I recently filled a mid-management position with one of my executive recruiting clients. When I met with the individual who got the job, I liked him. That’s not always the case. That’s irrelevant. I’m not paid to find people who I like; I’m paid to find people who meet the minimum requirements for the job. Then it’s up to the client to decide if they want them.
This individual, I liked. I thought they (I am using “they” because I have recently filled a number of positions and don’t want anyone wrongly guessing about whom I am writing) were a consummate professional and had a very good feeling about them. Then I asked, as I always do, “Why did you leave your last job?”
The candidate looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I was fired.” Then, in no more than 30 seconds, told me exactly what happened. They took responsibility. They made no excuses. They said they were wrong. And they told me what they had learned from the experience.
When I submitted them to the client I began my report with the story of their dismissal and how I liked the person’s honesty and candor. They got the interview with the client, and even though they did not change their story (which usually happens!) in the slightest, there was still some doubt. So I suggested contacting the candidate’s previous supervisor. The client agreed and the candidate gave me permission. (As a recruiter, I can only contact references with the candidate’s prior approval.)
The supervisor sang the candidate’s praises and confirmed everything they had told me about the incident. The candidate was honest, had made a mistake and knew it.
Being honest means a candidate is trustworthy. Making mistakes means the candidate is human. Employers only hire trustworthy humans.
So what’s the lesson? Tell the truth. Don’t talk a lot. Keep the explanation short and simple. Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility. And, perhaps most importantly, explain what you learned from the experience. Do that and you may also get the job.