Do You Run Towards the Fire or Away From It?

Some time ago I was interviewed by the website MainStreet.com for a story about weird interview questions.  Subsequently, they invited me to come to their offices to record some of my answers.

As I explained, my favorite question is, “In what direction would you run if there was a fire at work?”  Some people respond, because of where they are coming from, that they would leave the building in accordance with company policy.  I’ll give them a pass; they are following the book.

But what if there is no policy?  Now it’s a question of character.

Candidate Number One replies, “I’d immediately leave the building.  I’d get out of the way of the fire fighters.  I’d wait outside for instructions.”

Candidate Number Two replies, “I’d head towards the fire.  I would want to help anyone who needs assistance and make certain everyone gets out.  I’m a team player.  I don’t leave my colleagues in the lurch.”

Who would you hire?  Neither said anything wrong.  There is no wrong answer.  Candidate Number One is getting out of the way.  Cynics would say, “He’s sticking his tail between his legs and running for the nearest exist.”  I actually disagree.  He doesn’t believe he has anything to offer so he’s simply getting out of the way of those who can help.  What’s the point in standing around?

Of course, Candidate Number Two is showing leadership.  She believes she has something to contribute.  Some might say, “She’s just trying to play the ‘hero.’”  I disagree here as well.  If there is a fire, or a fool would be “playing” anything.

As far as I am concerned, Candidate Number Two gets the job.  Leadership trumps everything else.  Here’s what really happened:

I was conducting a search for fundraiser for a school for special needs children.  My candidate arrived.  The interview began with the principal and director of Business Affairs.  Not ten minutes later a teacher came running into the principal’s office.  A water pipe had broken and the place was flooding.

My candidate could have done a number of things.  He could have told them that he realized they had a crisis and he would wait patiently in the principal’s office.  He could have told them that he realized they had a crisis and he would wait patiently in the Reception area.  He could have told them that he realized they had a crisis and he would call them to reschedule.  He did none of those things.  What did he do?  He grabbed his overcoat, wrapped a drenched child in it, and helped.  He ran towards the fire!

And for the record, he got a second interview and the job.

Don’t forget to order your copy of my book,  A Hooker’s Guide to Getting A Job: Parables from the Real World of Career Counseling and Executive Recruiting, and receive  the pre-publication discount.

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