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 really 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 mostly this person pontificating about his views on how technology was going to 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. My opinion is 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 throw in another open-ended question to my interviewer. 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 catch phrases being used. I was formulating my follow-up to this statement when the interviewer completely de-railed me with a statement.

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 either 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 (very bad form for a job interview)
  3. Figure out whether I really wanted this job.

There was a long pause at the end of the interviewers 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.


Who Green-Lit this Tom-Foolery ?

This is a homogenized version of an expression I have picked up from Letterkenny Problems, and I feel it is something that you can use in your financial life as well. So many times folks try to explain to you about financial things that you know are wrong, and this turn of phrase works for me.

Wayne is curious who Green Lit this Financial Tom-F**kery ?

Who Green-lit this financial Tom-F**kery ?

  1. Selling an 85 year old woman a leverage hedge fund? Who Green-lit this Tom-F**kery? Most likely the investment sales-douche who needed to make their commissions for that quarter, is my guess. “Give your head a shake“.
  2. You bought a Corolla and signed up for 7 year financing. Who Green-lit that Tom-F**kery ? The car is a good one, but you really want to amortize a $22,000 car over 7 years? If you can’t afford it in 4 years, you shouldn’t be buying it at all. “That’s a Hard No!“, on that contract.
  3. An acquaintance claims they have made a fortune on a pyramid-sales scheme, and wants you to join in and be rich like them. “You want to blow smoke, go have a dart“, don’t include me in your pyramidal sales stupidity. I buy my soap at the Wal-Mart.
  4. You plan on getting married so you ask the invitees for cash only as gifts to pay for the wedding, or worse you set up a GoFundMe page so that you can pay for it.  “Oh I’m stomping the brakes, put that idea right through the f**king windshield.”
  5. The government allowing various firms to claw away more than 20% of someone’s disability tax credit? If they did it themselves it would have cost nothing, so what services do they offer that can add up to over $10K in fees? “What’s the nature of that, David Suzuki?”

Still Have Issues Squirrely Dan?

As you can see this turn of phrase is quite useful in your day-to-day financial dealings. I encourage folks to use it, if not just to see the reactions of the folks your saying it to. If you still have a problem, go have a Puppers.


Sometimes One Sentence is Enough

After preparing for Post # 2500 I went through my archives, but also my Draft folder as well, and found this completely off topic, but still interesting article I wrote 4 years ago, doesn’t really have too much to do with money, more about the power of words and how sometimes we need to be careful about what we say, especially to younger folk.

Motivating Phrases

One of the more interesting parts of my life is I (on occasion) have a chance to watch young athletes and young people trying hard to meet their goals, and I always ponder in those situation what is motivating these kids to do what they are doing?

In many instances, a lot of kids (and adults) are self-motivated, or whatever is motivating them is something personal that they use as their inner dynamo pushing them towards their goals, but I’d like to share two interesting stories that maybe helps show that sometimes a simple phrase may be enough to motivate (or completely derail) a child’s goals.

We’ll Make A Mathematician of You Yet

That phrase (along with many other things I would guess) is one of the motivating reasons someone dear to me chose the path that he did and became a Statistician. He was in a class one day (during the second world war) and as usual he had a substitute or temporary teacher for Math. This teacher didn’t know this lad from Adam, and could have easily said nothing, but after this student had answered a particularly tricky question, this Teacher uttered that phrase which set this student on a path towards success.

Astounding isn’t it that a single phrase can do that?

You’ll never amount to anything!

Hardly what you would call a motivating phrase, now would you? This is another example that different people get motivated by different things, but this motivation is solely mine.

I was in a high school math class, and I must admit that I was a mouthy little twit, and this Math teacher, no doubt had enough of my big mouth and decided he’d shut me up, by uttering that phrase, in the context of talking about who would succeed in Mathematics. This was done in front of the entire class and done with purpose to put me in my place.

The expression I remember from his face said to me that this was not an off-hand remark, he really meant it, and I took it very much to heart, and initially it demotivated tremendously.

It took a while before I was able to turn this barbed comment to heart and use it to motivate myself to succeed (if not exceed) in Math, because I was going to show this teacher just how wrong he was, and I think at the end of it, I may have proven him wrong (certainly in my mind, I did).

Choose Your Words Carefully

The real point of this is that if you deal with kids or young people, think about what you are saying to them, because you never know when you might actually say that could either inspire or worse deflate a fragile young ego.

I am confident both of the “adults” in this story have no idea that they motivated either student by their simple comment, but that just shows the power that you have when dealing with young minds.

Should we be heaping praise on kids when they don’t deserve it? My opinion is no, but that does not mean you need to necessarily heap scorn on them either, encouragement doesn’t mean praise where it is not earned. Encouragement really means helping a kid move forward and learn about themselves.


“I Wasn’t Lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions”

That was how Mayor Ford in Toronto answered as to why he hadn’t admitted to smoking crack before, that no one had asked the right question.

While the whole situation was a bit sad to see someone having this many troubles in his private life, that response is a classic response that really needs to be used more by those of us who may have misled someone (rivalling,  “… I did not have sex with that woman …” for an interesting response which you could argue wasn’t a lie), or as we have learned the true definition of Chutzpah!

Chutzpah 2013 Super Colossal Award Winner
Chutzpah 2013 Super Colossal Award Winner

Anyone with teenage children know this kind of answer, but let’s see where else we could use this kind of answer in a financial situation:

  • You ask your friend to pay for your lunch at a restaurant and  a few days later when they ask you to pay them back, you point out that you asked them to pay for lunch, not for a loan to pay for your lunch and if they look perplexed the answer, “I wasn’t lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions” works very nicely.
  • Blackberry investors find out that the company in fact is not going to sell itself, it is going to stick it out (and try to recover by firing their CEO) and the stock price drops by 20% before trading, I guess the answer the Blackberry board could answer to the investors is, “We weren’t lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions”?
  • I suppose if you were a victim of a Ponzi scheme of some kind, the “Investment Guru” that rant the scheme when the victims asked why did you steal all our money, the answer, “I wasn’t lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions”, could be used as well.

I think truly Mr. Ford should be nominated for the 2013 Super Colossal Chutzpah of the Year Award.

What is chutzpah? The best explanation I can find is from Leo Rosten (author of the Joys of Yiddish ), who stated:

“…that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

Leo Rosten — The Joys of Yiddish


Financial Predictions without Skin in the Game

So the folks over at Freakonomics did a Podcast on the Folly of Predictions where they pointed out the obvious. Humans are lousy at Predicting future events (no matter what models and heuristics that are used). In a follow up post More Predictions, From Bad to Worse another very good point was made:

Fact: Because the incentives to predict are quite imperfect — bad predictions are rarely punished — this situation is unlikely to change.

Excellent point! If someone makes predictions in the media, they should then be forced to prove that they are backing up this prediction with either money of their own, or give a punishment that they will take if they are wrong. This could make Stock Predicting a much more interesting game to watch.

Think of it, if I stood up and stated:

The Eternal Flame in Ottawa (not the Olympic flame)
The Eternal Flame in Ottawa

I think Internationl BuggyWhip Megabrand (IBwM) is a great investment, and they will beat the market, and to show my commitment to this statement here is a link to prove my purchase of 2000 shares of this fine stock AND if I am wrong (and the stock goes down in the next 3 months), I will personally stand naked on Parliament Hill next to the eternal flame on January 15th for 2 hours, as penance for being wrong.

You would think that either:

  1. I’ve lost my mind and need to be institutionalized. -or-
  2. That this is a great stock tip

Would it make me any better at stock prognostication ? No, but it might stop me from making outlandish predictions that I have little (or no) data to support my statements.

The next time someone predicts something, ask them what they are willing to do to back up their claim, then you’ll know how confident they are in their statement.

If anyone goes to the eternal flame on January 15th don’t expect to see me standing there.


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