This is the third in a three-part series on identifying great candidates through the interview process. First, we talked about evaluating candidates on their sales skills, even when hiring for non-sales roles. Then we explored how to determine if a candidate fits within your organizational culture. Now I want to talk about what I think is the single most important thing to look for in a candidate:
Internal Locus of Control.
Okay, I realize “single most important thing” is a bold statement. But before I make my case, let’s make sure we’re on the same page as to what locus of control is all about.
Locus of control is an element of personality referring to the extent to which individuals believe that they control the events that affect them. Individuals with an external locus of control believe that results derive from external factors – other people, situational factors, fate. Individuals with an internal locus of control believe that results derive primarily from their own actions – from within themselves. As with other personality traits, locus of control is measured on a continuum. While none of us are ever all one way or the other, we generally tend toward one end of the spectrum.
What does this mean in the workplace? Individuals with an internal locus of control believe their actions directly impact outcomes. They have an attitude of personal responsibility and take ownership for their actions. They are goal oriented and are persistent in problem solving. Where individuals with an external locus of control are looking for someone else to tell them what to do, those with an internal locus of control feel empowered to make decisions and act on their own.
How do you identify candidates with an internal locus of control? Using specific questions can be difficult and a bit transparent. (You can try a locus of control test here) So the key is to listen for locus of control cues throughout the interview. You should be alert for repeating patterns in the candidate’s responses:
External – Excuses, blaming, rationalization, focus on obstacles
Internal – Optimism, persistence, ownership, recognition of obstacles but focus on how they are overcome
I’ve found the following questions, and particularly the elements in bold, useful in eliciting locus of control cues:
What are your professional goals for the next 2-5 years? What steps have you taken toward reaching them?
What were the weakest areas on your last performance review? What actions have you taken to improve those areas?
What are you most proud of? Why?
Of your previous jobs, which was your favorite? Why?
How would your former teammates describe your work style? How would they describe your approach to problem solving? (I like this type of question because people are more likely to give their true opinion when speaking for others. Again, listen for actions taken and interpretations of end results.)
As I said, I believe internal locus of control is the most important thing to look for in a candidate. Not because skills and experience are not important. They are. And you have to weigh the importance of each in the context of your business needs. But the reality is that no candidate is ever perfect. So at some point, you have to look beyond the resume.
In my own experience, my best hires – individuals who proved great at their jobs and added the most value to the organization – were not the perfect candidates for the positions I hired them for. They lacked an advanced degree or their experience was in an unrelated industry, for example. But I believed these candidate had the confidence, persistence and drive to succeed. I felt they could master the specific tasks of the job over time and their willingness to learn, to perhaps struggle but keep trying, would help them take the job to the next level. They had an internal locus of control.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on locus of control. And do you have a favorite interview question? Please share it in the comments.
(Photo credit: Microsoft)
Many employers have told me, recently, that they would rather hire a person who has the right personality for their company and train them rather than hire someone who already has the training but who does not have the character or the type of personality they are looking for. Your detailed description of the ‘internal locus of control’ provides a useful, concrete analysis of one of the important characteristics employers should look for. We can’t ‘train’ an employee to have an internal locus of control. They either have it or they don’t. I especially appreciate your tips for identifying such people in the interview process.
Yes, making the distinction between what can and can’t be taught is key. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Terry.
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