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I was in an interview with the HR and the technical expert of a big company in one interview session. One of the last questions that HR asked me was, "What should we do if you decide to leave us after 6 months?"

I really didn't get her point from that question. I assumed it was more a rhetorical question than a direct one, so I explained that I try to openly discuss any problem and look for any solution with them before making that decision. But the question was a bit confusing for me.

P.S.: Currently, several answers are submitted to the question, and honestly, most of them are perfect in several aspects. That's why I didn't decide on choosing the best answer to the question.

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  • 49
    "Start looking for my replacement"
    – Matt
    May 19 at 15:28
  • 80
    Review your hiring process and ask meaningful questions instead of this one?
    – Laurent S.
    May 19 at 15:29
  • 4
    I was recently talking to a potential client about a project and they asked a bizarre question, as whacky as the example you give. Frankly I didn't know what to say or how to respond. {As some suggest below, it may be better to clearly state you don't understand what they mean.}
    – Fattie
    May 19 at 15:42
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    "Should there be a reason why I would do that?" May 19 at 19:11
  • 11
    The HR person thought you were perfect but overqualified. And he/she was afraid you would leave them if you got a better offer three months down the road from another company. I actually know some highly skilled developers who do that, leave after just 6 months or 9 months because the market for their skills is so hot right now. It's a valid concern. May 20 at 1:22
76

An interview is a 2-way street. Make sure they don't have a revolving door of employees.

I think the question they meant to ask was

The last person left after 6 months, how do we know you'll stay longer?

Ask how long the last person stayed and why they left. This company may have management issues that turns it into a revolving door. Ask more questions based on what they say. If they say several people left quickly that's a red flag. Alternatively, they may have also gotten unlucky and hired a job hopper.

Questions like this are a great segue into quality of life questions you should ask at interviews. Next time use this opportunity to ask questions like "How long does the average employee stay in this role?"

EDIT

As several commenters have pointed out, they are unlikely to come clean and say "Yes we have a major retention issue and people seem to leave after 6 months, and management doesn't know why!"

The fact they asked that question also implies they are bad at interviewing, and probably have a major retention issue. They likely tipped you off that you'll be gone in 6 months thanks to arrogant and incompetent management.

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    I'd have to agree this is a confusing question to be asked, but getting as much out of them on the subject is really useful. It's a great excuse for them to show off about all their great employee retention ideas. If they don't, then you learn things by omission. It may not be a reason to pass on the job, but it means you know what you're getting into before you start. May 20 at 9:42
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    How long does the average employee stay in this role, not sure about how truthfully they want to answer May 20 at 11:52
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    They probably don't want to answer that question. But that's the exact reason they shouldn't be asking you how long you plan to stay. (Also, that question may be illegal in some jurisdictions. I'm pretty sure it's illegal in the US to ask someone how long they plan to stay in a position.)
    – Kyle A
    May 20 at 16:52
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    @reirab, I have never seen how long do you plan to stay with us? or similar on any blacklist of questions, and a quick google search says it's legal in the US but to be careful May 20 at 23:55
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    As someone who never have more than 2 years experience in one place, with legit reason to leave, I feel uncomfortable during one interview where the interviewer started rapid fire question regarding that issue and seem to deflect/ignore any explanation I gave. That was such a bad interview experience. May 21 at 2:22
37

If you get a question in an interview that you don't fully understand, ask for clarification.

Interviewing is a two way process, clear communication is vital because it's only a short period to assess within.

1
  • Yes, that's what came to my mind after the interview! Will take that advice for sure!
    – Bob
    May 19 at 15:59
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If your resume contains many short appointments this is an invitation to assuage their fears you'll be out the door the moment you've finished training.

For example, maybe you did a bunch of short-term contract work and they'd like to be reassured that you were there for six months because that's what the client wanted and agreed upfront.

If this job is visibly a diversion from your main passion - like the traditional actor waiting tables between acting gigs - this is a chance to either explain you've changed career directions and this isn't just a filler job for you; or to highlight your relevant experience that will let you get up to speed quickly, so you'll be productive even if you're not with them long.

If your job will involve accumulating knowledge this is a chance to talk about the 'bus factor' and reassure them that you wouldn't dream of hoarding knowledge to make yourself irreplaceable. After all, if you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted!

If you are being hired to give direction to a specific a project that could be done multiple ways this is a chance to tell them about how you love doing things in normal ways, consulting your boss on key decisions, and looking out for the guy that comes after you. You may be the world's greatest expert on underwater basket weaving, but you wouldn't dream of making the project dependent on underwater basket weaving unless it's the best choice for the project, and even then only with your boss's agreement.

If you're being hired for hard-to-hire-for or unique skills they need this is a chance to assure them that your skills aren't entirely unique - while also highlighting that yes, your skills are great, but that's why they should hire you, not why they shouldn't.

If none of the above apply this is a chance to point out you haven't left any of your other jobs after six months, to talk about times you've powered through in the face of temporary adversity and your passion for seeing projects through to completion, and to say that while you might quit a job if it's uniquely terrible, nothing they've told you makes you think this job will be.

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  • 1) For unique skills you can also explain a plan for training other people or at least making what you do accessible for them. (Although be ready to explain what happens after you've trained everyone, of course.) 2) Might also be if this position is a step down from your old position and they wonder if you're going to expect immediate promotion or dip. 3) Before explaining the contingency plans, I would still briefly emphasize that you're not planning on leaving after 6 months. ("But of course anyone could be hit by a bus...in which case...") May 20 at 15:22
  • TLDR of this (which is just missing the possibility that the problem might be on their side): figure out why they might think you might leave soon after joining and explain why it won't happen in this case. They're not really asking "What should we do if you decide to leave", they're asking "Why will you stay". May 20 at 20:53
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    +1 It's likely something on the resume that triggered this question. Looking at the ops profile, it appears that they changed jobs in 2019, who knows how many other times.
    – rtaft
    May 21 at 13:16
  • I like this answer. The others have a made the point that this question is often a red flag, but its always worth it to do same self-evaluation and give the benefits of the doubt instead of assuming. This a good list of valid reasons for such an (ill-formed at least) interview question.
    – Sinenomen
    May 21 at 16:24
  • if you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted! I don't see the logic here. What do you mean with this?
    – user985366
    May 25 at 9:26
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What sort of position were you applying for? Your profile says that you are a PhD student so it is possible that your position would be relatively unique within the company and that a strategy to improve your "bus factor" would be important. There is a big difference between being commodity developer 398 of 400 or being the super-specialized developer 1 of 1.

If, for example, the company doesn't have anyone today that does machine learning and they're looking for you to work on some pilot projects to deploy machine learning and/or to build a team that does machine learning, it is pretty reasonable that they'd be concerned that they'd end up with a support nightmare if you left after 6 months and no one else understood how the stuff you wrote worked or was able to modify it. In that case, it would be reasonable to discuss your strategy for handling those concerns. Whether that is "as Manager of Machine Learning at Foo Corp., one of my top priorities would be building out the machine learning team and setting up regular cross-training sessions so that the team can continue to function effectively with the loss of a team member" or "all of my estimates for this contract include extensive documentation that would allow other data scientists to support anything I built here".

As other answers have said, there is nothing wrong with asking for clarification particularly where a question seems weird. It can be useful to ask follow-ups to understand exactly what concerns they have-- perhaps it's not a unique position but it's a position that you seem overqualified for or they have some other concern that they're not expressing well that you can address.

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I understood that question as "do you document what you are doing" (or leave other traces specific to the field you are in - such as lab notes or something.

This is not a bad question (the wording is a bit off, though). Answering that "you obviously do not plan to, but in any case, you work in a way where there is traceability, documentation etc." would probably be what they were looking for.

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    My first reaction as well. Does the employee understand the get-hit-by-a-bus problem? The answer is documentation and cross training. No one should plan to be irreplaceable.
    – danak
    May 20 at 15:39
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    If that's the case, then I agree it's a good question, but very poorly worded.
    – Kyle A
    May 20 at 16:54
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This is a valid question. If you are an expert in the field they are asking you to recommend a peer. Your leaving is a real risk, even if slight. Death, disability, detention, that sort of thing comes out of the blue. Even without armed conflict, even without pandemics.

By all means reassure them of your intentions, but do not cave early on any negotiations. Suggest they can offer you a "signing bonus" staggered over 12 to 24 months.

But it will not be your call, this question will highlight your demarcation skills, your ability to focus on your scope of work. It is for them to work out, if they were competent they would know. They are and they do. (Frantically leverage as much as they can from this hiring process and start again).

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There are already many good answers, I'd like to add that to me this seems like one of those (odd) soft questions to see what type of person/team member you are.

Your answer, on a scale of "start looking for my replacement" with a "that's not my problem" attitude, to "I wouldn't leave my coworkers hanging or ruin a project by leaving before ensuring the project can go on without me, I make sure to document everything I do etc." can help them determine how much empathy you have for your colleagues, the company as a whole, and how much you consider such decisions "just business". Your attitude in that regard can affect how likely you are of causing them damage by walking away in the middle of a project for which you are essential.

1

I agree with @Captain Emacs on "Should there be a reason why I would do that?" This can identify the issue which can be about management issues etc. so you can stay fully prepared before starting here.

If they don't give you a reason, it's likely a question to judge your plans. Do you plan your future with this firm or are you already looking for other options, before starting you first day. The answer of course - is the former. It's reasonable to leave because of your issues with the firm, but you would be disloyal to have second thoughts before you even get a chance to experience working there.

I remember I was asked something similar at one company and the interviewer didn't identify any issues at the time. But later, I realized that they asked me that because they wanted me to stick with them because of my word, even though the working conditions were terrible. Even after realizing that, I still stuck with the company for 3 times longer than I planned to and should have, so be prepared to fight yourself over a better decision later.

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Now would be the perfect opportunity to discuss the concept of a retention bonus. The company pays you an agreed upon amount before your start working (let us say $100,000). You keep the $100,000 but agree to give it back on certain conditions (for example, you quit within 6 months).

Then the answer becomes the company claws back their $100,000.

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  • I'm not sure why you would give the money upfront and ask for it back. Vesting has been around a long time, like 401k matching and stock options that vest over a 3-4 year period. Of course if the matching is small it's not very helpful. I wouldn't give a brand new employee that hasn't proven themself a retention bonus, I might not want to keep them after 6 months.
    – rtaft
    May 21 at 13:44
  • @rtaft It seems you have some good ideas on how to promote retention and do not need my suggestions, but if you were to solicit them then I would give you the retention ideas that I favor.
    – emory
    May 23 at 15:16

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