Interview questions that make you go Hmmm!

by Krantcents · 35 comments

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Interview questions that make you go Hmmm! Have you ever been in an interview and the interviewer asks you an off the wall question to see how you think?  Every interview should have these questions and the good ones always do!  Interviews are opportunities for the employer to learn about you and you need to demonstrate your skills to convince them you are the right person.  How do you prepare for them?

What do you do?

Can you prepare for something when you do not know the question or the answer?  It is very difficult and maybe impossible.  What do you do?  I think it is a little like sports, you prepare for all the possibilities and practice.  When you play, you are prepared as much as possible and you just react.  Hopefully, you react well and catch the ball, make a hit or make the winning play.  In this case, ace the interview!

I recently read some of these questions on the Fortune website that got me thinking.  I remember using some of these questions in interviews to see how the candidate thinks.  In this economy with nearly 9-10% unemployment, employers are trying to screen out candidates.  You can understand that there are hundreds if not thousands of people applying for few openings.  To say it is an employer’s market is an understatement!  Many companies use telephone interviews to help screen candidates.

Telephone interviews are one of the toughest venues!  You have to develop a connection over the phone and generally in a couple of minutes or less.  It is not easy, but that is what you are facing.  At the same time, you may be asked the question of the century to see how you think.  What do you do?  You prepare and practice!  One trick I use is to smile while I talk and never sit down.  My voice is friendlier and more authoritative because I am smiling and standing.  Pick your time to handle telephone interviews when you are at your best.  Never take a morning interview call, if you are better in the afternoon!

What kind of questions?

The questions can range from behavior questions to very specific job questions.  What are your strengths or weaknesses?  Describe, detail or share a particular situation where you were faced with an issue or problem and demonstrate what you did to overcome or resolve a problem.  What are they looking for?  They want you to explain your skills and experience.  The interviewer will evaluate how good you are at problem solving.  Which experience do you want to draw upon to prove your skills?  Preparation is necessary for success and your choice should match the skills they are looking for.

What is at stake?  If you don’t make it passed the first telephone interview, it is over! If you pass this first step, you may have to take a personality, skills or IQ test. Remember, the employer is trying to find the most qualified applicants or screen out all the unqualified candidates.  Take your pick, either way you could be eliminated!  When and if you make the in person interview, you should expect more of these open-ended questions.  When you go for the interview, expect to complete an application and answer questions about what you wrote on the application.

Backup and other helpful hints

Okay, you made it passed the initial screenings and you are in the hot seat.  You are ready to answer whatever they will throw at you, but are you?  The more real life examples you can bring with you, the more creditable you are.  When I interviewed, I had a file folder of my work over the years.  It may be a strategic plan, a budget, some analysis or something else.  It many ways it is similar to what employees should do when they are reviewed or when you are asking for a raise.  You want to show some proof that you are worthy of the raise or in this case demonstrate your skills.

I have had panel interviews, multiple interviews or individual interviews, the questions are different, but similar.  They all want to know how you will react, think or solve problems in various situations.  If you can show samples of your work, the interviewer reacts differently because it is tangible.  It gives you credibility and you can discuss your skills on something you are familiar with.  This is my kind of interview because I have control.  Don’t forget to have some questions for the interviewer to clinch the deal!

Wrap up

Interviews have become an obstacle course!  The employer is trying to find the very best in a field of hundreds or thousands of candidates.  It is not fair, but is just the way it is!  They get to ask any question in the book and you have to respond well.  The best way to handle these questions is to prepare and practice a lot.  Imagine getting questions such as:  “Does life fascinate you?”  “Just entertain me for 5 minutes, I‘m not going to talk”  “How would you cure world hunger?”  These are just some of the interview questions that make you go Hmmm!

Photo by:  Marco Bellucci

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MoneyCone January 18, 2012 at 4:44 am

Good tip on timing your phone interviews! I hate it when I have to do a phone interview in the afternoon!   Mornings work best for me!

krantcents January 18, 2012 at 6:32 am

The more you take control of the process, the more successful you will be.

retirebyforty January 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Those questions Fortune are pretty interesting. I think the important thing is to talk through your thought process. Many of these questions do not have a solid answer. They just want to see if you can work through the questions and keep your composure. What do you think? Just show your personality and if it doesn’t fit, then it’s better to find out before working there. 

krantcents January 18, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Very true! When I asked candidates these open ended questions, I was looking how you problem solved. There was never a right or wrong answer, but I wanted to know how you think.

shanendoah January 18, 2012 at 5:50 pm

We recently asked a candidate for a director level position: What was the most creative thing you did in your last position? The position we’re hiring for is in a very highly regulated field, so it was a definite challenge for the candidate where she had to think outside the box in the interview and describe another time she’d been able to do so.

krantcents January 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I like those kind of questions as an employer because you see how someone thinks. I used them every time I interviewed a candidate.

My University Money January 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm

As someone who wants to one day be on the other side of the interviewing table, I’ve often thought about how to separate the people who are good at interviewing from the people who will be good at the job.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the usual interview questions are of little-to-no value simply because of all the canned answers one can have.  I think the most effective way to separate the proverbial wheat from the chafe is to create a sort of unexpected controlled chaos.  Take the interview into non-traditional places and see how people respond when they don’t have a canned answer.  I think this will at least increase your odds of finding a good long-term candidate instead of a professional interviewer.

krantcents January 18, 2012 at 7:48 pm

You’re right! In addition, as an employer I can not monitor an employee 100% of the time. I want to make sure they think through things when I am not around. That is the secondary purpose of those kind of questions.

Jen @ Master the Art of Saving January 18, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Interviews just keep getting more and more difficult. I totally SUCK at them, I get all weird and can barely remember my name. I’m not currently looking for a job, thank goodness. If I’m lucky I won’t have to do another interview again, but that just seems really unlikely.

krantcents January 19, 2012 at 6:30 am

Network instead. The interview will just be a formality.

Shaun @ Money Cactus January 19, 2012 at 3:14 am

People tend to place a lot of emphasis on resumes, but these are really only designed to get you an interview in the first place.  All of my best results have come after spending a lot of time thinking about all of the possible questions that could be asked and coming up with a good response.  My big tip is to think about the things you aren’t good at and how you plan to develop this, it is a big favourite of recruiters.

krantcents January 19, 2012 at 6:31 am

You’re right, it is a common question. “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Miss T January 19, 2012 at 8:26 am

I think having a sense of oneself is really important. Often in interviews we are asked about how we would handle x or what would we do if, and knowing how you truly react in these situations allows you to answer honestly. 

krantcents January 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm

That is one of the reasons for the questions to expose the real you in various situations.

Juan Haffer January 19, 2012 at 9:56 am

Practicing with a buddy over the phone can be a really good way to help prepare for a phone interview.

krantcents January 19, 2012 at 5:04 pm

True, the more you can simulate the conditions you will have in an interview the better you will do.

Roshawn @ Watson Inc January 19, 2012 at 11:03 am

Miss T “stole” my point. One thing that helped me was knowing myself. If you are not comfortable in your own skin, it is hard to convince someone else to take a chance on you.

krantcents January 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm

In some ways the employer is also trying to remove the risks too. How will conduct yourself in various situations under different conditions is what the employer is screening for.

Marie at Family Money Values January 19, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Seriously…”just enteratin me for 5 minutes”???? Wonder if I would even want to work for someone who asked an interviewee to do that.

krantcents January 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I know what you mean, should I tell jokes?

krantcents January 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Typically, I create a scenario specific to the position. I would describe a typical situation which the candidate would face and see how they would handle it. The questions would measure their judgment because you can not be there 100% of the time.

101 Centavos January 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm

“just entertain me” would be a tough one. The first thing that popped into my head — and that would probably get me disqualified were I to actually do it — was to do a little juggling.

krantcents January 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I bet that is better than most of us. I think I would tell a story (geared to the position) in a humorous way.

MyMoneyDesign January 19, 2012 at 8:32 pm

The first question I ask when I start an interview is “So tell me about yourself”.  It is amazing how many people stumble on this one while others handle it quite well.

krantcents January 20, 2012 at 6:40 am

That is the standard question, yet many people are unprepared. It is their opportunity to focus on what they want to talk about.

UltimateSmartMoney January 20, 2012 at 11:13 am

Regarding the phone interview, I like to have it in the morning too.  I just get too tired in the afternoon and can’t focus as good as in the morning.  I like your recommendation about standing up for the phone interview.  I haven’t tried that so I would have to try it next time.

krantcents January 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm

It works for me! Whenever you stand you are more powerful and perhaps more persuasive.

One Cent At A Time January 20, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Only hundreds and thousands and you are worried? Come on Larry, you never met a competition where you needed to be one in million. In this country you have way less competition than what we have in India and China. Darwin said that very very long time’s survival of fittest, in all species, in every era in every time.

krantcents January 20, 2012 at 8:05 pm

If I were applying to work at Google, I might be one in a million. The competition is real stiff there. I am at a different point in my career!

Financial God January 23, 2012 at 4:23 am

Another problem there is the preferential treatment of baby boys in both quantity and quality. A little hard to find a wife when you have monogamy but more women than men!

Financial God January 23, 2012 at 4:23 am

Sorry, I meant to say more men than women. ;) The other way around would be a good thing for men…

Invest It Wisely January 23, 2012 at 4:21 am

It’s been a really long time since I was on a real interview, but the important thing is to relax, and answer honestly. Not everyone is a superstar, and you don’t need to be one to get a decent job. Even Google has their fair share of iffy engineers; just look at the Android source code for proof of that. ;) Just look around any workplace; you have people from all walks of life. There is work for everyone that wants it, unless regulations or other barriers are in the way.

I remember reading up about these sort of questions, and I doubt I would even want to work for a place that asks things like “So, entertain me for 5 minutes”. If my interviewer asked me something like that, and it wasn’t a company like Google, I would probably flip that question around. “Tell me in 5 minutes why I should work for you?” Arrogant? Maybe, but unless the position somehow demands that as a quality I think that kind of question is somewhat arrogant, too. If it was a company like Google, I’d do my best to answer and come up with a relevant story or things from my background that could be interesting.

krantcents January 23, 2012 at 6:35 am

In most cases the employer wants to see how you think, the question is less important.

krantcents January 23, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Interviews in some ways is like an audition without a script. If you can tell your story and get through the mine field, you win.

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