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I have seen this phrase appear in some places, most notably written interview feedback documents. Here are two excerpts from an interview feedback document:

The overall decision of who to employ was based on several factors including overall intelligence, technical ability, skills match, team fit, and flight risk.

and a hint of what to do:

the best way to alleviate [flight risk] concerns (..) is to openly present more interest in the role, and passion for working with the company.

Can you please explain what is "flight risk"?
How do companies measure flight risk?
How can I work on decreasing the flight risk perceived by the prospective/existing employer?

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"Flight risk" is used in the legal profession to indicate a suspect's likelihood of trying to escape rather than face a trial. In this context I would imagine it means the likelihood an employee will leave the company. –  DJClayworth Dec 3 '12 at 16:13
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@DJClayworth: It’s also used in medicine to refer to psychological patients who are considered likely to flee captivity. –  Jon Purdy Dec 3 '12 at 18:42
    
OK, I have not anticipated such a response here... to all those who submitted answers, thanks, give me a few days to read them and consider the best one. –  Dreen Dec 4 '12 at 16:38
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5 Answers

up vote 26 down vote accepted

"Flight risk" - or to put it another way, the likely length of employee retention, is one of the key things we tend to look at when hiring internationally.

We're based in New Zealand, and many of the applicants seem more motivated by our location - and the fact it is much easier to get a work visa if you have a job offer - than aspects of the company, the role, or the product.

From our perspective, hiring and relocating people internationally is a long and expensive process.

As a result, looking carefully at "flight risk" is a key part of our interview and selection process.

As a general comment, with 40+ applicants for every role, I have the luxury of not just selecting someone who wants "a" job, but someone who quite specifically is excited and motivated about this job, and will stay in the role long enough to bring us - and them - value.

The key things we look at are :

- has the person done their research?

Do they know what we do, why we do it, who are market is and what our competition is?

I expect people to have reviewed our website, and if they are unfamiliar with what we do to have conducted a little bit of research into our industry through a source like Wikipedia. I also expect them to have an opinion of our products, based on this research, and be prepared to make suggestions for our products appropriate to their role

- can they explain why they are interested in the role?

Specifically what are the things they are looking to get from this role, and how long will it take to get them? Depending on where they are in their career arc I expect them to be able to explain why this is the next logical step, or what it is that motivates them about this role as compared to where they are now. I am looking for positive reasons to take my job, as opposed to negative ones for leaving their current position.

- have they fully understood the implications of relocating to where we are?

A long distance move has implications, and some people have thought this through. Essentially this is really have they understood the lifestyle they will have when they come to work for us, and do we think that they are being realistic.

- does their image of the role match the reality

Some people have a very different impression of what the role will entail than our vision; this can be a really good thing - if we get excited about what they have to say - but usually it isn't.

- their achievments

I generally look in more detail at what someone has achieved in their previous roles than their position descriptions. The key question is whether they moved on because of a natural "break" in their career where they had achieved what they (or the company) wanted, or whether they seemed to move on for other reasons.

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This is good information –  Dreen Dec 11 '12 at 19:20
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From the comments, I would suggest it means that they're not expected to stay in the job for a long period of time.

Usual reasons why I'd expect to see that:

  1. Significant commute but not willing to relocate.
  2. Vastly overqualified for the position applied for.
  3. History of very short term permanent positions (< 1 year).
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+1, also can be used to describe a valued current employee who is likely to leave as a result of a reaching career dead-end within the organization, who is in some way dissatisfied with the position, or who has had recent family changes such as a spouse taking a job in another city. –  Angelo Dec 3 '12 at 16:36
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I would add rate offered below what the candidate could expect on the open market. –  Chad Dec 3 '12 at 16:59
    
@Chad More often than not it is either non-competitive wages like you suggest or high stress and unrealistic demands are expected and they feel the person is not a complete pushover. –  maple_shaft Dec 3 '12 at 18:19
    
@Maple_shaft - That goes more to the team fit where you want a person that can handle the work conditions that exist. –  Chad Dec 3 '12 at 18:20
    
I suppose they would also need compare turnover of the position within the company vs the industry. In otherwords, it might be the working conditions of the company and not the person. Still, flight risk is usually attributed for positions with lower turnover rates. –  hydroparadise Dec 3 '12 at 18:53
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From the given context, it means they considered how likely the interviewee is to leave the company. A company looking to hire someone does not want to go through that expense and then have the new employee leave for another position in 6 months.

It comes from the court system, where the likelihood of someone being accused of a crime fleeing the jurisdiction (risk of fleeing justice, or "flight") is factored into the amount of bail set.

See also http://www.programmerinterview.com/index.php/american-vocabulary/what-does-flight-risk-mean/

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Combining a few good answers here:

What is a flight risk?

The likelihood that the candidate will leave quickly after joining the organization. Mileage will vary on what "quickly" is - in a company where everyone's been working there 20 years, they may see 10 years as "too soon". In most US knowledge working jobs, it's commonly heald that 3-5 years is a standard length of time to stick around. And I've noticed that in food service, a year may be long-term (family run or close knit businesses aside)

In all cases, it's in the company's best interest to hire candidates that will stick around long enough to amortize the training time. If training takes 1 day, this is no big deal. If (as in engineering), training can be expected to take 3 months to 1 year, then it can take upwards of 3 years to justify the inefficient beginnings. In jobs in niche areas, with heavy perfection requirements, it can get even worse. Jobs where training is relatively standard, the payback time is much lower.

Jobs can sometimes mitigate this with a hiring incentive - the candidate is offered a signing bonus that must be paid back if the candidate leaves within too short a time. Problem can be that these become competitive and another company will offer a counter-bonus to snag the candidate... since bonuses are usually not enough to repay the cost of training time, this results in a net loss for the original company.

How do I present myself as "not a flight risk?"

It has as much to do with your career as your personal style. For example - I don't worry alot when hiring a college grad. I worry a lot more with someone in the industry 5 years or more. I often hear fear of "flight risk" being applied to older workers, as well, on the basis that they are only looking to retire, and in these positions they often have much more experience than the baseline requirements.

That said, things to do to avoid looking like a flight risk:

  • Don't be a flight risk. The best indicator of future performance is past performance. If you've been hopping jobs very quickly for the last few years, why? Realize that you'll have to present a convincing case if you have an honest reason for the transition.

  • Know yourself, know your goals, know the role - People rarely leave companies because of pay or other compensation. They leave usually for the more quality-of-life driven aspects of the job like the relationships in the team, the faith in the company, the work culture, etc. It's impossible to be sure if you fit in well, but at least get a leg up by knowing yourself and your goals. Then you can compare the role to your needs, and ask thoughtful questions.

  • Apply for jobs you want to do - yes, you should also be qualified for them, but whether you are qualified is the company's problem. Yours is that if you don't honestly WANT to do the job, you can be that your interviewer will pick it up. Be honestly enthusiastic, and you'll go a long way to convince the interviewer that you'll be around for the long haul. I don't know a lot of people who are good at seeming to be enthusiastic without actually being enthusiastic - so I suggest skipping the opportunity to polish your acting skills in favor of pursuing a job you may actually want.

  • Be aware of life conflicts, be prepared to explain or "sell" a rough case - If you have a killer commute, live far away, are obviously in life-transition, or have other factors that may cause a logical person to think you're going to leave soon, be prepared with reasons why that's not true. Be aware that interviewers may not buy it.

  • Ask "can I settle down here?" questions - a good indicator that someone wants to be around for a long time is getting questions about the long term state of employment. Good examples include - questions about education for major things (like degree programs), questions about career growth opportunities, questions about the business direction in a 5+ year context.

Realize that this is a fairly interpretive quality. As opposed to a skill which can be proven or disproven - concern about flight risk is a company specific quality. The corporate culture can be more or less sensitive to this concern, and different interviewers may have very different opinions.

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People rarely leave companies because of pay or other compensation. I do not think that is true. I think people look for other opportunities for other reasons but they make the move because they can make more money. It is rare to see someone take a pay cut when making a move unless they were unemployed in the first place. –  Chad Dec 3 '12 at 21:32
    
I agree that most won't take a pay cut to leave, unless the situtation is REALLY bad - but the driver for looking in the first place is, in my experience, not money. And I've seen plenty of people stay, even when offered an increase, because they didn't see a good fit. So I have trouble seeing money as the big driver, I see it as the way a deal is closed. –  bethlakshmi Dec 4 '12 at 14:51
    
Good information, probably little of it applies to me as a fresh uni grad, but thanks. –  Dreen Dec 12 '12 at 10:14
    
Yeah - unfortunately, there's a known demographic that in the 3-5 year range, many college grads change jobs. There's not a lot you can do there - the thing is, that 3-5 years is about when they learn enough to say "hm... I need a change" and promising that you won't want a change at that point isn't a viable option. I don't really think of that as a flight risk - just something that a manager should plan for. –  bethlakshmi Dec 12 '12 at 16:31
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If the question is how to improve your personal flight risk rating then you need to to first identify why you might be considered a flight risk. Depending on why you are perceived that way, it may not be a quick or easy fix.

Using @Michael's list above, ways to mitgate the risk might be:

If you have a significant commute without desiring to relocate, you need to address that openly in the interview and explain why this opportunity means you are willing to make the commute. If you can show a history of successfully making a long commute that can help as well. (I've known people who commutted 80 miles from a small town to a large city daily for years, obviously they are less of risk than someone who lost his job in one city and will take a job 90 miles away just to get a job.)

If you are vastly overqualified, you need to show enthusiasm for the postion and you need to show why you would stay at the position. Is it in a field that you want to work in and haven't had the opportunity, is it working with people you know and respect. Is it the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a start-up you think will be really successful, or are you trying to move back down to more coding and less management?

The last one is the one you may not be able to fix easily. If you have a history of a bunch of less than 1 year jobs that were not contract jobs, then you need to stay somewhere for at least 2-3 years before moving on. If the less than a year jobs were because of things outside your control such as companies closing or reducing staff or the company losing a contract, then make sure you explain all that up front in your cover letter. If the short term jobs were contract jobs, make sure that is clear in your resume.

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