As part of the interview process, it is not uncommon for companies to engage in discussions or explore ideas with candidates. However, the ethical considerations and boundaries surrounding the exploration of ideas during interviews have sparked debates. Are companies within their rights to indulge in ‘idea shopping’ during interviews?
In some instances, certain skills cannot be adequately assessed from responses to traditional interview questions alone. To gain deeper insights into a candidate’s analytical skills or creativity, companies may feel it is their right to seek ideas and engage candidates in discussions on these topics,” points out Pradyumna Pandey, head-HR, manufacturing, Hero Motocorp. The aim is not to extract proprietary information or exploit candidates but to assess their ability to think critically and creatively.
“The exploration of ideas during interviews should adhere to ethical principles. Companies must establish a clear understanding with candidates regarding the ownership and usage of ideas generated during the interview process.”
Pradyumna Pandey, head-HR, manufacturing, Hero Motocorp
Sharing a similar opinion, Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries, opines, “Companies have the right to assess a candidate’s skills and potential contributions to the organisation. As an HR professional, gathering data and insights directly from candidates can provide valuable and valid information for assessing their qualifications and fit within the organisation.” Exploring ideas during interviews can provide valuable insights into a candidate’s thought process, creativity and problem-solving abilities.
Citing an example, Mukherjee explains that when it comes to hiring by tech companies with a specific skill requirement, they may assign a project related to a particular programming language that these specialise in. To attract talent with those skills, companies often offer substantial compensation. In this context, it is natural to ask candidates about their experience and knowledge in that specific language. Even after candidates are hired, they are typically expected to utilise their expertise in that area.
Similarly, when hiring for a business-development role, employers often seek candidates who have established connections and contacts in the industry. They expect these individuals to bring valuable business opportunities with them. While it may seem unethical of candidates to bring along a list of contacts from their previous organisation, it’s important to recognise that employees carry not only data but also knowledge and experience in their minds.
It is important to understand that the ethical aspect comes into play only when confidential data is transferred, shared or used inappropriately. If employees carry confidential data from their previous organisations without proper authorisation, it can be considered unethical. However, carrying knowledge and information acquired through legal means is not inherently unethical.
“Companies have the right to assess a candidate’s skills and potential contributions to the organisation. As an HR professional, gathering data and insights directly from candidates can provide valuable and valid information for assessing their qualifications and fit within the organisation.”
Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries
Getting necessary information during the interview also helps companies perform a benchmarking to make informed decisions for the future. “It is crucial to engage in conversations with people to gather insights and information. When participating in competitions or vying for awards, the importance of benchmarking becomes evident. It allows companies to assess their progress, compare themselves with peers and identify areas for growth. To establish a credible benchmark, it is necessary to gather accurate and reliable data,” points out Mukherjee.
It is pertinent to mention here that the choice to use the ideas is always with the employer, irrespective of the candidate’s selection. “Suggestions, feedback and ideas can be beneficial for any entity, or any individual. Different perspectives from various people provide valuable insights. Ultimately, it is the company’s discretion whether to implement or reject these ideas,” enunciates Anil Mohanty, senior HR leader.
During interviews, gathering ideas or suggestions from candidates, even if they are ultimately rejected, can still be valuable. It is up to the company whether to implement those ideas or not.
However, it is essential for companies to be transparent about the purpose and scope of idea exploration, ensuring that candidates’ rights and confidentiality are respected.
While companies have the right to explore ideas during interviews, they must also respect intellectual property rights and avoid any potential infringement. “Candidates should exercise caution and refrain from disclosing proprietary information or violating confidentiality agreements with their previous employers,” warns Mukherjee.
“It is important to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive information and data. The disclosure of classified information should be handled cautiously, considering the circumstances and the intention behind sharing such information.”
Anil Mohanty, senior HR leader
With a similar perspective, Pandey also opines, “The exploration of ideas during interviews should adhere to ethical principles. Companies must establish a clear understanding with candidates regarding the ownership and usage of ideas generated during the interview process.”
Any ideas shared during interviews should be handled responsibly and not used without proper consent. For instance, when assessing a candidate, it is necessary to inquire about their previous company, their role, and their performance in terms of turnover and how they handled various aspects of the business. Occasionally, trade starting sessions may be conducted to discuss ideas, or candidates may be asked to present a comprehensive business plan. However, these activities should be limited to assessing the candidate’s competence and suitability for the organisation.
Additionally, companies must set boundaries and communicate their expectations very clearly to candidates. This includes informing candidates about the purpose of idea exploration, any confidentiality obligations and the company’s policy on the ownership and usage of ideas discussed during interviews.
“Candidates should be encouraged to share their insights and perspectives, while understanding the limits and scope of idea exploration,” opines Mohanty. Candidates may provide approximate or generalised information to present themselves in a favourable light or to enhance their chances of being selected.
However, Pandey believes that explicitly exercising proprietary rights over ideas during interviews is not a common practice in India. It is rare for candidates to overtly state that their ideas are proprietary. However, as the legal framework strengthens, similar practices seen in other countries may emerge, where candidates may request declarations to ensure their ideas are not used without permission. “While such practices are not prevalent in India currently, the introduction of a robust legal framework would likely lead to the availability of non-disclosure agreements from both parties to prevent misuse of ideas,” believes Pandey.
“While conducting interviews, it is generally understood that information should not be obtained from competitors or through unethical means,” states Mohanty. However, the practice is common when candidates are recruited from rival companies, as it allows for gathering insights about the market indirectly. Unfortunately, there are no specific guidelines or regulations in place regarding this matter. “It is important to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive information and data. The disclosure of classified information should be handled cautiously, considering the circumstances and the intention behind sharing such information,” concludes Mohanty.