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Would you hire a person who was separated for under-performance?

Source | LinkedIn : By Shilpa Vaid

A few years ago, I received the resume of a candidate for a fairly senior position in the company I was working at. The resume was strong – diverse yet relevant experiences with good organizations; a well-rounded profile. The position reported to one of my peers and he knew many leaders in the company where this candidate had worked and offered to do a reference check. He came back with the feedback that the candidate was ‘let go for under-performance’. And hence we should not evaluate him further. We had a debate; my peer agreed to meet him and then didn’t find him suitable. Fair enough. My plea to him was that we can’t automatically reject a candidate who was supposedly separated for under-performance. This is no longer a black and white issue; it’s very, very grey.

This grey area is a professional choice that many of us who are hiring would have faced at some point or the other. As an HR professional; I know I have grappled with it. But if this was a role in my team; and I had a candidate who might have been let go in any of their previous companies for under-performance; I would give them a fair shot and here is why:

Success is very, very contextual. A lot of factors need to be working in tandem for you to be successful in a certain environment – your role, alignment on expectations, your manager, your team and your peers. In today’s world, people need a favourable ecosystem to deliver and make an impact. Maybe the person had a difficult manager or peers; maybe the job did not turn out to be what he/she expected or perhaps they didn’t fit into the culture. We all know that research tells you that many new leaders fail not because of their functional skills but because of culture and network fit.

Secondly, failures are great learning. I know I have had the best lessons of my professional career when I struggled in an assignment. And if strong, driven people have under-delivered in a particular role; they probably have extra motivation to do well in a new one. I am not suggesting that these candidates are automatically deserving of a role but we can keep an open mind and that makes all the difference.

So if you come across any such candidate – how would you handle it as a hiring manager? Here is how I have dealt with it

Ask the right questions: I have great respect for honesty and I am a firm believer in being forthright. But it’s unlikely that you will put the candidate on the spot by directly asking why they were let go (especially given the Indian context). Frankly, you will get a sense of how honest they are being in the course of the conversation. And if they acknowledge that they struggled in a role – then hear their side of the story; figure out what happened and why.

Check references: When you do reference checks when hiring someone in your team, you always pick up themes about a candidate. In these cases, exercise more discretion to ensure that you speak to references from multiple companies. See if there are themes emerging. Understand if the context that made a person deliver in that environment is similar to what you have in yours. Some people to better in a structured environment; some thrive in flexible ones.

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