I’ve been on the phone with many candidates over the last two weeks and have this conclusion – it’s amazing what people will tell you as a recruiter, if you have the moxie to frame the question in the right way and then S.H.U.T.U.P. Seriously, stop talking. You’re ruining the brutal honesty that is forthcoming, if you would only use silence as your friend.
My favorite topic – why did you leave that position? The hard part about this question is that most candidates, especially the higher end ones, are trained to be PC with their responses to this question. So many times, you won’t get a viable answer to this.
So you have to make a new plan, Stan. Potential back door question with the same meaning – "What satisfied you least about that position?". It’s motivational fit, but in the negative context. Ask it, and then listen. When you get an answer, don’t say anything for 10 seconds. The candidate will likely give you more. Once it’s clear that they are finished talking, say "What else?" and don’t talk for 20 seconds.
The silence is deafening. Don’t bail the candidate out.
You’ll hear a lot of things about what satisfied them least, which are usually the reasons they left the job, or at the very least why they were open to moving.
Here’s my list of things I don’t want to hear from a candidate about what satisfied them least (aka, why they left), followed by my notes on what I think, when I hear them:
5. "The new company offered me more money" – I know this is a reality, but if that’s your lead (rather than embedded as one of 4 to 5 reasons) I get a picture of a mercenary for hire, aka Rambo… If you left them for 10%, will you do the same to us? Probably.
4. "I wasn’t challenged" – This might be the reality, but don’t engaged employees get the grunt work done and naturally find challenges to tackle that are in line with their interests? If you give me the image of you doing grunt work and not being satisfied, it’s not enough. I need to hear what you did to innovate in the role, and if you can’t provide, then it can be a problem. Especially for an autonomous position.
3. "I didn’t agree with how things were done" – Again, it’s all in the context. What didn’t you agree with? Accountability for results? Pressure to hit deadlines? A culture of harassment? If I follow up, and it’s things in alignment with the first two items (accountability), that’s not good.
2. "It’s not that I"m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care. It’s a problem of motivation, Bob" – Just seeing if you were still reading. I haven’t interviewed Peter Gibbons lately, although that would be cool…
1. "I didn’t get along with my manager" – A tough one, because it can be the reality. When I follow up on this one, I need to hear what was unreasonable about the manager. If he/she is a tyrant, OK, I get it. If I hear that they were too involved, or that they held people accountable, it can be an issue for the candidate. After all, there are many types of bosses – adaptability is key.
That’s my list. I can sum up the 5 worst reasons with one sentence – Don’t be a victim. No one likes to hire a victim, but often times the difference between a victim and a proactive candidate comes down to one word – positioning.
So ask the question and stop talking. Amazing what you’ll hear….
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.