Toward the end of the interview I had no business attending, our potential employer asked all of us in the group interview all of the basic questions. What qualifies you; what’s your strength; what’s your weakness. At the end, though, he added a particularly devious question:

Besides yourself, who in this room would you hire?

Twenty-three job candidates in a cramped classroom suddenly became very nervous. Even the lady who had graduated from this correspondence school seemed uncomfortable.

In true group interview form, our interviewer asked for the candidates in the back to go first. I was in the front, and I would be almost the last person to answer the question.

Candidate the First had prepared quickly. After a confident pause, she answered the question by making what seemed to be the obvious choice, choosing Cindy, the graduate of this correspondence school. Most of the rest of the room affirmed that decision. As one put it:

She knows the product.

Cindy was a good choice. Cindy was probably the best choice. However, Cindy was almost certainly the safe choice. Seldom do I make safe choices at job interviews. Blending in is a marvelous apocryphal adaptation of chameleons in the jungle of Madagascar, but it won’t help me get a job. Besides, Cindy looked like she tired of the all of the attention.

Looking toward the back, I saw a man in a blue shirt. He had spoken about having been a listener for years, and how that would help him telemarket to students who had already expressed interest in the program.

He was a wide man with graying hair and Latin features, and his warm smile radiated genuine satisfaction. He looked competent; he looked quiet.

I chose him.

He didn’t have to talk about spin selling, or being a great salesman. He talked about listening. That’s a skill hard for adults to develop if they haven’t already, and if he is that good of a listener, he’d do excellently in sales. He has to match what this school has with what the client wants.

In addition, I think that he’d make an excellent mentor figure to the correspondence school students trying to get restart their life, too. He’d make an excellent father figure, or grandfather figure …

That’s where my 30-second soliloquy stopped, broken by laughter of the interviewers and the other candidates. The wide man in the blue shirt smiled quietly.

Given my defense of my youth earlier that day, I supposed they thought I was trying to undermine his chances of getting hired. I wasn’t trying to make it a dig at his age, though. With age comes awareness, comes respect.

Appearing like a grandfather figure doesn’t make him a bad candidate — it makes him the best candidate. As I began to talk myself through this, I began to believe this, and I never meant to use my opportunity to help out someone else to take someone else out of the running. I don’t know whether the laughter was because they thought I was being a jerk, or whether because they recognized that I didn’t meant to harm the wide man’s chance of getting hired.

Either way, I didn’t get a callback.


  1. Tim S.

    They laughed because your answer was intelligent, thoughtful, and outside the box. Those are three traits that society and general does not have. Laughter is a reaction people, in general, give when they are around something they haven’t seen before. They got nervous and laughed. Maybe they were just assholes anyway. I give you two thumbs up. I’m happily married now. When I was your age, I was even more single then The Pope. I would have picked the hottest chick in the group that I thought MIGHT be single, and make up some baloney answer. You have a bit more maturity than I did 10 years ago when I was your age. Maybe more so now.

    Two short personal experiences. Not exactly like yours, but when answers seemed to fall on deaf ears…

    my first teaching job interview…was asked a question about the relationship of teachers and students. I gave the answer I wanted to give instead of the answer they wanted to hear (arrogance on my part). While I was rambling how teachers are not dictators and communal classrooms, a women interrupted me and with the most smart-ass look and voice said, “wait? You think teachers and students should be friends???”. I looked back with my “I am about to cry” look and said, “No. I never said that, what I was saying was…”. Funny thing, I got the job. But only after nobody else wanted it/applied. It was a special ed-self contained classroom. Lasted one year.
    Second was last year. Wasn’t a job interview. In one of my graduate classes (Principal certification), our prof on the first day of class started a “get-to-know-you” exercise. We were asked one thing about us that we have done that surprised friends. My answer, “I married a black woman”. I’m white. And, my old college buddies were/are very conservative midwesterners. Not racist, just kinda old fashioned. Small town midwest. Of the 25 students, 10 or 12 were black. A few of them laughed, the white folk just looked aghast. One young, white guy’s jaw is still on the floor. I should know, if you are not a funny guy to begin with, don’t try to be. To hell with everybody.

  2. When introducing ourselves at orientation into the teaching program…the standard around the circle of over-eager teacher-to-be’s was something along the lines of school’s reputation, the quality of education, blah blah blah. I told the truth: I knew I couldn’t get in anywhere else, so I applied where I knew they would look at me like a person, not just a grade book of past mistakes. It was pretty quiet after that.

  3. Mr. Tim: If anything, the proof was in the pudding. If I really hit at least two of the three questions out of the water, I still didn’t help me get a callback to the second round of interviews.

    To hell with everybody.

    If only just saying that would get me a job. Heh.

    Ms. Jae: I think we have basically the same outlook on the truth: I hate giving away the answer interviewers expect, and I certainly won’t lie to improve what others think about me. Trouble is, that’s always the last thing interviewers expect.

  4. Ima Peccable

    “I wasn’t trying to make it a dig at his age, though. With age comes awareness, comes respect.”

    I really appreciate that comment and am of the opinion the company should have hired you because your insights balance each other well. THEIR LOSS!!

    Not only that…I wish your attitude was more prevailent than the norm in today’s society where youth is viewed as god-like and the elderly are put-out-to-pasture.

    Thanks from your new fan!

  5. With age should come respect, if that respect is deserved. Most of the time, it is. Almost as frequently, it isn’t.

    In today’s society, youth is viewed as god-like and the elderly are put-out-to-pasture.

    I wouldn’t go quite that far to blame just today’s society. After all, the generations to blame for putting the focus on youth and for putting the elderly out to pasture is, by all accounts, the baby boomers and Generation Y.

    Now, they’re the old folks we’re putting out to pasture. I guess they’re a little resentful.

  6. I liked this post. I try to always comment when I like something but I really can’t figure out what it is I like about it.

    Maybe I like it because I’ve never experienced that kind of group interview. Yup, I think that’s why I like it. It’s interesting to read about things that are foreign to me.

  7. You crack me up. Heh.

    Thanks for the comment; I appreciate the effort.

  8. Ancient Bearded One

    I’m inclined to agree with Ima Peccable’s observation (“where youth is viewed as god-like and the elderly are put-out-to-pasture”). It’s not such an exaggeration. Just look at the norm of TV, movie, and advertising drek since the 70’s, where children are super competent and parents, expecially fathers, are knuckle dragging mouth breathers.

    If you raise children, you learn the fine art of steering between protecting your kids and letting them learn from their mistakes. You start by running into the street to grab your 18-month old who decided to play out there and then end up standing by the sidelines and watching your 18 year old decide on a major and just nodding (whatever the decision). Kids certainly need guidance and support. It’s a race with extraordinary foolishness in the lead, with wisdom gaining, one hopes, in the last turn.

    “The Incredibles” and “The Cosby Show” were certainly breaths of fresh air.

  9. Emphasis mine:

    Just look at the norm of TV, movie, and advertising dreck since the 70’s, where children are super competent and parents, especially fathers, are knuckle dragging mouth breathers.

    That’s the irony I was pointing out. This new generation hasn’t been the only one putting the old folks out to pasture — it started with the generation kids in the ’70s, who are now the geezers being put out to pasture.

    Poetic justice, methinks.

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