A colleague shared a story about a Harvard business school student who was asked by a professor to explain a business case the class had been studying and for the student to share his conclusions. The student had prepared for this scenario and when the time came he rattled off everything he knew about the subject – everything. The professor responded by telling the student that he was like a “monkey with a pistol”.

When I heard this, I could envision a monkey firing his gun randomly, with little chance of hitting the target, spraying bullets all over a firing range. The professor was saying that the student had the tools to do the job (knowledge of the case) but was all over the place in his thoughts and conclusions. Are you a “monkey with a pistol” in an interview? Does ‘Word Vomit’ happen when a hiring manager asks you a question?

If this story hits too close to home for you as it did for me, consider approaching your next interview as a Branding Interview. As you conduct your preparation for an upcoming interview, think of four words that describe your best attributes/skills for the job for which you are interviewing. These words should be related to the needs of the position and employer – try to go beyond generic terms (ie. hard-working, team player, people person) to position specific content. During the interview, focus your answers to communicate these four terms in your examples. You will find that your answers begin to have themes and these themes are picked up by the employer – thus you are communicating your brand to the hiring manager.

When you leave the room, the interviewer should be able to associate those four terms with your application, thus ensuring you are leaving the impression you want to leave rather than the impression you hope to leave. Additionally, you will become more memorable as search committees will be able to associate words/phrases/terms with your application. Having your personal brand/four words and working them into the majority of your answers, you will avoid the “monkey with a pistol” scenario and stand a better chance of hitting the mark.


Kevin Monahan is the Associate Director of the Notre Dame Career Center.  In this role, he leads the center’s  employer relations efforts in addition to coaching young professionals in career management and career change capacities. He combines career consulting services with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituencies.  He is the author of the Career Seeker’s Guide blog.