Who’s a better hire? Skilled carpenter or an experienced one

Our HR experts feel that focussing on any one can actually lead to the loss of a more suitable candidate


There’s a recurring joke that some companies look for freshers with relevant experience. That’s an irony of course and that’s where the joke ends. Looking beyond the resume can be the key to hiring an employee who has a distinct flair of being adaptive, but whose resume may not scream all the desired skills. Hiring managers are known to toss aside CVs that do not meet certain criteria. However, at times, by doing so, they may actually be depriving themselves of candidates who better fit the position!

“I think problem-solving skills are important but there are other skills which are also very important. An overall mind-set of providing a solution is required.”

Raj Raghavan, senior vice president & head of human resources, Indigo

Looking beyond

It may not necessarily be possible to gauge the problem-solving capabilities of candidates from their CVs. Sometimes, it is up to the hiring managers to assess and measure whether a certain individual will be able to manage a situation well. While there are ways to do that, the first step is definitely to have the intent to look beyond the resume.

It is true that experiences make a person. All of us have developed certain skills because of the work we have done in the past — tasks and jobs that shape our ability to process different situations. These experiences also drive the methodology we adopt to address particular situations. But what if a fresher abounds in enthusiasm, and seems capable of not buckling under pressure, but doesn’t have any experience to prove it? Should that person be dismissed? HR experts believe not, but it would be wrong to isolate problem-solving skills from past experiences.

Different approach

SV Nathan, partner and chief talent officer, Deloitte India, explains using the term ‘skilled carpenter’. “Anyone who knows the tools of their craft can do their job. However, a ‘skilled carpenter’ will know how to do it in the most effective and efficient way. The person will do the same job differently. They may know certain things in situations that others have not experienced. Problem solving is useful when they face the same issue for a considerable period of time and can easily fix it. But the skill of problem solving lies in solving different problems, and that is what I will look for. For me, both the skills are important. I need the problem solving skill as well as past experiences.”

Nathan prefers people who can solve a problem from a new angle altogether. “That ability is normally found in the youth. They have a completely different way of looking at things, and that is why they come up with innovative solutions,” he points out.

Case study based interviewing, or psychometric tools or even some kind of assessment centre can be used to identify whether a candidate is capable of solving problems.

Rajeev Singh, CHRO, ATG Tires

Specific ability vs mind-set

The question to ask here is, are we talking about the ability to resolve a specific problem or the mindset of facing multiple problems at work. If it’s a specific problem, it can be dealt with easily by giving the candidates a situation and asking them to respond to the same. But if it’s about aptitude that one is looking for, that can only be found in candidates with prior understanding. Raj Raghavan, senior vice president & head of human resources, Indigo, believes in certain questions that can be asked to help make up one’s mind about a candidate. “I think problem-solving skills are important but there are other skills which are also very important. For our frontline staff, customer service skills are important. For the airport ground staff, however, customer orientation is very important. Core competence is important for one to be technically qualified to know a machine. I look at it broadly. It need not be a solution to an identified problem. It can be an overall mind-set of providing a solution.”

Raghavan explains that if it’s a consultant hiring, the question to ask is what problem one wants to solve. “From there on, double down on what could be the solution. We don’t solve a problem every day at work. If one focuses on a candidate’s problem-solving skills alone, one will miss out on other talents, which give a clue to the ability to provide solutions.”

Raghavan also points out that no one should overemphasise one competency. Every role has certain requirements. Be it a frontline employee or an executive, there are a bunch of core competencies required, and problem solving is just one of them.

The skill of problem solving lies in solving different problems, and that is what I will look for. For me, both the  are important – problem solving skills as well as past experiences

SV Nathan, partner and chief talent officer, Deloitte India

How can problem-solving skills be ascertained?

“I would have a leisurely conversation. I would ask specific behaviour kind of questions, present certain situations, and ask ‘how would you react?’ I read the resume to know if they possess the required skills to do the job and consider that as an entry ticket,” says Raghavan.

Rajeev Singh, CHRO, ATG tires, however, suggests a case study based interview or an assessment centre, or some kind of psychometric tool to do the job. “The job of the hiring manager will be to identify situations when the said skills were used in the past and determine how relevant those are in the present position. One can also opt for case study based interviewing or some kind of assessment centre, which will have many tools to identify whether a candidate is capable of solving the problem. There are always some psychometric tools to measure the innate behaviours of the individuals, such as leadership-potential tools. These may highlight what the person is good at. As an additional tool, in my company, we do Hogan profiling for all leadership hiring. This reliable tool indicates where the person stands in terms of various parameters.”

Singh further adds that whether or not a person has the problem-solving skills can be ascertained by deep diving into past experiences. After all, these are built on the success and failure of solving problems — sometimes complex, sometimes simple. He warns here, “Don’t ignore what’s in the resume to go beyond in trying to understand the person. ”

Clearly, there is no either/or situation here, when it comes to problem solving and past experiences.

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