We all know that research and preparation is imperative before a job interview. But sometimes its the simplest questions which can throw you. Not to mention the completely curve ball ones you were unlikely to ever predict! From the seemingly simple to the completely unexpected, here’s some questions which could cause you to flounder, and tips on how to respond.
The seemingly simple questions…
Q: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Its often used as a simple ice breaker, yet trying to answer such an open-ended question could leave you feeling flustered from the start. You may end up missing key points as you’re so keen to try and cram in absolutely everything about yourself, or go completely blank wondering where to start. Think your answer through in advance. Pick out a couple of details about yourself, and your experience, which sum up why you believe you’d be a great fit for the role.
Q: How did you hear about the position?
If you found out about the job through a friend, or someone in your professional network, then don’t be afraid to say that. Don’t be concerned that it looks like you are getting a ‘foot in the door’ through personal contacts. To an interviewer, it shows that someone who already knows you took the time to mention the job because they thought you’d be a good fit. This question could also cause you to hesitate if you’re in a position where you’re currently applying for lots of different jobs. If this is the case, keep notes on all the jobs you apply for and check back before you go into the interview to see how you found that role.
Q: What do you like to do outside of work?
This type of more personal question is asked to give candidates the chance to show their personality and to help employers understand more about cultural fit. Don’t feel pressured to come up with some amazingly quirky or exciting sounding hobby. If you have one, that’s great! It is equally okay to talk about your friends, family and any simple pastimes which give you pleasure. It will come across as far more authentic than than trying to talk in detail about how you are teaching yourself to play the guitar (which really now lives in the loft).
The questions you may not be expecting…
Q: What other positions and organisations are you looking at?
When you are put on the spot with a question like that, your mind is likely to be racing. Should I say I’m only looking to work with them? Do they really want to know exactly where else I’ve applied? How honest should I be? If you weren’t actively job seeking and only decided to apply because it was an opportunity you didn’t want to miss, then your answer is simple. However, if you are proactively looking for your next career step, and approaching several different organisations, then stick to a neutral response. Talk about feeling ready for the next step and looking for similar roles within the industry, and trying to find opportunities where you feel you could make a real difference.
Q: What’s your dream job?
Most people expect to be asked about where they would like to be in five to ten years’ time but using the words ‘dream job’ can lead to answers like ‘a famous footballer’, ‘Hollywood actress’ or ‘a pilot’ immediately springing to mind. Basically, any of the things you may have dreamt about when you were a child but have no relation to your career today! It’s okay not to give a specific job title when answering this question. Think in advance about what would make you most happy in a job. What would you be doing? How would it make you feel? Use these thoughts to shape your answer. For example, you could talk about your dream job being one in which you would be able to support up-and-coming talent in the industry, a role which brings fresh challenges every day, or which enables you to use your full skill set to best effect.
Q: What questions haven’t I asked you?
The interviewer isn’t asking for an assessment of how thorough you think they’ve been! They want to see how quickly you can think on your feet, and it works. You’re left having to run back through the whole interview to prevent repeating a question and having to think up a whole new question at the same time. It’s difficult to fully prepare for this, as you don’t know what you’ll already have been asked. Try to arm yourself with some questions which are less likely to have been included. The aim is to bring up a question which allows you to talk about yourself and your fit for the role in a positive light. For example, suggesting they ask you ‘Who has been your biggest career inspiration to date?’ would allow you to talk about the person you feel has supported you to develop the skill sets you already have and inspired you to want to progress further.
The weird and wonderful…
Q: If you were a fruit, what type of fruit would you be and why?
You may anticipate an oddball question, but it’s hard to know if you’re going to be asked to compare yourself to a vegetable, animal or mineral! Or it could be something completely different, like ‘what magic power would you love to have?’ What you can do in advance is to think of a couple of key traits and qualities about yourself that you’d like to highlight, and which are relevant to the role. You can then tackle this question by starting with a chosen characteristic and trying to match it to whatever you’ve been asked to make a comparison with. For example, if you would like to promote the fact that you are a team player your animal comparison could be a bumble bee (part of a colony which creates a hive of activity), your fruit equivalent a grape (great as part of a bunch and still works well when mixed up in a fruit salad) and your magic power could be telepathy (because you feel you have a good starting point to cope with such a power, as you’re already good at reading other people and understanding how best to work with them).