Friday, January 16, 2015

What Not to Say...

…during a job interview. What follows is complete hearsay, but I don’t doubt a word of it.

In my profession, most hires of those with newly-minted Ph.Ds occur during the annual meetings of the American Economic Association, which take place over several days in early January. Because that’s where so much of the labor market clears, even people out of school several years often find it useful to seek job interviews at the meetings.

At my agency, the hiring process involves several steps: the job-seeker sends in an application package, the recruiting team eliminates the weakest candidates and sets up interviews with the remainder at the annual meetings, then flies the top candidates to Washington for a seminar and meetings with managers, after which the agency starts making job offers. The seminar usually revolves around the candidate’s job market paper, which is usually a chapter out of his or her dissertation.

This year, one of the candidates was a guy several years out of graduate school, working for a consulting firm. During the initial interview, when he gets a chance to ask questions, he asks, “So… when am I getting a job offer?” Talk about chutzpah! The interviewer describes the process as in the prior paragraph. When the interviewer gets to the part about making a presentation in DC, the candidate exclaims, “A seminar? Don’t you know I’ve been in consulting since I left school - I don’t have a paper to present!”

A cooler head might have taken in the information at the interview and said nothing in response. If called for a seminar, that might be an opportunity to remind the recruiting coordinator that one’s most recent research was done in graduate school, and inquire politely whether presenting that work would be allowed. A smarter head might have understood that the interviewer knew full well where the candidate has been working, as the interviewer clearly has the candidate’s vita. (A well-prepared candidate would have known all this already, and never asked the question in the first place.)

All of which goes to show that there are many, many ways to blow a job interview.

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