I looked at the young man in a new suit, tie that his dad probably knotted and a fresh haircut. He was sweating at the temples and clearly nervous as he faced down eight interviewers gathered in the Congressman’s office.
“If you could be Disney Princess, what would it be?”
The red blush began in his neck and traveled up his entire face as you watched the wheels turn frantically in his brain.
“If I could be any kind of Disney princess…it would have to be…Mulan.”
His embarrassment began to fade as his face lit up with an idea.
“Because Mulan was a warrior and she will willing to lay down her life for those she loved and wanted to protect.”
He smiled, his nervousness now gone, “In much the same way, I want to go to the United States Air Force Academy and serve my country. America has been a land that gave my family an opportunity for education and to build a great life for our family. I want to give back to the country who gave so much to my family.”
As a member of an All Academies Congressional Admissions Panel, I’m a part of a team of qualified community leaders who interview students who have applied to a service academy. I’ve also written a three part blog for those who are interested in going to these prestigious institutions of higher learning. In fact, this time of year is when most of these nomination packages are due at Congressional offices.
This particular student learned, in his interview prep, that he could buy time in an interview by beginning his answer in a compete sentence. This technique gave his brain a chance to come up with an answer. We interviewed 50 students for last year’s panel, in one day, from 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Then we racked and stacked them based on their nomination packages and the interview.
The appointments to the Naval Academy, Merchant Marine Academy, West Point and the Air Force Academy are valued at approximately 425K. These go to the best and brightest young people in our nation who will be future officers and lead our military. They will pay back the cost of their education in five years of military service. So their education isn’t exactly “free” since most college grads don’t have to put their life on the line to pay back their education costs.
That “Disney Princess” question was a real question put to students from a different Congressional panel. It was designed to see how they could think creatively and react to an odd-ball question. The young man in this story is real and so is his answer. He is now at the Air Force Academy living his dream to one day fly and fight for his country. When he graduates and goes to pilot training, he will have close to a million dollars invested in his many years of training. So that interview question was one that led to his million dollar life!
Are you or someone you know preparing for a big interview in the near future? The key is preparation by rehearsing common and uncommon questions and gaining confidence in your ability to maintain eye contact, think on your feet, and communicate the real you to those who are conducting the interview. For those preparing for a service academy interview, feel free to email us and ask for the “Mock Interview Questions.”
In the Kay household, our kids were naturally prepared for grilling questions thanks to the habit of asking them about their day every evening at dinner.
“What was a problem you solved today?”
“How did you make someone laugh today?
“What was the best part of your day?”
They were obviously more forthcoming some days than others, but the habit made it more natural for them to talk about their experiences. This easily translates to job interviews and even college or congressional interviews, where interview panels ask both conventional and unconventional questions.
You have probably already heard about the most common questions, such as ones pertaining to your history, why you’re interested and your strengths and weaknesses. But every now and then, you’ll get a common question disguised as an uncommon one. Here are five of them:
1. “What was your best MacGyver moment?”
When an interviewer asks a question similar to this, they’re really looking for examples of your adaptability and resourcefulness. Have you ever had any unconventional homework assignments or projects where you didn’t have common resources? This is a good time to talk about them.
2. “How many employees does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
This is a unique way to see where you stand on being a team player and if you have problem-solving skills. Most careers have a fair amount of group projects, so interviewers want to see if you’re a lone wolf (“Just one. Me.”) or if you can work with others (“As many as it takes to do it efficiently.”)
3. “What is our receptionist’s name?”
This could also be a question about something or someone else in the building. The interviewer is looking to see if you’re observant, paying attention and have a good memory. Just be aware of your surroundings and you’ll be prepared for this question.
4. “If you were in the NBA, what position would you play?”
Believe it or not, you don’t have to follow sports to answer this question correctly. The interviewer simply wants to know if you’re a leader or team player and ready to contribute immediately. Focus on answers that show off your willingness to do anything for the team/company.
5. “If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?”
This is a good opportunity to talk about a variety of things, from your hobbies to who you value. It can be a current or past figure, but should be someone you truly admire. This is a great way for you to relate to the interviewer and ease any tension or awkwardness.
Again, these specific questions are rare, but if you’re prepared to talk about things like your resourcefulness, leadership abilities and interests, you’ll be ready to answer them. A good starting point would be to look at lists of the most common questions and rephrasing them in a unique way. It can be fun and a great way to prepare for your first job interview.
What are some of YOUR favorite interview questions?