Would You Be Willing to Leave Your Family at Disneyland?

Every Sunday, the New York Times business section publishes an interview with a CEO. The feature is called “Corner Office” and is well worth following to understand what people mean when they talk about “company culture” and “fit.” Towards the end of the column, the interviewer always asks about the specific interview questions that CEO uses for hiring. Here’s the answer in last Sunday’s column, with Don Mal, the CEO of a software company,

To understand their work ethic, I do ask this question: Would you be willing to leave your family at Disneyland to do something that was really important for the company?

Some people have said no, and I haven’t hired them.

It’s interesting because I did leave my wife and kids at Disneyland once. It was to close the biggest deal of our company’s history. I left for two days. It wasn’t like I was leaving them there for the whole vacation.

To me, it’s not so much a loyalty question. It’s more of just trying to understand their work ethic.

There are a number of takeaways here.

  • To work at this company, you have to be able to answer “yes” with sincerity.
  • If your answer would be “no,” you wouldn’t get the job. But that could be a good thing.
  • It might be worth asking yourself: what is the work for which you WOULD leave your family at Disneyland for two days? A career-making writing opportunity? The chance to do some game-changing fundraising for your nonprofit? An international conflict that needs your particular skills?
  • If you can’t imagine the career goal that would take you away from a family vacation, that may be a non-negotiable core value that will shape your career decisions. Or it could mean that you haven’t yet discovered the work that means that much to you.

There is no “right” answer to an interview question — there is only the answer that accurately conveys whether or not you would be a good fit for that organization (and by extension, whether the organization is a good fit for you).

FOCUS Part-Time Job Fair, Sept. 21, 6 – 7:30pm

13517497_1042158995820602_4150202462305579136_oIf you’re looking for part-time work on or around campus that will help you to build your professional skills, this is your job fair.

It’s a good idea to register first on I-Link, but you can attend even if you don’t register. To register, log into I-Link, click the “events” tab on the left-hand side of the page, then scroll down to “FOCUS: The Job Fair for Career-Focused Paid Campus Work.”  Click on that link and then on the box marked “RSVP.”

How to Prepare

You’ll need a resume. If you’ve never written one before, the Career Center has lots of helpful advice. Walk-in resume review is available tomorrow, Sept. 20, between 4 and 5 in 2040 Lincoln Hall.

You should plan to dress professionally. Don’t stress if you don’t have a suit–just wear nice slacks or a skirt with an appropriate shirt, blouse, or sweater, preferably with shoes that aren’t athletic shoes or flip-flops. Avoid tank tops, jeans, shorts, sweats, and anything with a logo.

Whom Will You Talk To?

On I-Link you can find information about the employers who will be coming to the FOCUS part-time job fair and the jobs they are seeking to fill. Of particular interest to English and CW majors are Gaggle (they are VERY keen to meet English majors), Human Kinetics (a local publishing house), the University of Illinois Foundation, and FAA Advancement. But check the list for yourself.

What Do You Do at a Job Fair?

You introduce yourself to employers, ask an intelligent question about the positions they have advertised, and offer a resume that spells out your qualifications in greater detail.

Getting Ready for the Illini Career and Internship Fair

Illini Career Fair 2016

Are employers interested in talking to you?


Desirable English/CW major skills

  • Communication (both oral and written)
  • Knowledge about cross-cultural issues, diversity, inclusivity
  • Research and information retrieval
  • Analytical thinking
  • Creative thinking and problem-solving
  • Effective with ambiguity, uncertainty, incomplete information
  • Learning and synthesizing new ideas
  • Teamwork

(English majors: You’ve explored 1500  years of the written word, from Beowulf to Derrida, some of the densest and most challenging prose ever written: complexity doesn’t scare you.)

(Creative writing majors: You’re skilled at working with groups to bring out the best in yourself and others; you know how to bring creative rigor to any problems and how to hold a team to high standards.)

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Planning Backwards from the Interview; Or, Why Group Projects Matter

monsters incBelow is a list of interview questions that a human resources specialist at a major west coast media company keeps in rotation for evaluating potential hires.

Note that none of these ask about your major, your GPA, the specific jobs or positions you’ve held, your awards, or your coursework (though some of these elements of your resume might help you get the interview).  They all ask, one way or another, “how do you interact with people? how do you cope with conflict and stress? can you pull your weight without being annoying?”

The only way to prepare for questions like these is to have good stories to tell about your experience. The more experience you have, the more stories you can tell.

  • Tell me about a time when you were “thrown in the deep end.” What did you learn about yourself as a result?
  • What’s given you your greatest sense of accomplishment or been your greatest achievement so far? Why?
  • Tell me about a time when you saw a potential problem on the horizon. How did you recognize that the problem was going to occur in the first place? What did you do to try to prevent this problem from occurring?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to absorb complex information or learn a complex task. How did you go about learning it? What did you do to ensure you learned it?
  • Tell me about a work-related mistake you’ve made and how you learned from this.
  • Tell me about a time when everything around you was going wrong. How did you deal with the situation?
  • Tell me about a time when you worked in an environment that was inhabited by people with a negative attitude. How did you react and cope with this?
  • How would people who have worked with you describe the way you handle stress and pressure? Give me an example of a time when you were under stress and pressure to deliver results. What could we expect if you were under stress and pressure here at work?
  • Tell me about a time when your manager asked you to do something with which you did not agree. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a situation where you went out of your way to spend extra effort or energy on something. What was it and what made you do this?
  • Give me an example of time when you worked within a team that was dysfunctional and wasn’t operating effectively. What was your role? What did you do to make things better?
  • Think about the most challenging colleague you have had and tell me how you handled working with that person. What would you have done differently in retrospect?
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you were involved in a workplace conflict. What did you do to resolve the conflict?
  • What types of people do you prefer to work with? Which kinds of people do you like working with the least? Why? How do you make yourself cope with people you don’t like? How do you handle people that don’t like you?
  • Tell me about a time where you had a manager who wasn’t particularly good at motivating you. How did you motivate yourself? What did you wish your manager did to help you feel motivated?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to persuade or influence a peer. How did you go about doing this? What was the result?

Even if an actual job interview is a long way in your future, it’s worth thinking about how you would answer these questions now, based on your life experience so far.  Then ask yourself, how can you acquire better stories to tell?  What opportunities do you have to learn more about how you work with other people?  What are your strengths and weaknesses as a team member and how can you build on them?