I once saw a photograph of a dandelion plant. On its own, that image wouldn’t be anything special: dandelions are everywhere. But these dandelions were nestled atop a small mound of asphalt. Somehow they had managed to push through this seemingly impermeable barrier and reach their goal: bathing in sunlight and fresh air. If there is a better illustration of patience than this photograph, I’ve yet to see it.
Patient employees are like these dandelions: they keep pushing on with their mission until they prevail. They don’t allow themselves to be diverted from their path by external forces, and their persistence pays off. They also make the lives of HR managers easier, because they’re less likely to give rise to ethical problems that stem from having a short temper. The following questions may help hiring managers get a better sense of a job candidate’s capacity for patience.
Tell me about a time when something at work deeply frustrated you, but you kept calm and dealt with the problem.
The angel is in the details here, and the details are the subject’s nonverbal cues. Pathological liars aside, it would be difficult for a job candidate to tell a convincing story about how he or she patiently handled a challenge at work if it weren’t true. When I’m around an impatient person, I feel ill at ease. On the flip side, a calm person has a calming presence. The smart interviewer, therefore, pays attention to how he or she feels when the candidate is telling the story. (Of course, the interviewer should check in with him- or herself to be sure that any feelings of unease aren’t the result of unconscious bias, which I discussed in a previous blog post, How to Hire Fair People.)
Tell me about a project you worked on that took longer to complete than you had anticipated. What was the project, what got in the way, and how did you deal with those obstacles?
It’s not necessary to spend years on a project to demonstrate patience. If a candidate had good reason to believe that a project was going to take a couple of weeks but turned out to require several months, seeing it through to the end could demonstrate an admirable degree of patience. A lot of business deals fall into this category.
Job candidates who refer to flexibility as a critical component of their success are on the right track. Again, though, one wants to hear exactly what that flexibility amounted to. Did it involve recalibrating when the project was likely to be over or shifting the work/life balance when family issues arose? Candidates who tell a story that speaks to either of these issues and do so credibly are likely to be patient people who will therefore be a credit to the institution.
It’s useful to include a discussion about patience in an employee’s performance review. An assessment of this quality will probably not be in the employee’s record, so the above questions offer a way of finding out the degree to which patience has played a role in the employee’s success.
This is the ninth in a series of blog posts on how to hire high-character people. The first eight were How to Hire Honest People, How to Hire Accountable People, How to Hire Caring People, How to Hire Courageous People, How to Hire Fair People, How to Hire Grateful People, How to Hire Humble People, and How to Hire Loyal People.
Next time, we’ll look at what it means to be a present person and how to evaluate this quality in job applicants.
Dr. Bruce Weinstein is on Twitter @TheEthicsGuy. Originally posted on The Ethics Guy Blog.
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