April 29, 2018

WANG | Make Me Laugh

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If you haven’t noticed yet, some companies have already fired up their recruiting engines for next summer’s internships. Along the way, students, especially current sophomores, have scrambled to attend recruiting events, network and hopefully be asked to interview for a coveted position for next summer.

Interviewing for an internship can be incredibly stressful for students, especially when they have to balance it with schoolwork, extracurriculars and a social life. For instance, one of my friends dropped a class because it was interfering with her networking session, and as a fellow business student, I was sympathetic. A lot of business students feel pressured to prioritize to put interviews which seems incredibly backwards. But oftentimes, interviews require studying too. Companies like to know you’ve done the proper research on them when they bring you in for interview. It shows commitment and zeal, I suppose.

“Oh, I’ll do fine on the tests. What really worries me is my upcoming interview”, said my other friend one day.

She spent a big chunk of her time scrolling through websites, applying to and prepping for her interviews. But as much as you could prep, the problem with interviews is that they could be often unpredictable, riddled with “gotcha!” questions and landmines designed to weed out the candidates who don’t possess the certain, innate qualities a particular company or organization wants.

For instance, I recently interviewed for a student club on campus where they decided to try every interview tactic possible. It was perhaps the oddest hour and a half of my life.

First, they had multiple groups of interviewers split up between different themes. One group asked you technical questions, while another asked you behavioral questions. My first batch of interviewees asked me riddle questions. It went something like this:

“What gets wetter as it dries?”

(The answer was a towel. When I got it, I just put my head down and laughed. Riddles never cease to be funny)

“What gets bigger as you take stuff out of it?”

(The answer was a hole. I didn’t get that one, mostly because I kept thinking of a bag that somehow inflated as you took stuff out of it.)

“If you had an elephant, and you can’t sell it or give it away, what would you do with it?”

(I just passed on that question because I had no clue how to answer it. Honestly, if someone wants to answer that, they could put it in the comments section below or just email me. I desperately want to know.)

Swinging around to different groups of interviewees led to different kinds of questions: Tricky, but a little more practical.

“What’s the biggest lie on your resume?”

Which is a fairy common question used by interviewers to unhinge candidates. But it was a pretty simple one for me. I had written down “very experienced in python”, which was true (I had taken a class, and I had done some independent projects), but I thought putting “very experienced” was overselling it. Proficient would have been a better answer.

“If we had a candidate with the exact same background and qualifications as you, why should we hire them over you?”

“Because” — and I thought carefully if this really was tactful, because the mood seemed light — ”I’m more social and funnier.”

“Oh really? Tell me a joke.”

Well, I don’t really know a joke…

At the end of the increasingly perplexing interview, I was sent to a back room to be grilled by a trio of students who decided it would best to screw with me.

“Say your name backwards”

“Um, Wang William?”

No, say it backwards’

“Like what, phonetically?”

Then they asked me to sing my favorite song.

“Do I really have to?” I asked. I wasn’t sure how this was relevant.

“Yes, you can just hum it.”

And so, for about 30 seconds in a brightly lit room, during an interview that had far exceeded expectations, I started humming Bowie’s high art classic “Sound and Vision”

And then it became ludicrous.

“Make me a laugh” demanded the guy in the back row after I finished humming.

Ugh, I thought. I had the distinct feeling I should really learn a joke to tell.  I did know a good riddle though.

“Wanna hear a riddle?” I asked hopefully.

“Nah, that’s fine, he doesn’t like to think too much.” said the guy in front of him, with a straight face. “We can move on.”

And on and on they went. At some point, I realize the point of the interview wasn’t for me to do what they said, but to just shock me. They cared more how about I reacted than what I said. They were looking how I reacted under pressure. The problem was, they hadn’t done a good job of it. Their words were a bit too forced, their actions a bit overdone. They were like bad actors, mimicking what they thought was hostility instead of actually being hostile. But overall, it was quite the interview.

And honestly? It wasn’t that unusual of an interview compared to others I’ve heard about. There was a particularly horrid interview I once heard from someone who had interviewed for a business frat on campus. They had ripped apart his look, and had done a surprisingly impressive job of unnerving him, because he didn’t strike me as the type of guy to get unnerved.

At one point, an interviewer had zeroed in on his tie and went in for the kill.

“That tie,” he had said with a rather Trumpian sneer, “is absolutely terrible.”

Which seemed a little petty, but served as a good tip for for future interviewees: When companies outline the dress code for interviews, it really isn’t about fitting a style, because company dress codes have about as much style as a vacuum machine. It’s about following directions and paying attention to details, the hallmark of corporate vitality. Failing to do so doesn’t reflect well on the candidate.

And really, those are just the basics. Companies want to differentiate applicants, but to do that requires creative questions to take them out of their comfort zone. Everyone can walk through their resume. Not every can give you sound advice on what to do with an elephant if you can sell it of give it away. It’s impossible to predict the questions you’ll be asked. But personally, the more I think about it, there is at least one thing you can do that will be guaranteed to help you in a future interview.

Just learn a good joke.

William Wang is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at wwang@cornellsun.com. Willpower appears alternate Mondays this semester.