At this point I usually get into asking more specific questions about their resume, like “why did you leave here?” and “what did you like best about this job?” so that they relax again. Pay close attention to the body language before they answer. You should be seeing consistency in where their eyes go (left or right) when they are recalling facts from memory and you should begin to see their natural sitting state and the state of their hands while they answer questions like this. Then you can ask them to describe one thing they regret about leaving a certain position or company. Now, Tim Sackett said that he uses this question to understand the candidate’s level of self-insight. He further explains that, “If a person can look back on a job, and say you know what, the company might have sucked, but I could have done ‘this’ better, that’s someone who gets it.”
I agree with him, but I’ve always used this question to determine if a candidate is results-focused and to gain insight into where his or her sense of self-esteem comes from and determine his or her emotional maturity. Not all jobs need a results-focused candidate, but I use this question for all of the jobs that do—it’s pass or fail for me.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-esteem precedes creativity and problem-solving. Confirming self-esteem and confidence enables you to look for those higher-level social traits.
Results-focused people see problems as challenges and opportunities. They learn more from failure than success. Emotionally mature people care about more than just themselves, listen to others, respect others, tend to be honest and tend to be invested in their careers.
If a candidate claims they don’t regret any of their employment changes or can’t think of one, this is a sign of emotional immaturity. If the example they offer is due to a tangible work benefit they lost, like food, gym membership, a discount, a title, or some other convenience, this is also a sign of emotional immaturity.
If the reason they provide has anything to do with friends, relationships, quality of life, money, or a charitable cause that went with the job, it is a sign that the candidate is moderately emotionally mature. These are very common answers and would be something along the lines of, “I wish I would have made more friends while I was there” or “It was a really good cause even though I disliked the job” or “it was so close to my house and I miss that commute.” If the reason they provide has anything to do with missed personal achievements, communication, or respect, this is a sign of emotional maturity. Examples would be something along the lines of “If I would have spoken up more, I think things would have been better” or “If I could have just hung in there a little longer I would be more proud of myself” or “I feel like I might have given up too soon because I respect others who still work there and helped make things better.”
If the reason they regret leaving the job is anything along the lines of “I could have done better” or “I had this great idea that I never got the nerve to tell anyone about” or “I really loved that job and I think if I could have tried harder” this shows emotional maturity at its best. This is a candidate who is thoughtful, humble, objective, and goal-oriented.