One of the things I've noticed when working with successful business owners and executive leaders in large corporations is that they know who to hire. They look for certain characteristics in the person they put on the team. One of the first things they try to determine (once the skills are out of the way) is whether or not the person is hunting for a job or a position of responsibility.
If the candidate is looking for a job, they don't go any further with the interview. If the candidate indicates that what motivates them and gets them up every day is a position with responsibility for which they are held accountable, then the interview continues in earnest, with success factors and lots of questions. The open ended questions will focus on how to figure out if the candidate takes responsibility for the consequences of her/his decisions. “What was the single biggest failure you've experienced professionally and what did you learn?” “Can you provide an example of how you made an uniformed decision and then went back to correct it to take the project down a new path?” “Give me an example of how you allowed hard data analysis to override your instinct when making a business decision.” The candidate had better be prepared to give substantial examples that can be verified.
As you might guess, the person asking these questions isn't looking for someone who is simply wanting to come in, do what s/he is told, let others take responsibility and go home at five. Nor is the hiring manager looking for someone who always sees outside forces or internal bureaucracy as getting in the way or causing failure. No, this manager or executive is not hiring someone for a job. Instead, they are looking for a person who takes responsibility; one who analyzes situations and is willing to look at data with fresh eyes. This manager is likely building a team that isn't afraid of admitting mistakes, pointing out areas for improvement, or being the bearer of “bad news.” They are looking for a professional.
Let's look at the other side. If I am a candidate who thrives on being in a position of responsibility, believe in being held accountable, and believe in being “data driven,” then I would want an interview to proceed as outlined above. If the hiring manager isn't asking questions that lead me to believe they are looking for a professional, then I might take the initiative to ask some of the questions myself. I'd be very tempted to ask, “How will you know that the candidate you hire is successful?” What would you expect to be accomplished in the first three months and how will you measure it?” “How would you describe the culture of accountability in your organization?” If the manager fumbles the answers to these questions, this is not a cultural match for me and I may want to move on. That's a very difficult decision, especially in these times. However, to settle for a job when you are looking for responsibility and a career position is going to hurt you in the long run.
Readers of this blog will not find too much surprising in this post. Yet, I see hiring managers make the same mistakes over and over again. I also see senior executives taking jobs in a panic – they have bills to pay and a family to support. Here is where I see the problem manifest most often – hiring a salesperson or sales manager. Sales people have a built in aversion to accepting responsibility for failure. Now before you fill my in-basket with hate mail, let me admit that I have come up through the sales ranks and managed a multi-channel sales team at several companies. I found myself succumbing to the very mindset that I'm suggesting isn't healthy. There's a simple and understandable explanation for this stereotype of the salesperson (apologies for those of you who have figured this out and grown out of it). A salesperson always faces more rejection in the average day than many people face in a year. They have to build up a thick skin. They have to accept the rejection, BELIEVE that it isn't personal, and move on to the next opportunity. That understandable need tends to create a habit of looking outside of our own actions for the reasons for failure. We have to guard against that eventuality and admit that while understandable, it is not acceptable to ALWAYS assume the failure is not ours. As the hiring manager for a high functioning sales team, I found it very challenging to dig down and get to the point of “when are you accountable for the failure of a sales initiative or forecast”; both for my sales team (including myself) and with prospective candidates for the team. It turns out getting there was crucial for a successful hire.
So back to the beginning statement. If you're looking for a job (no responsibility, just put in the time, collect a paycheck and go home), don't apply here – even if the position is for the assembly line. If you're looking to take responsibility for your actions, hold yourself accountable and are willing to grow, then let's get started on what it will take to be successful. Be ready to give examples of how you've made mistakes, accepted the responsibility for them and learned from them. Be ready to demonstrate how you are open to various views of and conclusions derived from the same data. If you're successful, we will be building a highly functional and exciting team. In my book, that's better than a job any day. Even in this horrible market.
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About the author
Dave Kinnear is a sought after business advisor and mentor. He works with highly successful executives through one-to-one mentoring and coaching meetings. Individuals who are presently running successful businesses and executives in transition work with Dave to ensure meeting corporate and/or career goals. Through his affiliation with Vistage International, Dave convenes and facilitates Advisory Boards comprising Business Owners, Company Presidents and Chief Executives dedicated to becoming better leaders who make better decisions and achieve better results.