This lead story appeared in Issue 32 of my Newsletter, InSight Published: 14 May 2008
Answers to interview questions you should never accept:
Part 1: “I left because of a personality conflict with my boss”
- being performance managedbeing counselled over inappropriate behaviour (eg calling the MD a weak, sleazy hypocrite after a few too many at the company Christmas party)being given a formal warningbeing held accountable
- being discriminated against
- being sexually harassed
- being sacked or involuntarily resigning
- the manager was arrogant, aggressive or incompetent or in some way difficult to work with
In other words the candidate is reluctant to volunteer more specific details in case these details do not weigh favourably in your consideration of them for the job on offer.
To maximize your likelihood of obtaining the specific information you need from the candidate you have to ensure that they see you as impartial and willing to give them a fair hearing about whatever happened.Just because a candidate uses the ‘personality conflict’ response doesn’t necessarily mean they are a poor or inappropriate candidate for your client’s role. A large number of people (including myself) have had unhappy experiences with managers.These experiences can be difficult to discuss frankly with recruiters when the candidate suspects the recruiter is unwilling to refer anyone to the client with the sniff of a poor reference (regardless of how unbalanced or biased the reference may be).Let me be crystal clear here – it is your job to probe further regardless of the candidate’s reluctance or discomfort. You are not interviewing to make friends – you are a professional recruiter providing a service for which you receive a fee. By failing to probe in this area you are being as negligent and cavalier as the driver who fails to put their seatbelt on (‘accidents never happen to me’).If you let this answer ‘go through to the keeper’ you can be almost guaranteed that either your client will find out what really happened during their interview with the candidate or in taking a thorough reference check, the referee will reveal what actually happened to explain the so-called ‘personality conflict’.In either case, it is bad news for you. You have wasted your time, the time of your client and candidate, damaged your credibility and got no closer to filling the job and receiving a fee for work done.So given that not probing to find the real reason for leaving is clearly a multi-pronged disaster zone, then why do recruiters continually accept ‘personality conflict’ as a valid reason for leaving?
Here’s a list of questions you might wish to use the next time your candidate says the reason they left was because they had a personality conflict with their boss. Pick which one suits your style of interviewing.
- They haven’t been told it is an unacceptable answer
- They haven’t been trained on how to probe effectively in this area
- They feel uncomfortable probing in this area
- They don’t know how to respond if the candidate becomes defensive or refuses to answer when questioned further about ‘what happened’
- “So tell me what happened”
- “Give me some details about the conflict. When did it start?”
- “What was the most recent incident of conflict? How did you respond?”
- “It’s a significant step to leave a job because of that reason. What actions did you take to try and resolve the issue?”
- “Who else witnessed this conflict? What did they say or do?”
- “With the benefit of hindsight, what could you have done differently in the situation?”There are significant benefits in skillfully, carefully and respectfully probing in the area of reasons for leaving, especially ‘personality conflict’.As the interviewer, your professional role is to remain neutral until you have enough evidence to make an informed decision as to the candidate’s suitability.Any candidate will greatly appreciate you being open to listening to their complete explanation of ‘personality conflict’ and honestly explaining any concerns you have once you are in possession of the complete circumstances of their departure from an organisation.
The next time a candidate tells you they left a job because of a ‘personality conflict’ what are you going to say to them next?