Crazy interview questions have their purpose

Crazy interview questions have their purpose

Marylou Doehrman

Imagine sitting in an interview with clammy hands and butterflies hovering in the pit of your stomach, when, out of the blue, the interviewer asks, What would I find in your refrigerator? Not exactly a question one would expect. And before the interviewee answers with something like beer or mold, it is best to pause and regroup, say the human resource experts at OfficeTeam, a specialized administrative division of Robert Half International, a national leader in human resource issues. And answering what one might conceive as a pretty dumb question is equally important.

OfficeTeam pollsters recently asked executives across the nation to name the strangest question they had been asked during an interview. The 150 respondents included executives in finance, human resources, marketing, information technology and operations departments. And the weird questions ranged from somewhat normal to bizarre, from What’s your favorite color? to Why are manhole covers round?

Karen Policastro is a Colorado Springs division director for OfficeTeam, and she says employers are tired of the same old pat answers to age-old questions, such as What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Job candidates, says Policastro, are accustomed to interviews and savvy to the typical questions. When interviewers ask off-the-wall questions, they are serious, and they do not want the candidate to make light of the situation, adds Policastro. They ask the question with a straight face, and they expect an answer, adds Policastro. Companies are trying to shake up the candidates and assess their sense of humor and their ability to think on their feet. It is appropriate not to answer the question, but you take a chance if you don’t.

Policastro says interviewees should take a breath and think before answering any question. Ask for more detail or clarification, she adds. Your first idea of an answer may not be the most appropriate. She also advises candidates, prior to their interview, to ask other people what kinds of questions they have been asked in an interview. And never assume the worst – some interviewers are less experienced, says Policastro. Stay calm and be patient.

The crazier questions like If you could be an animal, what would you be? are attempts to get a deeper look at the candidate’s personality. OfficeTeam experts believe questions that reference personal activities, such as What’s the last book you’ve read? prompt a more informal and insightful conversation than basic job performance-related questions. What did you want to be when you were 10 years old? or What classes did you take in high school? invite answers that shed light on the candidates’ goals and ambitions.

And some of the questions are just for fun, like What made you move to a backward city like this one? or How will taking this job change your life?

Policastro’s administrative assistant was once asked in an interview, What do you think of diesel mechanics? The job had nothing to do with diesel mechanics. Go with the flow, says Policastro.

In a recent press release, Liz Hughes, vice president of OfficeTeam in Colorado Springs, says, The challenge for them (the people hiring) is determining what criteria will be used to identify the best candidates. Motivation, versatility, passion and optimism are a few defining characteristics. To identify those traits, Hughes promotes simple questions and conversational drivers like What’s your favorite movie?

Although Policastro says never base an interview on atypical questions, it is okay to throw in a few surprises here and there.

And job candidates throw in a few surprises, too, when they use cutesy gimmicks to secure an interview.

Eldon McKinnis is the publisher of the Tri-Lakes Tribune, a weekly newspaper based in Monument, Colo., and he is currently interviewing for the editor position. One of the job candidates replied to the Tribune’s employment ad by sending in a resume on sparkling, glitzy purple paper. McKinnis could not resist meeting her, and, when she came in for the interview, she was bearing gifts – two coffees from Starbucks – one for McKinnis and one for her. It was a bit much, and she did not get hired, but it should be duly noted that she did get the interview.

Another woman applying for the same position sent McKinnis an article based on an interview she had conducted featuring herself. In an excerpt from her article, she says, The staff at Starbucks just couldn’t believe what a great success she (the interviewee) was at this job, even though she had no experience. She was not hired either. Yet another woman who interviewed with McKinnis did not try anything out of the ordinary, but she sent a follow-up letter that included this statement: A newspaper needs to engender a since (instead of sense) of community. And she was applying for an editor’s position.

An investment counselor, who wished to remain anonymous, recalled an interview where the woman brought along her eight-year-old son. That kind of tells the potential employer there could be child-care issues down the road. Policastro says, Never bring children to an interview; clear your schedule, make sure you are prepared and be on time.

And be prepared to tell the truth, or not, about what really lives in the refrigerator.

Copyright 2004 Dolan Media Newswires

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