Interview Questions Over a Dinner of Pasta with Turkey Sausage and Peppers


“So tell me about yourself.” It is the dreaded interview question that you hear immediately after exchanging pleasantries on the weather. As the interviewee in the hot seat you think, “Tell you about myself? You have my resume right in front of you, which I painstakingly spent weeks to create so that you would have the full inventory of my experience and achievements. Did you not read it or something?” Okay, having interviewed over 100 candidates over the course of my career, I admit that once in a while I only managed to skim the resume on my way to the interview. This usually happens when the interview occurs after a full morning of back-to-back meetings that started at 7 AM.

However, even when I was able to carefully read a resume and underline key points that I wanted to learn more about, I still asked that question. “So tell me about yourself.” Rather than use it as an interview torture device, I wanted to know the values of the person sitting across from me. He or she only had 3 – 5 minutes, the equivalent of one page single-spaced, to summarize everything from the past 5 – 10 years. This was not the time to start the answer with where you were born and, unless you just graduated, where you went to high school. That is analogous to telling me, “Well in the beginning there was this big bang…” By the time your 5 minutes were up, you would have only made it through the Jurassic period.

The content of the answer was the key. I studied what was omitted just as much as what was included in the monologue, because that told me what the person felt strongly enough about to spend a few of those precious minutes on.

Now I am in the hot seat. I was slated to speak with over 40 students at Vanguard High School. As part of their speaker series I wanted to promote healthy eating and increased confidence in the kitchen by demonstrating an easy Pasta with Turkey Sausage and Peppers. In between sautéing onions and boiling noodles, I was to provide insight on different types of careers (which you will see in the video below covers at least four from personal experience), and share my advice as they think about heading off to college and in to the working world. I was asked to submit a one page biography for the students to read ahead of time so that they could prepare questions for the event. It turned out that the speaker series had to be rescheduled due to a snow storm, but the introspection resulting from writing my one-pager was invaluable.

In order to be relevant to the students, I needed to start where they are right now–in high school. This meant that I had one page to describe almost 20 years of my life. I decided to start with the “What next after high school?” decision, and briefly mentioned my career experiences so that the students could ask about particular jobs that interested them. The biography was peppered with anecdotes because who wants to read a dry resume-style list? Most importantly, given the audience, I wanted to convey the values and beliefs that I live by: never stop learning and improving yourself, understanding concepts and principles will be more useful than memorizing tomes of facts, there are always opportunities if you look for them, you also need to make an effort to create opportunities (after all, how can opportunity come knocking on your door if you do not send an invitation telling him where you live?), and finally have fun.

I sifted through the cobwebs of my brain, picking and choosing memories to include…and even finding long-forgotten memories that made me smile, laugh, or reminisce fondly about the people who made an impact in my life. Try the one page biography exercise. It will help you look at where you have been, where you are now, and the journey along the way. By surfacing themes throughout your life it may even help you discover your own values and beliefs so that you can easily answer the no-longer-dreaded “So tell me about yourself.”

Pasta with Turkey Sausage and Peppers

Serves 2

1/4 pound spaghetti (reserve 1/2 cup pasta water)
4 turkey sausages, casings removed
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, sliced into strips
1 green pepper, sliced into strips
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon butter
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain the spaghetti and reserve 1/2 cup of the water it was cooked in.

In a large pan, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium high heat. Add the turkey sausages and break them apart in the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon. Cook until the meat is no longer raw and pink, approx. 3-4 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a small bowl and set aside.

In the same pan, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent, approx. 3 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium. Add the red peppers, green peppers, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, a pinch of salt and a pinch of ground black pepper. Cook until they are tender, approx 5 – 7 minutes.

Add the sausage, parmesan cheese, parsley and pasta water. Mix well and cook for another 30 seconds – 1 minute to reheat the pasta water and sausage. Add salt to taste. Turn off the heat, and add the butter. Mix well then add the spaghetti and toss to combine.

Hazel Sy
January 2011

Hazel’s Notes:

Starchy pasta water and finishing off with a pat of butter creates a silky sauce when you make pasta that is not based on a cream or tomato sauce. This also enables you to use less olive oil in the sauce base.

Serve this immediately because the spaghetti will absorb the sauce and the dish will become dry if it sits out for too long.

I wanted to show the students the variety of pastas (aside from the typical jarred tomato sauce) that they can make, but you can easily convert this recipe to a tomato-based sauce: after cooking the red and green peppers for 3 minutes, add the sausage, parsley, and 2 cups of crushed tomatoes. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer covered for 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Omit the parmesan cheese, pasta water and butter.

Williams-Sonoma Easy Japanese Appetizers Cooking Demo
Learn how to make California Rolls and other easy Japanese appetizers in my free cooking demo at Williams-Sonoma 59th St. & Lexington Ave, NYC on Sat, March 5th 2pm – 4pm

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