One of the most interesting parts of interviewing for me is listening to the stories people tell about their career. Some people are always the victim of circumstance, but most often (in their own stories) they are the protagonist, and the boss or external events are the villain.

Sometimes the hero overcomes the obstacles, learns a lesson and reaches a new level of self-awareness. But sometimes the “hero” just quits to find a new job … and then proceeds to find a new job every 18 months after that.

Funny thing about 18 months.  That seems to be just about the time that people are really held accountable in executive roles. The new job honeymoon is over, problems can no longer be blamed on the predecessor, and all those easy breezy first year promises have come due. When people have 2 or 3 stints that are right around 18 months, I become very concerned.

So how do you begin to suss out the patterns in someone’s background?

At the beginning of every interview, I always ask candidates to walk me through their resume. Starting with college, I ask them to tell me what was best about each job and what was the worst aspect of each job. Good boss, bad company? Great experience but low pay? Great co-workers but no challenge? I just jot it down. I ask why they chose to leave and what they were looking for in the next job. Sometimes I have to ask a few times to pry loose the “bad” comments.

Then I look for the pattern in both the good and the bad. What answer is most frequent? Did they often just decide it was time for a change? Did they repeatedly get recruited by a former boss? Did they often leave just to get more money? Were their coworkers usually a bunch of losers? Did they make reference to “I did this” and” I did that” or make positive references to the team achieving something? Was the best thing the work itself, the clients, the challenge, or the people?

Everybody makes mistakes, most people take at least one bad job that they never should have taken, but did they own their part in the problem, or were they the victim of external forces? This is a powerful concept called “Locus of Control.”

After someone has walked through their resume like this for 20 minutes or so, I dive into all the behavioral interview questions specific to the job. (You do prepare interview questions in advance right?)

But I find that starting with this twenty minute review helps me quickly find the patterns in their answers. Then I just need to decide if those patterns fit the job… because tigers don’t change their stripes.

If you’d like to stop wasting your time on the irrelevant, superficial aspects of interviewing, and start understanding the deeper elements of what really predicts success a new hire, read our post on How to Conduct a Job Interview so Top Performers Actually Want to Take Your Job.

And, if you prefer all that research and information pulled together into one attractive document you can easily share with others, download our Employer Guide to Interviewing.

Of course, interviews are only one component of a great hiring process, our Resource Center has additional topics you might find helpful:

  • How to Replace Underperforming Employees
  • How to Write Job Descriptions that Attract Great Candidates
  • How to Handle Bad Glassdoor Reviews
  • How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Your Hiring Process
  • How to Make Your Hiring Process More Certain, Predictable and Consistent

One disclaimer: This advice will be most relevant to hiring managers who are interviewing professional staff in large metropolitan areas. Our perspective is shaped by our work, and we work in a retained executive search firm, conducting searches for CEO and senior staff positions. We’ve completed over 600 searches for associations and other nonprofits in major metropolitan areas like Washington DC, New York, and Chicago, so we make no claim that all of our advice will be relevant if you are interviewing for other types of positions in other job markets.