pedigree colleges and certain top companies?

To ensure fair evaluation of candidates in the shortlisting process without relying on pedigree colleges or previous companies, it is essential to implement an assessment-based approach. This can involve providing candidates with case studies or assignments that evaluate their skills and capabilities. The key is to design a systematic process that makes the evaluation blind to irrelevant parameters such as gender or age, unless they are specifically relevant to the role. The evaluation should be based solely on the material presented by the candidate, ensuring an objective evaluation mechanism. By prioritizing objective assessment and removing personal metadata, the focus shifts towards ranking candidates based on their performance rather than their individual backgrounds.

Q- Does technology and automation accelerate the shortlisting process while ensuring impartiality towards characteristics or criteria?

Yes, technology plays a crucial role in expediting the shortlisting process and ensuring impartiality towards characteristics or criteria. Automation can handle a high volume of applications efficiently. For tech roles, platforms like Equip can be widely used for blind coding evaluations. However, when it comes to subjective content like case studies or video presentations, biases may still arise. Nevertheless, advancements in AI and objective evaluation mechanisms are emerging. Tools that can evaluate subjective submissions are expected to become more prevalent, allowing for standardized assessments. By implementing such technologies, a pipeline can be established where all applicants go through the same evaluation process, and subsequent shortlisting decisions can be made based on the quality of their submissions.

Q- How can we address the risks associated with heavy reliance on technology for candidate shortlisting, ensuring fair results and avoiding the exclusion of potentially qualified candidates who may not have the same background as traditionally favoured ones?

I'm against relying solely on CVs for candidate evaluation as they can be subjective and prone to lies. Instead, for positions like product marketers, it's important to focus on relevant skills like SEO and paid ads. Using case studies or objective questions related to the role is a better approach. While biases may exist, technology-driven assessments with an objective framework can potentially outperform human judgment. Similar to self-driving cars, technology may not be perfect but can still be a better option. Though there may be inherent biases in AI and ML, overall progress is being made in reducing biases.

Q- When faced with multiple highly qualified candidates for a position, how can we effectively make a decision when they all possess the right background, skills, and cultural fit?

When faced with multiple well-qualified candidates for a position, making a decision can be challenging. Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Assess their passion and alignment: Look for candidates who demonstrate genuine enthusiasm and care for the problem your company is solving. Their passion and alignment with your mission can be crucial factors in making a decision.

2. Arrange in-person meetings: Whenever possible, provide opportunities for candidates to meet the team and spend time at the company's office. This allows for deeper interactions and a better understanding of the day-to-day workings of the organization. We do this at Equip for all our roles - invite the candidate to meet us in person, before making the offer.

3. Seek input from the team: Gather feedback from relevant team members who have interacted with the candidates. Their insights can provide valuable perspectives and help assess cultural fit.

4. Consider cultural fit: Evaluate how well each candidate aligns with your company's values, work culture, and team dynamics. Assessing cultural fit can help determine who will thrive within the organization.

5. Share the responsibility: Involve the team in the decision-making process to share the accountability for the hiring decision. This encourages collective ownership and reduces the burden of the decision on a single individual.

While these strategies may be more feasible for startups or smaller companies, larger organizations can adapt similar approaches to accommodate their specific context and resources.

Q- How does the shortlisting process of large applicants differ between virtual and in-person settings, considering the shift towards remote interviews and virtual meetings?

In the context of shortlisting large applicant pools, the shift from in-person to virtual settings brings about several changes and considerations. Here are some key points:

1. Accessibility and reach: Virtual settings allow for a broader reach, as candidates from different geographical locations can participate without the need for travel. This expands the pool of potential applicants and offers more diverse talent options. For example, most of Equip’s customers use us widely for Campus Hiring.

2. Evaluation criteria: In a virtual setting, the emphasis might shift towards assessing remote work capabilities, adaptability to virtual collaboration tools, and strong communication skills through online platforms. Evaluating candidates' ability to thrive in remote work environments becomes crucial.

3. Technology-enabled assessments: Virtual settings enable the use of technology-driven assessments, such as online tests, case studies, or simulations. These assessments can be standardized and efficiently administered to a larger candidate pool.

4. Human connection: While the initial screening and assessment stages may be technology-driven, the importance of human connection remains. In the later stages, dedicating time for virtual interviews, panel discussions, or virtual meet-and-greets allows for a more personal and in-depth evaluation of the shortlisted candidates.

5. Collaborative decision-making: Virtual settings can facilitate collaborative decision-making by involving multiple stakeholders from different locations. Video conferencing tools enable panel discussions and consensus-building, ensuring a more comprehensive assessment of candidates.

Q- What do you think is the role of diversity and inclusion in the shortlisting process and what are some strategies to promote diversity and mitigate biases around it while we're assessing candidates, especially on merit?

When it comes to blind CVs and the recruitment process, it's important to focus on objective evaluation methods and reducing biases. CVs can be subjective and prone to exaggeration or omissions. Instead, placing emphasis on relevant skills and conducting assessments such as case studies or objective questions can provide a more accurate measure of a candidate's capabilities. The challenges organizations face due to the large applicant pool include the disconnect between college education and real workplace skills, as well as the lack of good quality applicants. The problem lies not just in the volume of applicants but in the density of skilled talent available. To prepare for the future of talent acquisition, organizations need to address the skill gap issue and focus on developing a highly skilled workforce to compete on a global level. This is a crucial factor in unlocking growth and overcoming the challenges posed by the market and the applicant pool.

Q- How can organizations improve their recruitment process to effectively onboard and train candidates who may not meet 100% of the job description, and facilitate their learning and development on the job?

To improve the onboarding and development of candidates who may not meet the full job description, organizations can consider external providers like Udemy or Coursera for upskilling opportunities. They should also create internal systems to support employee upskilling and provide structured, on-the-job training. Platforms or communities that facilitate knowledge sharing and documentation can be valuable for capturing and structuring organizational knowledge. Additionally, implementing a comprehensive onboarding process that goes beyond task-oriented activities and provides a structure for learning and development is essential. By prioritizing employee retention and investing in their growth, organizations can effectively navigate through bringing in candidates who may require additional training and development.

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