One of the best movies of all time is undoubtedly The Shawshank Redemption. And one of the best scenes in that movie is when Red, played by Morgan Freeman, is finally granted parole.

By “finally,” we mean that Red had three parole hearings between 1947 and 1967. At the first hearing, this is what transpired:

Man #2: We see by your file you’ve served twenty years of a life sentence.

Man #3: You feel you’ve been rehabilitated?

Red: Yes, sir. Absolutely. I’ve learned my lesson. I can honestly say I’m a changed man. I’m no longer a danger to society. That’s the God’s honest truth. No doubt about it.

The parole paper was instantly stamped denied.

But the final hearing produced a different result. Here is what transpired:

Parole Man: Ellis Boyd Redding, your files say you’ve served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?

Red: Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.

Parole Man: Well, it means that you’re ready to rejoin society…

Red: I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?

Parole Man: Well, are you?

Red: There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.

After some contemplation, Red’s parole application was approved, and he was released from prison.

The Lesson

The similarities between Red’s parole hearing and your upcoming job interview are numerous. Just like the parole officials wanted to be sure that Red would be a good fit to return to society, your interviewers need to be sure that you’ll be a good fit for the work environment.

And by “good fit” we don’t mean “qualified.” You’re sitting at the interview table—of course you’re qualified. The interviewers, like the parole officials, are concerned with who you are. They want to see how you present yourself. They want to see how fast you can think on your feet when asked an unexpected question. Most importantly, they want to see personality and confidence.

Now, we are not suggesting that you stride into the interview room, call the interviewer “Sonny,” and start letting curse words fly.

What we are advocating is this: do not walk into the interview room and tell the interviewers what you think they want to hear. That is what everyone else is probably doing, and it won’t set you apart from the competition.

Instead, sell yourself by being yourself. Resist the urge to respond to questions with generic answers. Give a great answer, let your personality shine through, and always radiate with confidence. Like Red, you must be passionate and sincere. The goal is to be memorable—you must transcend the four corners of your resume and leave a strong impression in the mind of the interviewer so that when they go home that evening, they are still thinking about hiring you.

Real-Life Examples

  • When Greg was interviewing for his judicial clerkship, he submitted two writing samples. One of the writing samples was a twenty-page memo on sidewalk liability, which involved whether a homeowner could be liable for a trip-and-fall occurring on the sidewalk of his property. Boring right? Greg thought so too. When asked by the Judge about the writing sample during his interview, Greg didn’t lie about how interesting he found the subject. Instead, Greg responded, “I chose this as a writing sample because it is the most boring topic that I’ve written about. Although I understand that you manage very interesting cases, such as medical-malpractice cases and employment-discrimination cases, I know that not everything will be interesting. So I chose this writing sample because it shows my ability to research and pay great attention to even the most uninteresting of topics.” Greg was hired the following week.
  • During her interview for an office job, Anita was asked, “What is your greatest strength.” Instead of responding with something generic like “I’m a hard worker,” Anita said, “I have a high tolerance for pain.” After she and the interviewers finished their good-hearted laugh about this unexpected answer, Anita drew analogies between her leadership experience in the army and what would be required of her in her current position. Anita was hired two days later.
  • The interviewer rescheduled John’s interview from Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning. At the beginning of the interview, the interviewer apologized and explained that he had to attend his son’s basketball game. The interview went well, and after about an hour, the interviewer asked John if he had any questions. Seeing an opportunity to connect with the interviewer on a more personal level, John, the father of two young children, declared that he had only one question and asked, “Who won the game?” The two then talked about their children for about ten minutes before shaking hands and departing. On his car ride home, John accepted the position via cellphone.
  • Katie attended an information session for a marketing analytics firm at her school. She studied both the industry and specific niche the company made for itself. She knew its service offerings, clients, and had a basic understanding of the company’s deliverables. What she didn’t know, she had no qualms asking about. She was confident yet not overly confident to the point of being rude. She asked the most questions at the information session as well as the best questions. The founder of the company was present at the information session and could tell she had a passion for learning about the industry as well as some good insights and questions that really tested some of his recruiters’ own knowledge of the industry. He was hooked. He asked Katie in for an interview the next week. She was on time, calm, and collected. She did not break a sweat. She was interviewed by the founder himself and when he asked her what she thought of his business, she replied, “I admire what you have done. And while I think your approach is innovative, I think the company can be improved in many areas.” She went on to describe what areas and approaches she thought might be helpful in maintaining existing customers as well as generating better turnaround on sales leads. At the end of their conversation, she said, “Initially, I set my sights on a big company because I thought I would be able to have a big impact at some point in my future. But, since then, I’ve realized that I want to have an impact on the company I’m working for the day I step foot in the door, a significant one at that. As we’ve discussed in this short interview, there are plenty of areas where I can have that big impact I’ve been looking forward to making. That’s why I want to work for your company.” She was called back for a second interview that same day. She was eventually hired a few weeks later with a start date in the Fall.

  • Steve Gadlin’s creativity and unique business idea landed himself in the Shark Tank. He was about to face five of the richest, most brilliant celebrity angel investors in the United States. His goal? To ask them for a significant investment in his business. Which was? Drawing cats for people online. His business model actually wasn’t that bizarre. Customers pay $9.95 for a drawing of a cat that takes three minutes to draw, producing $9.32 profit. He can complete one-thousand drawings in a one week period. You do math. But did Steve walk into the Shark Tank with a generic sales pitch about how the numbers made monetary sense? No. Steve immediately broke out into song and (awkward) dance. But, as you can tell from the video, his jingle was quite catchy and had clearly entertained the investors. When the first investor said he would not make an offer, Steve replied, “I want you to go out, then I want you to go back to your hotel tonight and put your head on your pillow. I promise you, the last thing that’s going through your head before you go to sleep is [does dance] ‘I want to draw a cat for you!’” Steve persevered and eventually walked out with a $25,000 investment from Mark Cuban.

What we can learn from Red and these examples is that you want to come off as being as real as possible while telling the interviewer what they actually want to hear, not what you think they want to hear. Be memorable, and the job is yours.

Leave a Comment