Emotional Interview

facepalm homerWe are testing students for a study abroad program this week. There is a study abroad program which allows students from European Universities to study in Asia, Europe, North America.

It’s remarkable.

Candidates must pass a language test and a ten minute interview. As each candidate walks into the room, I can’t help but feel a little envy – to be young, in university, and looking forward to travelling and studying abroad. Fantastic. Ten minutes later, as the candidate walks out of the room, I am generally overflowing with one of three emotions:

1. Joy
2. Abject irritation
3. Despair

Candidate One’s goal is to become a diplomat, so she wants to study at the University of Chicago Law School. She answers thoughtfully, having clearly put a lot of consideration and time into why she wants to do this program. She is courteous, funny, and interested. She half-jokes that she has gone through an “existential crisis” recently, which has resulted in some decisions about her future.

This is the kind of candidate we want going abroad and we are rooting for her. An existential crisis? I want to tell her that I too have had one of those, and that we could exchange notes on how far down the rabbit hole she went. But the interview ends and we must bid her adieu.

Joy came early in this day of interviewing, which is dangerous, because it’s almost always a long way down.

The first thing Candidate Two does upon arrival is drop his bag, scan the room and – without saying a word to the two interviewers sitting and waiting for him – goes across the room to plug in his phone to charge. He takes a minute to check something – I assume a super important message on Facebook or the latest Tweet by Rachel Dolezal – as we sit quietly waiting for him, and then he moseys over to the table.

The hair on the back of my neck does the Macarena. Read: the beginning of irritation.

The student is clear about his intentions to study abroad in one of four locations, because the “culture is very special there.” When asked to elaborate on what makes those cultures so special, he begins to mutter something but a beep from his phone lends a body blow to his attention from which he never recovers.

We continue to ask questions and he answers them vaguely, all the while staring into the corner where his phone is charging. We end the interview and he disappears from the table to get to his phone. In his haste he has forgotten to thank us, say goodbye, or take back his I.D card. We have to chase him down to give it to him.

When he is gone, we are both filled with a level of glowering irritation and angst only attainable by working with young people.

Candidate Three answers the first four questions directed at him in one-word answers. He is not lacking confidence and when asked to expand on something he does speak with some fluency. Still, he doesn’t offer us much and it’s clear that his one word answers stem not from language deficiency, but from opinion deficiency.

Candidate Three doesn’t seem to have any thoughts on anything. He doesn’t know which country he wants to study in or why he’d like to study abroad. He can’t come up with a difficulty that might arise studying abroad or a way that studying abroad might improve his career chances.

When asked directly why he is interested in studying abroad, he says “networking opportunities” and while we are not clear about the meaning, I do have a despair-induced vision of him selling life insurance for cats on a street in Stockholm.

Perhaps it’s a phase of life thing. I am a middle-aged dude interviewing young people who essentially have the world in the palm of their hands. Unfortunately, not all of the students seem to understand this or to fully appreciate it. Many seem to take it for granted. There is nothing quite as frustrating as that.


  1. #1 by medicine on January 20, 2017 - 7:59 am

    This post has helped me for an article which I am writing. Thank you for giving me another point of view on this emotional interview topic.

  2. #2 by Dilan's webpage on February 21, 2017 - 12:14 pm

    Nicely done!

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