In 1987, Ben Carson performed a surgery separating Siamese twins joined at the head. This was a milestone in pediatric neurosurgery, a field he is now regarded as a world-wide expert. But he almost didn’t pass his job interview, (at least according to the biographical movie, “Gifted Hands”).

With someone so clearly qualified, what went wrong?

Interviewer: John’s Hopkins accepts only 2 students a year, this year we have 125 applicants. So, why should we take you?

Ben Carson: Well, I have good grades and excellent recommendations

Interviewer: As do all of our applicants.

Strike one. The interviewer was asking the question, “What makes you different?” and Ben blew it. He answered with his qualifications, rather than his personality. The interviewer is fast to point out this error. So he tries again…

Interviewer: You have confidence. That is good for a neurosurgeon. But tell me something, why did you decide to become a brain doctor?

Ben Carson: The brain…its a miracle. Do you believe in miracles. Not a lot of doctors do. There isn’t a lot of faith among physicians. We study reports, it’s all very tangible. But the fact is there are so many things we just can’t explain. I believed we are all capable of performing miracles, up here (points to head). We are blessed with astonishing gifts and skills. Look at Handel. I mean, how can he come up with The Messiah in only 3 weeks. (pointing to head again) This is the key. The source of inspiration for unbelievable accomplishments.

Interviewer: You like classical music?

Ben Carson: I love it.

Interviewer: I do to. I think we’ll get on quite well together. (They shake hands and he gets his Hollywood ending)

Let’s review what just happened.

  1. Ben expresses his passion for the brain, as different than other candidates. He brings emotion and drive, rather than mechanical qualifications.
  2. He takes a risk about bringing his faith into the conversation. Though it doesn’t hurt him, it is who he is. In fact, Ben is a deeply religious man. If you are going to work with him, you better accept that part of him.
  3. In a seeming non-sequitur, the interviewer picks up on Ben’s love of classical music. Why? Because it’s a similarity. And it is our similarities that bring us together. Ben could not have anticipated this, not unless he saw the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile during his research.

This examples further illustrates the idea of the three questions. And that the first one, Do I Like You, is the most important.

The second question, Are You Motivated, is often just expressed non-verbally. Ben shows his passion in his body language, and word choice.

The final question, Can You Do the Job, simply got him into the interview. It did NOT get the position because he was more or less qualified. He got it because the hiring manager felt they would get a long.

Yes, this is Hollywood, but it is not JUST Hollywood. These situations happen all the time in almost any stage of your job search.

So learn from Ben Carson’s mistake. Know why you are different (personal brand) and articulate it every opportunity you get.

Comments are always welcome.