“Suit up!” – Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother
A relative once told me a story about an interview vetting business school applicants. The story went something like this: It’s a sweltering day, and, of course, everyone is wearing a suit. Before the interview begins, the interviewer asks each applicant to open the window. Now here’s the twist: the window was nailed shut. Within seconds all the interviewees realized this – but how did they respond? A lot of people tried to talk their way out of the situation, but one applicant decided to do what he was told—he picked up the chair he had been sitting on and broke the window. He was accepted.
I don’t know if this is a true story, but it stuck with me because we’ve all been faced with those awkward, uncomfortable questions and situations that may or may not have a correct answer or solution.
Over the past few weeks, it has become much easier to pick out seniors on this campus—they are wearing suits. I’ve heard a lot of, “I don’t even know if I want this job but I thought I should interview.” So, in the spirit of the interview season that will continue well into the summer, here are the best and worst questions—whether they be for a job, fellowship, or volunteer position—that other Wesleyan students had to take their best stab at answering while keeping their composure.
Category One: open-ended questions. The best example in this category is probably, “Tell me about yourself.” How do you even begin to start answering that? This category also can encompass genuine questions such as “Why do you want to practice law?” You may have to lie when answering questions in this category because no one wants to hear that you want the job because “I want to make a lot of money.”
Category Two: critiquing your own traits and still making yourself look like hot stuff. “What is one of your negative traits?” This is a frustrating category mainly because I want to answer by saying, “I am the coolest. What’s not to like?” But, in reality, you have to be able to spin your answer so that it is a trait you’re working to improve or one that certain people may look at as a positive. Here’s a good example one student used: “I’m very opinionated.” It’s vague enough to go either way.
Category Three: animal questions. Strangely enough, questions about animals seem to be in vogue these days. One student was asked, “If you had an elephant, what would you do?” The student’s answer: “I would ride it.” That turned out to be the answer that employer was looking for because it showed action, initiative, and a fun free spirit. Or you may be asked, “If you were an animal, what type of an animal would you be?” This student answered, “A bird.” Well, the employer clearly wanted more. As the student explained, “He pressed me for a specific type, ‘like a seagull? Or one of those park birds? Different birds have different perspectives, you know?’”
Category Four: case study questions. This category is all about assessing how you think and solve problems. One student heard this question: “How many maternity beds are there in New York state?” These questions test on-the-spot logical reasoning abilities, using topics you’re most likely not familiar with. Maybe all those hours spent reading random Wikipedia articles will finally be put to use.
Category Five: the future. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I’m not a big fan of the future questions because, let’s face it, I’m not even sure what I am having for dinner tonight; and really, the most exciting part of my day is the chance of something unexpectedly wonderful happening that might put me completely off course.
Category Six: questions that might make you uncomfortable. If all of the above didn’t make you feel uncomfortable, then the questions that range from the political to the bizarre to pick-up lines will. “What do you think about underage drinking?” One student was faced with this odd question, “What time of day do you prefer more: 4:30 p.m. or 4:30 a.m.?” Another student simply smiled when she was told, “You are so pretty. When can you start?”
Category Seven: the curveball. “What do you like least about our company?” Now this is a tricky question, so if you get it, best of luck. You have my sympathies. The Boy Scouts live by the credo “be prepared,” because you never know what the last question will be. One student had the fortune of hearing, “Would you like to take the job?”
As nerve-wracking as the process may be, just remember that, while you’re at that interview, someone else sitting in that lobby is sweating and feeling just as anxious, if not more, then you are.
Tomkiw is a member of the class of 2011 and an Executive Editor of The Argus.