No one can serve two masters

Matthew 6:24

During interviews, how do you get underneath the surface and discern what potential employees truly value?

Values alignment matters far more than people’s technical skills. You’ve seen this truth in action in your company. Skills can be taught. Values can’t. If people don’t share foundational values, they’re unlikely to work together productively, long term. That’s why it’s critical you get a handle on whether or not people are aligned with your company’s values before you bring them on.

Below is an interview question that is designed to draw out a candidate’s foundational values. I’ve included three responses that people may give to this question, to help you see how values shine through in their answers.

Why should we not hire you?

Answer A: I only have 3 years of experience, instead of the 5 years that you require.

Answer B: I’m a perfectionist.

Answer C: I struggle to hold myself accountable.

Now, which of the three responses above do you think most clearly reflects the essential, core values of your servant culture?

The answer is C: “I struggle to hold myself accountable.”

Are you surprised?

Let’s unpack each of the three responses, to help you understand the values that are at play:

Answer A: I only have 3 years of experience, instead of the 5 years that you require.

No one on Earth is a model employee. We all have weaknesses – core weaknesses. Our core weaknesses run so deep that we must lean on others for support. That’s what teams are for – all of us are better than any one of us.

“I only have 3 years of experience, instead of the 5 years that you require. “

Does it look like this candidate is aware of — and able to be transparent about – the core weaknesses they will bring to your team?

No. In fact, this response communicates the opposite. It’s superficial self-criticism, right? No depth. No vulnerability. It reflects the candidate’s discomfort with displaying weakness. This person, it appears, values “winning” over honesty.

Servant cultures require people to be honest and vulnerable: to own their shortcomings so that team members can assess whether or not they can, collectively, make up for those shortcomings.

Your servant culture can embrace weaknesses, make accommodations for them, and perhaps even heal them. But it can’t do any of those things if people aren’t motivated by their values to be authentic about where they fall short.

Answer B: I’m a perfectionist.

…Or competitive.

…Or opinionated.

When people respond with words like this, they’re displaying more self-awareness and vulnerability than the folks in the previous example. They’re owning an aspect of themselves that can be perceived as a weakness.

But they’re still playing it safe. They’re labeling themselves with words that aren’t all bad. Perfectionists are typically highly skilled. People who are competitive are usually resilient. People who are opinionated are, more often that not, quite passionate.

Can you see how, when you hear a response like this, you’re not really hearing people tell you why you shouldn’t hire them…but rather, why you should? After all, you want to bring highly skilled, resilient, passionate people onto your team…right?

Of course you do. But highly skilled, resilient, passionate people have core weaknesses, too. And you have yet to hear what those weaknesses are. Here again, candidates are placing a greater value on “winning” the interview than being 100% genuine with you.

Or, it might be that these candidates haven’t developed the level of self-awareness they need to in order to understand their perfectionistic/competitive/opinionated behaviors. If this is the case, then they’ve not yet placed a value on developing deeper self-awareness – on engaging in that journey.

Either way, this candidate isn’t looking like your best bet.

Answer C: I struggle to hold myself accountable.

Now we’re getting somewhere!

This is a fantastic response to the question, “Why should we not hire you?”, for two reasons:

  1. It reflects a committed journey of self-awareness.

“I struggle to hold myself accountable.”

These words are the result of significant inner work. Significant prayer. An ongoing process of humbling oneself, trying, failing, and trying again. This candidate has nailed down their greatest weakness to a single heart-mind dynamic that, hard as they try, they just can’t seem to overcome.

In other words, they’re human. And they know it. And, most courageously, they are willing and able to be honest about how they hold themselves and others back.

This, you can work with. You can put systems in place to hold people accountable.

Or, you can choose not to. You can decide not to take this candidate’s weakness on, because it wouldn’t serve your team well at this time.

The important thing is, you’ve seen this candidate’s values shine through. If you do decide to hire them and invest the time and energy to deepen accountability measures around them, you can be confident that all the extra effort will be worth it. Why?

Because you share the foundational values that are so critical to your servant culture: honesty, humility, and transparency.

  1. It’s a legitimate reason why you should not hire this person. 

It’s worth noting that this is the only candidate who has actually answered the question! The others didn’t tell you why they shouldn’t be hired at all. They ignored your true intent. This candidate acknowledged your intent and gave you a valid reason not to hire them.

They have positioned you to take stock and assess:

Does the team you have in place already struggle with accountability? Then maybe this isn’t the right person to bring into the mix. Your accountability problem will get worse, not better.

Because the candidate has been transparent with you, they’ve demonstrated that they value the long-term success of your team (and their own long-term development) more than they value the “quick win” of getting the job.

You’ve just learned exactly what you needed to know about the character and maturity of this potential employee.

All from asking one question, listening ever-so-carefully, and drawing out the values contained in each candidate’s responses.

I hope this guidance helps you bring the right people onto your team and into your servant culture.


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge

Proverbs 1:7