Over the past 40 years I’ve interviewed thousands of candidates for staff level jobs to senior executives and tracked the performance of hundreds of them.

After a few years it quickly became apparent that a 30-45 minute work history review revealed four great predictors of on-the-job success. As long as the following four conditions were present I was comfortable recommending the candidate for further interviewing. Of course, further evaluation was essential but it turned out as long as the four factors were present the likelihood of the candidate being a finalist was extremely high.


Determine Job Fit Based on Comparable Accomplishments

Obviously going through the person’s resume reveals a lot about whether the person is a basic fit for the job. But of critical importance is the person’s most significant accomplishments. During the work history review I dig into the one that best compares to what the person will be doing in the new position.

The focus of this is on the scope of the project, span of control, size of the budget, reporting relationships, complexity of the work and the results achieved. For example, for a Director of Accounting at a major corporation I recommended a manager at a Big 4 accounting firm since she had implemented robust reporting systems at Fortune 200 companies leading teams of 10-20 people. This was the primary objective of the job, so the fit was perfect.

Potential is Revealed through the Achiever Pattern

The Achiever Pattern indicates the candidate is in the top 25% of their peer group. The idea is that people in the top 25% at different companies and at different jobs are likely to continue to be in the top 25% in the new job. Since these are the people who continue to take on more challenging projects and get promoted more quickly, the Achiever Pattern is a good indicator of potential.

Each position has different criteria to meet the top 25% standard but they all have some. For example, for sales positions look for people who have a track record of always making quota. The best staff level people in all functions are assigned more challenging projects soon after starting a new job. The best managers seek out and are given more challenging management assignments. The best team players are assigned to more important multi-functional teams.

While this is only a short list, the idea is to use the work history review to find out where the candidate has been recognized for doing superior work, whether it’s an award, a promotion, special bonus or an important assignment.

Career Motivation Can be Determined Based on How Job Changes were Decided

Why people change jobs is an important clue to how motivated the person is career wise. Always ask candidates why they moved from one company to another and if the move accomplished its purpose. For the best people these moves are typically part of a bigger career plan and are not made superficially. While they don’t often work out as planned, most times they do. Look for people who are concerned about making an impact, developing their skills and finding more satisfying work.

For example, I challenged one candidate who made a decision to accept a job that was closer to home, had a slightly better title, and offered a bit more money, but was in a decaying industry. When I pointed this out to him he rejected this job and accepted the other better long-term offer. He called a year later thanking me for the advice after he got a huge promotion.

The Size of the Opportunity Gap Predicts Engagement and Performance

A good career move requires a 30% non-monetary increase. This is the opportunity gap. It’s the sum of the increases in job stretch (bigger job), job growth (faster rate of increase) and job satisfaction (doing more satisfying work). If the stretch part of the gap is too great, the chance of failure increases, but if the gap is non-existent, dissatisfaction and underperformance is likely. The opportunity gap is determined by what the person has accomplished compared to what the new position offers.

Most recruiters and hiring managers can’t even figure out the size of the opportunity gap since the job is ill-defined. In this case money becomes the primary criteria to accept an offer or not. This is a great predictor that the person will underperform.

Take the Time to Find These Four Predictors

When the person is a good fit for the job, possesses the Achiever Pattern, has a track record of making good career decisions and the job offers a true career move, it’s likely the person will be a serious candidate for your job. What’s surprising is that much of this can be figured out in a 30-45 minute work history review. What’s more surprising is that most interviewers won’t take the time to do it.