The story of Joseph and his first meeting with the Egyptian Pharaoh has much to offer modern day job seekers.
Joseph the "dreamer" as he is sarcastically called by his stepbrothers, was the intellectual visionary in a family of traditional shepherds. He led a turbulent life before his meteoric ascent from a slave forgotten in Pharaoh's jail to becoming Prime Minister of the Egyptian superpower .
Joseph's mother passed away when he was about four years old; at , his stepbrothers threw Joseph into a pit and sold him as a slave to a caravan of merchants. Transported to Egypt, far from his family, he emerged as first attendant to one of the Pharaoh's ministers. Joseph's career terminated abruptly, and he was sent to jail, after refusing advances from when his master's wife. After spending twelve years in jail Joseph was brought to Pharaoh, who needed someone brilliant to help interpret his confusing dreams, after all Egypt's experts had failed to do so. This interview with the venerated king of Egypt was for the Hebrew slave a tremendous opportunity to start a new life of freedom.
Pharaoh started this interview with a compliment: "It is said about you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it" (Genesis 41-15). Joseph rebuffed: "Not me! God will respond to the Pharaoh's welfare." For someone hoping to leave prison, Joseph's comments seem like an awkward way to make a good first impression! Most of us would have thanked the interviewer while hiding our pride to present the appearance of modesty. Even worse, Joseph risked annoying the impatient king at the very beginning of their discussion.
Why did Joseph answer Pharaoh with such apparent disrespect? Joseph countered Pharaoh's conception of wisdom.
Pharaoh believed that Joseph was smarter than all those expert magicians who had failed to find convincing dream interpretations. Joseph told Pharaoh, "It is not about me, but about God. He communicates with you through dreams and gave me the wisdom to understand them." (Rashi on Genesis 41-16). By introducing the concept of one God that communicates with humans and gives them wisdom, Joseph had already started solving the dreams before hearing them. By saying there is one single source for both the dreams and his extraordinary faculties, Joseph became the interpreter God's message to the king.
Rather than trying to please Pharaoh by adapting to mainstream thinking and conventional wisdom, Joseph expressed his core belief and explained how it will solve the dreams. Joseph remained true to his own fundamental values without focusing on perception or looking smart; in other words, Joseph was simply being himself.
After listening carefully to the Pharaoh's dream descriptions, Joseph opened his interpretation with, "God has shown you His plans." God told Pharaoh that Egypt would go through seven years of tremendous economic growth and abundance followed by seven years of terrible famine. Joseph didn't just resolve the enigmatic dreams, but laid out a fourteen-year economic plan to overcome the impending national disaster.
Joseph's plan included ideas that were revolutionary for his time, such as food rationing and distributed storage. During the years of plenty, Egyptian authorities would gather the crop from land owners, for storage, safety, and preservation in public granaries using the advanced techniques available. To solve the problem of transporting huge quantities of grain from farm to granary, Joseph decentralized storage facilities away from the capital to various cities throughout Egypt that served as distribution centers.
Joseph's interview was brilliant: he convinced Pharaoh that his core values and ability to execute brilliantly would save Egypt from the upcoming economic crisis. When the interview concluded, Pharaoh said, "Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?" As a result, Pharaoh assigned this 30-years old slave to the highest position in the Egyptian kingdom with a mandate to implement the comprehensive economic plan.
The story of Joseph inspires us with important advice: during a job interview, be yourself, express your own core values, and explain how they will drive your work performance. This advice, with the weight of history behind it, will make your interview more compelling than the typical mainstream recommendation of "Ten tips to look smart in an interview."