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Awkward Interview Scenario

January 26, 2015 | 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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Robert Buntrock (February 10, 2015 9:50 PM)
Inappropriate interviewing policies reminded me of two examples out of my past. After I lost my first lab job 45 years ago, I got an interview with a company who were working on similar lines of research (our technology was being sold but only one or two researchers were part of the package, not me). The director of research did most of the interviewing and it became obvious I was there only so he could try to pick my brain for aspects of the research not already patented, rather than being interested in me. I resisted divulging any additional information and the interview ended on a down note. Unsurprisingly, no offer was forthcoming.

On another interview, I was up for a position that was a change of pace, no longer in the lab, but a dream job. At lunch, the section director after some catching up talk, suddenly blurted out, "I believe that all of people to take sensitivity training. Caught totally off guard, I quickly replied, "Is that required?" The subject was abruptly changed, the lunch was over, and the section head, who would have been my boss, wrapped up the interview, both of us disappointed. Again, no offer was forthcoming. I had done some reading on sensitivity training, then an emerging fad, and had seen the skepticism which I agreed with. I guess it wasn't a dream job after all. A few years later I heard from a colleague at the company, that many aspects of the job had been cut back. As for training for people skills in a service job, the quality programs, Crosby et al., that emerged in the '80s-'90s were much more successful especially the one we developed in house at my subsequent job in research services.

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