How many people survived the cut?

Why Ask This Question?

The phrasing of this question allows the candidate to assess the layoff from a different business angle, namely the organization's need to retain certain people to keep the work flowing. As such, it complements the preceding query by forcing the candidate to objectively come to terms with her past company's actions. Furthermore, the response you get should again link this individual's fate to an objective business reason for having been let go.

Analyzing the Response

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. If a particular department or division was eliminated, then the only people who survived were outside of those ill-fated areas. Again, that's totally beyond a candidate's control and shouldn't weigh as a negative swing factor in the selection process. However, if the individual was laid off from a department that is still intact, there may have been a problem.

Therefore, ask the individual to account for why particular individuals survived the cut:

''How did the organization decide who in the marketing department would remain and who would be let go?''

''What criteria were used in determining your department's new staffing configuration?''

''Were you surprised to find out that anyone in particular was kept or let go, or did the layoffs occur as you expected?''

Inviting candidates to assess how the company decided to dismantle a particular business unit will provide you with insights into their abilities to view problem areas with global objectivity. You'll also see if they react negatively and personally to unfavorable outcomes in their lives.

Finally, a third issue for qualifying a layoff lies in asking:

How many waves of layoffs did you survive before you were let go yourself?

Why Ask This Question?

Surviving multiple rounds of cuts can be an exceptionally attractive attribute. Only the most consistent performers are asked to wind down an operation. And when all is said and done, not only did they stick it out in terms of helping the company through a very difficult and emotional time but they never let up in production or output. Although they knew that their eventual reward for their efforts was nothing more than their own layoff, they found new ways of adding value in light of their organizations' changing needs. As a matter of fact, this is often one of the first issues that contingency recruiters mention to prospective employers in the candidate presentation process. After all, helping businesses wind down their operations usually spells both loyalty and high performance.

Analyzing the Response

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. Allow interviewees the chance to explain, round by round if necessary, why they were chosen to stay aboard as others were let go. How many hats did they have to wear to keep their jobs through those layoffs? Where did they receive their cross-functional training? How did they cross-train their peers? What prompted their managers to choose them to help wind things down, and how did those managers solicit their support? You'll be surprised at what valuable information you could develop in examining a candidate's approach to aiding an organization's downsizing.

Keep in mind as well that there is a difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcies. Chapter 7 total liquidations leave no survivors; there's typically only the carcass of a company left. Chapter 11 bankruptcies, on the other hand, are restructurings where the courts hold creditors at bay to give companies a chance to raise revenues to a point where they can eventually emerge out of bankruptcy. In those situations, a core staff of employees remains to carry on the business. As you guessed, it could be a very big plus in a candidate's column to be among this core of survivors mandated with returning the organization to profitability.

How do you document this information during your interview? Simply by taking notes explaining the circumstances surrounding each layoff. For instance, if the candidate writes ''layoff'' in the ''reason for leaving'' space at the last job, jot down your qualified reason for the layoff as shown by the examples in Figure 4-1.

Obviously, the answers you'll generate might open a whole new can of worms in terms of the individual's suitability at your firm. And that's exactly what delving into these reasons for leaving is supposed to do. At the very least, gathering this type of information on the front end will point out which areas need to be more fully explored through the use of a reference check a little further down the road. Congratulations—you've just learned to dramatically enhance your candidate evaluation skills!

These three questions should provide you with invaluable insights into one of the most overlooked areas in candidate evaluation: qualifying the layoff. Now remember, however, that there is another type of reason for leaving that you'll want to examine to gain a thorough feel for candidates'

Figure 4-1. Qualifying and documenting layoffs as a candidate's reason for leaving past companies.

Qualifying and documenting layoffs as a candidate's reason for leaving past companies.

goals and motivations: namely, when individuals deliberately make their own moves.

Qualifying Individually Orchestrated Moves

Although movement from company to company can happen for very good reasons, too much movement in a candidate s background—especially when it's movement for movement's sake—should throw up a red flag for you. Bearing in mind our premise that people tend to repeat patterns of change in their careers over time, you need to identify what trips a candidate s internal job change mechanism. The most effective way to do that is by challenging the most hackneyed and overused excuse in corporate America: ''no room for growth.

''No room for growth translates into bored, tired, and unmotivated. Unfortunately, too many job candidates wear it as a badge of honor showing that they ve mastered and consequently outgrown their positions. In certain circumstances, it may be true that they ve outgrown their current job responsibilities, but the real question is, how much growth and advancement should job candidates realistically expect, especially in terms of the challenging economies and job markets that they face? When confronted with a generic ''no room for growth reason for leaving, ask the individual:

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