Three Ways to Sail Through the Toughest Interview Questions
By Margaret Hansen, JobsInDE.com
Difficult, uncomfortable and yet familiar are words that may aptly describe your last job interview - assuming that you were asked reasonable questions.
But what if you weren't? In what hardly seems like a fair interviewing practice, 31 percent of voters in a recent JobsInDE.com poll said that their toughest interview question fell under the category of "irrelevant nonsense."
[I was asked] if I knew all the words to the theme from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and, if I did, could I sing it? I could and did. To this day I have no idea why they wanted me to do that. It was for an IT position with an ad agency in NYC. And yes, I got the job.
- Erika Mandelman Muller
"Do you ski?"
- Andrea Moore
"Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?" Answer: The fuzziness reduces bounce and speed and gives the players better control of their shots.
- Joyce Brown
I've been asked before what my religious beliefs were. I managed to skirt the issue the best I could. I knew I didn't want to work there when they started asking questions like that!
- Candace Hart
I was asked: "Tell us why we should hire you." My reply was: "Tell me why you shouldn't." I got the job!
- Cindee Bombard Shallberg
Strategies to Keep it Together
How do you keep a cool head and answer unexpected questions without wavering? Here are three ways to best handle it from an HR pro:
1. Be Conversational, but Not Disruptive
When asked about something off-topic, it's best to briefly add a polite comment without holding up the interview.
"I'll often mention the weather or a recent sporting event that's well known just to get people relaxed and comfortable," says Johnna Major, founder and president of Cornerstone-HR, a Maine-based HR consulting firm that specializes in client-tailored recruitment, management, and organizational strategies. "But if someone starts going off on Jon Lester's pitching stats, it can be hard to get the interview back on track. So, I would recommend that job candidates keep it cordial but brief."
2. Know Who You Are and What You Want
How should you prepare for your next job interview? According to Major, your sales pitch needs to include three things:
- Your relevant strengths
- How you've addressed your weaknesses in previous jobs
- The criteria you use to evaluate a potential job and employer
"I find many candidates haven't thought about how they'll evaluate an opportunity, so they will often say, 'Well I would love to work for your company because...,'" said Major, showing that the candidate hasn't given much thought to their job search process and what they really want.
3. Regroup and Analyze Before Answering an Unexpected Question
When you are asked, "Why are tennis balls fuzzy?" the interviewer is likely evaluating how you handle the question and not necessarily looking for one right answer.
"Some interviewers want see how you react under pressure and whether you can think on your feet," said Major. "My advice is not to rush in with an answer and instead be true to yourself. Take a breath and ask for a minute to think about it."
Be sure to ask some questions about the company's work culture to determine if you'll fit in, as this line of questioning could be a red flag.
"If the interviewer is expecting you to think on your feet without a lot of information or context, is this what it would be like to work for the hiring manager? And if you're a person who needs to process information for a bit before responding, this may not be the right fit for you," Major said.
Keeping these three strategies in mind will equip you with the armor needed for any interview question worth answering.
Margaret Hansen has been writing professionally since receiving a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maine. She has worked for multiple organizations as a weekly newspaper reporter, a weekly newspaper editor, and in a variety of internal/external marketing communications roles. Her freelance career has focused on writing and editing for print, email and web publications in the employment industry, as well as manuscript editing and resume writing. Margaret has been affiliated with JobsInDE.com since 2003, most recently as the content manager/writer/editor for the company's award-winning employment-related newsletters. To suggest articles, or if you are interested in writing for JobsInDE.com, please email her at mhansen (at) JobsInDE.com.