Years and years ago I was asked at an interview “So, do you subscribe to the views of C.P. Snow?” This presented two problems; I had no idea what views C.P. Snow held and, more crucially, I didn’t know who C.P. Snow was. Smart thinking required…
“Which particular views are you referring to?” I parried. “The famous Rede Lecture which postulated the evolution of two cultures – sciences and humanities, of course.”
This proved enough to work with and had suitably alienated the other two interviewers who now thought the well-meaning but passive-pompous lady was something of an embarrrassment. “Ahh, I, I don’t.” That was it, no follow up, no cross-examination. It seemed that the interviewer simply wanted to assert her intellectual authority over a gathering which was left unimpressed and slightly ill-at-ease by the awkwardness of the pitch.
I’ve never forgotten that moment and I still wonder how many times interviewers pull the same trick. It probably happens more often in panel interviews as it’s driven by the need impress peers rather than would-bees. Anyhow, beware, C.P. Snow may sneak up on you one day!