So you’re interviewing for a big job? And wondering how to land the interview? Channel your inner Alex P. Keaton.
Throughout Family Ties, Alex P. Keaton was always trying to get ahead. That's how he found himself working in various roles, whether as a stock boy at Adler’s Grocery or at a New York stock brokerage firm in the last episode.
We don’t always see how each interview goes when Alex applies for a job, college or scholarship (hey, the same principles apply in a college or a scholarship interview as a job). Still, we can infer a lot, and we do see how some of these conversations go.
So with that in mind, let’s get to it – what to do and what not do in an interview, tips courtesy of Alex P. Keaton.
Today's "TV Lesson" Breakdown:
- Your resume is crucial
- Look your best
- Be prepared
- Don’t try too hard. Be yourself.
- Carefully thread the needle between confidence – and arrogant jerk.
- Apply for jobs that you’re passionate about
- Honesty is the best policy
- The interview: 4 Family Ties tips for landing the job
- You can always turn down a job offer
Your resume is crucial
Sure, we all know that intuitively, but in the episode “Beauty and the Bank,” Alex’s resume is so good that he really doesn’t have to do an interview.
Mr. Heaney, who hires him, says, “Well, Alex, why be coy? This meeting is just a formality. We've seen your resume. We know you're brilliant. You're obviously the best man for the job."
“My sentiments exactly,” Alex says.
That’s about the extent of the “job interview” Alex has to do at the fictional main branch of the First Mercantile American Bank. That said, because Mr. Heaney says it’s good of Alex to “come back” when they first meet, that’s our only hint that Alex presumably did have a longer interview earlier.
Look your best
It’s a small matter, hardly worth mentioning, and it’s job hunting advice that we all know, but if you watch any episodes where Alex does a job interview, he is always dressed for the part, looking pretty impeccable. The sport coat and tie. Not a hair out of place.
This is also obvious advice, but you’re much more likely to wow whoever you're meeting with if you’ve prepared for the interview.
In the episode “Keaton vs. Keaton,” Alex and his younger sister, Mallory, each apply for a scholarship from their father’s local station PBS. They have to interview with a committee and do a presentation to get it – and Alex clearly didn’t phone his performance in. He seems to have put weeks into this interview.
“Your presentation was amazing, Alex,” says one of the judges after the interview. “And the effects were incredible. When that dollar bill started spinning out towards me, I jumped out of my seat.”
Mallory does a stellar job, too, though, and clearly spent time on her presentation, too. Alex, in fact, ends up secretly withdrawing from the scholarship competition when he learns that he came in first and Mallory was second.
Those job preparation details really matter. If somebody else is going to determine your fate and employ you or not, the work you put in beforehand can really help you. Especially if things go wrong during your interview.
For instance, in the episode, “Go Tigers,” Alex has a face-to-face interview at Princeton University – and he brings Mallory, along, since her boyfriend, Jeff, is a student there. Unfortunately for both Alex and Mallory, Jeff has found a new girlfriend – and neglected to tell his old girlfriend. He figured he would tell her in person when he went back home. Well, big mistake: Mallory accompanies Alex to Princeton, hoping to surprise Jeff.
And mission accomplished.
As fans of the show know, Mallory is a mess of tears and winds up in the dean’s office before Alex’s interview. It doesn’t look so great, when a dour Dean Memminger enters the room and finds Alex, Mallory and Jeff in his office. He asks if there has been a coup.
But after Jeff and Mallory leave, Alex still has a fighting chance for the interview to go well. Dean Memminger, in fact, praises Alex’s resume.
“I can always spot sincerity and commitment in an application,” Dean Memminger says.
“Well, thank you, sir,” Alex says, unfortunately adding: “I tried to throw a lot of both in there.”
Don’t try too hard. Be yourself.
That’s lame-o advice that we’ve all heard a million times, but it’s true. You want to be personable without going overboard.
Dean Memminger says to Alex – after Jeff and Mallory leave – that “this interview isn’t off to a good start. If there are any future interruptions, I may have to hold it against you.”
“Yes, sir. I'd do the same thing if I were in your shoes,” Alex says. “By the way, did I tell you how much I liked your shoes?”
Carefully thread the needle between confidence – and arrogant jerk.
It’s a delicate dance, and Alex P. Keaton struggled with that, especially in his meeting with Dean Memminger. Still, he grew over the series where he more or less had his interview skills honed to a science in later episodes.
But when Dean Memminger asks his interviewee what qualities he possessed that might enrich the Princeton community, Alex replies with: “Well, sir, I’m glad you asked that. How much time have you got?”
Dean Memminger isn’t amused.
Alex should have read the room. The interview hadn’t started off well, and Memminger didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor. Alex probably would have better off if he had just immediately said something generic and non-controversial like, “I care very much about academics.”
Alex clearly can tell that his answer wasn’t a good one, and so he tries again, this time getting serious but trying way too hard to come off as impressive.
“Well, sir, at the risk of sounding immodest, you see before you a young man without a flaw,” Alex says.
The dean simply stares at him, clearly not impressed.
“Unless, of course, you find me immodest, in which case, I have one flaw,” Alex quickly adds. But it’s hardly much of a save.
Not that Alex could have rescued the interview. Mallory is emotionally devastated after learning that Jeff has cheated on her, and she phones Alex during the interview. Later, when Alex hears her sobbing outside the dean’s window, to his credit, he chooses his sister’s happiness over his own. Alex asks if the interview can be rescheduled. It can’t. So Alex says that he hopes his application is enough to get him into Princeton (since he doesn’t get in, it clearly wasn’t), and he ends the interview.
Alex also overdoes it with his confidence in the first few moments of the episode, “Beauty and the Bank."
Alex asks a woman to get him coffee – and pretty much treats her as if she is an airhead ditz because she’s a female.
That sort of cavalier and arrogant attitude sure wouldn’t fly today, and it didn’t really in the 1980s. The TV audience knew Alex was being a jerk and that he would likely end up looking foolish soon. Indeed, that’s exactly how things play out. The woman who Alex was treating like his hired hand – even before being officially hired – turns out to be his boss.
Apply for jobs that you’re passionate about
You can’t always do that, and certainly in my 20s, before I became a journalist, I applied for some positions that I really kind of hoped I wouldn’t get.
You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, but you’re likely to excel in a job interview if you really love what you’re going to be doing. I think most of us have probably come to that conclusion after job interviews, and it certainly was the case for Alex P. Keaton. He often made a great impression because he was generally chasing jobs he was truly hungry for.
Alex clearly made an impression on Mr. Heaney, in the “Beauty and the Bank” episode. After complimenting Alex’s resume and general brilliance, Mr. Heaney marvels, “Rarely have I seen a man with your lust for money who was not in jail.”
My point is that employers, managers and human resource executives want to hire people who are genuinely excited to be working for them. Alex was in his element, when it came to the business world; it’s no wonder he had no trouble getting hired at various banks and investment firms.
Honesty is the best policy
I'm not an expert on job interviews -- but it does seem to make sense that when you're being interviewed for a job, being honest about your shortcomings is a smart idea. If the employer decides you aren't right for the position, well, maybe they're correct, and it's best for everyone.
Besides, people are smart and can see through insincerely. So maybe it's just best to put your cards on the table and be honest.
I'm thinking of this because in the episode "Death of a Grocer," which happens in the first season, Alex ends up leaving his job at the local grocery and going to a modern supermarket -- Shop-a-Lot.
He gets a job stocking the cat toy section, and he literally is a number there. Nobody calls him Alex. He is called "28."
It takes Alex awhile, but he starts to realize that he is miserable and actually enjoyed working at a small, unglamorous grocery.
So he asks Mr. Adler if he could come back to his old job.
"You weren't happy here before. What makes you think you're going to be happy now?" Mr. Adler asks.
It's a fair question. You can tell Mr. Adler is dying to have Alex back and was hurt when he quit -- but he doesn't want to go down this path again if it's just going to lead to hurt feelings.
"No, see, I was happy here. I just didn't know it," Alex says. "I guess I just got carried away. When they opened those big, automatic doors for me, over there, well, I guess for one brief, shining moment -- it was Shop-a-Lot."
It's an honest answer, and a good one, and Alex is rehired. Then Mr. Adler decides he wants to close the store early and watch the sunset. Alex is split between resuming his grocery duties or going with Mr. Adler, but he makes the smart decision and accompanies his boss and mentor.
The interview: 4 Family Ties tips for landing the job
In the episode, “The Job Not Taken,” Alex has a monologue that really should be studied by anybody hoping to nail a job interview. We’ll break it down in a second, but suffice it to say that it’s important to note that Alex’s interviewer, Jessica Foster, head of the company, says that she is looking for something special in the next person she hires. “Something different. Something… extraordinary.”
Fully understanding that the interview has gotten off to a shaky start and now a college graduate and really searching for a career-defining position, Alex knows he has to make a quick, convincing pitch to why he should be hired as an associate at Dun and Bradley, the biggest investment banking firm in Ohio. And so we’ll break down what he says into four parts. It sincerely is pretty brilliant.
“I can help you,” Alex says, brimming with confidence. “Because not only do I have the basic training and know-how necessary to structure a takeover merger, supervise a leveraged buyout, and make change blindfolded, I also have what can't be taught -- a vibrant, passionate, almost life-threatening love of money. A killer instinct for cash. A lust for traveler's checks.
In other words: ask what you can do for the company, not what the company can do for you.
“Now, sure, everyone who comes through this door loves money,” Alex continues. “But do they dream about it? Do they fantasize about it? Do they roll around naked in it? I do.”
That may sound like colorful dialogue that a scriptwriter invented, and it is, but Alex also just demonstrated how he stands out from the crowd of other applicants.
Alex continues: “Now, Ms. Foster, I'm sure you're familiar with the saying that the love of money is the root of all evil. So what? They're gonna have to do a lot better than that to get me to stop loving money. I mean, it is as fundamental to our lives as – as food, air and shelter.”
Alex has just shown that he understands the company’s culture – and believes in the product: money.
“Ms. Foster, you asked for something special. I am something special. I am something different. I am something extraordinary. I am money, hear me roar!”
Yes, it’s a little over the top, but there’s no denying that Alex is enthusiastic about the position. It’s also no surprise that he is hired.
You can always turn down a job offer
Sometimes, a job isn’t a great fit, or you get so excited about nailing a job interview that you forget that the actual position isn’t all that interesting.
In Alex’s case, he was given the position by Jessica Foster – and because of that, a friend of his, who got him the job interview in the first place, was shoved out the door.
Alex doesn’t know that at first, however. He comes back home, excited, telling his family that there’s a good chance of advancement and his being moved to Wall Street. Alex basks in the glory of the job and says that being rich is what he has wanted his whole life.
"Well, to be rich and not to go bald before I was 30. And to have a Porsche and not to go bald in that Porsche,” Alex says.
Later, Alex learns that Paul got the axe – and is understandably conflicted. It’s a lucrative job. Somebody’s going to have it if not Paul or Alex. Elyse, though, seems to be on the side of turning down the position.
"Mom, I'm not going to turn down a job that pays $45,000 a year,” Alex says.
"$45,000," Elyse sputters. "How well did you really know him?"
(In today’s dollars, according to an inflation calculator, that would be just over $100,000.)
That said, at the end of Alex’s first day, he gives Ms. Foster a report, which she is immediately impressed by. Then he quits.
Alex explains that he loves the his new position, “looking over marketing reports, merger profiles, security violations, stuff I love... but I can't enjoy it. I can't enjoy it because I took a friend's job.”
Ms. Foster counters: “We all have friends. Not me personally. But we can't let them get in the way of business.”
“Yeah, maybe that's true, but uh, it's not the way I want to get my business career started,” Alex says.
When he returns home, Alex’s mother is impressed. “You had to choose between money and friendship, and you chose... friendship,” Elyse says, a bit awed.
And Jennifer, in her classic sardonic tone, says, “Boy, I would have lost my shirt on that bet.”
But it was the right move for Alex. And as it turned out, about half a season later, at the series' conclusion, he had another interview – done off camera – and he lands a job at a New York stock brokerage firm.
So if you want an excellent job with a great salary and benefits, it all starts with a lot of preparation, practicing and rehearsing answers (making sure to throw in some sincerity and commitment, to wow the Dean Memmingers of the world). And it couldn’t hurt to binge watch some Family Ties.
Where to watch Family Ties (at the time of this writing): The entire series of Family Ties can be found on Paramount+. Meanwhile, PlutoTV.com (which is free; ad supported) has a 24-hour streaming channel featuring Family Ties.
Articles similar to this “Family Ties” one: You (or if you have kids or grandkids) may enjoy this earlier post that's mostly about Family Ties, offering studying tips. Or if you want job advice, how about this post on how TV characters have asked for a raise?