January 28, 2008

The Top 5 ... Tips on handling off-beat interview questions

Ever been in an interview and asked a question like ...

- What is your favourite colour?

- If you could be an animal, what animal would you be and why?

- What is your favourite season and why?

- Or any of the other hundreds of questions like these ones?

I'm pretty sure that most of you have, as these types of questions are increasingly gaining popularity with hiring managers everywhere - from your local grocery store to the huge multinational corporation.

Most often, these questions are posed at the beginning of the interview as a way to "break the ice." And interviewers are notorious for asking these questions during group interviews.

So why are these types of questions asked?

Easy - most interviewers are looking to keep potential employees on their toes. They want to see how you handle pressure and sudden change.

And this becomes especially true during group interviews, as hiring managers are looking for that special something that sets one person apart from the rest of the group.

Even though this is the real reason why these questions are used, there are still some claims that interviewers scrutinize your answer and delve into "arm-chair psychology." For example, if you answer that you like dogs, some people worry that their answer will be analyzed and that liking dogs is synonymous with being messy, inattentive, and loud ... yeah, right!

Simply put, that claim is really false. Hiring managers cannot expect to learn about a candidate's personality by asking one, off-the-cuff question about animals, colours, or food. Personality is a lot more complex than that.

Yet even so, these questions are so popular that many job search resources make reference to these types of questions and mention that you should be prepared.

Well of course you should be prepared. But how do you do that? What are some things you can/should keep in mind?
Here is the Top 5 tips that I give to clients worried about handling these types of questions.

1) Remain calm. Don't panic, because if you do, it will affect your answer. And if you didn't hear or understand the question, ask for it to be repeated again.

2) Take a few seconds to compose your thoughts. If the question involves answering two parts (e.g. favourite season and why), you'll find that if you take a few seconds, the answer you give will sound better.

3) Create an answer that applies to you. For example, if you hate dogs, don't say that your favourite animal is the dog because of how soft and cuddly they are. It just won't work, and the last thing you want is the manager to be all like, "Oh hey, this is the guy/girl I hired who loves dogs." Next thing you know, s/he is buying you a ticket to the dog show!

4) If you're in a group interview, don't worry about repeating the answer of someone else. The reality is, there are only so many colours or so many seasons or so many animals - there is bound to be some overlap. If possible, try and make the answer your own (e.g. offer a different reason as to why you like summer).

5) Don't think that your answer is wrong - they can't be because these questions are based on personal preferences and experiences. However, make sure your answer makes sense. Don't say that you like summer because of all the snow - that's not only factually wrong, but it's absurdly ridiculous.

The reality is that these questions are here, and it looks like they are staying. Sometimes you'll get asked these questions, and sometimes you won't - it depends on the interviewer.

But it never hurts to be prepared, especially since so many hiring managers seem to think they are arm-chair psychologists!

So in the end, just remember to stay calm, collect your thoughts, and just give your answer. Before you know it, that part of the interview will be over and then it'll be time to let your who you really are shine through!

Or, if that doesn't work, just channel your inner Dr. Phil!

No comments: