The Sixth Interview Principle

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There are Five Big Things you want to avoid during an interview. They are:

  1. Being unprepared
  2. Behaving inappropriately
  3. Appearing unfocused
  4. Seeming insincere
  5. Stretching the truth

That’s according to an article by Jerry S. Wilson, Senior VP-chief customer and commercial officer at Coca-Cola Co, in addition to his current incarnation as a motivational marketer, etc.

Those Questions are all true, and good to hear. Here’s the sixth:

  • The Bullshit Question Prospective Employers Ask

Like the one I got asked several years ago. I was interviewing  to put together a 200-page manual. Lengthy back and forth, examining low-contrast technical drawings that somebody thought would make enchanting illustrations, and so forth. Finally, The Question got sprung.

“Is there any reason why you wouldn’t take this job?”

I looked at this person. I’d been there for over an hour, discussing the project I was supposed to be estimating, in detail. I wanted the job.

“Is this a Dilbert Question?”

The trapdoor under my feet started to creak. Dead silence and a stony look.

“I drove down here, have been asking you questions about the project. If I didn’t want the job, I wouldn’t have bothered.”

It was already too late. The interview followed its canonical course, concluded, ritual farewells and so on. A followup call revealed that my bid was too high. So sorry.


I’d blundered right into the classic Bullshit Question Prospective Employers Ask, whose working principle is exclusion. The higher you go the more subtle the questions get. Cudgel 101 becomes Papercut 800. These questions are the difference between a pony-ride and a bronco-fest.

One way to deal with it is to grab it, own it, and give it right back.

I worked with a man who was asked The Question on an interview as to why he got fired from Agency X, a prominent shop in that market segment.

He paused, counted to five. He was in no hurry. He looked up at the questioner, and said “Have you ever worked at Agency X?”

The interviewer stumbled.

“Uh, no…I thought about it, but, Agency X, uh…no, they were hard-asses, so I said fuck that, and went elsewhere.”

Direct hit. This response was completely unexpected, and had the desired effect of throwing the interviewer’s game off course. It was direct, polite, conversational, and accurate. He got the job he was looking for. The chemistry was right.

The Post-Mortem

Was my answer the wrong answer? Looking back, I don’t think so. I’d gotten a sense that the Prospective Employer was working from a viewpoint that did not promise a pleasant working relationship. If this was the intro, I’d seen what I needed to see. And I found something else.

2 responses to “The Sixth Interview Principle

  1. Here’s another one – though it may just fit under #5 (I was the interviewer in this instance): Never try to pass off someone else’s work as your own, it may belong to the person interviewing you.


  2. Stephen: So right! I worked with an ACD who had his own work shown to him by an…[cough! cough!]…potential applicant.


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