What does growth mean to you?

Why Ask This Question?

The term growth is one of those slippery words in the job-hunting world. To some, it means (vertical) promotions up the ladder. To others, it means increased responsibilities gained through (lateral) broadened experiences. To still others, it simply means more money. Don't assume that you know a candidate s true motives when ''no room for growth is the stated reason for leaving. Instead, use this as an opportunity to gauge how realistic the candidate is, what true motives exist, and how much capacity for dealing with adversity the person has.

Analyzing the Response

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. Let s role-play this one together. I'll be the candidate; you be the interviewer.

Situation 1

Employer: Paul, I see that you marked ''no room for growth'' as your reason for wishing to leave your present company. What exactly does growth mean to you?

Candidate: Well, I really want to work in an organization where I can make a difference. I'm not looking for quick advances and promotions up the proverbial ladder, but I do want to know that my contribution has a positive impact on my company. My present company is an excellent organization in terms of the tenure of its senior management team, but it's exactly that paradox of tenure that creates a corporate culture that refuses to keep up with the times. Besides, it's a mature company in a descending life cycle. I see working for your firm as an opportunity to join a dynamic company with a lot more risk and a lot more reward. And it's exactly that risk-reward relationship that makes me feel that I could hit a home run by joining your firm.

Well, what do you think? I don't know about you, but I'm sold! I understand this candidate's career goals, and I also understand how those goals would naturally be met by joining my company. This person passed this hurdle. Let's look at another example.

Situation 2

Employer: Paul, I see that you marked "no room for growth'' as your reason for leaving your last company. What exactly does growth mean to you?

Candidate: As a senior vice president of loan servicing, I'm overseeing a loan service portfolio of 100,000 loans worth approximately $10 billion. We've built that up from 10,000 loans worth about $1 billion nine years ago. If we were still on an aggressive expansion track, Ms. Employer, I wouldn't be in your office today. But our bank was recently bought out by a huge finance company that put us on its balance sheet simply to diversify its portfolio. Accordingly, the word's out that we're going into a mode of maintenance and stasis.

Working with your company would allow me to oversee a significantly larger portfolio—450,000 loans worth about $45 billion. And that would just about allow me to reach the brass ring in my career. I'm ready for that level of responsibility, and I'm hungry to make it happen. That's why I'm here today.

Now what do you think? Yes, I agree! This candidate has a very legitimate motivation to make a job change, and I admire his awareness of his accomplishments and realistic self-assessment of his ability to contribute. He passes this test.

Situation 3

Employer: Paul, I see that you marked "no room for growth'' as your reason for leaving your last company. What exactly does growth mean to you?

Candidate: I would say that growth means having the opportunity to make more money based on my contribution to the organization. I need a challenge. I also need to know that my ideas are supported by senior management. After all, if you're not going to be appreciated for doing your job day in and day out, why bother? I'm not saying that the owners of my present company owe me a living, but their management style is sorely lacking in that they just don't seem to care. There are simply too many problems at that company, and they can't seem to get their act together. As a matter of fact, a number of people are looking to make a move right now. That's why I left. . . .

Okay, I set you up! I know you realize that Situation 3 is a problem candidate. But why? Besides the whiny attitude, why is this candidate a poor risk?

There are two reasons. First, he lacks a critical quality that sets high Performance career candidates apart from the rest: the ability to remain an objective, third-party evaluator of his career. What's important to him is what his company can do for him—not what he can do for his company. He's subjectively and emotionally entangled in a situation that he refuses to try to change. In his response, he never addresses his attempts to confront the problems that are making that organization (in his opinion, at least) stall. It's exactly that lack of trying that makes him appear whiny and complaining.

Second, and even more significant, keep in mind that whatever problems made a candidate decide to leave his last job must be solved by your company. If you can't offer him a solution to his problems, then there's no reason why his joining your firm would make for a more successful outcome. His problem is that he's simply not motivated at his present job, and there's no reason to believe that a new situation will make him act any differently. After all, he'll be expected to motivate himself once aboard your company. Additionally, your organization, like all others, has its own dysfunctional quotient.'' Since he's only a taker and not a giver, you'll have nothing to offer this gentleman once the novelty of the new job wears off six months down the line. Consequently, he's probably got nothing to offer you. Move on to your next interview.

What will you do differently at your present company if you don't get this position?

Why Ask This Question?

If a candidate's response to ''What does growth mean to you?'' appears self-centered or shows a lack of global reasoning, but the individual otherwise shows promise, then press the issue further. Force the candidate to come to terms with how she ll make her work life more palatable once she returns to reality back in the office. Look again for creative ways in which a benefit will result both for candidate and company. After all, practically any situation can be enhanced with a renewed commitment to success, whether at the company, department, or coworker level. Besides, even if the candidate isn t wholeheartedly committed to bettering her employment relationship, she should at least be smart enough to show you that she s a team player willing to put her company s needs ahead of her own.

Analyzing the Response


Beware the respondent who refuses to entertain this issue. If life is so bad back at the office that nothing can salvage even parts of that employment relationship, then you re looking at a ''mentally unemployed'' individual who has perhaps given up too easily on fixing

Figure 4-2. Realistic reasons for candidates orchestrating their own moves to leave companies.

Realistic reasons for candidates orchestrating their own moves to leave companies.

problems in her career. In such cases, the response (or lack thereof) should suffice to convince you that the candidate doesn't belong in your company.

By the way, many employers consider it a major ding against a candidate when the person leaves a job without having another position firmly in hand. It points to a lack of business maturity and a low tolerance for adversity when an employee unseats herself without another firm offer of employment secured. In today's employment marketplace, it's hard to believe that conditions are so bad that people would rather go on unemployment than wait it out at their present jobs while looking for a new one. Besides, they should know that their marketability goes way down when they're in transition as opposed to when they're employed. It's a rookie mistake, and it shows a lack of business savvy.

Therefore, knowing how to effectively press the no room for growth'' issue in your selection interview will clearly reveal an individual's career values and motivations—a critical insight into the person's ability to make an impact on your company. Now that you've examined the pros and cons of candidates who have orchestrated their own moves from company to company, look at the brief checklist of favorable reasons for leaving shown in Figure 4-2 on the previous page. Again, when you know what you're looking for, it makes the whole recruitment and selection process that much easier.

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