This article originally appeared on Medium
This was a question posed to me as part of an interview for a new role I was interested in many years ago. The recruiter asked a three part question:
- What did you inherit?
- What did you do?
- What will you leave behind?
My notes from the interview are lost, unfortunately. I’d like to credit the recruiter who asked, and prompted this article many years later. Instead of a thank you, I’m going to dig deeper into the questions.
What Did you Inherit?
As part of an interview, this is a great way to figure out what the situation looked like for the person being interviewed. As the interviewer, it establishes a framework to understand the answers to many other questions you’ll ask throughout the conversation.
What did you inherit? As the interviewee, this is the perfect opportunity to layout how bad things were when you started your role. It’s the foundation upon which you’ve built everything you’ve accomplished in the role. It’s also an opportunity to reflection.
Looking back at where you started, was it as bad as you’re remembering? What were the good things about the role? Something about the scenario was enticing to you back then, can you remember what it was? Why did you take on this particular challenge? What drew you to company? Was it the product, the people, the opportunity?
Take a moment to look at your current situation, and examine the role you’re in now. What was the role like when you started? Did it match the job description? Did it match your expectations? Take a further step back, away from your role at work, and look at your life in general.
For a given period of time, what did you inherit? What did your situation look like when you graduated college? Or maybe when you moved to a new location. What were the aspects of the situation which contributed to your making the change, or willingness to start something new?
What Did You Do?
As an interview question, this is a great one. The interviewer is giving the candidate a chance to talk about what they’ve done, the challenges they’ve overcome, and providing an easy way to let the candidate talk. It’s a wide open question, which will give insight to the accomplishments of the interviewee. It will also help the recruiter understand how the person thinks, and works.
When asked this question, does the interviewee only talk about themselves? Do they mention the team, the organization, or the product? What’s the general tone of the answer. Is it positive, negative, or mixed. Is there a lot of strife in the story as it’s presented. All of these things will help to understand the candidate and how they work.
What did you do? Once again, take time to review your current situation. What have you done? Undoubtedly, there are actions you’ve taken which you’re proud of. Times in your recent past where you were able to achieve great results.
Specifically focused on your work life, what achievements can you think of? Who was involved? Which project, or product were you working on? Do you have a list of the things you’ve accomplished? If not, take a few minutes to write things down. It’s fairly likely at some point this year, you’ll have a performance review, and having a list of accomplishments can help you in those discussions.
Similar to before, take a step back, and look at your life, outside of work. What did you do? Consider the major milestones of your life, and the actions you’ve taken between them. Since graduating from college, what have you done? If someone were to ask what you’re most proud of, what would you tell them?
You interact with numerous people in your personal and professional lives. Are there any interactions which stand out to you as meaningful? Any interactions you believe someone else took to be meaningful for them? It could be something as simple as being a caring friend, willing to listen. Perhaps you were exactly what someone else needed on a particularly challenging day.
What Will You Leave Behind?
Over the years, I’ve come back to this question repeatedly. I’ve found depth and meaning in the question on numerous occasions, usually in quiet reflection regarding my personal, or professional life.
Thinking about a previous role, I know I left behind a confident, capable team. There was no doubt in my mind, my former coworkers would continue to do great things, and deliver a world class product. It was one the reasons I was comfortable taking on my new role.
As I think about my current professional role, I know I have surrounded myself with capable people, who are most importantly, good humans. I have the pleasure of working with a wonderful team, and I strive to be a productive, compassionate, involved contributor, worthy of being part of the team.
The question about what I will leave behind has an especially important meaning to me in my personal life. I’m a husband, a father, a brother, a son, and much more. Like everyone, I have many roles to play, and I’m constantly looking to do my best in each one.
I’m grateful for two hale and healthy sons. Both are a gift and my greatest challenge. As a father, I need to help prepare them for a changing, and challenging world. At the same time, I have to protect them from harm, and teach them to recognize danger. And yet, I also have to help them see beauty, and develop a sense of gratitude. It’s my duty to prepare them to be productive members of society, in whatever profession they may choose. Most importantly, I have to help build the base of a good character, and help develop the tools they’ll need to succeed, and contribute to the world around them.
This is what I will truly leave behind; two sons who will carry the lessons of their youth into the future. My hope is they will move into their futures without fear, because they will have the tools they need to make the best outcomes in every situation.
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” — Marcus Aurelius
In a somewhat similar way, my professional life will have an impact on numerous people. My hope is to provide some guidance along the way which will help the people I work with be more successful. In truth, it’s likely I will learn much more than I teach, provided I can remain open to the various viewpoints I encounter.
What will you leave behind? A seemingly simple question, which has become a point of meditation and reflection for me over the years. A call to action, and a reminder to do your best.
I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Epictetus, “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”