What Keeps You Here?

interview questions

Awkward Question; Inspiring Answers


We were working around the clock in response to a major product recall.  My team was exhausted.  Our customers were furious.  We had been at it for months.  Even though it was December, many of us knew we would have to work through the Christmas holidays to dig ourselves out of the situation.  To make matters worse, the company had recently announced the closure of another manufacturing plant, and I was in charge of replacing the professional staff who we were losing as a result of the shut down.  Morale was low, we were exhausted, and the ability to speak positively about anything was a struggle at best.   One of the interviews, however, created a spark.

Her name was Anna, and she was applying for one of our recently posted positions.  It was a cold, snowy day when she came in to interview.  Anna and the HR supervisor were in the conference room when I arrived with the other members of the interview panel.  I was still in the process of mentally shifting gears as I had just come from a customer beating.  But I smiled, shook her hand and the discussion began.  Finally, towards the end of the interview, I asked Anna if she had any questions for us. “It’s an interview for us just as it is an interview for you” I said.

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Anna asked some typical things other candidates had asked; questions about benefits, types of projects she would work on and opportunities for career growth.  The overall interview went very well.  Then, Anna asked one final question that silenced the room full of tired, mentally drained employees.  “From your introductions, you’ve all been here for a pretty long time.  What keeps you here?”

We all shifted awkwardly in our seats, smiled and chuckled to diffuse our discomfort.  It was a very humbling moment in my career – I had no idea what anyone would say, nor did I know how I would answer the question.  The job market was good, and I knew people were looking to find jobs elsewhere to escape the pain.  Much to my surprise, here is how the panel responded:

Response 1: Brian, Production Superviser

“That’s a really good question.  I would say the potential for growth.  I’ve been here for over 15 years and have worked through a number of teams.  I’ve had the chance to travel, I’ve worked with customers and been able to work in the manufacturing area.  I have been able to manage people and get various learning opportunities and pursue my interests.  Not all companies would give you that opportunity and I’ve really found the diversity of experience have been very rewarding.”

Response 2: Mike, Product Developer

“What’s cool about working here is that although we’re a big company and have big company resources and tools, we have the feel of a small business. We all know the Directors and many of the Vice Presidents by first name, even though they sit thousands of miles away. None of us have met him in person, but we refer to our CEO by his first name alone, ‘Wilson,’ like we know him. At the same time, we have the infrastructure and investment behind us such that we can do some pretty cool things, while maintaining a small company feel. It’s a nice combination.”

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Response 3: Alicia, HR Supervisor

“I would say the learning potential.  I know it sounds like such a typical HR answer, but its true.  We put a lot of time and energy into creating learning and development plans for each employee, and spend a lot of time following up to make sure people feel they have the chance to pursue growth and get the experiences they want.  My last company talked a good game, but it was never there when the rubber hit the road.  We make personal and professional growth a priority.”

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Response 4: Jason, Quality Manager

“I’ve never really thought about your question before.  But thinking about it now, I’d have to go with what the other guys have said, but in a different context.  For me it’s about opportunity.  I was given a chance to move to France for a year with my family to work on a project.  The company paid me to move my stuff and got us an apartment and paid for a car.  I’ve also gotten to visit a number of customer and been given some pretty good chances to do different things.  I’ve put my time in and it always seems like you are rewarded by getting good opportunities coming your way.” 

Response 5: Me, Department Manager

“I would agree with everything these guys have said.  And for me,” I said “it’s mostly about the people.  I am priveledged to work with really good people.  We go through ups and downs like any company and even when the going gets tough, the thing that makes me get out of bed in the morning is knowing that I get to come in and work along side people like those in this room.  We go to lunch to get a break.  We have happy hours.  We’ve been through a lot together; we’ve travelled together, we’ve had successes and failures as a team, we’ve spent weekends in the office and we’ve celebrated one another’s birthday. It allows us to be open and work well with each other under any circumstance.  I’ve worked at other companies but did not feel like I could trust the team I worked with as much as I do here.”

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The After Effect

Knowing how much we were going through as a team, it was an interesting question asked at a very interesting time.  Of course we could not (nor should not) disclose the real situation of how we happened to feel that day or that week to Anna.

As Alicia escorted Anna to the exit, I turned out the light to the conference room and found myself continuing to think about her question the rest of the afternoon.  “I’d be curious to know how all of my other employees would answer that question.” I said to myself.  “Can I ask them?”

The next day, Jason came into my office and sat down to talk about the interview.  I had known Jason for years; he and I could speak very openly about any topic.  “I have to say, I know we’re going through a lot right now, and we’re all tired and frustrated.  When Anna asked that question, I was terrified.  I had no idea what to say.”  I smiled and agreed with him.  “But listening to the answers everyone gave, it really made me feel grateful for this.  I felt so good walking out of that room.  Everyone goes through these times.  Her question made us think and it’s really helped me put some perspective onto these crises we’re dealing with.  I just had the share that with someone who was there.”  He smiled and walked out.

Brian, Alicia and Mike all came into my office of the course of that week with similar comments.  Did Anna’s simple question boost morale?

We hired Anna 3 weeks later.

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