Getting a job is hard. These days, it may even be very hard. But so is getting an interview, and when you are given the chance to sit down and chat with someone who holds your future in their hands, you usually play it very safe. But sometimes safe isn't the best answer. Sometimes, like with these examples that came from an extensive Quora Q&A, you have to employ extreme interview tactics to get the position.
1. The Walkout
Let's start this series off with the story that inspired it — namely, mine. Advertising is a competitive and cutthroat industry, and getting your foot in the door, even for an interview, can be hard work. Even back in the early 2000s, before the Internet bubble burst, getting a decent job in the industry was tough.
So, when getting an interview at a place known for doing outstanding work, the usual routine for candidates was to go in, sit down, be polite, let the interviewer tear your work apart, and hope for a callback. If you were lucky, he or she would actually like a few pieces in your portfolio.
In my case, the hiring manager, who was a director of marketing, looked like a bulldog chewing a wasp as he went through my work. "Seen it before. Crap. Not impressed. That's obvious." And so on.
As he got halfway through the folio, I'd had enough. I needed a job, but not one that would be filled with this kind of derision. I stood up, closed it, and politely said, "thanks for your time, but clearly my work is not suited for you or this company."
As I walked out, he got out of his chair and patted me on the back. "Wait, wait," he said. "Maybe I was being a bit harsh. I think there are actually some strong pieces in there."
I sat down with him, and it turns out this was his "test." To see how candidates react to a real ego bashing. Would they cry? Would they get angry? Would they say nothing? Apparently, my reaction was the one he had been looking for.
Moral of this story: Trust your gut. If you really feel like you need to react in a certain way, and it does not seem inappropriate (like punching someone in the face for instance), go with it. Showing people who you really are can make a big difference.
2. The Pocket Surprise
This story comes from Richard Waddington, who had been the same company for over 10 years, and was looking for a change. (Incidentally, a recent study shows 50% of people see their current job as just a placeholder, and are actively looking around.)
Richard had never been out on an interview in all that time, and so when he decided to move on and got an interview at another company, he was obviously nervous. The stress of finding the right clothes and shoes, the preparation, the background work — they can all get to a person.
Richard was also a family man, and as he left for the interview, his four-year-old daughter handed him a little plastic cow from her farm yard play set and said, "Daddy, take this for good luck."
Richard went through hours of interviews, with different people (which is all too common these days) before sitting in front of the VP of HR. She sternly asked him, "How do I know you'll fit in?"
Without thinking, he exclaimed, "I have a cow in my pocket!" He set the cow on the table, over an awkward silence. But, she burst out laughing, and he got the job.
Moral of this story: A real moment can go a long way toward showing people who you are when your guard is down. A genuine laugh, a reaction, something that lets the interviewer see a person and not just a candidate, may feel extreme or risky… but it can reap rewards.
3. The Refusal
Perhaps the most extreme thing you can ever do is refuse an offer of a job — if you actually want to get that job. Or, refuse to do something that the interviewer asks you to do. It's a risk, but for some people, it has definitely worked.
This has a lot to do with catching the interviewer off guard. They know they are in a position of power. They have the job, you want the job, and therefore, they have the upper hand. But what if you take control?
Stephan Bugaj did just that. His career was in a very technical field, and to start off the proceedings he dressed more like a biker than an office worker. When the interviewer asked him to solve a technical puzzle, he said no. Flatly, no. Then, he offered the reason; one that was given to him by a physics teacher some years back and said, "How does putting a person in a situation where they're faced with a difficult and unfamiliar problem and then denying them access to equipment, reference materials, and discussions with colleagues in any way represent a realistic professional environment?"
He got the job. And so did Gil Yehuda, another interview candidate who actually refused the job offer. Gil's story is long; you can read it on Quora. But the short version is, Gil had surmised that the job in question was ill-defined, and was probably not one he should take. So he said no. But when he was then asked for a salary range, he asked the interviewer to make an offer impossible to refuse. She did.
Moral of this story: You can take control of the interview by doing the unexpected. Not in a way that would get you kicked out of the building for breaking public decency laws, but by questioning things, and refusing the requests or offers on the table. It will definitely make you stand out.
4. The Honest Approach
Of course, there's honesty, and then there's boorishness. You certainly don't want to be so brutally honest that you upset everyone in the room. But interviewers are so used to hearing rehearsed, bland answers that a touch of real honesty can be refreshing — and memorable.
A case in point — Michael Shiloh. As an infectious disease specialist, he was used to working in high-pressure environments, and was prepared for rigorous interview questions and techniques. He was sat in front of 25 members of the faculty admissions committee, and they all had questions for him.
The answers came easy to him, as the questions were nothing out of the ordinary. But towards the end of the long process, one interviewer threw a huge curveball by asking, "If you were to design an RGD peptide to potently inhibit the integrin IIb/IIIa receptor, what would it look like?"
Michael was stumped. He had nothing. So, trusting his gut he said, "I have no idea. But if I did know, I wouldn't be here interviewing for your program, but rather there, working on it. And, they'd be paying me big bucks to do it."
Hearty, deep laughter followed, along with the offer of a position.
Moral of this story: Don't be tempted to give the interviewer a lot of platitudes and vanilla responses. A lot of the time, an interviewer will be much more impressed by the truth; even if the truth is difficult to say, and sets you in a less favorable light. (Just think how we would react if politicians were honest.)
5. The Bluff
This is a case of, when all else fails… bluff.
The interviewee, John Doe (who wants to remain anonymous for obvious reasons), was applying for a job as a consultant. And, the interview was not going well.
The interviewer then asked John to solve a puzzle, and as he described it, John could not help the spread of a massive grin on his face. He had recently heard, and solved, this very puzzle, and interrupted the interviewer, saying, "Sir, I'll be honest with you. I've heard this one before," and gave an outline of the solution.
The interviewer appreciated his candor, and went on to another question. This one was a mind bender. A very hard, almost impossible, puzzle for John to solve. He had no idea. So, he did the only thing he could think of. Smiling broadly he said, "Sir, I hate to admit it, but I've heard this one before as well!"
The interviewer did not ask for proof, but simply believed him and said, "Wow… no puzzles today it seems." The bluff worked, and John got the job.
Moral of this story: Sometimes, you can bluff and win. But you really have to be prepared to have your bluff called. However, if that happens, simply use the honest approach – "hey, I was bluffing, I just have no idea how to answer." It might just work, too.
6. The Backup Plan
Finally, we come full circle and finish on another story from my advertising past. Before the days of cheap Macbooks and readily available design software, ad portfolios still had to look the part. And spec work (work done for a client that has not asked for it, merely to showcase your talents) still had to look the business. Creative teams would often employ designers and photographers to help them comp up ads that would not look out of place in magazines or on billboards.
The portfolio of my art director and myself was full of both produced and spec work. The produced work, as it was early in our careers, was not great. The clients weren't blue chip, and the spec work was put together in our spare time with stock photos and rub down transfers. It looked… acceptable.
As we went into the interview, we were nervous. This was a big shop, and they demanded quality. The creative directors looked bored as they flicked through the portfolio, and we could tell they were getting ready give us the polite brush-off. As one stood, and started to say, "well, thanks for coming in, but…" I stopped him and said, "honestly, the work is crap compared to the ideas we have sketched in the back pocket of the portfolio."
They both looked a bit taken aback, but they reached in, and brought out the sketches my partner and I had been working on for much bigger ideas. Ones that were beyond our skill to produce with any great polish. We didn't plan on showing them to anyone, but figured, what the hell. They flicked through them, smiling, pointing, whispering, for 10 minutes. Then they said, "when would you be able to start?"
Moral of this story: Never be afraid to impress people with ideas you do not think are quite ready. Whether it's a new product, a sales plan, an app, or anything else relevant to your career, if it gives you goose bumps, it may well do the same to your future employer.