September 28, 2015

Ask Andrew ... How do I answer tricky interview questions?

It's time for another Ask Andrew article. And today, we'll be talking about something that increases stress levels for many job seekers ... tricky, off-beat interview questions.

Q. Two weeks ago, I had an interview for a co-op placement and one of the hiring managers asked me why manhole covers are round. I didn't know how to answer the question and I stammered before answering that it's easier to make a circular hole. Thankfully I still got the job. But how do I prepare for questions like that in the future?

You can thank Microsoft for the question about manhole covers as they previously used that question to learn about a candidate's work style and intelligence. But it's not the oddest interview question out there - I think that distinction belongs to Bose, which asks candidates how they would unload an airplane full of jellybeans.

Often, hiring managers ask questions like these to assess aspects of a candidate's personality - from their creativity to problem solving ability to how they handle change. Typically, it's not the answer that counts but how you handle yourself and arrive at the answer. For example, I was once asked about my favourite season. I later discovered the hiring manager didn't care about the answer, although he remembered I said autumn. Rather, he was assessing my ability to calmly handle a sudden change and an oddball question.

So here are my top 3 tips on how to prepare for quirky, off-beat, interview questions ...

1) Remain calm and don't panic. Take a deep breath and if you are unsure of the question, ask the hiring manager to repeat it. And once you understand the question, take a few seconds to compose your thoughts. Don't answer off-the-cuff. Think about what you want to say. Having solid reasoning behind your answer will help, no matter how far-fetched or quirky your answer is.

2) If it's a personal question (e.g. your favourite season, your least favourite colour, etc.), make sure the answer applies to you, as you'll instantly give a more passionate answer if you truly believe what you are saying. Don't try and give what you perceive to be the smartest answer - just answer truthfully and make sure you have a reason why you selected the answer you did.

3) If you're in a group interview setting, do not worry about repeating someone else's answer. For example, there are only four seasons and in a group interview with 6-8 people, there's a good chance someone else likes the same season as you. Even if you have the same answer as someone else, personalize it by mentioning your personal reasons for selecting your answer.

So now it's your turn ... what is the most off-beat question you have been asked? How did you handle it?

And remember, if you have any questions you want featured as part of the Ask Andrew series, send me an email or use the Contact Me form on the right-hand side.