Vijaya Nair, director of HR at Vopak Asia, talks to Sabrina Zolkifi about the power of peer interviews.

The recruitment process is often stressful for both the interviewer and interviewee, but while some companies are trying to make the process as quick and efficient as possible, Vopak Asia has decided that it was best not to cut corners.

When Vijaya Nair first joined Vopak Asia, an independent global tank storage provider, and realised the company engaged in peer interviews, she found the process to be “a bit too long”. However, she has since changed her tune.

“The benefit of it is you will have people from different disciplines seeing the candidate from different angles,” Nair says.

At Vopak, candidates are not only interviewed by the hiring manager, but also the new hire’s direct supervisor’s peers. This process may seem drawn out to many, but Nair says it is something the company has remained strict about.

“It makes it a really thorough search. When you have that many people saying something about a candidate, there must be some truth to it, so peer interviews is something I encourage and try not to compromise on,” Nair says. “It may be a long process, but there is great value in it.”

Having the candidate assessed from several points of views, and from different levels in the organisation, also eliminates the possibility of hiring bias or discrimination.

People tend to be stereotypical and when we look at candidates, we tend to only look at certain things so sometimes you need to hear from other people.
Peer interviews at Vopak are also not limited to just the candidates’ new team or direct colleagues.

“Even if you don’t work for the person, we try to interview the person to come in and look at them critically to get a better sense. Culture and job fit are very important for us,” Nair says.

Because of the nature of Vopak’s business, Nair admits there are challenges in finding those with the right skills set and experience. She says the company also recognised the fact that it was not sustainable in terms of cost to only rely on external consultants to find suitable talent.

“We realised we had to move away from the traditional way of hiring. We needed to go out there and be a bit more proactive,” she says.

“People are now more aware and going to job portals to look for new opportunities,” she says.

It was then that Vopak moved into the online recruitment space, and found it helped hiring managers filter out unnecessary or unsuitable applications that came through.

The company now predominantly uses online recruitment to search for talent, and Nair says the change in tactic has paid off.

Vopak now also actively advertises jobs internally to fill roles further up the leadership ladder.

“We talked about how we could not fill the pipeline – so one of the strategies is we tell managers that when they hire, do not just hire for the current role,” she says.

“We train our managers in behavioural-based interviewing, as well as competency-based interviewing.”

Once candidates are hired by the company, Nair says managers are also accountable for the development of a leadership pipeline.

“We are now making a more concerted effort with the managing directors in all the countries in operate in when it comes to succession planning,” she says.

“We are addressing the issue of [leadership development] at various levels. We always ask our MDs what they are doing around preparing direct reports [for future roles] - especially those who have been in the same position for the past five years,” Nair says.