Every candidate has a unique story to tell, but most interview processes don’t effectively reveal it.
A properly structured interview can give you a window into how candidates think about their career. Some candidates think they are the victim of a long series of unfortunate events. Some candidates weave a heroic tale about their career, where they struggled mightily against their villainous bosses or doltish coworkers.
Sometimes the hero overcomes the obstacles, learns a lesson, and reaches a new level of self-awareness. But sometimes the heroes fail in their heroic quest, so they quit to find a new job … and then continue to find a new job every 18 months after that.
Funny thing about 18 months. That seems to be just about the time when people are really held accountable in many roles. The new-job honeymoon is over, problems can no longer be blamed on the predecessor, and all those easy, breezy first-year promises have come due. When people have two or three stints that last about 18 months, I become very concerned.
So how do you structure the interview conversation to tease out the patterns in someone’s background?
The normal practice of volleying interview questions back and forth will not work. Instead, at the beginning of every interview, I ask candidates to spend 20 minutes walking me through their resume. Going back to when they started working, I ask them to tell me what was best about each job and what was the worst aspect of each job. Good boss, bad company? Great experience but low pay? Great co-workers but no challenge?
I don’t comment, I just jot it down. Sometimes I have to ask a few times to pry loose the “bad” comments. Then I ask why they chose to leave each job and what they were looking for in the next job.
In about 15 or 20 minutes, the patterns emerge. Often people reveal patterns of which they are not even aware.
What answer is most frequent? Did they often just decide it was time for a change without explaining why? Did they repeatedly get recruited by a former boss? Did they often leave just to get more money? Were their coworkers terrific, or usually a bunch of losers? Did they make reference to “I did this” and” I did that” or make positive references to the team achieving something? Was the best thing the work itself, or was it the clients, the challenge, the people, or was it all about the money and recognition?
Once you know the pattern, you only need to decide how it will fit in with your organization.
Everybody fails sometimes. Everybody makes mistakes. And most people take at least one bad job that they never should have taken. But did they own their part in the problem, or did they claim to be the innocent victim of external forces?
This is a powerful concept called locus of control.
Unless you enjoy being a villain, I do not recommend hiring career victims.