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I get frustrated and sad when I see highly qualified people unable to sell themselves in a job they deserve. It happened again, perhaps you know someone who can benefit from this story and actions that followed.

Meet Me in St. Louis

The sweet woman next to me on the flight from Denver to St. Louis shared her story. She had a masters in teaching, and yet kept piecing together assistant jobs to make ends meet for her and her 7-year-old son. This meant no benefits and often waitressing on the side. She couldn’t seem to get hired in a permanent gig. “I just don’t seem to be what they’re looking for.” She had an interview that afternoon for a “real” teaching job. Game on.

When I asked her about what “they were looking for” in previous interviews, the conversation led to rubrics and curriculum and other teacher-y words. Her lack of experience drained the confidence from her explanation. “I keep trying to figure out what they want, and I think that makes my answers fuzzy.”

Let’s try an approach that will get you hired.

Why are you passionate about education (to hang in this long). What makes you unique as a teacher?

Seat 14 B suddenly radiated a new energy. She told me stories of raising her son bi-lingual and how she incorporates that into the classroom. How she’s an artist and how she marries art history with reading and writing in interactive field trips in the park. She shared her proactive efforts to learn at conferences and share with her peers.

And so, I asked the obvious question.  Have you ever shared any of that in an interview? 

She stopped. “No.”

They Don’t Know They’re Looking For You

In an effort to be what “they” want, she was masking her gifts. They can’t possibly think they are looking for a bi-lingual artist, with a masters in teaching, and a passion for making reading fun. It doesn’t mean they won’t jump when they see that. I would want my first grader in her class.

Teacher’s Homework

The flight was ending so we outlined an approach.

  1. Identify the 3 gifts that differentiated her as a teacher (Art, Languages later I found she knows more than 2), and Reading
  2. Practice the starting statement here’s what I’m about (she needed an elevator speech)
  3. Prepare examples that highlight her 3 gifts (specifics, with outcomes and results)
  4. Anticipate the tough questions, and weave in her gifts
  5. End with confidence. “I don’t want to appear cocky.” (She was about 7 degrees of separation from cocky confidence matters).

Your Homework

  1. Identify your 3 gifts
  2. Curate your stories and examples to explain them
  3. Identify the audience
  4. Tell your story
  5. Grow them more

More Tools to Get Hired

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. David Tumbarello

    This resonates with me. I’ve been in transition for two years now & teaching has been a passion of mine — and I have that Master’s degree as well. The interview that landed me one teaching position was one in which the principal and I just talked. She was assessing (in my opinion) my authenticity, passion, personality. We had significant small talk for an hour, sprinkled with a few teaching stories, and then we walked the hallways of the school and, as they say, the deal was done. While the challenge of teaching got the best of me, I’ll never forget how the interview was a conversation. Other interviews are quasi-rubric based. Check marks, structure, and questions that require one to speak from a box. I’ve never been on the other side of the table, but if I were, I would dread having to compare candidates based on the boxy-type of questions. That is why standing out as a candidate with passion and stories is so crucial.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Dave, That’s my favorite way to interview as well. I always do the “structured interview” as that is a requirement of our company. But then, I spend the bulk of the time asking questions that probe deeper into passions, talents and mindsets. That’s always more valuable for differentiation.

      • Matt McWilliams

        With you there. I used to have a script. The easiest way for an interviewee to know if the interview went well or not was if I stayed on script.

        If I did, you had no chance. If I went way off or forgot it entirely, you had at least a 50% chance. I learned, over time, to allow an interview to be a conversation. Yes, I needed to know certain things, but they could be asked in ways that went deep, not mere formalities.

  2. Steve Borek

    Great post.

    Most people aren’t authentic. Continuously trying to be something they’re not. They’re so caught up in acting out to “be” the person the hiring manager is looking for, they leave their gifts at the margin. They’re afraid of showing their true self.

    I’m good at sensing if someone is passionate about their profession, life, relationships, etc. You can’t fake authenticity.

    Unless of course you’re a professional actor. That’s why the great ones get paid so well.

  3. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    Even though I decided to stop commenting to take a breathing period I find myself tempted this time to share.
    One technique I use is the pairing technique. I ask a candidate to tell me which is more important for the job say experience and academic qualification. Let us say he/she says that certificate is greatly more important than experience. After sometime I ask which is more important certificate or age? I believe certificate is slightly more important. Again, after some time, I ask which is more important academic qualification or age. Not rarely, I get the answer age is more important. This is contradicting with the conclusion drawn from what he/she said before. Using pairing technique is a tool that helps in evaluating the consistency of candidates.

  4. Bret Simmons

    This is brilliant, Karen. As important is finding the people that really need and value your gifts. Better to hold out a little longer to find that job than to jump into a job where your gifts will never be valued. Well done. Bret

  5. Kavin James

    This is awesome and hits home! Thanks…gives me a new tool.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Kavin. So great to see you in the LGL community. I hope you will continue to join the conversation. Tomorrow’s post may be useful as well.


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