One of my coaching clients was on an interview this past week and was asked this FABULOUS question. I’ll explain why like it in a moment. The question is, “Who are your enemies?”
I coach executive job hunters and, along the way, you will invariably butt heads with people. After all, is not all Kumbaya professionally, right? There are people with whom you disagreed. What a firm is looking for is the story and the texture behind it.
I’m not going to go into this person’s story except to say in answering the question when asked of him, he made a small mistake. I just explained how to answer the question referring to a past episode.
When he answered the question, he spoke about something that was 10 years in the past without stating that it was 10 years ago. It is not the problem that he disagreed with. To me, he could’ve done a touch better by just simply saying, “10 years ago I was far less experienced than I am now. I was in a situation where I…” And then he would go on to the rest of the story.
“In this particular case,” he might’ve said, “We had a COO who was eavesdropping on phone calls, reading people’s email, and the midst of things he shouldn’t have been the middle of. Ultimately, there was a reason why he was doing it, but he never explained why.” The “miss” here was not being clear that the episode was 10 years in the past, and then talking about the mistakes he made and how he made an enemy in the situation.
This is only going to be asked of the senior individual. The person who interviewed him, knew the firm, knew the board members involved, and wanted this to be opened up because he would’ve found out from the other side anyway. That’s the reality for senior professionals. It doesn’t matter where in the country you are, what industry you are in, people know people and there’s always a way to check out the accuracy of what you tell them.
Part of your role as an executive in an organization is having the self-awareness to admit that you make mistakes and talk about what you learned from the mistakes that you make. No one expects perfection and had you said, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever made an enemy in my career,” you would signal to them that you are an idiot.
You have to open up about this stuff, but you have to put in a context from years past. Frankly, that’s what most of us make our mistakes, right? We make more mistakes when we were junior, bit more critical mistakes when we were less experienced then we do now when we are senior professionals.
That’s the way to do it. You contextualize it by talking about something that you did many years ago AND you say it was for many years ago so that they know that for a fact (for example, “10 years ago when I was less experienced than I am now…”). After you set the context is that being an older event, you tell them how you would have handled it differently now that you have more experience.
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2020
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1800 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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