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The 1 Question This Merrill Lynch Exec Always Asks During Job Interviews

Feb 26, 2017

The Fortune 500 Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question to: “What’s the most important question to ask job candidates in an interview and why?” is written by Cheri Lytle, head of advisor strategy and development at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

All smart candidates read the job description. They read about the company and connect with friends, family, or acquaintances who might have insights. But the technical skills listed for an opportunity may not define the actual expectations and softer attributes necessary to excel.

According to LinkedIn’s Economic Graph data, the number of companies people worked for in the five years after they graduated has nearly doubled over the last 20 years. With an uptick in job-hopping and an ever-shifting workforce, employees no longer feel confined to one company for the entirety of their career. To ensure long-term success for both the employer and employee, it’s important to create an environment where employees feel motivated and supported, and truly believe they can grow.

Consequently, to identify the highly motivated and ideal-fit candidates, I opt to home in on their preferences rather than their technical training. I especially want to see if a candidate really knows what the role requires, which is why I always ask, “Do you know what this role is about?” If they don’t, I then have the opportunity to elaborate.

“This is the type of job that requires an appetite for complexity,” I might say. Then we can discuss the candidate’s preferences and make sure we're on the same page regarding what that means. Does the candidate understand the challenges and are they willing to take those on? What motivates them to be in this new role? Is the candidate flexible? Hard skills are learned on the job. What I need to see is an understanding of the role and a character match so I know the candidate will be successful and fit in with existing teams.

See also: What You Can Do Now To Ace a Job Interview

At Merrill Lynch, we heavily emphasize the value of working on teams. Our teams develop their own groove and tend to flourish by utilizing the different skills each member has in order to benefit clients. Thus, I focus on finding candidates whose understanding of the job will enhance our existing teams and indicate a long-term fit. As long as candidates have the right approach and passion for the career, we will connect the dots on training and other tactical abilities needed to succeed.

Earlier this year, we introduced a “virtual job tryout” in the advisor development program for this very reason. Through this process, an applicant can obtain a better understanding of what the role is by seeing real teams in action. For example, candidates watch interactive videos and replicate common scenarios a financial advisor might face. The assessment takes less than an hour and provides candidates the opportunity to mutually evaluate us as we evaluate them. Candidates need to know they want the role for a particular reason, and that includes being interested, happy, and motivated both in the day-to-day work and long term.

Throughout my career, I’ve spoken with many exceptional candidates who have been extremely qualified for certain roles. They might have all of the right technical skills, relevant past experiences, and impressive credentials. But rather than just talk about things I can read on paper, I choose to spend my time getting to know a candidate and assessing if their preferences suggest they’ll be happy in the role.

Expectations compared to reality are often surprising, so it’s important to understand the small details. Your experience is what usually gets you in the door, but understanding a role beyond the job description is what keeps you there.

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