Join Valerie Sutton for an in-depth discussion in this video Handling tricky or difficult questions, part of Acing Your Interview (2013).
No matter how well you prepare for the interview, you may run into what you perceive as a tricky question. We asked our lynda.com audience some of the tricky questions they have gotten in interviews. Although they do fall into categories of situational, behavioral and resume-based questions, it wasn't always clear what the interviewer was trying to learn. Let's take a look at some of the best approaches to responding. Many of the tricky questions fell into the situational category. Remember, this is when they are evaluating your problem solving skills and analytical abilities. There were three types of situational questions that were prevalent int he examples from lynda.com members.
First, there were situational questions known as brainteasers. These seem like they make no sense. For instance, how many airplanes are in the sky right now? The goal of the interviewer is not to get the right answer from you, but to see how you think through the situation. This person wants to see how you examine the different angles and how you'll come to a conclusion. In this type of question there is not necessarily a right answer, however they do want to see your thought process.
Walk them through your reasoning and feel free to ask questions to clarify any aspects that you are unsure of for the situation presented. The second set of questions was focused on testing your knowledge and skills. However, how they frame them was either aggressive, uncomfortable or rude. Most often they do not realize that this is the case. For instance, if you were interviewing for a sales position, someone might say to you, sell me this pen. You may feel uncomfortable being put on the spot like this. Remember, they are looking at your skills and your knowledge. Focus on your answer, and not the way they frame the question. You can best prepare for these questions by analyzing the job description for the skills and knowledge that they are seeking.
Finally, the third set of questions was questioning fit, just in a bizarre way. For instance, if you were a tree, what would you be? In an entrepreneurial setting you may want to be fast growing like bamboo. But in a conservative banking environment you may want to be a solid hardwood tree like an oak. Bizarre questions like these are often used to gauge your cultural fit. Think about the culture of the organization before you interview. You want to be able to show a true interest in their organization by matching your answer to their culture.
Other times there may not be a clear reason for the bizarre question. Just take a breath and ask them to clarify what they are trying to gain from the question. The next questions that came up were behavorial questions, primarily focusing on the negative. For example, what is your biggest weakness. You have to remember that people are not perfect, so the interviewer wants a realistic assessment of how you gauge yourself. The negative that you pick should be one that is obvious to everyone at the table.
The key is to show how you overcome the negative, and can learn or change from it. For instance, if you were switching industries, you might say, I don't know this new industry well, but I see this as an opportunity for growth, and I quickly adapt to new environments. Also in behavioral questions, they will test for your skills and fit in indirect ways. For instance, how would your friends describe you? Again, you can gain clues for what they might be looking for by analyzing the job description and preparing ahead of time. So if you are in an entrepreneurial environment, your friends would describe you as innovative.
And if you were in a banking environment, your friends would describe you as solid and trustworthy. Finally, a common resume-based question that came up was essentially, tell me about yourself. This can be asked in a variety of ways, including, why do you want to work for us? And, what can you bring to this company? Candidates often get frustrated with this question because they feel the interviewer didn't prepare. This may very well be the case, but the interviewer could also be looking for you to tell a coherent story of why you're interested in the position, and why you're the best candidate. You should be able to walk them through your resume, matching your abilities to the job description and fit within the organization.
As you can see, with proper preparation, tricky questions are really not so tricky. With a solid understanding of the position and company culture You will be able to face these questions confidently.
- Understanding interview formats
- Anticipating questions and preparing answers
- Researching potential employers
- Establishing good body language in the interview
- Reviewing your performance
- Answering questions using the Situation-Action-Result method
Skill Level Intermediate
Q: Where can I learn more about communication skills?
A: Discover more on this topic by visiting communication skills on lynda.com.
Q: This course was updated on 6/05/2013. What changed?
A: We added new videos on handling tricky and possibly illegal interview questions, what your body language says about you, and how to answer questions with the SAR (Situation-Action-Result) method.