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Awkward Interview Scenario

January 26, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 4

Jan. 5, page 4: Contributions to the ACS Scholars Program over the past 20 years were understated. The total as of December 2014 was $8.5 million, rather than $3.5 million.

I read “Interviewing Insights” with interest, even though I don’t foresee having to go through that process again (C&EN, Nov. 3, 2014, page 20). As with most articles I’ve read on that subject over the years, it seems to cover most of the bases (and traps and pitfalls) except one.

I haven’t yet seen an article on this subject that includes any mention of the following scenario, which I ran into more than once while being interviewed. It’s almost similar to the scenario Tatyana Sheps describes, where they asked her to solve a difficult (and somewhat nebulous) problem.

In my case, however, there was not an explicit question being asked. Rather, while discussing some topic, the interviewer would say something that was clearly and obviously (and even blatantly) false. For example, the interviewer might say something that violated one of the laws of thermodynamics. In retrospect, it is clear that interviewers were not testing the knowledge of thermodynamics (or whatever the subject of the false statement was about). More likely they wanted to see how the interviewee handled suddenly being placed in a potentially awkward situation.

Yet I’ve never seen that type of interview tactic described or discussed, or any recommendations given about how to handle it, in any of my readings on interviews, including this one in C&EN.

Howard Mark
Suffern, N.Y.


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