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3 Things I Learned When I Hired An Atheist

My own personal crusade failed and it set the company back when I hired an Atheist for the wrong reasons. Here are the 3 key questions I learned to ask during the hiring process after that costly blunder.
Hired An Atheist

A few years ago we were experiencing explosive growth at my real estate company.  The market was coming out of the recession and hedge funds were buying houses in bulk.  We weren’t helping 1 client buy 1 home anymore, we were helping them buy 20.  During that growth I always wanted everyone to know that my company was about God, Family then Business.  It was on our fliers, our e-mails, and website.  I wanted everyone to know who was my God and what my priorities were.

Before we dive in further, it’s important to note that when I say “God, family, business” I meant it.  I wanted to have a missional business.  It means something different to me now, but then it meant morning prayer with the team and trying to find God in every interaction.  That approach yielded a lot of fruit but at the same time, it felt like I had a stranglehold on the business.  I never conscientiously judged anyone for what they were going through but I bet if I asked former employees how they felt, I’m pretty sure the word “judged” would be used.

As the market demand increased, I needed help and the candidates started piling in.  I have to admit to being biased toward anyone with Christian leanings.   It’s not something I’m proud of.   Candidates knew what I stood for before the first interview if they even did the smallest google.  I always went over the company’s values in the interview and just assumed that candidates either were attracted to that (for another interview) or put off by that.

You Can’t Save Anyone

“Is It OK That I’m An Atheist?”

the candidate asked.

No!  It’s not.   Is what I wanted to say.  My mind raced through all the Ravi Zacharias atheist counter-arguments.   Then my mind went to what my company stands for.

How could a supposed “Christian Business” hire an atheist?   How could I not?

Everything during the interview faded away.    This candidate’s poor past performance was ignored.   His tardiness to the interviews, ignored.   After my initial shock of the question, I knew my mission was to save this candidate.  For most of my positions, I would have between 3 to 6 interviews, not so for this candidate.  After an abbreviated interview, he was hired on the spot.

He allowed us to pray in our meetings and pray for him.  When asked he even had things he wanted to pray for.   When I used Biblical lessons during training I would always ask if he was interested in learning more about the story which he always said yes.   In hindsight, I’m not sure whether he was so agreeable because of my overbearing personality or because he was being paid by the hour.

It didn’t take too long for us to realize that our newest employee wasn’t a fit.   Shortly after the honeymoon period of about 2 weeks, our newest “project” began to show up late and get behind on projects.  At times when you would enter his office, you’d have to wait for him to stop scrolling on facebook in order to engage.

(I want to point out that since then I’ve hired others of different religious beliefs and have friends now that are atheist.  This candidate wasn’t a fit, period.   This isn’t a post about how non-believers are bad workers.  In fact, many outperform their Christian counterparts.)

90 days later it came time for the talk.  It was the toughest conversation I’ve had with an employee.  Not because he wasn’t a fit.  He absolutely was at the wrong place.  It was because I thought God sent him for me to save him.  I had put pressure on myself to do the saving.  Holding back tears, I explained in full transparency why we had to let him go and how I thought I had failed him.

In my quiet time, I felt like God was reminding me, I can’t save anyone,  He does the saving.

How To Hire The Right Person, Regardless of Belief

Hire Based On Cultural Fit

One easy mistake I made was misappropriating the Christan walk with the culture of my company.  The culture of the company comes from who you hire and their values.   If you’re hiring right, then the values overlap and you keep that culture.   One of our values was Excellence in everything.  To our team, it meant being punctual and going the extra mile for each other and for the clients.  For hourly employees, it meant that anything other than work during work hours was considered stealing.  When the candidate showed up late, that usually would have been an immediate strikeout.

When you hire, make sure the candidate’s values match your company’s own culture.

Key Question:  Have I defined my company’s values to a point I can identify it in potential candidates?

Hire Based On Positional Fit

In this case, I didn’t do a thorough interview to see if he would have been a great fit at his position.   Did he have the strengths that I needed in this job?  Namely was he detail-oriented?  I found out the hard way that he was not.  In fact, it’s sad to report I do not know what talents this young man had.  It’s 100% my fault for shortchanging him during the hiring process.  I became so consumed in my own pride that I could somehow “fix” him that I lost sight of what would be best for him as it relates to opportunities at my company.

When you hire, make sure their talents match the position.

Key Question:  Do I know what talents and strengths are needed at each position?

Hire Based On Shared Vision

One of my favorite things to ask candidates is what they want in 5 years.  It’s a common interview question, “the 5-year goal” question.  In my interviews, I always asked, “How does obtaining this job get you closer to that goal?”  The answers aren’t as important as the thinking processes.   In this instance, this candidate simply wanted to buy a car so he needed a job.

When you hire, check their vision.

Key Question:  Is your vision big enough that your employees can grow with you?  Is their vision something that can be obtained by working with you?

Final Question

Can you serve this person?

As a leader, your job is to serve your team.

The Aftermath

A bad hire is up to 6 times more costly than not hiring at all according to some studies.  In this case, it was a costly mistake.  90 days of wages that were wasted, 3 months of a young man’s life in the wrong vocation and my team frustrated that I had made the wrong decision.  I don’t know what happened to the young man.  I doubt I actually helped “water” any “seeds.”  I just pray that God meets him where he is like He’s done for me.

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