The daunting challenge about job interviews is that you really don’t know what you’re going to be asked. Surely you’ve prepared responses to a host of typical questions that hiring managers keep an arsenal of: the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your greatest weaknesses?” Depending on the position for which you are interviewing, however, your interviewer can pepper you with tough questions that can unnerve even the steeliest and most confident of job seekers. Use proven formulas for dealing with tricky job interview questions.
You are being interviewed from the moment you step inside the company’s door. Questions such as, "How was your commute in?" "Are you a coffee drinker?" and "Where did you get that tie?" may seem like innocent icebreaker questions, but the hiring manager is already evaluating your demeanor and how well your personality might jell with the team you could join.
Sometimes these initial questions are designed to determine your level of self-awareness. They are aimed at showing how good you are at seeing yourself objectively, especially as it relates to how well you can perform and get along in team environments. For example, an interviewer may start the more formal portion of the interview by asking you to describe your career progression and the experiences that led to you seeking a job at that particular organization, what makes you stand out from your peers or why the company should consider you for this position. Be yourself, open and candid, in your responses.
The meat of many job interviews includes questions that elicit how you would behave, manage or lead in a given scenario. For example: "Tell me about a time when you were up against a deadline and knew that you couldn’t possibly meet it," or "What was the most difficult or unpopular decision you had to make in your last position and what did you ultimately do?" Another variant includes "Describe a time you failed at something and how you handled it."
The common and most effective response follows the STAR method, which means you describe the Situation, talk about the Task at hand and detail the Action you took as well as the Result that ensued. There are variations of this method, but the point is to provide a comprehensive answer that fully describes the problem and your thought process.
Interviews can be frustrating for both parties who have a battery of worn-out questions and scripted answers. To get away from the tried-and-true methods, your interviewer may to throw you a curveball in the form of a tough -- maybe even silly -- question you weren’t expecting and may not know how to answer. For example: "What can you do for us that someone else can’t?" "How long can we expect you to stay?" "What was the last book you read?" "How long have you been looking for a job?" "Have you considered leaving your current position before?" "What kinds of people do you have trouble getting along with?" "What have you heard about the person who would be your boss in this position?" "If you were a superhero, what powers would you have?" and "How would you rate me as an interviewer?" These are known as “wild-card” questions in the human resources world. They are designed to see how well you think on your feet, how creative you are, whether you have a sense of humor and how much a challenge can unnerve you. You really can’t prepare for these questions. Just let down that poised, stoic guard and show your true self.
Questions That May Not Be Asked
Questions that make you talk about a protected status, such as gender, disability, religion, nationality or sexual orientation, may be illegal and unethical. Federal law protects job seekers from being asked questions the basis of which might lead to discrimination in the hiring process. Some illegal questions may be posed in such a benign way that you don’t realize anything’s amiss. For example, in icebreaker questions, the subject of family, your marital status and your intention to have more children could come up. Or a reference might be made to an event that took place before you were born or won’t be of significance to a person of a certain generation, leading to a seemingly innocent question about your age. Interviewers may only ask questions that determine whether you can legally work and fulfill the responsibilities of the job.