I had been with the same company for over a decade and decided it was time to move on, so this was my first job interview in a very long time. I was more than a little stressed out about it… Suit? Cleaned and pressed. Tie? Tied and straight. Shoes shined. Socks match. Ok, time to go.
As I’m heading out the door, my daughter (who was about 4 at the time) rushed up and said “Daddy, take this for good luck!” and handed me a little plastic cow from a barnyard play set. I gave her a big hug, and rushed off, hoping I wouldn’t be late.
After several hours of being poked and prodded technically, and feeling pretty good about it, I’m sitting across from the VP of HR, a middle aged woman wearing a conservative suit, who says “I’ve heard good things from the interview team, but I do have one concern…”
“…You look like a pretty straight-laced guy, and, well, things get a little crazy here from time to time. How do I know you’ll fit in?”
Without thinking I blurted out, “I have a cow in my pocket!”
There was a moment of very awkward silence, and I was convinced I’d just blown it, but I found the cow, and set it on the table. Another second or two went by before she burst out laughing.
I got the job.
2. Stan Hanks
The interviewer, a very senior technical guy, asked me, “So, do you have any questions for me?”
I thought about it for a moment and said, “What’s the worst thing about working here?”
He thought about it for a minute, then got up and closed his door, and told me. For like half an hour, in painful detail, getting more agitated as he went. Then he was done, and sent me on my way saying I’d hear back soon.
The next day I got called back in. Seems that after he talked to me, he went and resigned, and the HR rep asked what happened in our interview.
After I told them, in detail, I expected to hear nothing further since I would have been reporting to him. Instead, the CTO came in to talk to me, and asked if I would be interested in coming aboard to help him fix all the things that seemed to be wrong with the organization (and solve some cool technical problems as well).
So I did.
3. Gil Yehuda
In response to a job offer, I said no. As a result, I got the job.
This goes back a few years: I was interested in a particular job, and read the description carefully. I saw it had 5 job specifications, covering a wide range of skills in my field. I thought they might need two people to do the job they described. After some good phone interviews, I was invited to a full day of on-site interviews. I first met with the hiring manager, and then with a few people related to the group. The last interview was with the recruiter.
First interview with the hiring manager (CTO-ish role) went well, but it had a strange moment near the end. We spoke about the job and then he asked if I had questions. I asked about the five items; they were diverse, so which was the most important part of the job? He looked at the job spec sheet and answered that #5 was the essential job, the other four were much less relevant. I asked, why is the most important part of the job listed last? Usually a list like this would have the most important item listed first. Moreover, #1 and #5 implied a very different skill profile. He seemed annoyed at me for asking the question, and reiterated that #5 was the job, the rest was not as important.
The next five interviews went very smoothly, and things were looking promising. When each interviewer asked if I had questions, I asked the same question, out of curiosity: “If you and I asked the CTO which of these 5 items are most important for this job, what do you think he’d say?” Each one answered #1 is the primary job. Then I said “I actually asked the CTO, he said #5 was the essential part of the job. What do you think that means?” Their reactions were very interesting. One said “No, I meant #5…” Another said “Oh that’s not right, I need to meet with him and correct this.” Fascinating indeed! Seemingly, I revealed a disconnect between the CTO and the team about the job.
The last interview was with the recruiter. We clicked. We had a frank conversation about the company and about the issues I uncovered. She told me that feedback on my interviews was positive. But she did not have a good answer about the role clarity. Yet they still wanted to make me an offer. The truth is, I really wanted (needed) this job. But I said: I’m sorry, I don’t think I can take the job if the company doesn’t know what the job is. You need to figure out what you want before you make an offer. I don’t think anyone could succeed in a job where the very role is in dispute.
She responded. The reason they wanted to make me the offer was that I was the only person to see what was going on. It was a new role and they didn’t fully understand the requirements themselves — but apparently I read the situation in a way they were unable to see themselves, and that’s what they needed. They want me to take the job in order to help figure out what the job should be.
She asked me what salary range I was looking for. I thought, this makes no sense. Yes, I want the job, but the risk of failure is high since the job was ill-defined. Given the risk, how would I know if they are serious about having me figure this out for them? So I said, “If you make me an offer I can’t refuse, then I won’t be able to refuse it.” She came back 15 minutes later with an offer I could not, and did not refuse. No regrets either.
I had been trying to get a job in finance for a few months and was having trouble. A Sociology major in college, I hadn’t decided until after recruiting had passed during my Senior year that I wanted to work in Sales and Trading. After graduation, I moved to NYC to find a job in the industry, and ended up finding an internship on a trading floor in Boston and moved there for a few months. During that time, I continued to network to find a job in NYC because it’s where I had dreamed of being.
Somewhere along the line, I managed to get the contact information for a Managing Partner (basically the highest rank you can hold) at one of the most selective banks in the world. Let’s call that bank Soldman Gachs. I made several strikes from the beginning.
I sent him an email letting him know when I was available (any Friday), instead of asking him when it was convenient for him.
I did not tell him how I got his contact information.
I didn’t hear back from him, so I followed up a few more times. Finally, his assistant responded and said I could come and meet with him. Early that morning I got on the Chinatown bus in Boston and went to NYC to meet with him. He cancelled at the last minute when I was already in the city.
This happened about 4 more times. No joke. On about the 5th Friday this had happened I decided to just show up anyway and act like I didn’t know he cancelled.
I went to Soldman Gach’s world headquarters, walked through the huge doors with a run in my pantyhose (long story) and stood in the massive lobby looking like the lost 22-year old mess that I was. I told the security guards who I was there to see. They picked up the phone for a second then let me through to the elevators (to this day I have no idea why), and I made my way to the fixed income trading floor upstairs.
When I walked into Mr. Managing Partner’s office, he looked up and asked, “Are you that kid who won’t stop emailing my assistant”, and laughed. I answered yes and introduced myself, and he interrupted me and said “I’m busy, what do you want?” I felt so dumb and out of place at this point and knew I looked ridiculous. But, I was also standing in the personal office of one of the most powerful men on Wall Street, and I could see the trading floor through the glass walls and remembered why I was there. There was no choice but to just go for it at that point.
I told him I wanted to work on his trading floor, and that I’d be the best analyst he had if he gave me a shot. We talked for a few minutes, during which time he told me I needed to refine my initial correspondence practices because my first email to him sounded rude, a lesson which I took to heart. He asked me why I wanted to work in finance and if I would consider myself a risk-taker and what my favorite games were, and like a diligent interviewee I had answers to all of those things.
At the end he said “I have no idea who you are or how you got in my office, but you’ve got conviction and I like that. I’m going to help you.”
And he did.
He retired shortly thereafter, but I ended up on a trading floor and he’s a friend to this day, and I write much more polite emails now, too.
I threw my phone at the wall.
I was applying for a sale job. The interviewer asked me if I had a phone.
Sure, I do.
Sell it to me. Convince me to buy your phone from you.
It was an older Nokia model, beaten up over the years. I took it out of my pocket. It didn’t really had any selling points over newer smartphones.
Mmm… it has a flashlight button. And you could listen to FM radio on it if you found the right cable for that… mmm… it could also help you give the image of a rugged, active lifestyle…
My mind lit up.
Its tough as nails! I Challenge you to do this with any other phone! I said, throwing it against the wall.
The phone survived without a scratch. There was a small dent in the drywall.
I got the job.
CEO & Founder: “So, since you worked at X, you must know Ms Y”
Me: “Oh, I do know her. Quite a nut case if you ask me”.
(4 managing partners around the table, jaw dropped in awe)
CEO: “She is the mother of my child.”
CEO: “Indeed, she is insane. We split up a few months ago.”
And yes, I got the job.
7. Kat Lightman
I recently had a job interview at a movie theater. Since I’m in college full-time, a movie theater job is perfect for a college schedule.
I got the interview on pretty short notice, and came in to find the manager caught up in a projector failure crisis. I waited for about twenty minutes in the lobby, and when the manager arrived he was a little pre-occupied, but polite.
“If you’re ready, we’ll step into the office.” He said, motioning for me to follow him.
I was already feeling a tad pessimistic about the interview because of his overall demeanor, but I hoped the day’s circumstances wouldn’t negatively impact my chances.
We walked into his office, and went through the first few questions pretty smoothly. He then put down his paper for a few moments and said, “So, why did you chose to put your application in at this theater? There are usually some pretty standard reasons like “I need a job” or “I like watching movies”. Does that about sum it up?”
He then proceeded to pick up the paper, and study it for a few seconds. He seemed a little bored with the interviewing process, so I decided to go out on a limb and try a little humor (not usually the best interview tactic).
“Actually that isn’t what I would say to that question at all.” I said.
He set the paper down, and stared at me.
“Oh really?” He replied.
I said, “Not at all.”
He waited for a second and asked, “Okay so why do you want to join the movie industry?”
“Well, sir, do you bite when you get angry?” I asked.
Taken by surprise he leaned back in his chair and replied, “I’m sorry, what?”
“Do you bite?” I repeated.
“Well, no…. not literally.”
“Do any of your customers or employees bite when they get angry?”
“Well, no, but this isn’t even a relevant concern in the workplace.” He said, appearing a little unenthused.
“Well, sir,” I replied, “I’ve been working at a vet clinic for six years now, and the first reaction to anger by 90% of the mammals with teeth in a vet clinic is biting. I guess I’m just ready for a more constructive form of conflict resolution.”
He smiled for a second, and replied laughing heartily, “That is a fantastic answer”.
The interview lightened considerably. We chatted about my qualifications, and I expressed my interest towards the job opportunity. I asked him if he had any concerns about my application, to which he said smiling, “Well, not anymore.”
I got the job on the spot.
8. Ryan Stout
When I got out of college I decided I wanted to live somewhere on the east coast, but didn’t really care where. I’m a web developer, so I built a system to scrape jobs from Craigslist. Based on keywords in the job listing, the code would construct a cover letter from paragraphs that explained my experience with the associated keyword. I sent out around 1,500 resumes in 24 hours.
The next day I was swamped with calls and did a bunch of interviews, and one company flew me out for an in person interview the next day. I ended up getting the job and while I didn’t mention how I sent out my resumes during the job interview, it came up later while I was working there. After explaining the app, they informed me that had I told them that story, they would have probably hired me on the spot without more interviewing.
9. Blake Swopes
I was interviewing for my first real sysadmin position, when I asked what I felt the most important quality for a systems administrator was. I said, “Laziness”.
I then explained that I didn’t want to have to fix the same thing more times than I needed to, so I’d do my best to get it right the first time and automate/script any repetitive tasks.
So, that solved, he asked me the most important skill for a sysadmin and I told him “the ability to use google”.
10. James H. Kelly
At an interview for a tech startup, I was asked, “where do you see yourself in five years?”
I answered, “in hollywood, making movies.”
I got the job. Three years later, the startup failed. Two years after that, I moved to Hollywood and am now making movies.
11. Evan DeFilippis
When asked what my greatest weakness was at a management consulting firm I dead-panned, “I’m a compulsive liar and I steal a lot.” I was completely joking, obviously, but nobody in the room sensed that. So I replied, “Actually, my greatest weakness is that I’m bad at jokes.” Room is dead silent. “Actually, I’m just bad at interviews.” Even more oppressive silence. “Alright, then. Let’s move on. What’s your greatest strength?”
During the summer of 2010, I was working as a summer associate at a top-tier New York City law firm. The managing partner of the office, a few other attorneys, and I were clustered in a conference room watching the United States vs. Algeria World Cup match. Basically, the U.S. needed to win to advance past the group stages. The game dragged on with no goals, but some close calls. Finally, with about 15 minutes to go, the managing partner, an avid soccer fan, says that he has to go interview a potential new associate. He turns to me and tells me to come into his office and pass him a note if anything happens in the game.
Those of you who are soccer fans know what happened: Landon Donovan slammed in a rebound for a game-winning goal a minute into injury time right at the game’s end, winning it for the U.S. and sending us through to the knockout rounds of the World Cup. I promptly write “Algeria 0, U.S. 1 (Donovan 90+1) FT” on a legal pad, walk down the hall to the managing partner’s office and knock on his door. I hear the managing partner shout for me to come in, I open the door and walk in.
Inside was the partner and a clearly-nervous guy about my age, sweating through what must have been a rough interview in his suit and tie. I walk right up to the partner’s desk, pass him the legal pad, and then start moving to exit the room, while the candidate continues giving a fumbling answer to whatever question he’d been answering when I walked in.
When I’m about halfway to the door, as this candidate continues to drone on, I guess the managing partner snatched a look at the legal pad. I hear him jump out of his chair, and turn around in time to see him punch the air and shout “YES!” in a voice that I’m sure carried several city blocks. The interview candidate looks shocked. The partner realizes that he just dramatically over-reacted in the middle of a job interview, looks at me, looks at the candidate, back to me, back to the candidate, and then, hoping to save face, shouts to the candidate, in an equally loud voice, “AWESOME ANSWER! You’re hired!”
And that’s how Landon Donovan got a lawyer in New York a new job.
13. Jay Bazzinotti
I was working my first job out of college at a now-defunct electronic cash register company. One of the good things about being on the bottom of the pecking order is doing the dirty work really teaches you a lot of great stuff. Over time I became an expert at solving communications problems between devices, the dirtiest job there is in this world. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the company from going broke and me finding myself unemployed in a tough job market 18 months out of college.
And so one day the phone rang. When I answered it, a female voice yelled, “What’s the function of DTR?” No hello, no explanation, just that yelled question. I knew what DTR was — the primary signal for initiating data communications. But I didn’t know who was asking, or for what purpose. So I just hung up the phone.
Three months went by. I had just picked up my mail, including my bank statement that read, “You have exactly 0.0 dollars. Suddenly the phone rang. A female voice yelled, “What is the function of DTR?” I was humbled by my sudden insolvency and said into the phone, “It’s the primary signal in a data communication circuit. It tells the attached device it is available for data.” There was a silence on the line. The woman said, “Good answer. I’m from blah blah company and we can’t find anybody who knows this stuff. Our current technical staff includes a librarian and washed up musician. Why don’t you join our company and help them learn something?”
Within three months I was running the department. Within three years I was running a business unit making $60 million dollars a year. I was 27 years old.
14. Scott Dunlap
I ran the Boston Marathon this year (2013), missing the bombings by ~30 minutes, but being around for all the post-explosion mayhem. A strange day indeed, and at the time I didn’t realize I had some PTSD symptoms that might affect a job interview I had the next day in NYC.
The job interview was for an exec position in charge of mobile for a big media company. Now, those of us in the mobile industry know that mobile and tablets are flat out wrecking the media industry right now, so you never know what you’re going to find at these interviews. Have a strategy, don’t have one, scared, excited, etc.
The interview was supposed to be three people, then a few hours before it was to start, it became two, then one. Then the last guy asked to do a call even though I was THREE BLOCKS AWAY. What?!? Serious waste of time. So glad I caught the 6am flight from ravaged Boston where my peeps needed me. My PTSD-infused emotions brewed.
On the call, he asked me to walk through my resume (ie, he didn’t read it) and actually yawned at one point. I could hear other people on the other end of the call, but he said nobody was there. He asked a couple of softball questions like “what is your leadership style”, yada yada, then came the biggie:
“How do you think mobile is going to affect the magazine industry over the next 5-10 years?”
What a f’ing dick. So I let him have it.
“Your industry won’t exist in six years, but not because of mobile; it will be because of pussies like you who are afraid to do anything about it except hire a new executive to take the blame for questions you can’t answer, while you collect your bonuses and lie yourself to sleep every night grasping for any form of professional relevance. Sorry if this blunt, but time is too precious to say anything but the truth, as dark and consuming as it might be. I’m saying this because I’m trying to help you. I’ve been the asshole who doesn’t have a strategy before and it sucks; right now, you are that asshole. I can see it, and I’ve known you for all of 10 minutes. The ghosts in the room with you are thinking it, but they won’t say anything to you, nor will they shed a tear when you get canned and they can be the next bonus-sucking pussy in charge. All of you need to look at the numbers really hard, snap out of it, or do everyone a favor and get out of the way before it all disappears.”
Silence. Oh crap, did I just say that out loud?
“FYI, I may be having some trouble sorting out that whole Boston thing. Maybe. I mean, it’s possible.”
Silence again. Then he finally said, “I’m not sure how to follow up from that response, so I think we’re done for today.”
But a few hours later, he sent an e-mail saying thank you for the feedback, and apologized if he sounded trite. The next day, he offered me the job, only on the condition I would continue to be as brutally honest whenever necessary. PTSD wins!
At an interview, they asked me the standard questions, then threw in this classic, “What would you say is your biggest weakness?”
I replied, “Ah, the when-did-you-stop-worshipping-Satan question.”
The interviewers both started laughing. Once they calmed down, I continued, “I have an irreverent sense of humor that sometimes gets me in trouble, but I know to save it for when we’re behind closed doors.” As I said that, I gestured towards the closed door.
Got the job.
16. Justin Fodor
I was asked if I could pass a drug test. I politely responded I need 2 weeks to study. I was hired on the spot
17. Sue Kaufmann
‘d had great sessions with several people at the company where I was interviewing, and the final one was with the VP of the department in which I’d be working. Several times, the other interviewers had told me that the company was ‘high energy’ and I’d have to deal with a lot of uncertainty.
The VP asked me, “How do you deal with ambiguity?”
I responded, “I’m not sure what you mean. Can you explain?”
We both laughed. I got the job.
18. Ameya Godbole
It was 4:00 PM and I had been waiting for the final round of interview since 2:00 PM. I had already spent 4-5 agonizing hours in clearing 3 rounds of interviews the previous day. With no breakfast or lunch in my stomach, I was growing impatient and hungry with every passing minute. To make matters worse, my senior manager of the company I was going to resign from, called and asked me to report to office by 5:00 PM. My company had hired a new CEO and he had called for the meeting. I knew that if I don’t make it for the meeting, there were good chances that I was going to get fired. The wait was now killing me.
4:45 PM – The Chairman was ready. I joined him in the conference room.
He seemed quite young to be a Chairman. Anyways, the interview began with the routine questions. The VP Sales was sitting besides him, observing me. After some time, my eyes locked at the giant pendulum clock that was hanging on the wall to my right. It was 5:20 PM. My heart sunk. I had switched off my cell phone before entering the conference room and I knew that my manager must have called several times to check where I was. I now knew I had no job to go back to if I don’t get selected here. But the interview had no direction. It seemed to be going nowhere. The chairman saw me looking at the clock and asked,
“Are you with us in this room or you’d rather be someplace else?”
I replied without thinking, “I wanted to, but should I be someplace else or not, depends on the result of this interview.”
I wasn’t sure if he understood me. The interview went on and the Chairman kept asking me random questions that seemed irrelevant to me, Then I lost it. It was 6:15 PM. The interview had been going on for 90 minutes and there was no sign of ending. I felt being stuck in time & space. I wanted to yell ‘That’s enough! You better give me the job now.’
Then he went on and asked, “We wanted to test if you were capable enough to be an Assistant Manager. But the thing is, we want to expand our business to newer regions. So, if I assign a team of 20 and a state region & give you 3 months time, what would be your strategy?”
By the time he ended his question, my head was ready to explode. I somehow got my senses together and asked, “Has anyone tried to explore the region till date?”
He answered, “No. Not really.”
I finally had enough. I snapped,
“Then WHAT strategy are you talking about? There is NO strategy. You don’t know what the region is like. You don’t even know if there is any potential in the region, and you want me to take 20 people to this mystical land and help jump up the company’s revenue figures? I’m sorry, I won’t do it. I need data, figures, demography & physiography of probable customers and the understanding of their requirements before I even THINK about developing a strategy. I’ll never design a strategy based on assumptions. If you want, I can use those 20 people and 2 months time to get this data, and then we can sit and talk about strategy. That’s the best I can do.”
I was done. I had released the pressurized air that was stuck in my body. No I didn’t fart! Jeez! That would have been disgusting. Anyways, I felt relieved but also a little worried because the Chairman was staring at me with Clint Eastwood eyes and an open mouth. He looked at the VP sitting besides him for a second and then said,
“That’s all we have for now. Would you please wait at the reception? The HR person will meet you there.”
We stood up, shook hands and I left the room.
I was sure that I had not got the job until the HR came smiling and asked me to join her in another conference room.
She told me that I had got the job but not the one I was looking for. The company recruited me as a Regional Manager instead of an Assistant Manager, and yes, a team of 20 execs and an untapped region will be assigned to me.
I’ll be starting the exploration of the mystical land from the 1st of July.
19. Chuck Martin
I was a college undergrad working an awful job washing dishes at a restaurant. The only thing I liked about the job was my friend who washed dishes there too.
One day after a long shift I was walking home as saw a help wanted poster on the door of a bar. It seemed like being a bartender would be more fun than washing dishes. So I went in and applied. The manager was there so I was interviewed on the spot.
I am not sure why I applied since I had no experience and did not even drink much. But after about 20 minutes of chatting with the manager, I was offered the job. Suddenly I felt extreme guilt at the thought of abandoning my friend from the dish washing hell-hole. So I blurted out that I would not take the job unless they hired my friend too.
Much to my surprise, they told me to have him come in for an interview and they hired us both.
Its been almost 30 years since we worked at that bar. But our friendship is still strong. Its one of the best things I have done in my life.
20. Bob William
While interviewing for a job with a PE group, I was asked…
Q: What is your biggest weakness?
A: Cheese dip. If it’s on the table, I can’t stop eating it.
The interviewer laughed so hard that the rest of the interview was very loose and a lot of fun. I wound up getting the job, so I guess it helped me out.
21. Karla Carter
I had already been hired and signed my contract, but part of the formality was meeting with the University President. Before I realized what was happening, my Dean had essentially pushed me through the door and there I was, alone with the University President, a man I’d never met. His academic training is in psychology and I’d heard he liked to be quiet to see what people would do.
After politely chatting for a bit the conversation came to a dead stop. I figured this was that moment where he was measuring me up. Wildly glancing around the room for inspiration I spied several mounted trophy fish on his walls.
“So, you’re an angler?” I said.
“Yes, I fish a bit,” he replied, pleasantly. More dead silence.
Figuring that my normal conversation starters of “do you like movies about nuclear war?” or “so, what sort of funeral do you want to have?” (that last one is *not* recommended for first dates, I will add) would be too non sequitur to the fish conversation, I opted for, “Did you know that large round hay bales kill more people every year than sharks do?”
He started laughing. My Dean later told me that I made quite the impression ;-)
(and large round hay bales *do* kill more people every year than sharks do)
22. Rick Stephan
Interview with Microsoft Canada Co-Op position many years ago…
Interviewer: So our department manages things like Microsoft Hardware, Software, X-Box, and the Zune…
Me: The Zune?
Interview: The Zune is our version of the iPod. I’m surprised you didn’t know that!
Me (with a grin): Well I suppose that’s your fault, isn’t it?
23. Stephen Foster
While interviewing for a technical writer position, the company owner asked for samples of writing. I had plenty to show him. He quickly got a puzzled, then an alarmed expression, on his face, because I had hacked into the company’s website, downloaded all their internal documentation, and had rewritten much of it. He recovered from that, though, and said: “I leave Monday for three weeks, so I’ll do some more interviews and let you know after I get back.”
I said: “Three weeks! I thought this thing had a tight schedule. I can be three weeks into the job by then!” I started the next day.
applied to work as a full Research MTS at Bell Labs without a four-year college degree (but with a recommendation from a couple folks already on staff).
I wore a studded leather biker jacket, combat boots, bright blue hair, and a Skinny Puppy t-shirt to my interview. The next most “outrageously” dressed person I saw that day was wearing a button-up flannel shirt and jeans.
Then when the time came and someone inevitably asked me to solve some technical puzzles, I explained that it was my personal policy not to do so and responded with a rhetorical question one of my physics teachers had once posed to me (when I asked her how she got the school to allow her to give only open book exams):
“How does putting a person in a situation where they’re faced with a difficult and unfamiliar problem and then denying them access to equipment, reference materials, and discussions with colleagues in any way represent a realistic professional environment?”
I did indeed get the job.
25. Cody Weakley
I talked about my 40+ hours a week video gaming habit and how I maintained a popular website for that game. I was hired on the spot by a guy who knew about my gaming character.
26. Lukas Tencer
Interviewer: How are you at solving conflict situations?
Me: Very good, I have been in a relationship for 4 years.
Q: What is your weakness?
A: Surviving job interviews.
This answer has never failed me in getting a job offer. Some people think the answer is humorous, others honest, but if you can confess and explain why you are horrible in first impressions then you have leverage no matter what else you say in the interview.