Boarding the Right Bus: How to Find the Best Institutional Fit | Meagan Elsberry

Written by Meagan Elsberry of Florida Atlantic University.

Securing your first job out of graduate school can be analogous to finding the right bus to take you home on the first day of kindergarten. I distinctly remember the first day of school when my mom was so excited to have me take the bus home to increase my independence. That morning she had me memorize my bus number and also wrote down our home address to confirm with the driver that I was indeed on the right bus. Yet, despite my high level of preparation, when the final bell rang and I emerged through the main doors, I froze at the sight of what appeared to be hundreds of buses. How was I supposed to find the right bus in a sea of yellow? Eager to get home, I jumped onto the first bus I encountered. Needless to say, I was on the wrong bus and ended up hopping off when I was within a few miles of my house and walking home. When I graduated with my Master’s degree and was searching for jobs, I similarly faced a sea of jobs that were available through placement exchanges and through job ads. So, how do you pick the right bus that will take you to your new home?

This is where yet another bus metaphor can help make the decision. Jim Collins (2001) used a metaphor to advocate that employers should focus on getting the right people on the bus in the right seats and the wrong people off the bus to help organizations go from “good to great” (p. 41). So, how is Collins’ bus metaphor relevant to finding that first job?  Simply imagine the potential employer as the bus. Your job is to figure out which bus to get on and what seat is going to be the best one to help the organization move forward. By utilizing key concepts from Jim Collin’s (2001) book Good To Great, this article will offer concrete advice for navigating the job marketplace to ensure you secure the correct seat on the best bus, not just hopping onto the first bus that drives past.

Hedgehog Concept

According to Collins (2001), a hedgehog is someone that “has a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest” (p. 91). The Hedgehog concept is an understanding of what you can be the best at and reflecting ahead of time on where do your strengths and weaknesses lie? Determine, and then show what you are deeply passionate about. If you are not passionate about the job/school/duties of a job then why apply? While a job is necessary, if the job is not aligned with your strengths and passions, you may become frustrated and find yourself searching for a new bus.

Level 5 Executive Leadership

Collins (2001) defines the concept of Level 5 Executive Leadership as “an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will, and has a resolve to do whatever needed to be done to make a company great” (p. 21). Level 5 leaders consistently demonstrate their personal investment in the organization and its success. While interviewing, share your personality, demonstrate how you have invested in your work previously, and articulate what you are passionate about.  Ask questions focused on the organization and highlight how you can contribute to helping them achieve their mission and goals. Prior to the interview, look up the values, mission, and vision statements for the department and institution. Ask questions based on this research, such as, which of the institution’s strategic initiatives are driving this department over the next few years? What is the most important role you need the person hired for this position to play in living out the mission of this unit?

Who’s on the Bus?

Great vision without great people is irrelevant.  Collins (2001) talks about “first who, then what. Getting the right people on the bus who want to be there because of who else is on the bus and not because of where it is going, if you have the right people on the bus they will be self-motivated to produce the best results, and will not be afraid if you need to change directions” (p. 42). This concept provides encouragement to ask questions during an interview that help you understand the vision, strategy, and culture of the organization. These questions will help you envision yourself fitting in and understand if you will be in the right seat to help the organization move forward. Questions can include: What are the top three qualities you are seeking in the person in this position? Please candidly describe the office culture and approach to working with students. Does the staff goes to lunch together? Do they do things outside of work together? These are great questions to determine the value placed on teamwork and relationships in the workplace. Ask questions about the things that you seek and value in the workplace.

Confront the Brutal Facts

Collins (2001) encourages leaders too not side-step the reality of organization life by confronting the brutal facts. This is an important reminder to job candidates to inquire about the culture of the unit. Is it an honest and transparent culture? The on-campus interview is the time to ask good questions that will allow you to learn about the true nature of the organization. What issues are they struggling with?  What large-scale projects are they hoping to accomplish in the next few years? Pay attention to not only what people say, but what they do not say in response to your questions. No place is perfect, so if they make it seem like all sunshine and rainbows that may be a red flag.

Final Thoughts

In a later article, Collins (2003) talks about identifying what you are deeply passionate about, what you feel you were made to do, and what you can do to make a living. The goal is to find a job at the intersection of the answers to these three questions. By using the techniques from Collins (2001) book Good to Great, such as finding your inner hedgehog, asking good questions, confronting the brutal facts, and becoming a Level 5 leader, you will get on the right bus and find the best seat. Although conducting your first professional job search can be scary, just like it was scary for me to get on the wrong bus heading home from the first day of first grade, these techniques will prepare you to pick the right bus.



Collins, J. (2003, December 30).  Best New Year’s resolution? A ‘stop doing’ list.  USA Today. Retrieved from

Collins, J. (2001).  Good to Great.  New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.


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