Skip to main content

The Interview Shame Thread

  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

We, elderly Second-Year Sages, like to offer recruiting advice as if we know how it’s done. Truth is, we have no idea what these firms, who shop for new blood annually, are really looking for. Like giving birth and swimming, it’s something you just have to try yourself to find your best approach. Still, we’ve got a few thoughts on what not to do.

This time last year, I sent my worst interview flubs to some friends also beaten down by internship recruiting. Then unexpectedly and immediately, they all piped in with gems of their own. Highlights of the (continuing) shame thread below should reassure you that: i) it’s okay if you’re not perfect every time, and ii) someone else somewhere is botching it far worse than you ever thought you could. So you might as well just laugh off (and record) those special moments ...

When your interviewer is an idiot, an ass, or both:

Interviewer: Two companies, A and B. A is 50/50 debt/equity, B is 100% equity. EBITDA doubles, multiple stays flat. Whose share price moves more?
Candidate: (fumbles, gets it wrong)
Interviewer: What does “applied math,” your undergrad major, mean?
Candidate: Ha. Well, I’m pretty good at long division

Interviewer: So how many people today have asked you about being an Eagle Scout?
Candidate: You’re the first one actually. Were you an Eagle Scout?
Interviewer: No.
Candidate: My parents wouldn’t let me [quit]. You get to high school, everyone is out on dates, and you’re at a Camporee. But we all looked back at it and realized it taught us an appreciation of the outdoors and good respect for your elders.
Interviewer: Elders. You guys are all about that, aren’t you? The elders.
Interviewer & Candidate: (extended awkward silence)

Interviewer: (last five minutes) So do you have any questions for me?
Candidate: Can you tell me about what brought you to [Firm] and what's kept you there?
Interviewer: That was a waste of a question.

Interviewer: So what group do you think you'd like to work with here?
Candidate: Well, I think --
Interviewer: (interrupting) Ha -- no. You have no idea. You're too stupid now to know that. Butdon't worry, [Firm] will figure it out for you.

Interviewer: Here, take this. (hands secretary an empty cup)
Secretary: (returns moments later with a full cup of water)

Interviewer: Tell me one positive and one negative from your CFA study and exam-taking experience.
Candidate: (a positive?)
[Editor’s note: Correct answer is, “one step closer to living the dream.”]

Interviewer: Scenario. It's January 1. You can invest in the stocks that make up the S&P 500. How do you guarantee that you will outperform the index by December 31?
Candidate: (extended silence, no idea)
Interviewer: Think about it statistically. And remember the S&P is market-cap weighted.
Candidate: ... I have no idea...
Interviewer: Really? Think about it.
Candidate: (more painful silence) … Sorry, no clue.
Interviewer: Don't buy the stocks that go down!
Candidate: Ah.

When you’re an idiot, an ass, or both:

Interviewer: (describes a company). So what would you pay as an investor for this egg-producing company?
Candidate (holding back amusement): Well, I’m conservative, so I wouldn’t count mychickens before they hatch.
Interviewer: (beat) So give me a number.

Interviewer: Would you buy Company X?
Candidate: No way -- (rant about Company X).
Interviewer: Oh okay. I own it in my portfolio.

Interviewer: Do you think you need an MBA and CFA to be a good investor?
Candidate: No, I don’t even think you need to be that smart.
Interviewer: (raises eyebrow)

Candidate: I want to be a consultant because I like helping companies.
Interviewer: I wish our work were always that inspiring. Sometimes we have to propose hard things too ... (trailing off, feigning sensitivity).
Candidate: Oh, you mean firing people? I know about that. I saw Up In the Air.

Interviewer: So if not us, what firm would be your number one choice?
Candidate: Firm X. I liked that they asked really different questions. I loved that I didn’t have to give a stock pitch, which I feel isn’t an indicator of much since it can be scripted and memorized.
Interviewer: Right, I see. (beat) So tell me your stock pitch.

When you execute an incredible mockery of all on-campus MBA recruiting:

10:00am Candidate (who already has an offer for a different job function) enters interview room
Interviewer: So tell me [how you’d value] the railroad industry.
Candidate: Uhh … (no idea) Fuel charges must be a big factor, and I guess … access to railroads is important ….um... what do you think about the railroad industry?
Interviewer: Well, usually we ask about basic industries so you’re able to walk through it.
Candidate: Oh, nice.
Interviewer: Okay, do you have any questions for me?
Candidate: Nope
Interviewer: Nice meeting you.
10:10am Candidate exits interview room

When you inadvertently voice the internal conflict of all grad students forced to finally find a paying gig:

Interviewer: What are you looking for in your next job?
Candidate: Freedom.
Interviewer: Freedom?

Related

Mike Corbat's Wife Is Gal-Pals With The Wife Of One Of The Guys Abruptly Fired The Day He Was Named CEO, And Other Things Making His First 100 Days At The Top Awkward

Over at the Journal today you will find a story called "Awkward Spot For Citi's CEO," which details the various awkwardness encountered by Mike Corbat since he took over as Chief Executive Officer, following Vikram Pandit's awkward ousting. There is also a delightful bonus round of awkwardness that comes as a postscript to the article, but we'll get the that later. First, why are things slightly awk for Corbat? Well, for starters, he knew that Pandit was going to be unexpectedly and unceremoniously fired long before VP did, including the entire time they were on a business trip together. The whole time they were flying over there together, having dinner together, meeting with clients together, taking in shows and doing touristy things when they had downtime from the conference together, he knew Pandit was about to get hit by a truck. No one blames Corbat for Vickles getting canned but, at the same time, there is a feeling by a few at Citi that you'd have to be some kind of monster to look a person in the eye and say "Sure, a trip the the Zen Temples sounds great," and take in the cherry blossoms and drink sake and do karaoke and fight over who is Scarlett Johansson and who is Bill Murray with him all the while knowing what was going to happen when you got home. For Vikram Pandit, a trip to Tokyo for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conference last month seemed routine. But Michael Corbat, the longtime Citigroup executive who joined Mr. Pandit there, knew better. Unbeknown to Mr. Pandit, Citigroup Chairman Mike O'Neill had told Mr. Corbat that the board could seek Mr. Pandit's resignation as chief executive and hand the job to Mr. Corbat, according to people familiar with the situation. A day after Messrs. Pandit and Corbat returned to New York, that is exactly what happened. A host of financial, competitive and regulatory issues confronts the 52-year-old Mr. Corbat atop the nation's third-biggest bank by assets. But no task is more critical than soothing workers unsettled by the way the board ousted Mr. Pandit and his longtime right-hand man, John Havens, who ran the investment bank and served as president and chief operating officer. The effort is made even more delicate by Mr. Corbat's proximity to Mr. Pandit in the days before the coup. Executives say they don't blame Mr. Corbat for Mr. Pandit's overthrow, though some wondered how Mr. Corbat was able to sit through the IMF meetings knowing what was to unfold. Additionally awkward is the fact that there has been chatter around the office and scrawled on the walls of the men's room that there's only enough room in this Citi for one guy named Mike, and it's not Corbat. Adding to Mr. Corbat's challenges is the perception among some insiders that he is overshadowed by Mr. O'Neill. Employees have privately joked that of the two Mikes, it is Mr. O'Neill who is truly in charge. People close to Mr. O'Neill dispute that notion and say he has spent little time at his Citigroup office in the past month. Finally, you have the awkwardness of Mike not only knowing his colleague Vikram was going to be fired, but that his colleague and friend, John Havens, was getting the boot himself, which may or may not have caused auxiliary awkwardness for Corbat on the home front. Mr. Corbat's position is all the more awkward given his close personal relationship with Mr. Havens. The two men spent time together outside of work, occasionally vacationing with their wives at Mr. Havens' Scotland estate. All good examples of things that could be characterized as awkward to be sure. But! The absolute most wonderful bit of awkwardness to be found in "Awkward Spot For Citi's CEO," is, without question, this: