During my 30 years in business, I held a number of different positions -- which means I did a lot of interviewing. The toughest interview question I was ever asked came after I retired.
I applied for a job to work in the inner-city communities I was raised in. The interview process included a session with a group of 6 people. In reviewing my background, one of them was intrigued by the fact that in my last job I had changed industries, going from forest products to medical devices and into a critical, very high-level position. Bill Bolling, the legendary founder of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, asked the question. After hearing me talk about how Medtronic’s mission to “Alleviate Pain, Restore Health, and Extend Life” resonated with me and how much their executive leadership team impressed me, Bill asked, “Why did they hire you?” I wasn’t prepared to answer that question. I knew why I would have hired myself, but I didn’t know exactly what they were thinking, especially the person (Bill Hawkins) who I would be working the closest with. He was the COO and upcoming CEO. After rambling for a minute or two, I finally said, “I don’t know why.” Well, Bill’s question intrigued me, so I called Bill Hawkins and asked him, “What did he see in me that would cause him to give such a critical position to lead a major strategic initiative to someone who did not have the industry experience?” He said that I came across as authentic, principled and humble. I also came to learn that Bill was also from the south, was a huge college basketball fan, and was also a change agent. We immediately connected. A great example of that saying “People work with people they know, like and trust.” We went on to successfully implement that initiative for Medtronic.
While I was unsuccessful in getting that job (I guess I bumbled that question too badly), Bill Bolling and I made a connection during the interview. He later invited me to join the Food Bank’s board and I will become its chairman in July.
The morale of this story is regardless of how well you prepare for an interview there will be times in which you are asked a question you can’t articulately answer. Don’t let it end there; follow up on the question because it will lead to greater self-awareness and, more importantly, to an even bigger opportunity.