Be honest: Would you hire yourself?

A successful climb up the career ladder may depend on how well you assess your performance at each rung along the way. Answer these questions from TechRepublic columnist Bob Artner to help you reach the top tier of your career.

I was at a used book sale recently and came across several copies of a book titled I’d Marry Me. Now I don’t know anything about the book, because I didn’t pick it up. (At these sales, the best strategy is to move down the tables, look for the odd volume by Willa Cather or Sir P.G. Wodehouse, and ignore all distractions.)

Anyway, while I don’t know if I’d Marry Me is a good book, I have to admire the directness of the title. In that same spirit, this week, I’m going to ask you to look at your career planning in a different way. I could ask the same tired old questions like, "What do you see yourself doing five years from now?" Or I could ask you to create yet another list of short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals, and prioritize them. Instead, I want to stir things up a little and ask, "Would you hire yourself?"

Self-interview for your current job
Here’s my thinking. Assume you’re currently in job A and eventually, you want to get job B. Of course, I know that there are different ways to think about the future: how much money you’ll need, where you’d like to live, what you want to do in your free time, etc. However, for most of us, career planning involves strategies for moving from your current employment situation to the ideal employment situation.

The mistake we usually make is focusing on what we need to do to get that dream job. I’m proposing that you step back and ask yourself how you’re doing in your current job. My theory is that the single, biggest thing you could do to snare the next great job is to be outstanding in your current job.

Which brings us back to the question, "Would you hire yourself for the job you currently have?” Knowing yourself, your skills and experience, and knowing the job (since you’re already doing it), ask yourself, "Am I the best, practical choice for the job I have, or could my organization do better?"

Just a minute, you might be protesting, I don’t need to ask this question. After all, I got a good raise last year and a great annual review. My boss is always saying good things about my performance. Isn’t that enough?

I don’t think so. First of all, remember that your goal is not to be doing well enough to keep from being fired but to be performing at such an exceptional level that the organization does your career planning for you, by giving you additional opportunities. Second, my impression is that most employee appraisals are blunt instruments, good for documenting performance at the extremes but not very good at capturing the specifics of what you do. Third, and most important, who’s going to be more critical of your performance, you or your boss? It had better be you, don’t you think?

Tough questions
Of course, for this strategy to work, you have to ask yourself the tough questions and answer them truthfully. While those questions will vary from job to job, here are some that might work for you. If nothing else, they will give you an idea of the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself:
  • Technology changes everyday. Can you list three examples of things you’re doing to keep your technical knowledge current?
  • Your boss has a family emergency that’s going to keep him or her out of the office for a week. Your boss can only call one person to keep things running until he or she returns. Are you the one that gets that phone call? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • What specific steps have you taken over the past six months to either increase the performance of the bottom 20 percent of your staff or to move them to positions where they can be successful?
  • When was the last time you talked with the account rep for your three largest vendors?
  • What specific steps have you taken over the past six months to keep your star performers on board and motivated?
  • If your group services internal clients, what do they think of the work your department is doing? Are you guessing, or have you actually asked them in the last 30 days?
  • If you suddenly got sick, do you have a subordinate you could trust to keep things moving until you got back?
  • When was the last time you checked on the financial stability of the outsourcing firms you use?
  • Do you know which of your department’s projects is furthest behind schedule? Do you know why?
  • Consider your direct reports. Does each of them know what your top three priorities are for them?
  • Consider your boss. When was the last time he or she asked you to take over a special project? If it’s been more than six months, why do you think that is?
  • Can you list three things you’re doing to help HR with recruitment or retention?
  • Personal networking is important for you and your organization. What professional associations do you belong to, and how active are you in them?

A continuing process
For this self-interview to be worth the time you spend on it, you must not only ask tough questions but also make the necessary improvements. On the other hand, the only person who knows the results of this interview is you. If you’re relentless in uncovering and correcting your own management weaknesses, I remain convinced that you’ll find it much easier to land the next job down the line.

Join the discussion and win a TechRepublic coffee mug
Is it time to take a second look at how you are planning your next career move? Join the discussion by posting your comments below. Each week, the person who provides the best feedback to an Artner’s Law column will win a nifty TechRepublic coffee mug.