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Take care of yourself first

November 19, 2008

A friend of mine in Sg was hiring a Finance manager. He asked me if I knew how to tell if someone was capable of managing.

So I told him my simple rule, “You can’t expect someone to take care of anything if he can’t even take care of himself.”

Many experienced interviewers continue to make the same mistake of harping on experience. Yes it’s important for senior positions, but what you can’t forget is when staff underperform, very often it has nothing to do with experience. I recall this superstar manager in Sg who was floored for months as he fought fierce domestic battles and eventually a divorce. And this guy who couldn’t work because he kept getting calls from debt collectors. It dragged on month after month.

When people get hit by external circumstances, it is very difficult for them to fight two battles at once – yours and theirs.

So in interviews, it pays to ask candidates simple things about their domestic and financial situation. Where they stay, do they own or rent, do they go on family holidays, investments, biggest concerns outside work and so on. I normally pop these questions during informal chit-chat. A candidate’s mind-map, to me, is as critical as the years of experience he’s bringing to the company.

This is not to say that you must insist on perfection. Think about it, who is more useful to you – someone who can juggle mutliple problems with a smile or the spotless candidate who might collapse as soon as you throw him a curve ball.

Bottom line: If you can’t take care of your own affairs, do you really think you can take care of other people’s affairs.

(Note: When you “take care” of a problem, you manage it rather than have it manage you.)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. LC Teh permalink
    November 19, 2008 10:02 am

    I think your simple rule is not just for hiring executives. It applies to choosing partners (business or marriage). One should see it as a partnership where each individual has to hold up his/her end. If someone can make a mess of simple personal issues of life, you don’t need him/her to help mess up yours.

    I used to ask interviewees one question borrowed from Richard S Sloma’s ‘No-nonsense management’: “What’s the biggest problem you ever encountered and how did you deal with it?” I get some interesting replies which tells a lot about the kind of person I’d be working with later.

    Yes, I ask that question too. And sometimes, asking how they handle success can be as important as asking how they handle failure.

  2. November 19, 2008 10:04 am

    Good post again. For someone who doesn’t even know how to handle his/her own problems, it’s quite a worrying sign when you see that same person at the top of a company.

    Experience, after all, is just a number.

    Its quite common to see top management types have secret wives and mistresses or go on a gambling tour to Macau etc. You just know its a matter of time before the stuff hits the fan for them. Trust me, you don’t wanna be around when that happens.

  3. November 19, 2008 7:36 pm

    A pertinent observation. However, it might only work well if the person recommending the candidate to you knows the candidates well. In an interview process, whilst one can gauge a person’s character, it’s not foolproof. Further, asking probing personal questions may not be all that legal/ethical. I believe you could get into trouble in the US for doing that.

    Hi, your comment was held back by Akismet antispam once again. Sorry about that.

    Yes, nothing is ever foolproof in the interview process. In the end you just have to trust your gut feel. Yeah, personal questions can upset some people and you do have to respect the limit, especially here in Asia. In the US, as long as you can furnish a social security number, you can buy anyone’s personal info like school records, credit histories and criminal records for a few bucks online and its all legal. They tell you more about someone than he/she will comfortably answer. I don’t know if such facilities are available here.

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