Over the past month, I have been taking a course led by Laura Gallaher, a close friend and organizational psychologist in Orlando. She is an entrepreneur and owns her own company called Key Talent Solutions. She works closely with leadership teams of large and small companies to help them work effectively together and lead their respective teams towards the goals that they have for their companies.

Leading a Grounded Life

The 8 week course that I’m taking is called “Leading a Grounded Life” and its content is focused on better understanding your values, life story, inner triggers, and defense mechanisms. The class is small enough that you feel comfortable with the other individuals participating and it’s been a great opportunity to take a deeper look into who I am as a person — an activity that I enjoy doing every quarter or so to ensure that I am aligning my life with my passions and inner values.

In week 3, we covered an exercise which I refer to as Life Maps. The activity calls for you to take the time to create a visual depiction of the 5 to 10 most influential events, people, experiences, realizations within your life that have shaped you into the person that you are today.

Life Maps and Portlight

As we went through the experience in the class, my mind wandered back to the room that we used at Portlight’s office to interview potential new hires. Follow me as I depict how I used these life maps to hire over 50 valuable employees at Portlight with the purpose of understanding their inner values and ambitions.

It’s early 2014 and Portlight just purchased and moved into its first office in Winter Park, Florida. The space is only 1,200 square feet with 1 main room, 4 side rooms, and 1 bathroom, but we’ve made it our own and it fits our current team. We’ve painted the walls a set of vibrant colors: yellow, blue, purple, green, and red. And we have a mini basketball hoop hung on the wall for breaks throughout the day. We’re only 8 people in the office and it’s perfect for where the company currently is.

It’s a Tuesday and I sit down to begin creating a new interview process as we’ve started to discuss the possibility of hiring a new sales team member, product manager, and customer care rep. As I think of the best ways to learn about each applicant outside of their resume and hard skills, my mind begins to wander again…

Life Maps and ThinkImpact

Back to 2012 as I sit on a lush lawn in downtown Washington DC. I’m surrounded by the 10+ leaders that I’ll be working with for the summer in South Africa and we’re being asked to pull out the life maps that we’ve created for the weekend. Everyone does as asked and the group begins to share their life maps one at a time.

It’s 2 hours later and I know more about these 10+ people than some of my better friends from college and high school. What just happened?

Using Life Maps for Portlight Interviews

I snap back into my seat at the Portlight office and a light bulb goes off in my head. What if we made our final round of the interview process be the life map? What if we collectively test the applicant’s skill set in the first interview and if they pass, we delve into their life history. We could discover who they truly are as a person and if they’ll be a good fit with the unique company culture that we’ve worked so hard to create. Sure it would make the interview process a bit longer, but we;d know so much more about each applicant.

I met with both of my co-founders about the idea and we decided to give it a shot. If it wasn’t helpful after the first couple of tries, we’d scratch it. Do what we always do…test, iterate, test, iterate, until we find the best solution.

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Congratulations on your Second Round Interview

“Thank you for coming in for your first round interview with Portlight. It was a pleasure to meet you and we’re excited to invite you back in for the second round interview with our CEO, Connor Gillivan. Please take the time over the next week to create your own life map. A life map is 8 to 10 events throughout your life that have shaped you into the person that you are today. The 2nd round interview will be focused on this life map.”

Over the next two years, we must have sent an iteration of that email to over 100 applicants. I must have also heard over 100 life maps from applicants as we searched for the best possible fits for our company culture and the roles that we were hiring for.

What I Learned from Life Maps in the Interview Process

As I conducted each life map interview, I made slight changes to the way that I posed the follow up questions to learn even more about each applicant. To my surprise, most applicants took the life map very seriously and were willing to tell me a lot about the events that shaped them into who they were as they sat across the table from me. Based off of their life maps, I was able to draw comparisons to our current team to understand whether they would be a strong fit with our culture.

The strategy ended up working our extremely well allowing us to preserve the unique company culture that we had fought hard to build over the previous three years. I also saw the impact of the life maps on my relationship with all of our employees.

From the get go, i.e. the interview, I expressed interest in who they were rather than simply what skills they had and what they could do for the company’s growth. They share their life map honestly and I did the same. A cloak of anonymity was lifted from the start of our working relationship and it allowed me to build a relationship of trust that would last the entire length of working together.

Using Life Maps as I Continue to Grow

I can still look back at specific instances in the life map interviews and pinpoint when that mutual respect was reached. The life maps have been a theme throughout my professional life and I am appreciative that I was able to use them when hiring my first team of in-house employees. It is a practice that I will carry with me as I build FreeeUp and continue to build new companies as an entrepreneur.