| Refresh Your Career

CAT | War stories

War stories are real stories from the job search “trenches”. They aim to amuse and teach us, either from our successes or our failures.

The Story

When I was a young buck fresh out of college, I went to a big career fair where I got to interview with a number of companies on a single day. The most important interview that day was with IBM.

I walked into the room for the 30 minute interview, expecting the typical 1:1 interview format. Instead, there were 3 interviewers in the room at the same time – all seated a long table facing a lonely chair in the middle of the room.

The interviewers were one guy from the operational side of the business (the hiring manager),  a lady from HR (recruiter) and a professional interviewer also from HR (he did nothing but interview people).

The whole concept of the interview, I think, was to figure out how people would handle under pressure. I was asked to take a seat, and looking at the my interviewers, I felt like I was facing a firing squad: none of them smiled, they all had a poker face and very reserved body language. Oh boy!

They bombarded me either with very specific questions (why did you study that subject at that school) or very open ended questions (tell me about yourself). All the while, they kept their dead-pan but severe expressions. After a few minutes of this, I started to fight back by grinning widely and making small polite jokes – just a little self-depreciating banter and sly comments, nothing crazy.

I slowly chipped away at them – the HR lady was the 1st to give in – after 5 minutes of my light humor, she cracked a smile and after that visibly relaxed and seemed very open. The professional interviewed scowled at her and hit me with even harder questions. Then the operational guy cracked and started grinning too – but the crusty professional interviewer kept the pressure up till just before the end of the interview. When he finally smiled after one of my funny comments, the entire room relaxed and I got a strong feeling of: “you passed the test”.

I got invited back to a second interview and was offered a job. Mission accomplished.

The Lesson

I think there are two main lessons here:

a.) In many interviews, people try to test you along some dimension. In this case it was coping with adversity and communication skills. When in an interview, try to recognize what you are being tested for and then try to prove that you pass the test.

b.) Humor is an important tool in interviews. You will often come across tired, grumpy or bored interviewers – you might be the 10th interview of the day. A little well placed humor will break the ice, kindle their interest and make your stand out. The key here is finding the right tone and amount here. Don’t tell inappropriate jokes or say things that don’t fit with the flow of the interview

Interviewer: “Where did you go to college?”
You: “Did you hear the one about the blonde in the elevator”


Instead, try to weave in small nuggets that highlight your humor and that fit the conversation

I: “Where did you got to college?”
Y: “XYZ University and I still have the college loans to prove it <chuckle, grin>”

… Much better.

If you have any good war stories, please email us and we will post them here.

(Photo: rangerofawesomeness)

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