What Job Seekers Forget: Being Able to Answer “Miss America” Questions

Posted March 26, 2013 by Marcy Twete in Career Moves

Our friends over at Come Recommended recently published an article called “Be a Stand Out Job Candidate: Start Reading.” In it, they encouraged job seekers to peruse the Washington Post, follow industry related blogs, and read publications related to the jobs you might be applying for. We agree wholeheartedly with this notion, but want to expand the “why” a little more.

The thing is, job seekers, you don’t just need to answer questions about your work ethic, your experience, and your dedication to the job anymore. More and more, in today’s job market, you also have to be skilled at answering what we call “Miss America Questions.” These questions could be related to current events, pop culture, interesting industry tidbits that occurred recently, and more. And just like the contestants on Miss America, if you flunk this part of the test, you look like an idiot, no doubt about it.

Two anecdotes you might consider in your studies:

  • I once had a friend who was interviewing for a position at a national sports team. The position was related to corporate events for the team’s stadium. I asked my friend, “Do you know much about the team?” Her response was, “Well, if I get the job, I suppose I’ll learn it.” And while her job didn’t even deal with the team, its marketing, or its players, the first question she was asked in the interview was this: “Who is your favorite player on this team?” Sadly, she couldn’t name one, and even more sadly, she didn’t get the job.
  • Recently, an acquaintance interviewed for a position with a private company, but one that deals heavily in government contracting. Late in the interview, though she was knocking it out of the park until that point, the interviewer began talking about the sequester and how it might affect their business. He asked for her thoughts, and in truth, she didn’t know about a sequester or what was happening in the government and couldn’t fake it. Again, she didn’t get the job.

How can you avoid these Miss America blunders? Take these steps:

  • Read one newspaper every single day, whether in print or online.
  • Before any interview, Google News search the name of the company, the industry it works in, and the names of the people you’re meeting with. You never know what big piece of news could have come up in the days before your interview.
  • Have a friend quiz you on company knowledge. By the time you interview, you should know a lot about the company you’re dealing with from their website, social media, and other sources. Invite a friend to peruse their website as well and ask you a few questions – where is the company’s headquarters, for example, or what kinds of charitable initiatives do they focus on? The questions your friend might ask could mirror those you’ll see in an interview.
  • Watch television! I know, I know, it’s a brain drain. But if you’re not a big TV watcher, take a few minutes at least weekly to watch something like Entertainment Tonight or Anderson Cooper on CNN. While you’ll get real, hard hitting news from the newspaper, these kinds of more pop culture and “what’s happening today” shows can show your knowledge of the ins and outs of American culture as well.

Preparing for an interview isn’t just about resumes and suits, just like Miss America isn’t just about lipstick and bikinis. You have to be prepared to answer the hard questions – even if they’re not directly related to the job.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."


    Kelley Long

    Great article, Marcy! Little known secret: I participated in the Miss America program (I was Miss Kalamazoo County 1999) and went through extensive training for the interview questions — contrary to popular belief, the biggest part of the contestants’ score is an interview with the judges that the audience doesn’t even get to see. Swimsuit and evening wear only account for a total of 20% of the score.

    Anyway, I credit a HUGE amount of my career success to the skills I learned in this process, particularly when it comes to staying apprised of current events as well as strong presentation skills. Your advice on how to keep up is spot on. It’s amazing how smart you sound when you say, “Did you see that article in the Times today?” And all I do is skim the daily email they send each morning, reading any articles that catch my personal interest…

    OK now, secret’s out!


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