The Days Before Self-Esteem

Baby Photo

I was only five years old when my baby brother and sister, Bob and Sue, were born.  Back then twins weren’t as common as today.  These tiny fraternals made such a big splash when they entered the world, they even received front page coverage in the local newspaper.  And I didn’t like it one bit.

It wasn’t long after they came home from the hospital (maybe an hour?) before I started acting up.  It got so bad that my parents had to take me to my grandmother’s house for a little “vacation” (which it wasn’t!).  I was terribly homesick and had to promise to change my behavior (which I couldn’t).  Let’s just say the first few months of their existence was a “rocky” time for me and my folks.

Eons later, as Bob and Sue were celebrating a milestone birthday, my mother and I found ourselves talking and actually laughing about those early days, the back-and-forth shuttle to grandmother’s house, the promises made dependent on my behavior.  “I felt really badabout sending you away,” confided my mother for the first time.  “And I realize now that it was probably the worst thing we could have done.  But, you know, those were the days before we knew about self-esteem.”  I almost fell off my chair!  I truly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  But, she was right.  No one was talking or writing about childhood self-esteem in the 50’s (or if they were, my folks certainly didn’t know it).

Now we’re light years away from the “children should be seen and not heard” philosophy.  Today, nurturing self-esteem is a critical part of parenting, teaching and managing. It’s a wonderful shift to enlightened thinking and has, literally, changed lives and our society. But, (you could hear that coming, couldn’t you?) remaining silent in the name of preserving someone’s self-esteem, whether a child, student, or employee, is not helpful.  It is harmful.  How so? It creates a workforce of candidates who are, quite frankly, not as good as they think they are.   As employees, when  they face real challenges in the workplace, they’re not ready to handle them.

There’s three reasons for that:

  • They don’t know how to handle criticism
  • They have neither been prepared for, nor are comfortable with, adversity
  • They have come to believe they are super-performers, but (painfully) realize they are not

So, here’s how you can determine if short employment stints on a resume are because of these factors:

  • GET THE REAL REASONS FOR LEAVING – Always get to the bottom of why candidates left their jobs.  Be candid and explain that you need to know the reasons for the movement in their career.  It can be uncomfortable, but these questions need to be asked.  Then, sit back and listen as they explain each departure.  If something doesn’t sound right, don’t be afraid to get more details.For example, if they say they were laid off, ask how many people were in the total layoff.   If they were one of forty, that’s very different than if they were the only one.  (Many companies use layoffs instead of firings to shed non-performers.)  Go through every job on the resume and get all of the details.    Don’t move onto the next job until you are satisfied that you have the real picture.  If your candidate is feeling a little “squeamish” about sharing information, that could be a real sign that he or she left for non-performance.
  • WATCH  FOR THE BOAST AND COMPLAINTS – I’m always leery when  candidates boast about how well they performed at a company, yet they were there for a very short time.   I’m also leery when a candidate complains about not getting enough credit for the job done.  In these situations, ask where the candidate fit into the team and get the organizational chart. This will give you a clearer sense of how they fit in the company and should help determine if their accomplishments were significant and if real credit was due. 
  • ASK BEHAVIORAL QUESTIONS ABOUT ADVERSITY – This is an ideal situation for you to use behavioral questions. Ask the candidate to tell you about a time when they faced some adversity and how they handled it.  Their examples can be from their careers or personal lives. For example, ask about a time when they weren’t picked for the ad-hoc project management team or a sports team in college.  Try to find out how they financed that college degree.  (This is one my favorite indicators of how someone takes responsibility for their fate.)

Being part of a large brood (6 of us), no one really had a chance to get a “fat head,” as my brother Paul would have put it, before someone knocked him (or her) down to size. Humility was more our diet.  A smattering of that, combined with a healthy sense of self-esteem, is what you’re looking for in your next hire! 

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