Think you're ready for any question that comes your way in a job interview? OfficeTeam, a leading staffing service specializing in highly skilled administrative professionals, recently asked executives for the strangest questions they had been asked by hiring managers during an interview. The responses ranged from unusual to outrageous.
The national survey was developed by OfficeTeam and conducted by an independent research firm. It includes responses from 150 executives -- including those from human resources, finance, marketing, information technology and operations departments -- with the nation's 1,000 largest companies.
"As firms involve more people in the hiring process to get a clearer snapshot of a candidate's abilities and personality, some unexpected questions are bound to emerge and surprise even the most well-prepared candidate," said Liz Hughes, vice president of OfficeTeam.
Interviewers may use icebreaker questions like the following to begin the meeting:
- "What’s your favorite color?"
- "If you could be any animal, what would you be?"
- "If you were having a dinner party and could invite three famous people, who would they be?"
- "What’s the last book you read?"
Hughes noted that the interviewer is interested in the "why" behind the applicant's answer because it often sheds light on his or her personality. "The reason given for citing a particular book or dinner guest, for instance, could prompt conversation that a resume or skills-based interview question alone would not."
Other questions may reveal a job candidate's aspirations:
- "What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?"
- "What classes did you like in high school?"
- "Do you see yourself in my position in the future?"
With these questions, hiring managers aim to understand the applicant's goals and ambitions over time. Hughes offered the following example: "If someone wanted to be a lawyer in high school, but opted for a career in sales, what led to the change?" The hiring manager also wants to find out how quickly the candidate expects to advance in the organization, and the importance he or she assigns to rank and title.
The last set of unusual questions executives were asked seems to defy classification:
- "Why are manhole covers round?"
- "What would I find in your refrigerator?"
- "Do you have air conditioning at home?"
- "How will taking this job change your life?"
- "What made you move to a backward city like this one?"
Is the hiring manager intentionally trying to throw a candidate off track? Possibly. "Asking a truly unexpected question will likely elicit a candid, unrehearsed response," Hughes said. "As a bonus, the hiring manager will get a better sense of the person's sense of humor and ability to think quickly."
How should candidates approach questions that seem to come from left field? Hughes offers the following tips:
- Do some homework ahead of time. Ask people in your network about the strangest questions they were asked in an interview, how they responded to them, and what -- if anything -- they would have done differently. The point is not to prepare for every question but to practice thinking on your feet.
- Ask for clarification. If you don't understand a question, rephrase it by saying, "Do you mean … ?" or ask for more detail. This will put you on the same page as the hiring manager and enable you to provide a targeted response.
- Don't let nerves get the best of you. Feeling stress during an interview is to be expected. Excessive stress, however, could cause you to ramble, or give only "yes" or "no" answers. If you need a moment to think about a question, ask for it.
- Don't assume the worst. You may meet with many interviewers at a company, some less prepared and experienced than others. Be patient with each successive meeting, even when the same questions are being asked multiple times. Your calm demeanor will count in your favor in the final selection.