Selection interview by the C.E.O. - What we look for.

By | 15th Oct 2013 | 4 min read

In our company, we have instituted a practice where all short listed candidates are put through one last round of interviews by the C.E.O. Often it happens over the phone; at times face to face. By the time they reach the C.E.O. - currently me – they have cleared multiple levels of testing. Beginning with an on-line mulitple choice test assessing numerical ability, pattern recognition and English language vocabularly, followed by a programming test, technical interview and then an HR interview.

A fairly detailed report on their performance and back ground is sent to me before I do the interviews. I make it a practice to read these reports only after my interview so that I can make an independent judgment. But before I send in my comments and recommendation, I do read what others have said to double check.

Given how I understand the Zyxware strategy, culture and operating style, there are a few things I look for. The first and foremost is whether the person has shown an interest in something. This is to see whether he is the kind who has an orientation to work on his own. This is critical in Zyxware because, our levels of supervision and control are not very high and we would need people who can work without that.

By showing an interest, I mean whether he has engaged with a subject in some depth. For example, if someone says he is interested in programming, my next question is whether they have done any programming other than as part of work or academic projects. The number of people who say no is alarming. I often do not restrict the question to programming because I do understand that people are looking for some kind of financial security and an employment in IT sector is a good bet for that. They need not be applying to us because they are interested in programming. I would ask them about their interests other than programming. I do get a wide range of responses including cooking, gardening, cricket, music, reading etc etc. I generally tend to probe a little further to see what the level of engagement has been. The question is has he enjoyed something without the external pressure, experienced a growth in awareness about an area. Does he delight in acquiring knowledge or expertise in an area of his choice. Has he ever made such a choice.

One important aspect that I look for here is whether the person has points of view that are reasonably well developed, can he communicate it in a structured manner and does the person defend the point of view intelligently.

In the case of experienced candidates, I often ask about the work that they had done in the earlier organisation, their experience of working on someone else's requirements, experience of working in a team, reporting to a manager, resolution of disagreements etc. Often this gives me some understanding of how the person looks at work, does he fit in with our commitment to balance the interests of stakeholders, his general disposition to people etc.

I think over the last 10 months or so, since we instituted this practice, the best interview happened recently. The candidate had a bachelors in Mathematics, masters in Computer Applications and two years of work experience. He said he was interested in reading. But he had only read very few books. What was striking about him was that he did have an analysis of a character in the books that he did read, was willing to defend his analysis and when probed further he was willing to nuance his position further. He showed a similar ability when we had a conversation regarding the choice of method for teaching children the theorem, sum of all angles in a triangle is 180. He countered my objection to using a draw, measure and add strategy (I felt it was inconsistent with the deductive approach of the proof of the theorem). He emphasised on how draw, measure and add would be important to help children grasp the idea and how the deductive proof alone may not be sufficient to reinforce the concept in the minds of the children. To my objection that you are likely to get sums other than 180, he said that can be attributed to measurement error and that children can be convinced of that. While I am not convinced by his choice, I quite liked the defence that he mounted.

Later when I checked the report of the previous rounds, I found that he had aced the programming test and my colleagues who had done his interviews were thorougly impressed. This similarity in judgment at different layers does show that we are assessing against a cogent framework. Fine tuning the process further might be required. But we can at least safely believe that we are on the right track.