Hiring Wisdom: Why You Should Ask “What Was Your First Paying Job?”

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Sep 8, 2014

If you’ve ever been late to a movie, you know that trying to figure out what happened before you took your seat can be extremely frustrating.

When you don’t know what led up to what’s now unfolding, the things you see and hear can cause you to make false assumptions and only further confuse you.

The same thing happens when you begin an interview by asking an applicant about their most recent job.

“Priceless” information you should ask for

When your start with the present, it puts you in the position of trying to understand that person’s motivations and accomplishments (as well the attitudes and personality traits that shaped their experiences and influenced their career decisions) without a frame of reference.

Everyone’s work history makes more sense when viewed from the beginning, which is why the first thing astute interviewers say is: “Tell me about your very first paying job and what you learned from it.

The information you get about first work experiences is priceless because first jobs are emotionally powerful events that strongly influence the values and work ethic we carry throughout the rest of our working lives. In fact, you can build your entire interview off of this question.

What you can tell from someone’s first job

Once they have talked about that first job, ask how they found that job, how they learned to do that job, if their responsibilities were different when they left than when they began, why they left and how they found their next job.

When you take an applicant through their entire work history, first job to most recent, asking these kinds of questions, you’ll quickly be able to tell if their “career movie” is either an action/adventure film about a hero’s journey, or, on the other hand, a comedy of errors, a battle zone, or horror story.

This was originally published in the September 2014 Humetrics Hiring Hints newsletter.