The Only Question That Matters
The Elephant in the Interview
I sat across from a sharply dressed Senior Audit Manager. As I examined his work history, I noticed he had been working for the same firm for ten years. After the obligatory small talk...
“Joe (fake name), why do you want to leave XYZ (fake firm)?”
“I’m looking for an opportunity for career advancement. I’m not seeing that at XYZ.”
“I understand. Why aren’t you getting that opportunity?”
“Well. The firm is struggling financially.”
“Have you had a discussion with your Managing Partner about your goal?”
“Yes, but I don’t think it’s going to change soon.”
“So, what happened the day you put your resume together?”
Pauses…”You want that story?”
In every interview, there is one critical, game-changing interview question. You can learn so much about your interviewee by asking this one question. You’ll find out about her values and whether he is a hero or a zero.
“Why do you want to leave?” is the most powerful, underutilized and misunderstood question in the interview universe. My belief is that most human emotion anger, fear, anxiety, jealousy, greed, and love are a result of our interactions with other human beings. What if you are underpaid? That’s an external issue. No human interaction right? Not really. What if the world population was being paid $5 less? You would be the wealthiest person on earth.
Being underpaid is extremely painful, because of our nasty habit of comparing ourselves to others. People prefer to focus on external circumstances, but their human interactions are like open wounds. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to think about it.
Here’s what they say:
I don’t like manufacturing clients.
I want to get back into oil and gas.
My firm just isn’t a good culture fit.
We work excessive overtime.
I’m looking for a better work-life balance.
I’m looking for more growth opportunities.
My commute is too long.
The problem is that you only hear half the story, and the half you are missing is what you really need to know!
Get Through the Sugar Coating
The first step is to break through the initial half-truth answer. Keep digging until you hear the human interaction. Take the given answer and ask, “Why do you feel that way? or How did that happen? or What happened?” When you feel like you are being stone-walled, start over from a different angle.
With your newfound interview skill, you might learn some things that you wish you could unlearn. Sexual harassment and bullying really do happen. Horrible managers really exist. Remember, they wanted to give you the standard issue interview, but you insisted on learning the “truth”. Ask yourself this question, “If I was in their situation, would I have handled it better or worse? If I was in their situation, would I be doing the same damn thing.” For crying out loud, don’t punish people for being honest.
The Reluctant Candidate
From time-to-time, you will come across a candidate who will pretend as if she isn’t interested in leaving. Although, some candidates will actually waste your time, remember, most reluctance is feigned. Chalk this up to the misguided belief that desperate candidates get low-balled while reluctant candidates are “pursued”. These candidates don’t realize that their lack of enthusiasm puts them in the rejection pile.
I don't want to hold this against them if they are a legitimate candidate. If a candidate tells me “Actually, I’m not really looking, so it would have to be something really good.” I encourage them to get off the fence. “I’m afraid we have several candidates in the pipeline, so if you aren’t interested we should wrap this up.” A magical thing happens, those who are interested let you know. Those who aren't also let you know.