Interviews: How to be un-stump-able!

December 31st, 2009 | Interviewing | 1 Comment »

Have you ever responded to an interview question with, “Ah, that’s a good question…” while your mind goes entirely blank? You may be a perfect fit for a position, but there always seems to be one interview question that you get hung up on. This may frazzle you to the point where you’re so distracted that you blow the rest of the interview. The following are just a few of potential questions that hiring managers may use to stump you, plus our advice to make you un-stump-able!

1. What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Questions like this are almost always asked, and you have to be prepared for it.  It can be a tricky one, especially in regards to weaknesses. Your weakness should be something realistic, though original, and resolvable. Avoid answers like, “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I’m a workaholic.”  These answers imply that to improve your weakness, you have to work sloppily or work less. Be sincere, but be careful: you do not want your weakness to appear so bad that it disqualifies you from the position. Also, remember that no one is perfect, and, in fact, self-professed perfection implies arrogance, so be honest about your weaknesses, and you’ll ace the question!

When discussing your strengths, you want to make sure it’s something relevant to the position. For example, speak about personality traits that have resulted in success in your work, such as great communication or teamwork skills. Do not speak about how you are a great snowboarder outside of work. Your strength should be something beneficial for the company or position. Be relevant, but not generic.

2. Tell us what you know about the organization.

Look at the company’s website and read it!  Make absolutely sure you do this.  A hiring manager wants you to show interest in what the company does. They’re not looking for you to have all the answers or information, but they would like you to have general knowledge. Complete silence in response to this question implies that all you’re interested in is getting a job, no matter who company is. In this day and age, with all the different social media outlets, you can do research on everything from Google and YouTube to LinkedIn and Twitter. Be familiar with the product or service as well as the company’s values, history, mission statement, and major figure-heads.

3. Tell us about yourself.

Many people are unsure how to approach this question. There is a fine line between a short generic answer and a novel-length ramble about yourself. This is one of the most common interview questions asked, so you’re going to have to figure out how to walk this fine line without tripping up. The great part about this question is that you can practice and prepare for it at home.

In short, you should create a 30-second commercial about yourself.  Speak about relevant education, recent work experience and accomplishments, and your current professional goals. As with any commercial, this is not the place for personal information such as hobbies, your family history, or personal opinions regarding politics, religion, etc. Don’t forget, this question is all about you, so be confident in your delivery.

4. Why should we hire you?

Be sure to appear confident, not cocky, when answering this question. This may be the last question in the interview process. Go out with a bang. Hit on 3-5 key points that align your experience, accomplishments, and goals with the company, position or scope of the project. Do not give an unending list of all your attributes! Make sure your answer is clear and concise, and be sure to show your value.

5. Bizarre Questions!

If you were a food, what type of food would you be?

If you had a dinner party and could invite three famous people, who would they be?

What’s the last book you read?

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?

How many gas stations in the U.S. do you think there are?

Many companies, including big names like Microsoft, use these types of questions. These questions are meant to catch you off-guard, and shows how quickly and creatively you can think on your feet. This also gives them an insight to your thought process, which may help them predict your future job performance. If you’re asked a bizarre question, don’t freak out; just have a little fun with it!

These are just 5 of the many 100’s of types of questions that hiring manager could ask. With all interviews, the main thing is to be confident, clear and concise. Practice in front of the mirror or with a spouse, friend or family member.

One Response to “Interviews: How to be un-stump-able!”

  1. Richard Perrin PMP SSMBB says:

    Dina –

    You’ve got some good stuff in this article. Having been there many times before, here are several things I found useful when getting pitched the “hardball questions” on an interview:

    1. “What are your weaknesses?” To that question, my standard answer is always; ‘What is the purpose of that question?’ I actually stumped an interviewer with that question once. Obviously flustered (he was reading off his page of stock/standard interview questions), the only answer he could muster was, “What do you mean?” I replied that any weakness I could describe might be considered a strength to another interviewer or in a different situation. I then asked him if he could make the question more specific. We actually had a pretty good conversation after that; it was illuminating for him and it gave me a lot of information about the company. If you are really puzzled as to why an interviewer is asking a question, ask them the purpose of the question. It might lead to an illuminating conversation.

    2. “What makes you think you’re any different from the 10 other people we’ve already interviewed for this position?” The Interviewer that asked me that question, I sensed, was just trying to get rid of me. I could have used the same answer as with question #1, but I actually took a few seconds to sit back and gave it some thought. A question like that is designed to put the interviewee on the defensive and evoke an emotional response. I decided to play the game, but by my rules. My response was, “Well, I have no way of knowing if I’m any different from the other 10 people you interviewed. But my only question is, do you need me to be different, or more effective in the job?” I don’t know about the other 10 people, but when all was said and done, the selection was down to me and one other guy. Unfortunately for them, I had three job offers lined up, and took a better offer. The tip here is, when you sense a question is being asked to provoke an emotional response, stay focused on why you’re there and what the real objectives are.

    3. My most bizarre interview question: ” How many quarters do you need to stack up to equal the height of the Empire State building?” When the interviewer asked that question, I thought I was dealing with a head case. It was a flip question, so I gave him a flip answer: “How are you stacking the quarters; on edge or heads to tails?” The interviewer laughed and said no one had ever actually asked that question. We had a great conversation after that. It resulted in a one-year contract. In retrospect, I realized the question was designed to address critical thinking. The tip here is: too many times we are too eager to provide the right answer instead of asking the right question. People never forget you when you ask good questions.

    Hope this is useful!

    Happy New Year