Life and Timing

Maggie Hoffman University of Edinburgh, Scotland


November 14, 2016

“Tell me a time when…,” the interviewer prompts me through the pixelated screen. I adjust the small desk lamp and shift forward in my seat, making sure to block the chipped paint on the wall behind me. I pop in my headphones so that she cannot hear partygoers and pulsating music from the street below. Here I am, once again, skyping into an interview from my dorm room.

This has become a part-time job these past two weeks. I am navigating the same onslaught of finance and consulting interviews as my Northwestern peers. However, I’m doing it from 3,000 miles away. My career counselor advised me that recruiting while abroad would present some challenges; I assured her that I would take them in stride.

Compared to the traditional in-person format, the virtual interview process has its advantages. First impressions are critical – and this gives me an edge. The interviewer does not shake my clammy hands, see the nervous tapping of my feet, or realize that I have swapped out leather pumps for my worn fuzzy socks. Instead, she sees the wide eyes of an eager and committed student, willing to accept a late-night interview slot in order to stay competitive. Our conversation flows naturally. “Scotland? How interesting! I’ve always wanted to go to Edinburgh. What other places have you seen?” Although virtual interviews are inconvenient, they are memorable. I immediately illustrate my sense of adventure and my willingness to travel – characteristics that are difficult to showcase on a one-page resume.

However, it would be misleading to if I said that overseas recruitment was painless. It is exhausting and haphazard and all-consuming, at least for the past two weeks. It is difficult to stay motivated when my Edinburgh friends are headed out for an afternoon at the museum or drinks at the nearby pub. I politely decline their offers; there is preparation and research to be done.

I’ve also had to pass up second-round interviews with two different consulting firms. Both companies traditionally fly candidates to their corporate headquarters for “Super Day,” an intensive series of case studies and behavioral interviews with partners or managing directors. The geographical distance renders me ineligible. This seems like a personal defeat, even if it is entirely out of my control.

Would I have encountered a comparable set of obstacles back on campus? Maybe.

My demanding course schedule would leave less free time for interview preparation, but I would have the benefit of peer support and face-to-face networking. I could shake the hands of my interviewer, rather than decipher her expression on my frozen laptop screen.

Even so, I quickly realize these inconveniences are trivial compared to the scope of my adventures abroad. I would have sacrificed the opportunity to walk the rugged edges of the Cliffs of Moher, drink mountain water from Norwegian fjords, and celebrate the strange British holiday that is Guy Fawkes Day. There would be no sunset aperitifs on Parisian rooftops or afternoon hikes up Arthur’s Seat.

Life is full of trade-offs. This time the choice is easy.

I smooth my blouse and stare into the camera, waiting patiently for the next question. The interviewer smiles as she looks up from her notes, “Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult choice.”

I know exactly how to answer.


Scotland Semester