Is That Candidate Running Away From Their Job?

I think it’s essential to understand if a candidate is running away from their job when they express an interest in joining another company.

I’d like to share the two questions I ask very early on in the hiring process. There are others, but answers to these two questions tell me a lot about a person and their potential cultural fit. Particularly if they ‘suddenly’ become available or if they look almost too good to be true on paper.

I’m talking about this now because people are being stood-down and let go in wholesale numbers. That creates a buyers market for companies in a position to hire. And in my mind, it also creates one of the preconditions for hiring mistakes. More available talent with excellent on-paper credentials can increase the complacency of hiring managers

Consider what comes next as a tactic that you can use as a CEO, middle manager or as a team member tasked with vetting potential new hires. 

What is your future if you stay?

This is the first question, and it’s particularly relevant for someone applying for a role while still employed. It’s also a great hypothetical question if the person you’re meeting has just left a company. 

Above anything else, I’m looking for self-awareness in the answer. 

A good answer reveals how they perceive their skills and experience in the context of their current (or recently departed) organisation. 

A great answer reveals an honest assessment of their skills that require development and whether or not opportunities to learn and progress are/were available to them. 

Answers like this suggest a candidate is running towards my company for the right reasons. 

Then there are ‘red flag’ answers. These answers often suggest a person is running away from their company hoping to seek refuge in mine. Red flag answers are often heavy with resentment toward the current (or most recent) employer. The candidate may have been laid off or passed over for promotion, but their answer suggests whatever happened was done to them. While that may be true to some extent, someone who is self-aware would offer perspective as to why events played out the way they did. 

What’s your next play?

‘Next play’ is a phrase synonymous in the professional context with the next job or chapter of your career. In other words, what’s next after you come and work here?

People don’t often have an answer to this second question in our first conversation. And that’s OK. However, I do expect a response the next time we meet. 

I want to know’s next (or understand the universe of what’s next), so I can help the candidate get there. That might seem like a strange concept. After all, when you hire a star performer who checks every box, you want to hold onto them for as long as possible, right?

Well, no. 

When I hire, I’m looking for allies. 

Allies share a common, performance-based belief system where they stand to benefit individually when they collectively achieve success. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman goes into great detail in his book The Alliance (highly recommended)

As painful as it is for a great ally to move on, I consider this an exceptional result that spawns unexpected future benefits. But obviously, this result and any future upside will not occur unless there is a common basis from which to start. 

One last thing… 

I consider these two questions a stage-gate to a paid audition (here’s a link to my Paid Audition Playbook) where the candidate can road-test what it’s like to work with my team and me, and for us to do the same.

That said, if I’m greeted with red flag answers or repeated uncertainty about what’s next for a candidate, I tend to move. That might sound harsh, but time is of the essence and hiring mistakes can bring a growing company to its knees. 

I have felt that pain too many times. So if you’re a candidate, be prepared to answer two questions:

  1. What is the future if you stay?
  2. What is your next play?

Like I said earlier, while there are other questions candidates will be asked, compelling answers to these two will help you stand out.