Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What are You Most Proud Of?

In my position in the organization, I sit on a committee that interviews college students for entry into our advance training program.  The program is a robust year-long retail training experience, and participants come out the other side as merchandise or inventory managers; setting them on the path to a long and prosperous retail career.  

Since it is intensive and our expectations of graduates high, we want to select only the best of the best.  Hence our selection system is designed to weed out "B" players and below, and our interviewing criteria boils down to just one question: Would you fight to have this candidate on your team?

I meet a lot of students through this process, and am amazed, even after a very stringent weeding out process before they get to me, at what a wide spectrum there are in candidates.  Many (the majority!) have not taken the time to research our company.  There is a lot of talk on their end of what the candidate would  get from the job, as opposed to what we would get from the candidate.  There is a surprising, almost shocking amount of talk about what mom and dad think about the opportunity.  Thus, the interview process is pretty enlightening.

We have a script of questions that we ask our candidates so that we can get comparisons on an apples-to-apples basis, but we also have about half of our interview time dedicated to asking our own questions.  I have a full battery of these, and by and large they've served me well throughout my career at peeling away the layers and trying to get an understanding of how a candidate ticks.  

But my favorite question of all time: What are you most proud of?

I ask this because it's atypical and I want to see their reaction.  I purposefully leave it open ended - work or personal life - because that offers insights.  I also ask this because I want to see their motivations and their capability for introspection.  The answer to this question (or a total lack of an answer - I've had that) gives me perspective to how they're wired.

By and large, how this question gets answered serves as a harbinger to their overall performance.  Candidates that give good answers on this one tend to get my recommendation, and candidates that stumble don't.  Not because I put that much weight on one question, it just seems to fall that way. 

In a recent interview, I asked this question to a candidate.  Without a beat she looked me in the eye, lowered her voice, and said, "That's easy.  I'm first generation American.  My parents came here from Vietnam to provide me with an opportunity for a better life than they had.  They worked hard to put me through college, and my end of the bargain was to work hard and represent my entire family as the first person in it to ever go to college.  That came with a lot of responsibility, and I'm proud of how I handled that responsibility."

It is easy to get mired in the day to day, to lose perspective, and to take things for granted.  An answer like that puts one's feet back on the ground, and serves as a big double-shot of humility.  How much do we take for granted living here?  How often do we come up with excuses for not doing something, when there are so many people in the world just dying to get a shot?  How often do we complain over our daily irritations, when such irritations would be blessings to a majority people on the planet?

At the end, we did extend the candidate an offer, but she turned us down for a better offer.  And good for her.  She'll be going places, and if she has a path that gets her there more quickly, she's smart to take it.

Now, with that anecdote behind us, here's the $64,000 question: What are you most proud of?  Post up

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