By Ibby Vores, SHRM-SCP

When I worked in the corporate world, we HR people had our hands full helping managers make the right hiring decisions. We taught managers the type of questions NOT to ask (Do you plan to have kids anytime soon? Where do you go to church?). And we taught them the type of questions TO ask: those that reveal what the applicant did in real-life situations.


This practice of “behavioral interviewing” is based on the proven knowledge that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Behavior-based questions are the multi-part questions an interviewer asks, such as, “What was a project you worked on recently, how did you handle it, what were the results, and what would you do differently next time, if anything?”

You reveal a lot about yourself when you answer questions like this. And the recruiter learns whether you can focus enough to remember to answer all the parts of the question.

Something else we taught hiring managers is the concept of “locus of control.”  This psychological concept was developed in 1954 by Julian B. Rotter. The word “locus” is related to “location.” It’s where you think control of your life comes from, whether it’s from inside of you or outside of you:

  • When you have an internal locus of control, you believe YOU are in charge of your life. You can influence what happens to you.
  • When you have an external locus of control, you believe that what happens to you in life is influenced by outside forces such as luck or fate.

Why did we teach those hiring managers to ask certain types of questions? Of course, we wanted to assure we had a fair playing field and were legally compliant. But we also wanted to help them discern the locus of control of applicants. Why?

Psychological research has found that people with an internal locus of control tend to be more achievement-oriented. They are more motivated, more willing to take initiative, and just generally turn out to be more successful as employees than those who believe outside forces control their fates.

No one has a 100 percent internal or external locus of control. Everyone falls on a continuum somewhere between the two extremes. Locus of control is shaped by early life experiences and is pretty much established by the age of 10. However, because it’s a learned trait, it’s possible to alter your locus of control through self-awareness and focusing on changing your behavior. What is your locus of control? Here’s an online tool to assess it.


Because people with an internal locus of control are self-motivated and achievement-oriented, sales is a viable career choice. It’s all about taking charge, setting goals, achieving customer satisfaction and receiving monetary rewards. Career education such as the Virtanza Sales Training, Certification and Job Placement Program can help you develop your natural abilities and become a successful sales professional.

If you find you tend to have an external locus of control, here are suggestions to steer yourself toward self-motivation:

  • When faced with decisions, such as deciding on car insurance, study the available information and make an informed choice. This is different than just choosing the cheapest option. When you do that, your choice is being controlled by the cost, not by the full range of your needs as a customer.
  • Practice answering the question in Paragraph Two. Think of examples where you created successful outcomes and give yourself a pat on the back. If something was a failure, figure out why. What WOULD you do differently next time?
  • Know that you can control your reactions to other people and circumstances. Wallowing in raw emotions such as anger, resentment or sadness give outside forces control over you. In 12-Step programs, this is referred to as making something/someone else your “Higher Power.” When faced with emotional situations, acknowledge how you feel, but don’t stay stuck. Ask yourself “What is my part in this?” and work toward constructive solutions.
  • Stretch your knowledge. Take a class. If you’re unhappy with your job or income, learn new skills and take steps toward a different career direction. Fix up your resume. Read employment listings.
  • When faced with disruptive change, conquer it in small bites. Find some aspect you can control and take action. Do this again and again. After you take all these small action steps, you’ll look over your shoulder and see that the change is behind you. And you met it successfully.
  • Be interested and curious about the world. Get informed about news that affects you.  Volunteer to help others. Vote. Being apathetic does not hold the key to a better future.
  • Listen to what you say. How often do you use the terms “luck” and “fate” to describe what happens to you?

Remember, behavior modification takes practice. Practice, practice, practice. Focus. Take hold of your own fate.

Believe in yourself. Make your own luck.

Author Ibby Vores, SHRM-SCP, is a senior human resources consultant and instructor for Virtanza, where she teaches resume writing and coaches students on job search techniques.