TP Saran

Requirements for higher posts

Qualifications, experience AND attitude

A well-qualified young lady with adequate experience went for an interview for a post in the local representation of an international institution. At one point, she was asked whether she would make a cup of tea if requested to do so. Sure, she answered, as long as it is not an attitude thing. She got the job.

Attitude, a settled opinion or way of thinking that is reflected in one’s behaviour or bodily posture, is nowadays considered as a very significant element in the assessment of a candidate who has applied for a post. It is a given that the higher the post, the more important it is for the aspirant to have the proper attitude that is needed to go with it, so as to fulfill the duties and responsibilities pertaining to it with a degree of selflessness and to the highest possible level of objectivity, fairness and justice. This is especially the case when it comes to posts at the apex levels of any organization or institution, where leading other people is implicitly part of the mandate. Here attitude is crucial. What is required goes beyond technical qualifications and experience – which, of course, must be possessed by all applicants – to qualities that add up to making one human and humane.

These are, among other things, the ability to work with others and in teams, understanding and empathy, respect for colleagues and consideration for subordinates, being polite even when firmness is called for, avoiding constant antagonism or criticism of the people and institution and instead have a demonstrable commitment to bring about durable improvements in the working environment and to building sustainable relationships.

If one is or has been part of the institution before, the track record on this count will definitely be known by colleagues and other staff generally and will be – in fact will have to be – a critical determining factor in the selection process. All these, and much more, are essential equipments in one’s personality that complement basic competencies. They are enormously helpful in guiding one towards making judgements and taking decisions which, inevitably, have the potential to impact the lives of both individuals – in their careers and at personal level too – and the overall image of the institution.

Extreme caution is therefore necessary in the choice and appointment of persons to such positions. When they are all eligible in terms of qualifications and experience, the only way to make out their attitude is by means of an interview. Which is why it is such a widely used tool in head-hunting. All serious-minded institutions are governed by statutes which spell out the constitution and composition of various entities within them that have to carry out specific functions, including interviews. And especially in long established academic settings, the panels are not only made up of highly able people, but the latter assume their roles with commendable dedication and seriousness, with the sole concern of strengthening the institution in a holistic manner.

Even before the actual interview begins when it is programmed, clues will become available to the sharp panelists by the way the person walks in, greets or responds to greetings from the panel, takes a seat and submits preliminary information and then documents that are requested. Already, at the beginning, the body language will have sent some signals – and this is also apparent when interviews are conducted online, as happens with greater frequency these days.

Once the interview begins, invariably the initial tendency on the part of the interviewee predominates, and a seasoned and smart interviewer can almost invariably make up his mind at this early stage as to the value-added worth of the candidate. The tone and pitch of the applicant’s voice, the postures assumed, the barbs and cynicisms thrown in to try and outsmart, or to cover up other personality deficiencies are that many hints which may well neutralize the significance of whatever qualifications and experience the interviewee may vaunt of.

One postulant applied for a post of associate professor. He barged in and marched heavily towards the chair meant for the interviewee. Without so much as a ‘hail fellow how d’you’ – because all the members of the panel were his peers — he plonked his ample posterior in the chair which almost wobbled under the weight, swung the left leg on to the right thigh, and practically flung his document file on the table under the noses of the panelists.

To add insult to injury, his tie knot was loose with the top two shirt buttons open, and as he slouched in the chair with his coat flaps falling sideways, a window of bare abdomen (obese and excessively hairy to boot) was exposed to full view of a panel that included ladies. And when the interview began, he started by challenging the status of the panel and its modus operandi. It is easy to deduce how the rest of the interview went.

On the other hand, another fellow applicant was, to sum up, a thorough gentleman who walked in with a smile, politely requested for permission to take the seat after a friendly greeting, and amiably responded to small talk before entering into the essentials of the interview which proceeded ever so smoothly.

Another one was a smart Alec: perfectly well groomed, three-piece suit, a tinge of a smile that said more than words: ‘do you know who I am’, and a glint in the eyes. He was politeness to the core, and nursed his answers with sardonic relish. To the extent of putting questions to the panelists by way of reply, prefaced by ‘oh, that’s a very interesting question I must say! May I ask why are you guys asking me such simple not to say silly questions?’!!

Any mature and regular interview panelist will tell you that it is a well-honed tactic to ask some simple questions, often outside of the field under reference, so as to discover the person’s wider human interest and such other aspects, for they are quite as relevant in positions where dealing with a diversity of personnel is a regular part of the job.

All things being equal in the preceding scenario, that is all the three candidates (and others) possessing comparable qualifications and experience, it is not difficult to make out who got the promotion. And everyone: the students and staff, the higher echelons; the department and the institution were the beneficiaries subsequently of the competence and goodwill of the chosen icon.

Proclaiming loudly in public that one is the best does not mean that one is in fact the best. Or claiming victimization to make up for deficiencies that have more to do with attitude than with qualifications and experience which, it must be reiterated, are by themselves not enough. If anything, such gimmicks must disqualify the candidate whose mindset is clearly inappropriate to allow the assumption of a role where neutrality and wisdom are a major asset.

An extreme example illustrates this situation. Just think how some White extremists went vocal against Barrack Obama when he was standing for the post of President of America. And they have not stopped doing so. What if, as President, Obama were to look down on them as the ‘other’ and not treat them as equal citizens because he was different from them and as a reaction to their criticism? Would that behaviour befit a President of a country? Clearly no: he would have to rise above their pettiness and look at the larger picture and the wider interest of the country and all its citizens, as he is in effect doing.

An interviewing panel that focuses on qualifications and experience and fails to take into account attitude will have failed in its assigned goal of finding a suitable candidate, and may well deliver a bull in a china shop. No institution deserves such a fate.

Well has it been said that it is your attitude that determines your altitude. At all times, in all settings. And in academia, where everyone has equivalent altitude based on technical credentials, attitude is the sole critical determinant to higher altitude.

 

TP Saran

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