Job Interviews: What is the Worst that Could Happen?

“In most cases, the best strategy for a job interview is to be fairly honest, because the worst thing that can happen is that you won’t get the job and will spend the rest of your life foraging for food in the wilderness and seeking shelter underneath a tree or the awning of a bowling alley that has gone out of business.” – L. Snicket (in The Carnivorous Carnival – Book 9 in A Series of Unfortunate Events).

The more that I’ve studied and learned about high-impact learning organizations, the more I’ve found myself grappling with and exploring matters of talent management, especially finding and hiring the “right” talent. As I try to understand that “special something” in distinctive learning organizations, it is often a subtle blend of forces and factors. However, one of those factors is always people. It isn’t just a compelling vision, functional model, scalable framework, or set of best practices. People cast and embrace visions. People implement models and frameworks. People embrace or discard best or promising practices. Different people will thrive in some contexts and not others.

That is where my mind wandered when my wife drew my attention to the opening quote for this article, an entertaining piece of advice from Lemony Snicket (pen name of Daniel Handler) in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Yet, is Lemony right? Is that the worst that could happen? Practically speaking, I suppose so. From another viewpoint, I have a different concern amid job interviews.

I’ve come to believe that one of the most important responsibilities of leadership in a learning organization has to do with decisions about who to hire. It has everything to do with the mission and distinct vision of that organization. It isn’t about who is good or bad. It is about who will amplify the mission and vision, who will be inspired and empowered by the mission, who has the gifts, talents and abilities that are right for that time and place in an organization’s life-cycle.

Apart from homelessness and poverty as pointed out by Snicket, the worst thing that can come out of a job interview is that a person would be hired for a job that is neither a good fit for that person or the organization. A mis-alignment of mission, vision and gifts can be a soul-crushing experience for the person hired, not to mention a missional train wreck. A strong organizational culture can survive some of these, but if it becomes a pattern, this is the sort of thing that can derail and entire organization.

I’m not just talking about hiring executive leadership. I’m referring to everyone person and every responsibility in an organization. If the front-end or sales people are not on track with mission and vision, we can quickly find ourselves creating a disconnect between what and how we “sell” or recruit and our core identity as a learning organization. The same thing is true for every part of an operation.

From the perspective of the interviewee, I persistently advise people to apply for jobs where they really do buy into what the organization does, why it does it, and how it does it.  When you get up in the morning, are your energized to be part of that organization? When you go to sleep at night, do you do so with a measure of pride that you contributed to something meaningful? It doesn’t necessarily need to be that you were progressing toward a cure for cancer or world peace, but finding and investing in something that matters is, to me, one of the more important parts of a great place to work.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.