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Auntie Sam Addresses the Interview Persona

Dear Auntie Sam,
During Hell Week, I interviewed for a full time position after HBS as a hamburger flipper at a leading fast food chain. I had two interviews-one with an HBS alum who has been at the company for a few years and another with the human resources person in charge of recruiting. I interviewed first with the HBS alum, and had a cordial discussion where I demonstrated my enthusiasm for the Company and my reasons for wanting to go into the Industry. At the end of my interview, he told me I had done brilliantly well and that I should consider accepting a job at the Company when offered one. This seemed to imply to me that I had the job in the bag.

After a short break, I went in to interview with the human resources person in charge of the MBA hiring process. My attempts at making casual conversation while we walked from the meeting room to an interview room were rebuffed. My attempts at humor were met with a decidedly stony silence. I decided, as a result of the reception I was getting, that this woman wanted to talk shop and get straight down to brass tacks.
We sat down on adjacent sofas and she opened with, “You have no background in the fast food industry, so I’m not sure why we’re meeting today. But that’s a little unfair of me,” she continued, “I should start by introducing myself, and explaining what I do at the Company.”
After listening to her describe her three functions as recruiting, recruiting, and recruiting she paused, and looked at me expectantly. I began my little prepared speech for why I wanted to work at the Company, and gave my whole schpiel. She cut me off as I was nearing the end and said, “We look for entrepreneurial self-starters, and nothing on your resum‚ seems to indicate that you are that kind of person to me.”
I’m smarter than you think, I thought, and decided I wasn’t going to take the bait. After she said I wasn’t an entrepreneurial self-starter a couple more times, I finally responded by saying that entrepreneurial wasn’t exactly synonymous with starting one’s own company at the ripe old age of 21. Needless to say, I had already lost her at this point, as she acquired that eyes glazing over look of an interviewer who has sat through far too many people in one day. She ended the interview by saying that I needed to demonstrate more enthusiasm and charisma as a general matter and should think about burnishing my interview persona to make it quite distinct from who she perceived I was in general-a timid but determined person with a focus on wanting a job flipping burgers. I came away very uncertain about my job prospects. What should I do?
Love,
Schizophrenic Interview Persona Required

Dear Schizophrenic Interview Persona Required,
I will assume that given the vaunted pedestals of leadership that typical HBS graduates seek out and achieve as their first jobs after HBS, you have some unique set of reasons for aspiring to a job as a burger flipper. Nevertheless, I respect your dignity of labor, and I suppose the world needs more burger flippers these days, as McDonald’s Happy Meals are becoming the dinner of choice in some circles.

Then on to the more delicate question of just how schizophrenic one’s interview persona should be. The goal should be to obviously get the job on offer by satisfying an interviewer’s wants and expectations. The constraint is not misrepresenting oneself in saying what one thinks they must say to get the job. It would help to not come across as comatose and at the same time, one doesn’t wasn’t to be bouncing off the walls. It would be ideal to not be confrontational but to in fact respond when someone insinuates you are wasting their time in having come to the interview.

All interviewers say they look for the same qualities in candidates-dedicated, entrepreneurial, spontaneous, creative, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. The investment banks like to say they want hungry associates-this doesn’t mean really means they want people gunning to be in their managing director’s shoes as soon as possible. The consulting firms like to say they look for people committed to solving problems-they tend to ignore the fact that you’re going to be solving all these problems on planes to middle-of-nowhere towns.

If you think you don’t display the qualities (forget actually having them in this job market), and career services or your friends can’t coach you to crack those fast food case interviews adequately, there are always acting classes across the river.
Yours,
Auntie Sam

Write to Auntie Sam at auntie.sam@mba2002.hbs.edu

November 12, 2001
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