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Come for the Job; Stay for the Preachin’!

January 4, 2012

Once upon a time I interviewed for an HR Director position with a 1,000+ employee organization.  I left my meeting with the VP of HR with a pamphlet in hand and an invitation to join her at church.

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Although this was quite some time ago, I remember thinking that they did everything “right.”  As an organization they were pretty well on top of the game – lots of available information about the job, the culture and the organization.  They provided a great pre-interview candidate experience and were extremely responsive and welcoming.  After making it through the initial screening, I attended a panel interview and then was summoned back for a final interview with the head of the department.  All along the way, everyone was courteous, professional and super duper friendly.

The final interview started off very promising.  We covered all the basic background territory as this was an industry in which I had experience and the position level and accountabilities were similar to what I had done before.  I was confident I could bring what they needed and spoke smartly (so I thought) and succinctly about accomplishments and results and measurable achievements.

As the interview with this VP progressed, rapport by this time being firmly established, we veered off track a bit: jokes with snippets of humor, the sharing of a few HR-horror-stories complete with risqué language and integral-to-the-retelling F bombs – stuff like that. We chatted about work-life balance/integration and the need to manage it for ourselves and the employees of our organizations.

And then she asked me “so where do you and your family go to church?’

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Now I pride myself on my keen observation skills.  I had noticed the cross on her bookcase and the angel memorabilia on her credenza. Good for her, I had thought, and good for the organization for letting people bring their whole selves to work.

But how to answer her question? Common sense told me that it was highly unlikely she was an observant Jew or an adherent of Islam.  Was she delving into this because I had worked for some faith-based organizations in the past?  Not only did the word “Catholic” leap out in bold on my resume but neatly typed up on my list of references was the contact information for a former boss who was not only an MSW/MBA but also a nun. 

But why, I obviously wondered, was it any of her business if I was religious, merely spiritual or none-of-the-above?   I certainly wasn’t applying to be the resident chaplain at this non-religious company.  Why assume I go to a church at all?  How does she know I don’t go to the LDS Temple or my local Synagogue?

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Afterwards, I thought of all sorts of marvlous replies and comebacks:

  • “Our congregation generally gathers in the Sacred Grove behind our house to celebrate Gaia
  • “I’m not allowed to talk about it.  Not after that whole ex-communication incident.”
  • “Oh I don’t have time to go to church.  I like to sleep in on Sundays after my weekly Saturday  bender.”

But at the time I really thought I wanted the job. Plus, in my family we held firm to the edict to never discuss religion or politics except at the family holiday dinner table, where it’s safe to curse, roll-your-eyes and generally belittle the ones you love.   Yet I still wasn’t certain how to answer this nice lady with the shiny hair and the beaming eyes.

“Well,” I said, “we’re sort of between regular places of worship right now.”

And quick as a wink she opened up her desk drawer and extracted a pamphlet.  A glossy tri-fold, multi-colored masterpiece with a picture of Jesus on the front cover and church service dates/times on the back.

“Then you might be interested in visiting my church!” she exclaimed.  “We have lots of services to fit any schedule and a great Sunday school program for your kids.  Let me know when you want to come to a service and I’ll introduce you around.”

She smiled for emphasis and then, almost as an afterthought, dug out one of her business cards from the little decorative holder next to her phone.  I slipped her business card, and the Jesus brochure, into my portfolio … next to the extra copy of my resume and the Company’s Employee Benefit Summary.  And went on my way.

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I never asked her to introduce me around to anyone at a church service.  In fact, I never spoke to her again.  She didn’t add me to the mailing list for Vacation Bible School.  Nor, apparently, did she add me to the mailing list to notify me when the job was filled; I heard that news through the local HR-grapevine.

It was sort of sad.  I kinda liked her for the first hour-and-55 minutes we spent together.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2012 7:03 am

    This post really made me smile – I think the Saturday bender response would have been the best one!

    I think there have always been situations when you get caught short like this. I remember meeting a recruiter just out of university and I was really keen to please. At one point they asked, “You seem quite artistic, do you do a lot of art in your spare time?”

    Keen to please and having a mind freeze I just replied “Well I have used charcoal previously” – which technically is correct. When I am having a BBQ. Or helping family members stoke a fire on their farm in Ireland.

    Either way, I feel your point about being blind sided and not knowing what is the appropriate response. You would expect someone in such a senior role as they were to perhaps not overstep the mark with the pamphlets. Though in saying that if they had them in the drawer it might not have been their first time in giving them away!

    • January 6, 2012 10:05 am

      Patrick – needless to say, if someone gave ME the bender response to any sort of question, I would be none to pleased.🙂

  2. January 5, 2012 9:16 pm

    Great post. This reminds me of the times when I have been at career fairs and heard a business rep say something personal along the same lines. The HR person in me wants to tackle them and save the student from going down the rabit hole.

  3. January 8, 2012 9:40 am

    Robin, you have some of the greatest stories!

    This woman was so out of line. It amazes me how HR always seems to be the one to get too comfortable and cross that line — the big one that we tell other people to steer clear of. And Jesus would not approve!

    Reminds me of the time an investigator at the EEOC wished me a “blessed Christmas.” Skkkrt?!? What?!?

    Managers have a duty to make employees feel comfortable and not place them in positions where they feel like their job security is on the line for failing to comply with a request. In many ways, it’s a lot like sexual harassment.

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