Quelle surprise: the best advice I ever received came from 10th grade French class

As I dust off the list of potential job interview questions and answers, the best piece of advice I ever received came from an unlikely place: 10th grade French class.

I had one barrier in the way before departing to Belgium the summer after sophomore year as a foreign exchange student: the French Regents exam. Since I went to high school in New York State, I had to take Regents exams, lots of them. While not required for graduation, we were advised if you were planning on going to college it would help with admissions, especially the state schools, the number to which I applied was exactly zero. Anyway, for math and science classes, typically you took one per year. For the non-STEM classes, often there were multi-year sequences. French fell into this category and we had to cram 3 years worth of knowledge into our brains for the 3 hour exam.

I loved French but my French teacher, not so much. I would place him in the bottom 5 of all the teachers I ever had and I was stuck with him for 2 years. Therefore, I was surprised when on the last class before the exam, he sensed we were all stressed and gave us le meilleur conseil.

Remember, you know more than you think you know.

I put that advice to the test on exam day. With time ticking away, I was stuck on the essay, reading comprehension, well, all of it really. I didn’t know all the words. Aide moi! I figured out pretty quickly that I didn’t have to know the meaning to every word but just enough to piece together the answers, and I did. Score: 96. I knew more than I thought I did.

Fast forward one decade. MBA Dad, who I had recently met, and I were driving to my parent’s house for the first stop of summer break. This was in the days right before everyone had cell phones and we had agreed to meet at my house at noon. To this day I have no idea why we didn’t meet up and leave together but we didn’t. I overslept by more than two hours and I had no way of getting in contact with him. I thought and thought, what can I do?

Remember, you know more than you think you know.

So, it occurred to me he would need to get through the toll plaza at exit 26 of the New York State Thruway, which is so small and rural that there was only one manned booth. So, I called directory assistance and got the phone number of the toll booth. I called, asked if she could leave a message for a blue Honda Accord sedan with PA plates coming through at approximately 11:30 AM. “Yes, I would be happy to help.” When I finally met up with MBA Dad mid-afternoon, I found out he got the message. It worked. I knew more than I thought I did.

The following year I had a job interview with an investment bank one January day and I had an 8 AM flight to New York City so I could arrive for the afternoon. This is first and probably last time this will ever happen but I got a call from the airline at 5:30 AM informing me the flight was cancelled. The next flight was at 11 AM, would I like to book a ticket? Well, that wasn’t going to work. The last thing I wanted to do was to call the bank to say I was going to be late. I thought and thought again, and drew upon the three years I had lived in New York City before attending business school.

Remember, you know more than you think you know.

Yes, I have a solution, I thought. I will go to the airport, see if there are any flights to Newark instead, and get into New York City from there. Sure enough, there was a flight leaving at 7:30 AM for Newark, and I was on that flight. I ended up getting that job and worked there for two years after business school. I knew more than I thought I did.

Sadly, while the French I learned is long forgotten, there have been numerous other instances in which that piece of advice has proven invaluable. Merci!

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