Upstart Technology

In Human Resources parlance, what is an 'airport test'?

Large number of autorickshaws parked at one of the lanes on Magadi road in Bangalore

Large number of autorickshaws parked at one of the lanes on Magadi road in Bangalore   | Photo Credit: K_Murali Kumar

In HR parlance, there is something called the ‘airport test’ carried out — either intentionally or unintentionally — by people conducting interviews after they have ascertained that the candidate has all the necessary skills to join their organisation.

This test often becomes the most crucial factor that determines whether the candidate is hired or not. The airport test takes the form of questions which try to figure out if the interviewer can genuinely spend time with said candidate if they are stuck with them for an hour or two with no other company at an airport, something that might happen often enough if the job requires travelling.

‘Forced companionship’

In a sense, this is equivalent to checking if there is a ‘culture fit’ for the organisation, but instead of being done by an HR person using some predetermined heuristics, this is a potential peer doing it better. As a parallel, there is a similar need for startup founders too — especially when it comes to deciding upon either co-founders or early team members. This will form the nucleus of the organisation and employees will have to work closely together, and thus be extremely comfortable with each other, if the startup has to have any chance of succeeding.

The early months of the startup will involve a lot of field work and almost never in the air-conditioned comforts of airports. So calling it an ‘airport test’ will clearly be way off the mark. In India, given most of this forced companionship of colleagues may happen in rickety three-wheelers, I propose we call it an ‘autorickshaw test’.

It is clear that the kind of questions one may ask in an autorickshaw test will also be significantly different from that of an airport test. In an airport test, one possibly tries to find out if there are shared interests, or maybe just if the person is ‘nice’, for varying definitions of that word. In some industries, the airport test unfortunately devolves into a check for the candidate being “people like us”. But for the autorickshaw test, these sort of questions are too low a bar.

A key difference between the airport test and the autorickshaw test is that the autorickshaw test is almost always two-way; the examinee is examining the examiner too. And in this two-way autorickshaw test, it often is the case that in one direction, there is a test for “how much can I inspire this person?” and simultaneously from the other direction there is a test for “how much can I be inspired by this person?”

Startups, wherein both directions of the autorickshaw test were trying to inspire or be inspired, often set themselves up for failure. In the former case, it’s a recipe for clash of egos — and in the latter case, they will run out of ideas very soon.

As this column, Upstart, comes to an end, after a run of two years, here is wishing everyone who wants to start up... that they find the best autorickshaw co-passengers.

The author heads product at a mid-sized startup in the real estate space

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 10:10:56 PM |

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