Questions Interviewers Ask — And How to Weasel Out of Them
You've probably read all the job search books
and reviewed your answers for the standard questions you expect to be asked on
an interview. But what about those questions from left field? The ones you
didn't expect. These can be the most difficult because they will demonstrate how
well you think on your feet. They may also be so charming or disarming that you
may fall prey to the interviewer's trap and reveal aspects of yourself or your
personality that you weren't prepared to come clean about.
1. "What are you reading lately?" I was
asked this by three different federal judges in interviews for legal clerkships.
I told them what novels I was reading. One judge never heard of Tom McGuane,
another said I was reading only western Montanan authors, and the third knew the
novel's author and also shared my tastes in journalism (New Yorker, New
Republic, etc) - Anne Marie, April 23, 1999
Our advice: It is best to think
always in terms of how the question relates to the job at
hand. Better than proposing novels you are reading would be
law related journals and books that are hot in your field.
While you might just find an interviewer who understands
your taste in literature, the question really suggests that
the interviewer wants to know how up-to-date you are in the
2. I am hearing "where would you like to be
X years from now" and have tried to handle it with humor (which is the
truth, i.e. "ideally living in a tropical climate on lottery winnings...") but I
would be interested to know how a professional would broach this question. -
Suesan, April 29, 1999.
Our advice: Your instincts are
right! Always think of the question behind the question.
What do they really want to know? "Five years from now I see
myself continuing to work hard and doing the best possible
job I can." This answer tells the interviewer that you are a
hard worker and that you have high standards. You might also
offer a caveat that you intend to continue learning, growing
and adding value in your field.
3. I have often wondered what it is that
employers want to hear when they ask you "What are your weaknesses?" Do you
tell them you have a weakness for chocolate ?! or do you tell them your weakness
is not telling people what your weaknesses are?? Can you make any suggestions as
to how one should respond to this?? - Barbara, April 30, 1999.
Our advice: This is a very common
question. If you say you have no weaknesses, you come off
looking arrogant. If you use humor here, you may appear too
flippant. This is a difficult question and the interviewer
wants to see how you handle it. Use a weakness that can
otherwise be seen as a strength. Never fall into the trap of
seeing the interviewer as mother/father/confessor and
offering up something that is important to the job! A good
example could be: "I have difficulty working with people who
don't pull their weight. I have high standards for my work
and I expect others to have high standards too. I'm learning
to speak up and request that others contribute more
completely long before I start getting angry about a
situation that is unequal." Also supply a solution or a way
in which you are dealing with your weakness.
4. I have three quirky questions that I
have been asked over the years. Sadly, I did not have a good reply to them since
I was too taken aback, and instead gave some flustered answer.
- Do you date a lot? [question asked by a female personnel
officer in a US defense company]
- Why are you here today? [asked by an interviewer at an
investment bank, when he entered his office where I was
told to sit and wait to be interviewed by him]
- If a spaceship landed outside right now,
would you get in it and where would you ask it to take you -- it can take you
anywhere you want. [asked by an investment bank interviewer] - Kimberly,
May 2, 1999
Our advice: Each of these questions
offers its own challenges. While the first question looks
different because one female is asking another, you still
need to answer the question in a way that satisfies the
concern. A good response would be, "If you are concerned
that my personal life could take precedence over my work
life, I want to assure you that I am dedicated to my work.
By the same token, I strive to maintain a balanced life and
find numerous ways to spend my leisure time fruitfully."
This answers the question without invading your privacy.
'Why are you here today'
offers you the opportunity to explain your enthusiasm for the job. It is not
such a quirky question if you don't take it at face value. It is important when
interviewing to lighten up a bit and not analyze the worthiness of each question
you are asked. Look for ways to respond that will improve the rapport between
you and the interviewer and demonstrate your strengths in being the candidate
for the job. "I am here to discuss with you my candidacy for the position of
________. Would you like to hear
an overview of my background?" (It is also conceivable that
the person was interviewing that day for more than one
question asks how adventurous you are. It is a great
question for shaping according to what you know of the
parameters of the job you are interviewing for. Let's say
the job demands that you be innovative. You might answer,
"Yes, I would go aboard and be asked to be taken back in
time to interview the most innovative people who have ever
walked the planet, asking them about their favorite means
for becoming as innovative as possible."
5. Would you rather be a small fish in a
big pond or a big fish in a small pond? A big
fish in a small pond - I own the pond, but there is nothing
left to conquer. A small fish in a big pond - There is
plenty of opportunity to succeed!!! - Scott, May 6,
Our advice: Sounds like you handled
the answer well, but you need to be aware of the context in
which you are responding. If you are interviewing for a
large Fortune 500 firm, you'd be fine. But if you are
interviewing for a small, entrepreneurial organization, you
might come off as if you are too good for the company. There
is no best answer- only the one that is most appropriate for
the job in question and the situation in which it