Achievement-Anchored Questions: Measuring Individuals' Awareness of Their Accomplishments

NO ISSUE IS MORE TELLING in the candidate selection process than measuring individuals' assessments of their own achievements. Not all people in the career change process will suddenly develop newfound insights into their individual accomplishments and ability to affect a future employer's bottom line. Still, any candidates mounting a realistic job search campaign in today's survival-of-the-fittest workplace should realize that corporate executives are taking a harder, more judgmental line on new hires. Therefore, the career introspection that ideally belongs at the onset of all candidates' job search campaigns should mandate that all interviewees create a personalized mission statement to identify how and where they can bring about change in a future organization.

That being said, reality bears out a different truth. Fewer than 25 percent of candidates will be able to articulate clearly what distinguishes them from their peers.

What makes you stand out among your peers?

Why Ask This Question?

At first glance, such a simple query appears to offer only a modest challenge to the average candidate preparing for a job change. However, the simplicity of the question doesn't necessarily equate with the difficulty and demand it places on the candidate struggling to identify a response. Although that response can take a myriad of forms—increased revenues, decreased operational costs, streamlined work flow, or creative achievements—most job applicants give scant thought to the value they've brought to past companies. It's exactly that ''work for a paycheck'' entitlement mentality that you want to avoid in your quest for high-performance, high-velocity career candidates.

Beginning with the premise that only 25 percent of the working population will be able to articulate its uniqueness as ''corporate assets,'' you'll begin your selection interview with a tool to identify proven performers who have healthy levels of self-esteem. Bear in mind that not every opening in your organization will necessitate a high level of self-confidence. Still, when it comes to winnowing the chaff from the wheat for higher-profile positions, this query is the sine qua non of all final hiring decisions.

Analyzing the Response

This simple litmus test that measures self-esteem will generate a myriad of answers from ''I have no idea—I just sit in a room with other staff accountants crunching out numbers all day'' to ''I took it upon myself to reconfigure our existing software systems to increase our customer satisfaction index by 32 percent.'' The latter response obviously begs for clarification: ''What motivated you to rethink your existing way of doing business? How did you involve your department and get it to buy in to your idea? How did you come up with that 32 percent figure?'' and so on. But it sure is refreshing to find candidates prepared to articulate the particular nature of their achievements.

Red Flags

The former response, though, is problematic. You shouldn't necessarily expect bells and whistles in a candidate's retort. After all, the majority of people most likely won't have single-handedly saved their organization from financial ruin or earned it a spot on Forbes magazine's list of the best companies in America. You should, however, expect the candidate to accept your invitation to respond to this challenging question. A response like, ''I don't know—I've never thought about it before,'' refuses your invitation to engage in the conversation. It's fine if the person never thought about it before, but now's the time for him or her to articulate a response!

So if the candidate backs off from you this early in the interview process, it sets a tone for the rest of the meeting: You may have to extract answers from this person like pulling teeth. That precedent impedes open and insightful communications focusing on how the individual is ready to make a contribution to your organization. If you're able to find that out five minutes into your interview, you'll have saved yourself lots of time and energy.

Good Answers. Candidate responses could be as simple as:

''I'm totally dedicated to my work and define myself by the great job that I do.''

or

''I have a track record for assuming responsibilities above and beyond the call of duty, and I'm always willing to go the extra mile to get the job done.''

or

''I'm proudest of the fact that I was hired to grow a region of ten sales offices within a year and successfully met my target goals by the end of the third quarter.''

These kinds of comebacks reveal focus and direction. A sense of strength and determination arises merely from the candidate's accepting the challenge of responding to this daunting question. You should applaud those who don't flinch in coming up with an on-the-spot answer, no matter how simple or even awkward it sounds. Bear in mind that right and wrong answers have no say in this particular questioning scenario. What's critical is the timing of the response and the conviction with which it's stated. You'll have plenty of opportunities throughout the rest of interview to gauge factual information. Your measuring rod here focuses on eye contact, posture, and confidence; the candidate either backs off from your challenge or rises to the occasion.

 
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