Case Sanofi-Aventis

Sanofi-Aventis is one of the world’s leading pharmaceuticals corporations represented in more than 100 countries and employing almost 100,000 employees. At present Sanofi-Aventis has one of the best portfolios of substances in the entire pharmaceuticals industry and offers Russian doctors state-of-the-art pharmaceuticals drugs to treat cardiovascular diseases, thrombosis, different types of cancer, internal diseases of the central nervous system, metabolic disorders and diabetes. The medicinal products that are best known to the public are Essentiale, Noshpa, Bronchicum and many others.

Sanofi-Aventis has an extensive regional network. At the same time, the company has developed business regionally without opening any offices. Accordingly, it had no local HR specialists. Each regional manger would independently select medical representatives, relying primarily on down-to-earth experience. At the same time, the HR Director from Moscow would interact with recruitment agencies, help managers by offering advice and sometimes conduct telephone interviews.

It was also standard practice in the company that the new employees would be trained at a training center. It frequently transpired that the candidates, after an interview conducted by the managers, demonstrated a low level of knowledge of competencies. As a result some of the candidates would be sifted out after the induction training and the managers would have to conduct a repeat recruitment drive.

In order to improve the recruitment process, the company decided to train managers in how to conduct competency-based interviews professionally. HR Director Olga Sileverstova believed that this would enhance the quality of the recruitment of candidates and enable managers to take decisions based on standard criteria that are adopted at the company (competencies).

The company has its own corporate competencies serving as the basis for staff selection. However, far from all the managers relied on the competencies when adopting a recruitment decision. Consequently, an important goal of the project to implement competency-based interview techniques was to train managers in how to use competencies during the recruitment of staff.

We present below a list of the competencies of Sanofi-Aventis (we provide an approximate translation of the competencies based on their content).

  • Entrepreneurship (Решительность)
  • Change & Innovation (Гибкость, Инновативность)
  • Team Performance (Управление людьми)
  • Effective Communication (Коммуникация)
  • Company Spirit (Корпоративность и Мотивация)
  • Strategic Thinking (Системность мышления)
  • Responsibility (Планирование, Ответственность)
  • Problem Solving (Анализ проблем)

In order to implement this project, we planned Competency-based Interview training courses. We adapted these training courses in line with corporate competencies and the specifics of the participants (line managers, and not HR employees – more time is spent at the training course for them on the subtleties of the technique, the assessment methodology, etc.). The training became more dynamic, and more practical exercises appeared, while the training was performed on the basis of the competencies of Sanofi-Aventis.

At the end of 2008 —start of 2009 the Competency-based Interview training course was attended by approximately 70 regional managers of Sanofi-Aventis.

In order to facilitate the task of the managers during the interview process, we were instructed to develop an Interview Manual. It was important for the company to encompass the largest possible number of categories of employees, who were to be interviewed using this method.

Consequently we drafted three interview manuals:

  1. Manual for the assessment of medical representatives
  2. Manual for the assessment of territorial managers
  3. Manual for the assessment of employees who have no previous work experience

The competency-based interview manuals included the following sections:

  1. Detailed description of the interview technique,
  2. Description of the competencies, including positive and negative behavioral indicators,
  3. Cards with questions on competencies,
  4. Scorecards.

We delivered most of the training courses during March 2009. At the training course the managers learned how to correctly formulate questions in order to clarify the necessary information, and differentiate information that is important for the assessment from the idle chatter of the candidate. We also worked on the skills required for an objective competency-based assessment, etc.

The training program included an exercise that enabled managers to apply the knowledge and skills that they had obtained in practice. On the second day of the training the participants operated in groups of two-three people. They were to conduct interviews for 5-6 competencies with real candidates. The interviews lasted one and a half hours. The candidates were invited by recruitment agencies that Sanofi-Aventis used, and were actually looking for work. This part of the training was more revealing from the perspective of the effective application of competency-based technology.

We will provide the following example by way of illustration.

A girl, who had no work experience, was included in one group of participants as a candidate. After graduating from institute, she immediately gave birth to a child, and a year later decided to look for employment. She was interviewed at various pharmaceuticals companies. One of these companies was Sanofi-Aventis. This situation provided a perfect opportunity to use the interview manual with graduates, which is what our participants did.

One of the principles of a competency-based interview is that if the candidate cites a hypothetical situation, the individual should be asked to provide a specific example. The candidate asserted when talking about herself:

“If I were to go a meeting with the doctor, I would definitely ask such questions …”.

“If my colleagues were to request my help, I would definitely help them even if I had to do a vast amount of work, as I am a team player”.

However, such assertions do not reveal her actual skills or the development level of her competencies. The participants in the training course already knew about this principle. Consequently, they adhered clearly to the recommendations described in the Interview Manual and used the skills that they have acquired during the training course. In response to such assertions, they requested that she provide specific examples. Here are some of the questions that they used from the Manual during the interview on different competencies.

Diagram № 1. Questions from the Competency-Based Interview Manual at Sanofi-Aventis.

– Do you recall any situations where you were unable to do something as you lacked the required skills/knowledge? Can you tell us what you did in this case? Have there been any similar situations since? Tell me how you acted. The key is to understand if the candidate attributes his or her failure to a lack of knowledge about what he or she should do in order to rectify the situation. Find out whether his or her behavior changes when he or she finds himself in a similar situation.
– How did you start planning your work on your course project (diploma)? Please provide an accurate description. How did you plan the work? How did you determine what you needed to do first and subsequently? Collect information on what is important to the candidate and how he or she identifies the importance and urgency of tasks.
– Describe an instance where you persuaded someone of the value of your idea. How did this happen, what did you do, what did you say? What arguments did you use? Obtain examples of how the candidate argues, insists on his or her decision, handles objections and achieves success.

The girl was very nervous when asked to talk about her real behavior. She said that she had not been asked such questions at the other companies. As a result the participants managed to obtain sufficient examples, which unfortunately demonstrated that the candidate was not ready to work at Sanofi-Aventis.

In addition to the ability to make the candidate open up, when asking the correct questions, the managers realized that they needed to write down the answers of the candidate, as many important things are rapidly forgotten and subsequently it can prove very difficult to make an objective assessment.

We will cite several statements from the participants in the training course after they had used the interview technique in practice.

“I cannot even imagine how much wool candidates had in the past managed to pull over my eyes.”

“When I ask the candidate questions, I can see how hard they find it to answer and how uneasy they feel. However, it is far better that the candidate feels uneasy now than the unease I would feel were I to hire some good-for nothing employee.”

One of the regional managers of Sanofi-Aventis Dmitry Orlov noted that he found it far easier to conduct the interview after the training course. In his words, he had previously prepared various questions. Now, all he needed to do was to study the CV, take the Interview Manual and start the conversation “live”. He immediately applied the knowledge that he had acquired in practice and successfully hired several people for the position of medical representative. Consequently, line managers are now quite good at exercising the functions of HR employee.