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Chutzpah in Job Interviews

I have written before about Chutzpah (see for Joys of Yiddish full explanation). The phrase is used to describe a specific type of person. Audacity would be the closest English equivalent word.

Many years ago I was interviewing for a job in a very interesting group. I had heard of the leader of this group but didn’t know him personally. When he called me for an interview, I was very happy to come in and chat.

The interview seemed a little stunted in the discussion. It was mainly this person pontificating about his views on how technology would go in the future, but having been to many interviews, I didn’t think much of it. I asked a few questions to keep my interviewer going. I think the more an interviewer talks, the better the interview seems to go. I asked open-ended questions as follow-ups to his statements, and time seemed to fly by, with me saying very little (of substance).

There was a pause, so I felt obliged to ask my interviewer another open-ended question. I asked, “What kind of person are you looking for to fill this job?”.

Ask “The” Question

This is an excellent time-wasting question for an interview. Most interviewers don’t really have a clear answer for that question. If they are very confident like this chap, the answer can take up to 10 minutes. All you do as a candidate is point out how you are that exact person (a trick I learned long ago).

Sure enough, this interviewer ran on and on about someone who could create symbiotic technology concepts, and show an ability to create a fused capability delivered cross-domain in the pike position,etc., etc., etc.,. I noted the catchphrases being used. I was formulating my follow-up to this statement when the interviewer completely de-railed me with an idea.

Don’t get “The” Answer

It started off with the phrase, “If I could sum up what I am looking for in a candidate for the team, I’d have to use a word I learned a while ago. It’s a Jewish word…”. I fought the urge to point out that it would have been Hebrew or Yiddish. I figured that as long as he didn’t say “Schmuck“, I was ok, but what he did say was entertaining.

“The word that describes it best is someone with CHOO-TS-PUH…”, (I spelled the word phonetically so you could get the gist of this story). Now the word chutzpah is pronounced HH-oo-tzpa (along those lines at least), and the CH is most definitely not pronounced as CH. I must have had a bewildered look (it was actually the look I have when I am attempting to not burst into laughter), because the interviewer proceeded to give me an explanation of chutzpah (a relatively correct one).

I sat there using all of my inner strength attempting to:

  1. Not correct this individual on pronunciation because he seemed positive that he was correct.
  2. Not burst out laughing at the mis-step (terrible form for a job interview)
  3. Figure out whether I wanted this job.

There was a long pause at the end of the interviewer’s ramble and I felt he was expecting me to respond, so I carefully responded how I fit the bill of this kind of person without actually saying the word out loud, for fear of offending this individual. After summing up, the interviewer then had to recap by saying, “So you think you have this CHOO-TS-PUH, do you?”, again, I fought hard to not burst out laughing.

Am I That Guy

My only way to respond was, “Yes, I think I am that guy.”.

I didn’t get the job, but I did get an interesting anecdotal story that I tell sometimes.

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