When the company driver reported the incident back at HQ, red flags went up. “The company’s management took serious note of the driver’s complaint. They felt if a candidate couldn’t maintain his cool on a rainy day, how would he lead the business, where he would be firefighting on a daily basis?” says Hunt Partners managing partner Suresh Raina, who was part of the search process. The candidate eventually didn’t get the job.
If that seems extreme, here’s a word of caution: Organisations are taking unusual steps to ensure they make the right hire for a leadership role, from scrutinising the lifestyles of candidates to evaluating their personal horoscopes.
Companies evaluate leadership candidates’ lifestyles more closely
A few years ago, an organisation had almost finalised a candidate for a director level post, till his lifestyle came to light. The search firm, which scanned through explicit social media posts by the candidate, alerted the company on the possibility of going wrong on this hire. After certain facts about his lifestyle were found out, the firm decided to organise a health check. The person not only appeared to be into substance abuse, some of his social media posts also revealed a racial bias. The candidate was rejected outright.
Questions that search firms regularly face from their clients are not restricted to smoking and drinking habits alone. They also extend to the dressing and fashion style of candidates.
According to Executive Access India MD Ronesh Puri, “Companies do checks to protect their brand. There have been cases where CEOs/CXOs have got drunk and created scenes, causing embarrassment. Companies are therefore looking at the lifestyle of leadership candidates more closely now. Some companies where promoters believe in simplicity and upholding values are petrified of somebody changing the culture and values of the organisation by exhibiting a different lifestyle.”
Reference checks are carried out on the candidate’s lifestyle, much of which can be revealed by his/her social media activity. Stellar Search founder and chairperson Shailja Dutt strongly advocates that, while doing a 360-degree assessment of a future leader, hiring committees should probe the candidate’s lifestyle choices in greater detail.
“In the current corporate environment, CXO hiring mistakes are considered a risk oversight and many boards/leadership teams are facing intense scrutiny in view of the same,” says Dutt. Clients are validating their opinions on a leadership hire by supplementing their reference checks with stringent social media checks as well, she adds.
While there is an equal argument made for the case of candidate privacy, Dutt says, “In light of easily available information, thanks to their digital footprint, candidates are under the microscope more than ever before and this trend is poised to grow in times to come.”
Companies are also concerned about an individual’s health and fitness while hiring. Hunt Partners’ Raina says a candidate was once rejected by a company because they found him lacking in physical fitness.
Background checks don’t stop at lifestyle and fitness alone. An executive search firm was stumped by the demands of two of its clients of matching candidate horoscopes with the organisation’s goals. “These are Rs 100-500 crore, promoter-driven companies we are talking about. The candidates we chose were very good and perfectly fit the companies, but they were rejected based purely on their horoscopes. We do get such examples these days. It could be due to the disruptions and volatilities we see around and companies not wanting to take any risks,” said the search firm head who did not wish to be named.