The Job Interview Question I Wasn’t Prepared to Answer (but you should be)

blonde-1296489_640At job interviews, I’m prepared to answer just about anything but I wasn’t prepared for the question I heard recently. Not just once, but in a series of interviews for a job I found intriguing.

Conversation flowed. We connected. It was going well. Smiles. Nods. Quiet laughter. Then, a glance at my resume. A mention of my writing –a skill worth noting on a resume. Communication skills a plus. Writing talent a boon. Publication an achievement that speaks to excellence, perseverance, and determination. But, you know, I write for Jesus.

There’s no hiding the nature of my writing (and why would I?) since two of three of my books mention Jesus right in the title – so, it’s out there. Which for me is a gift. It keeps me from hiding in moments when my old sin nature beckons me to slink back to my old ways, to be less than God designed me to be, tempted to place Him in a box. I see a slight eye flicker as the interviewer looks them over. There’s a brief clarification of the genre. Yes, I write for the Christian market.

Another nod and smile, but then, the question. The tone is casual, but the question is not benign: “How will you keep your faith from interfering with your job?”

I’m sorry, what?

Replaying the chat, of course I see I should have asked a clarifying question myself. Jesus knew to ask a question before He answered one. “What is your specific concern?” or “Has this been a problem with other employees?” or “Is this a something you ask every applicant?”

But, it’s an interview, I need the job, and we’re solidly in the question/answer mode. Plus, it’s my personality to maintain the relationship, avoid confrontation, look interview-607713_640for the work around. God is working on me but it’s still my default. If we were in court, I would hear the judge respond to my objection, “I’ll allow it since your resume opened the door to this line of questioning,” so I respond:

“Well, my faith informs the excellence with which I do my job so I don’t think you want me to keep it from “interfering.” If lying or committing fraud are part of the job, it will definitely interfere, but I don’t think that’s how you operate here, so we’re good. (polite laughter at this) I think you’re asking if I’m judgmental. I’m not, but that’s because of my faith, not in spite of it. Have I answered what you’re asking?”

Smiles. Handshakes. The interview ends on a hopeful note, but it leaves a strange aftertaste.

How easily I joined the narrative, the implication that I would naturally understand their assumption that my faith is a problem, that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to contain my judgmental views, no one wants to hire a trouble-maker so, of course, they have to ask. Why did I enter that narrative so willingly, with a smile, without resistance?

And as I’ve told this story, some believers have shrugged and said, “Oh, they’re worried you would proselytize or refuse to do something that’s unbiblical. That’s all it was.” WHY ARE WE HOLDING HANDS WITH THE STORY THE WORLD TELLS ABOUT US?

Did my answer give them the idea that I’m one of those “acceptable” Christians? One who believes Jesus would never tell anyone their actions or attitudes were sinful? One who follows the domesticated, generic Christ who never would have been dangerous enough to have to die like a thief on a cross? Surely not someone who follows the wild-eyed Jesus who wove a whip and said such hard things he turned away crowds! Did I come across as a compliant believer? One who would never cause trouble?

Some would say that’s good but I know my own tendency to stay quiet, to fear trouble, to avoid making waves, to stink at sharing my faith, to capitulate hard truth, so the conversation frightened me. How subtly, smilingly, I can be encouraged to “play nice” and only bring the “agreeable side” of my faith to work.

How will you keep your faith from interfering with your job? I replay that moment and consider other answers, better answers, answers that refuse to walk hand-in-hand down the corridor of the false narrative being spun in our times.

“Will my faith interfere with my job? Why? Do you anticipate asking me to lie, commit fraud, steal, or conspire in deception? If so, then my faith may human-109103_640interfere. My faith has taught me that no matter what I do, to do it as for Jesus, so I bring that integrity with me to the workplace, surely you wouldn’t prefer I leave it at home?”

Will my faith interfere with my job? In other jobs, people appreciate the love, compassion, respect, and generosity of spirit I extend to everyone I encounter, as instructed by my faith. Will that be a problem in this workplace? I’m not sure I can learn to work without being kind, honest, patient, and loyal. You may have to consider someone else.”

Will my faith interfere with my job? Why? Is this a place where people must conform, where conversations are monitored and screened, where people check their souls at the door, where ideas pass through a filter before being aired? Is this a place where freedom has been given a shelf on the same locker in which I place my lunch?

When did we start buying into the story that others tell about us? Loving and following Jesus is what makes us someone you want at your place of business. In all we do, we work as if we’re doing it for Him so our work bears the mark of excellence, integrity, truth, and creativity – because every day we are more like Jesus.

They offered the job. I said no. It’s a small thing – no sacrifice because I had another option. I’m just one person in the smallest state but we have to start, in small ways, to refuse to align with the lies. To say no to any narrative that says the world’s story is the true one, not the one we live.

I only tell this story now so you’ll be ready for the question: How will you keep your faith from interfering with your job? What will be your answer?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about faith in the workplace! If you’re reading this in email and would like to comment, click HERE!

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19 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. John Bugni says:

    Very good blog entry, Lori. I would have acted just you did. I have a natural tendency to react rather than to respond. Your example of how Jesus handled questions showcases for me an example of not reacting but responding. Pause before answering, and asking a question gives one more time to consider your answer and also clarifies the position of the questioner. A very mature, informed approach. Having read your piece, I must might be able to respond better if confronted with the question,….if I give myself time to respond and not react. Love your writings.

  2. Patti says:

    I’m surprised they asked the question with that wording. I’ve been on search committees, and we are specifically told we cannot mention “faith”. We can mention “belief system” or “values”, etc. I do think it’s a legitimate question, however. I’ve worked with people whose faith truly did interfere with their job performance, which negatively impacted those of us who worked with them, customers/clients, and the company as a whole. I think it could have been better stated; maybe “How do you successfully coordinate the various aspects of your life — belief system, work, community involvement, etc?” . For me, the issues with this question are the use of “faith” and “interfere”.

    • I believe that the mention of my writing on my resume does open the door for these questions, Patti. I do, however, disagree with the specific faith question. I’d already been asked “If we asked your coworkers or supervisors to describe what it’s like to work with you, what would they say?” and “After reading the job description and understanding what we do, is there any aspect of the job you think would be problematic for you to carry out?” I’ve worked with all kinds of people who let their lives interfere with their job performance – people annoy others in all kinds of ways and proselytize with everything from special diets to politics. I suppose they could ask “Has anyone ever described you as annoying?” but they don’t ask if any other aspect of life interferes with work – just faith – and that’s a problem.

  3. Arlene May says:

    I’m wondering if it would even be possible to answer the question unless the interviewer clarified what she meant by it. A request to clarify the question would probably have been my response after picking my chin up off the floor. Easy to say though when you’re an armchair analyst.
    Thank-you for exercising the wonderful gift the Lord has given you. I have been making my way through Running from a Crazy Man and appreciate so much the way it makes me stop and think outside my very comfy comfort zone.

    • Tonia Hassell says:

      Wow Lori! I just finished writing down all your answers in my journal as I am a teacher heading to a new school this year and stressing about this very thing! You have cleared up much of my anxiety and have given me the task of answering this question before I head over to the middle school… God had certainly placed me there for a reason and I want my faith to interfere every day in all I do!! Thank you!

  4. Lori, I think your answer was brilliant. You answered matter of factly. You did not cover up anything. Thank you for igniting this conversation. I pray, if asked that question, I would answer with great wisdom like you did.

  5. Sharmel O'Neill says:

    Lori as I said in the email I would have had to ask if they would have asked the same question if You were of another faith? Your answer was on point. We all have our apprehensive moments, especially when caught off guard. That dosen’t excuse wishy-washyness but the point is to encourage each other to be bolder each time. Many would have totally backed down but I believe your answer was given out of love and as the scripture says in Mark 13:11, The Holy Spirit will get the point across when we let Him do the talking.

  6. Thanks, Lori. Such an important piece. This question will be more common in the coming years. We must always be prepared to give an answer for our faith.

  7. It seems that God draws you into places to take you deeper so you can also make us more aware and cause us to think past the moment, Lori. He has found a faithful servant in you and in your writing. Thank you.

  8. I love your answer(s). Thank you for helping us stop slinking…

  9. I love your answers. Thanks for helping us from slinking away from conformity.

  10. AMEN! Thought-provoking piece (as always), and insight-filled, Lori. Thanks for what — and how(!) — you share!

  11. Hope W. says:

    Thank you for writing this! I had a similar experience a number of years ago when I applied for a position at an all-girls’ school. My previous experience in working with youth had all come from my church’s youth group and a Christian school. The interviewer asked me a similar question to yours. I remember being so taken aback that my beliefs would even be a concern or hinder my ability to do my job. And I didn’t get the job. I’ve always thought it was because of my faith. What a sad truth, but thank you for sharing your experience.

  12. Chris says:

    Great piece! I wonder to what extent the interviewer’s faith interfered with that job?

  13. Paula Mowery says:

    Honestly, I often explain to people that being a Christian isn’t something I do. It is who I am. I have worked in places where I felt I was to remove my Christianity at the door. The problem with that is that we’ve given the impression, even to new Christians, that Christianity is a set of things we do and don’t do. But Christianity is someone I’m trying to become – Christ. No matter where I work, I can’t check it at the door. Though, I think that is the expectation sometimes. And I too, as one commenter above, work in a public school system, but keep shining Jesus. That doesn’t take Bible thumping or preaching in the teachers’ lounge. Just live it. They’ll know. And you won’t be sorry.

  14. […] would you respond if someone asked about your faith in a job interview? This was a thought-provoking post from Lori […]

  15. Bethany Jett says:

    “Plus, it’s my personality to maintain the relationship, avoid confrontation, look for the work around.” — ummm….totally me.

    Love you! Love this post. I’m chewing on it. 🙂