Those Frustrating Job Interview Questions: What I Wish I Had Answered
It has been my good fortune to have interviewed some very interesting persons. Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, David Brooks, P.J. O’Rourke, and Jane Seymour come to mind. That doesn’t put me in a league with David Krasny or Christine Amanpour, but I did know enough to stay out of the way and let the subjects do the talking.
It occurred to me that I’ve never been interviewed except when I was a candidate for a job, and that was way back in the 20th century. I always dreaded the process. There was no linkedin.com to put you in touch with hundreds of contacts who may know of a job opening suitable to your talents; or to network with experts who could help brush up your resume and/or coach you for the interview process. I never felt prepared for the interviews because it seemed people who never interviewed for a job designed the job interview questions. I knew there were proper responses but I wished I had had the courage to respond the way my rebellious inner self wanted to respond.
For instance if the interviewer noticed a “hole” in my resume he asked: “What have you been doing since your last job?” A good answer is something like: “I worked with Billy Collins when he was Poet Laureate of the United States in bringing poetry to inner city schools. Three of the kids I mentored are heads of Ivy League English Departments.”
Here’s what I wanted to say which would have ushered me out the door. “I spent my time posing for a new picture for my “Wanted Poster. The one in the Post Office didn’t show my best side. Besides it needs updating. A talented Plastic Surgeon covered up the scar on my face. The one I got during a knife fight while in prison.”
Another question I dreaded answering was: “What major challenges and problems did you face? How did you handle them?” I mean, c’mon, I was working in an Advertising Agency. A major challenge was maintaining a proper gin-to-vermouth ratio in our silver plated “Mr. Martini” maker.
A winning answer may have been something like: “The company was going into Chapter 11, leaving 7,000 workers without jobs. I called my bridge partner, Warren Buffet, and he infused enough capital to get the company solvent and save all those jobs. By the way, do you play bridge?” I probably wouldn’t have been hired if I said that I ran one of the most successful office betting pools in the history of the company. I mean, truth is truth. To this day no one’s ever managed the football pools like I did.
This next question is pretty much a standard interview question that begs to be answered with hyperbole while maintaining a semblance of humility: “What is your greatest strength?” You should say you thrive on pressure and meet deadlines; that you’re organized and always exceed your goals; that you have a talent for building sales and marketing teams that deliver consistent performance and growth year after year; that you are articulate, persuasive, and successful at selling at the executive level of business.
I had this self-destructive wish to tell the interviewer that my workplace colleagues wept at the depth of emotion I elicited when I played the Minuet in D on a kazoo.
Finally, there is a question that is always asked during a job interview. It is a crucial one and it is surprising how many job applicants are unprepared for it. Here it is: “Tell me about yourself.” You shouldn’t generalize about what a dedicated employee you’ve been. Be specific. Say something like this: “I saved France, because sometimes the French simply can’t help themselves.” This is the spot in the interview process where I wanted to strip down to my Superman suit and tell the interviewer, “I won’t need a large office. Any old phone booth will do.”
You may be surprised to learn that somehow I managed to dance my way through several job interviews and raise myself to the exalted position of Regional Manager for a large medical device corporation, responsible for running an equipment repair center and overseeing eight salespersons in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii. I filled several sales positions by working through a reputable headhunter, so I knew the persons sent to me were pre-screened. The companies they were coming from were the perfect stepping stones to qualify them to join our sales team. Whom to hire became a matter of the candidate’s ability to work with me. I liked to conduct the interview in a convivial atmosphere.
The interview usually went like this:
Me: Do you like beer?
Me: Will you buy the first round?
Me: Bartender, a couple of cold ones please. (Then I would look at my watch and say): You’re on the payroll as of now. Welcome aboard.
Contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org