Im Begging You: Dont Take This Job!

by : Thad Greer

In his book "Straight from the Gut," former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, says that when interviewing candidates the most important question you should ask is: "Why did you leave (or why are you considering leaving) your last/most recent position?" He states that the answer to this question is not only a precursor of future behavior, but also gives you, the hiring manager, valuable insight as to candidate's thought process when making important decisions. So if money is the only factor luring them away from their current position, chances are they'll leave their new position when a better offer comes along. I don't disagree with this line of reasoning; I'm fortunate to have experienced firsthand the inter-workings of a Welch-run organization (he was my boss for four years, having cut my teeth with the appliance division right out of college). I think GE does a terrific job identifying and developing management talent. An important part of their corporate culture is to promote from within, made easier by the fact that they have a massive workforce of people to choose from. However, with job-hopping becoming more and more prevalent (and professionally acceptable), I don't feel the answer to that question gives you enough information about the candidate and his or her career expectations. When your work for an organization the size of GE and switch jobs every eighteen months you're considered ambitious, but when you switch companies with a high degree of regularity in order to improve your situation you're viewed as being flaky and indecisive.

Having been part of numerous interviewing teams at GE, one of the questions we often asked (straight out of the Interviewing 101 Handbook) was "What do you see yourself doing five years from now?" At the time I didn't place much weight on the candidate's response (unless it was totally something out of left field) because this question typically elicited a generic, corporate answer that rarely influenced me one way or another. I've always believed that if you have the ability to bring significant value to an organization then people are going to recognize it and new opportunities will present themselves all the time. So how could you know what you're going to be doing five years from now any more than you know who's going to be calling you on the phone in the next five minutes? This is not an invalid question; however, I don't think the average candidate knows how to appropriately answer it nor do I think the average interviewer knows what they should be looking for in the candidate's response. This is an essay/take-home question; one that requires an honest and thorough self-analysis and the off-the-cuff answer generally does not provide any insight worth considering during the evaluation process.

So the one question I always ask when interviewing candidates is essentially a hybrid of those two. It does a great job of opening up a targeted dialogue, one that gives me a broad perspective of the candidate's accomplishments and expectations and helps me draw conclusions about their career path and overall potential. I ask, "Can you walk me through the last 5 years of your career?" This gives you a range of information as opposed to just focusing on their last position. For example, it doesn't necessarily raise a red flag for me when I hear someone say they didn't get along with their immediate supervisor or that they disagreed with the overall direction of the company. However, if they didn't get along with the last three supervisors they worked for then we're establishing an alarming pattern. Jobs are not forever and for most of us the days of going to work for one company and staying there rest of our career are over with. That being said, I like to establish a realistic timeframe for employment longevity in a particular role when conducting a search, both with my client and the candidates. Typically, it's in the three to five year range. So the follow-up question that I ask all viable candidates is, "Were you to accept this position, is this a role you feel you would enjoy doing every day for the next five years?" If you have done your job as a recruiter (or hiring manager) and provided the candidate with a thorough overview of the position and its expectations, then the timeliness of their response will tell you everything you need to know about how they view the position's long-term potential. It is particularly insightful when you ask this question in a face-to-face setting, because it's typically not one that candidates are used to hearing. An immediate "Absolutely!" is a good sign. Raised eyebrows and a pensive look are not. Keep in mind that this is not a qualifying question: it's a dis-qualifying question. An affirmative response does not carry anywhere near as much weight as a negative one does. Remember, most people are not fired or displaced from their jobs; they leave on their own free will. Odds are your employees are going to leave you before you decide it's time for them to leave. So when you have a candidate that visibly shows hesitation at this question, or gives some indication that restlessness is likely set in after a period of time, then it's time to wrap up the interview and move on to the next person.