One of the most interesting parts of interviewing for me is listening to the stories people tell about their career. Some people are always the victim of circumstance, but most often (in their own stories) they are the protagonist, and the boss or external events are the villain.
Sometimes the hero overcomes the obstacles, learns a lesson and reaches a new level of self-awareness. But sometimes the “hero” just quits to find a new job … and then proceeds to find a new job every 18 months after that.
Funny thing about 18 months. That seems to be just about the time that people are really held accountable in executive 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 2 or 3 stints that are right around 18 months, I become very concerned.
So how do you begin to suss out the patterns in someone’s background?
At the beginning of every interview, I always ask candidates to walk me through their resume. Starting with college, 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 just jot it down. I ask why they chose to leave and what they were looking for in the next job. Sometimes I have to ask a few times to pry loose the “bad” comments.
Then I look for the pattern in both the good and the bad. What answer is most frequent? Did they often just decide it was time for a change? Did they repeatedly get recruited by a former boss? Did they often leave just to get more money? Were their coworkers 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, the clients, the challenge, or the people?
Everybody makes mistakes, most people take at least one bad job that they never should have taken, but did they own their part in the problem, or were they the victim of external forces? This is a powerful concept called “Locus of Control” and if you are not familiar with it, be sure to click the link to learn more.
After someone has walked through their resume like this for 20 minutes or so, I dive into all the behavioral interview questions specific to the job. (You do prepare interview questions in advance right?)
But I find that starting with this twenty minute review helps me quickly find the patterns in their answers. Then I just need to decide if those patterns fit the job… because tigers don’t change their stripes.