The Interrogation by
(87 Stories)

Prompted By Interviews

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A less intimidating Marty Doctoroff as judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals.

My local Harvard interviewer was a Detroit lawyer named Marty Doctoroff whom my father knew professionally. I went to his office and he proceeded to grill me about current events and social issues — the Vietnam war, civil rights, campus unrest. The questions were all a little “slanted,” however, and I didn’t have stock answers. So for each one I’d stumble around a bit trying to get my bearing, then settle on a tack and start to cruise — at which point he’d interrupt me and ask about something else! It was so frustrating that finally I asked him why he wasn’t letting me finish. He replied, “Well, I knew what you were going to say.”

What it's like when your college interview is conducted by an FBI agent.

And as I thought about it, it was true. My answers were pretty much what my father would have said — the accepted liberal (but not radical) wisdom of the time. It was sobering, when I had a chance to reflect on it. Later I learned that Marty had previously been an FBI agent, where he learned how to interrogate a suspect. I was no match for him — but he did recommend me.

Marty and I got a chance to laugh about it later on, when he and my dad shared a law office for several years and our families started to socialize. I told him I had never learned as much about myself in an hour as I did from that interview.

Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.

Characterizations: well written


  1. Bravo John, you certainly were well -grilled by a pro and you made the cut!

    This prompt made us think back to our youthful interviews, many truly path-setting!

  2. Suzy says:

    Good story, John, glad you snuck it in under the wire! I would have found an interview like that infuriating, and I might have even said so. I wonder how he would have reacted to that. I could have been the original “I’m speaking” person, back when Kamala was just a toddler.

    • John Zussman says:

      Thanks, Suzy. At that age I was too compliant and eager to please to react with anger. In fact, I’m impressed that I noticed and called him on it! He had all the power in that situation. But I salute your sense of infuriation and wonder too how Marty would have reacted had you expressed it.

  3. Marian says:

    Harvard interviews left a big impression on those who experienced them, John, as evidenced by the Retro stories this week. How intimidating to be grilled by an FBI agent, but at least he recommended you.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    That style would have thrown anyone off his game. Infuriating! But he obviously “got” you and that was the most important thing. Interesting that you learned so much about yourself, upon reflection. Also nice that you both had a chance to circle back years later and talk about it. Not many people do.

  5. Susan Bennet says:

    Is it too late to comment on your article, John? Thought it was hilarious. As a former alumna interviewer myself, I blanched at your description of his interrogation of your current events, etc. Not allowed! But you bring him to life perfectly. Great piece.

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