Is it this person's natural inclination to report to someone else for sign-off, or does the candidate operate better with independent responsibility and authority?

Why Ask This Question?

This is a natural follow-up query to the previous question if you want even more objective feedback to measure the individual s inclination to follow all the rules or occasionally strike out on his or her own by making new rules.

Analyzing the Response

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. Here's how it works. Let's say you've asked the first query in this two-question string like this: ''Nina, how does Sam approach the issue of taking action without getting prior approval? Nina responds, ''He s an effective decision maker, and he won t go out of his way to step out of line. He s got a healthy ego, but it s not so big that he needs to prove his authority by circumventing your procedures. Your natural follow-up would be:

''Great, Nina, I'm glad to hear that. Let me ask you this: In terms of giving him the proper managerial support from day one, should I expect him to come to me for sign-off because he feels protected by doing that, or is Sam better off if

I simply give him as much responsibility and authority as possible right up front?''

And voila—you should generate a very honest and open answer regarding Sam's feelings toward being supervised. After all, your questions show nothing but concern for getting this new hire off on the right foot. Therefore, you'll gain reliable third-party data with which you can also make a more effective hiring decision.

After so many years in the business, is this candidate still on a career track for which she can sustain enthusiasm?

Why Ask This Question?

Our introduction into this query—''after so many years in the business''—is a function of senior management in general. You simply don't get to the top unless you've spent years learning your business inside and out. The latter part of the question—''is the candidate still on a career track for which she can sustain enthusiasm''—is a euphemism for ''Is this candidate burned out on the business?'' It's a practical question that's worded nicely.

The point is that there are lots of mentally unemployed folks out there. They're still generating paychecks for themselves. They might even be looking for greener pastures by coming to you on an exploratory basis. However, they may be looking because their ticket is about to be punched at their current company, and they simply can't afford to be laid off for too long. There's nothing else they can do to earn the kind of money they're earning, but their hearts just aren't in it anymore.

Analyzing the Response

Interestingly enough, while other questions in the reference-checking process may run smoothly along, this one particular query often throws respondents into a quasi-confession mode. That's because it usually hits the nail on the head by making the former supervisor admit that the real problem lies in the individual's staying power. There's just not a lot of fight left in this person because plastics manufacturing has just gotten too predictable. The challenge is gone, so the fun has long since passed. The person is at a career juncture and either has to get off the train and adjust to a much more modest lifestyle (because of severely reduced earnings) or smile, suck it up, and get back aboard for another trip around the tracks.

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. When you sense the hesitation in the past supervisor's voice, ask:

"I know that Chuck's sole focus in his career up to now has been in general management at plastics plants. Would he rather be doing something else? I mean besides lying on the beach in Hawaii, does he live for his outside interests? Has he fallen out of love with the business?''

Of course, such prodding could lead to some very candid insights that go beyond strictly work-related issues. Still, work never exists in a vacuum— it's only one element of the total person. Note as well that this issue has little to do with a candidate's age. Spending eighteen years in plastics manufacturing could be a very long time for a thirty-six-year-old.

Gathering this information is critical because you inject a very serious element of risk into the picture when the candidate needs to work but doesn't really want to. Not to get too philosophical here, but you very well may be doing such individuals a favor by not hiring them so that they can put that terminable career issue to rest and then be free to ''begin the first day of the rest of their lives.'' No one, after all, lives to work and forgoes all other outside interests.

But when candidates have an overwhelming need to find satisfaction totally beyond the workplace, they may have difficulties making a break with their careers because of guilt or social pressures. Still, similar to early career job hoppers, they have to kiss some frogs before they find their prince. You don't have to be one of those frogs! In this case, although the candidate may have mentally made the break with that career (which is now earning him or her $125,000 a year), he or she is not going to tell you that. An objective third-party reference, however, may be more forthcoming.

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