By Karen Stone Mickool, Culture Curation Specialist


A number of years ago, I interviewed for a job as a Training Manager for a division of a well-known insurance company.  In those days, my experience hadn’t led me to the classic lessons I would later learn from recruiting pros and headhunters.  So, while I considered myself pretty good in an interview, most of my experience was either personal or limited to the “Interview Training” classes I had learned to facilitate using a great video and some other resources provided to me.

I arrived for the interview 10 minutes ahead of schedule (of course!) and then spent the next half hour or more waiting in an extremely uncomfortable chair in the sort-of-ish waiting area outside the HR staff offices.  There were no magazines or anything else to read and this was well before the days of smart phones that can always double as amusement.  I had no choice but to observe the goings on around me while I waited for the Director of HR with whom I had an appointment.

During that very long wait, no less than 5 (and maybe more) employees came in to the HR department.  Each time the door opened, the employee sitting behind the counter had to stop what she was doing and talk with the individual.  It was clear that she was NOT PLEASED about this and that she considered these interruptions to be NOT part of her job.  There was a tremendous amount of heavy sighing, eye rolling and such that went on although to be fair, she mostly hid that from the employees coming in—mostly!

Finally, after about 35-40 minutes, the HR Director finished the call she was on and the receptionist quickly stepped into her office, apparently to remind her that she had an interview waiting.  I was then ushered into the director’s office.  I honestly can’t even remember if she stood to shake my hand!   I do remember that she never apologized for keeping me waiting, never asked if I would like a beverage, never offered to hang my coat.  I spent the rest of the time in her office trying to balance my coat, my notebook and my briefcase while hoping I looked more composed than she was.

It was likely the strangest interview of my life!  After keeping me waiting for that long, I expected she would be in a bit of a rush to make up for lost time.  Instead she launched into a long conversation about the weather, child rearing and I can’t remember what else that had nothing to do with the job.  About 10 minutes in, I realized that if I didn’t steer the conversation to the job I wanted, I would likely leave her office and she would know nothing more about my qualifications than what she had seen on my resume.  So—I did.

Now, if you know me, you know that taking control of a conversation isn’t a problem for me!  It did, however, go against everything I had been taught about how to interview.  And—I did it anyway.  Good thing!  In the next 15 minutes I essentially gave a presentation on my qualifications for the job.  Told her what I had done, why I wanted the job, why I was qualified, what my skills would bring to the table and what kind of employee I would be.  If I hadn’t, I likely would have left there having had a nice conversation about the weather because at the end of those 15 minutes, she looked at her watch, said she needed to wrap up and pretty much ushered me out the door.   I headed home pretty sure that I not only wouldn’t get the job, I wasn’t sure I wanted it!


In hindsight, I guess my tactic worked because a couple of days later—much to my surprise—I got a call from the HR Assistant.  I was being invited to go to New York for a second interview, this time with the Corporate Training Department to which I would have “dotted line” reporting responsibilities for some corporate projects.   I hopped the train to NYC, had a GREAT day with the corporate team and came home re-energized about a job that maybe really was a great fit for me.


Despite my fun day in NYC, I still had a nagging (creeping, annoying, vague, scary—I can think of lots of words here) feeling that something wasn’t right.  And yet—being the optimist that I am, I pushed all that out of my mind and took the job.  And—no, this story doesn’t have a happy ending!  While I was right, that the job itself was a great fit for me—and I loved the work and the employees I worked with, I knew before the third week was done that I had made a huge mistake in joining the organization.


I’ve been telling this story from the candidate’s point of view and there are lots of lessons here—whether you are the candidate or the employer – and they are pretty much the same.  Remember, we’ve talked about how important it is to look at all aspects of a candidate or a job.

  • SKILL—do they have the skills to do the job (competencies)
  • WILL—do they have the will to do the job (behaviors)
  • FIT—do they fit the culture of your organization

Now I had the SKILL and the WILL, but I was definitely NOT a fit for the dysfunctional culture of the HR Team.  (I use that term loosely—they weren’t a team at all which was part of the problem.)  And, if I had really paid attention to that, I might not have been job-hunting again within 6 months!


On another note, let’s re-write the scene I just described.  Let’s imagine for just a minute that when I arrived in the office, the receptionist had greeted me warmly, hung my coat, offered me a beverage and apologized profusely for the uncomfortable seating because the office furniture was temporary and new seating was to have been delivered.  Suppose she chatted with me about the company for a few minutes until the Director was available and shared how much she enjoyed working there.

Imagine the Director stepping out to welcome me and regretting the delay as she was on the phone with her child’s teacher.  Suppose she explained that it was the teacher’s only free time—and she didn’t want to impose on the teacher after hours.   I could go on, although I am sure by now you get my point… at any point in the process, there were lots of things that could have happened to improve my experience.  A few words can go a long way toward demonstrating the culture.

Gina talked in her last post about empowering employees to solve customer problems…sometimes it’s even simpler than that!  By ensuring that your culture speaks loudly and clearly, by taking a few minutes to determine how your environment comes across to visitors and guests, by observing the common rules of courtesy and respect for others, we all have a role in presenting our company in its best light.

Next time, I’ll talk more about the questions they (and I) didn’t ask and how SKILL, WILL and FIT all come together.

Until next time, curate a culture that cures status quo!


P.S. Are you stuck when it comes to knowing how to identify skill, will and fit? Tell us about it! Maybe we can help.

Karen Stone Mickool has an extensive background in Human Resources, Organization and Leadership Development, Coaching and Management Development in a wide variety of environments. Prior to her corporate career, Karen spent over ten years providing Leadership Development and Student Services on college campuses. Karen then held strategic positions with The Bank of New York, Fleet Boston (now Bank of America), Southco Engineering, AIG Marketing, and the Coca Cola Company. She has managed human resources departments, designed and delivered global leadership programs, implemented corporate wide succession planning and change management initiatives, and provided coaching and development to senior executives, higher education leaders and front line management.



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About the author

Gina Trimarco is a native of Chicago and CEO/Founder of Pivot10 Results and Carolina Improv Company. She has 25+ years of experience in marketing, sales, operations and people training. Gina combines street smarts and improv comedy skills with her experience in the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds, which sets her apart from her competition.

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