• Simeen Kaleem

The tiring work of getting the hiring right! How we failed and innovated hiring.

We recently hired three great team members for our core team at Gramhal. By the end of the hiring process, we felt grateful and blessed to have had an exceptional pool of 370 candidates apply and then finally onboard the most suitable three. As a 1.5 year-old start-up, it was a humble and gratifying moment for us. However, behind this hiring achievement, is a story of major failure – not once, but twice.


We began hiring for our first team member in August 2019. We received 30 applications and interviewed 5 candidates. With such a small pool, we were unable to find the right candidate and thus decided to postpone the hiring and undertake the process later. We launched our second hunt for the same position in December 2019. Our second attempt at hiring was as unsuccessful as the first one.



By failing twice, we realized that we needed to revisit and innovate how we were hiring.

We condensed all our challenges and learnings from the previous attempts and laid down strategies to address each of them. Below are our challenges and how we tried to bridge them.


The need for a clear hiring plan: Most of us on the team didn’t have any experience in hiring and followed the traditional processes, where candidates undergo a series of one-on-one meetings/conversations with CEO and other members.


However, we realized that since none of us are trained in effective interviewing techniques, we end up relying on our gut feeling and relatively less data to make the decision.

We decided to change this and laid down an evaluation matrix across our most important parameters to assess candidates. The four most important parameters for us are - value alignment, job-based competencies, team-based competencies and, zeal, and potential to learn.


The first and the most important parameter we look at is alignment with our five core values of (i) Mindful working, (ii) Learning mindset, (iii) Practice compassion with passion, (iv) Be an intrapreneur, and (v) listen, reflect and communicate.


To assess candidates on these values, we developed case-based questions and prompts ranging across their personal and professional lives. It’s surprising how many well-qualified candidates we were not able to take beyond this round. One candidate told us that s(he) doesn’t believe in the concept of work-life balance but believes in maximum productivity and has been merely sleeping 4-5 hours in his/her current role. This was for a senior position, and it made us realize that a manager who doesn’t believe in mindful working will also not be able to ensure a mindful working space for his/her team. Thus, we weren’t able to take the candidate forward.


The significance of in-action assignments: Earlier in our interview process, we were struggling to assess candidates on job-based competency and their potential to learn. We realized that just looking at the CV isn’t the best way to evaluate the candidate’s job competency. To truly assess candidates on role fit, the responsibility of clear communication is as much on us, as on the candidate. We had failed in explicitly laying our expectations from the role and curating a data-driven process to assess candidates. Thus, in our pursuit of making decisions more data-driven, we developed “in action” assignments. These are real-life case-study based assignments that are custom made for each role. These assignments gave the candidate and us great clarity about the role and their performance in it.


Making hiring a two-way conversation: During our first two hiring attempts, our process was such that the candidates become passive players in the hiring process and merely responded to the questions and tasks requested from us. This led to a very one-sided conversation – where the candidates understood what we need, but we didn’t understand much about candidates beyond their immediate skill sets and job fit. During our third attempt, we wanted to change this and make the candidate an active participant in the process.


We don’t want candidates to just listen to our needs, but we also want to understand their career and personal goals actively. We have realized that this two-way conversation helps us align job roles and personal growth of the candidate within the organization.

Making our hiring process time-bound, robust, and transparent. The first two times, we didn’t have a time-bound response mechanism or the process that would be followed. These left candidates waiting and unclear about our process. We realized that having clear laid out hiring processes that are time-bound encourages candidates to apply. Thus, we became proactive in sharing details about the selection process, HR policies, and relevant information about the organization in the initial rounds itself. We also don’t wait for the last round to discuss compensation because it would be a waste of time for both parties, if after all the time spent, we are not able to find mutual ground.


Thus, at all stages, we encourage that both – the candidate and us, have more information about each other than the previous round, so both of us can make informed decisions.

Furthermore, we made our process inclusive by letting our candidates choose between three different languages – English, Hindi, and Marathi to undergo the hiring process. In our third attempt to hire, we put out our hiring approach and realized that it made a lot of difference to the candidate pool we attracted.


As a young organization, we have the responsibility of creating inclusive, mindful, and compassionate workspaces. The onus of building teams that work together well, has the latitude to push boundaries, the courage to innovate, and the space to think out of the box, is on us. An integral part of it is giving team members time to learn and room to fail.




About the author: Simeen is Director at Gramhal. She builds processes and contributes to the verticals of communications, fundraising, strategy, and HR.

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