Lately, candidates have to deal with those weird, specific questions that have no objective good answer. Some of them have a purpose – testing the candidate’s ability to resist in stressful situations, how easy they rattle, and so on – while others have no practical utility beyond making the other person feel downright uncomfortable.
Not to mention the questions that have absolutely nothing to do with the position the candidates are applying for. To give you a better idea, we have gathered ten questions that were actually asked during interviews and made most people feel awkward. Some queries you might know, while others may not have risen any red flags until now.
Describe yourself in three words
The answer to this question can represent the difference between landing the job and remaining blissfully unemployed for the time being. So, the best approach when this question arises is steering away from overly-arrogant adjectives.
Make sure to choose words that reflect your personality as broadly as possible, but without giving too many details. For this, you might have to resort to the age-old interview clichés, which involves using expressions such as ‘’optimistic”, ‘’team player”, ‘’dedicated”, ‘’hard worker”, and so forth.
Pro Tip: It is good to focus on traits that are work-related and transferable to the new workplace where you are applying.
Why do you want to leave your current place of employment or Why are you looking for a new job?
This is a tricky question because the temptation to bad-mouth previous employers is nearly irresistible. The thing is, many candidates do not understand that talking trash about their present company or former employer will not win them any points – it will only give the impression that they are two-faced. This question is an opportunity to gather what you have learned from the previous job, and how you can use said skills to add value to the prospective job role.
Pro Tip: In this case, it is best to tell the interviewer that ambition and a ‘’need for change” or something of sorts lead you wanting a new job. Tell the interviewer that you have outgrown your current place of employment and that you are looking for an opportunity to express your ambition.
How would you describe your memory?
If you need constant reminders about tasks or turning something in by the deadline, then it is safe to say that you are not the person they are looking for.
Pro Tip: Since we are mere people and not supercomputers, you can dodge the question gracefully by saying that you have a good memory, but your advanced knowledge of computer programs like Excel, Microsoft Word, Outlook or other more specific task-managing programs, allow you to work in a more organized and efficient manner. In this way, you will not only give the interviewer a clear answer, but you will also meet their requirements without necessarily raising their expectations to a ridiculous level.
Do you have kids? Are you a single parent?
As soon as you hear this question uttered, get up, grab your coat and leave. This question is acutely illegal to ask. Federal laws including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act prohibit employment, or denial of, based on factors that are not related to the job.
Interview questions should be built around the candidate’s education, career choices, experience, credentials and others. If the interview transitions from a fact-based conversation into a friendlier area, the interviewer might make a series veiled comments such as ‘’I do not know if you are married, but my wife…”, which might prompt you to answer in one way or another. When this happens, keep a smile and subtly shift the conversation back to the company and prospective job.
What’s with the gap between these dates in your resume?
Having gaps in your employment resume is not ideal, but life happens. You might find yourself out of a job for reasons that are entirely out of your control – the company filing for bankruptcy or firing entire departments, getting sick, family obligations -, or you might have simply taken some personal time off due to burnout.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself in this situation, you can use the spare time to fill the gap by learning new skills or volunteering.
Will relocation be a problem?
Relocating for a job is an entire headache on its own, and the interviewers know this. As uncomfortable as this question might be (because they are essentially forcing you to make a potentially life-altering decision on a whim), its purpose is to test the candidate’s reaction to stressful situations. So, naturally, the answer should not be a definitive yes or no.
Pro Tip: If the nature of the job itself requires you to travel from one place to another, then sure, it would be silly not to answer yes. But if the role is stationary and this question arises, the best answer would be ‘’I’m willing to go the extra mile to contribute as best as I can with my skills and knowledge to the benefit of the company”.
What types of people are difficult to work with, in your opinion?
This is yet another tricky question that could decide the entire outcome of the interview. If you are overly diplomatic, the interviewer might think that you are dishonest or, worst of all, a sycophant. If you answer is too honest and blunt, there might not be another question.
And since nobody wants to hear you complaining or throwing praises left and right, the best way to answer this question is by taking a midway approach. Do not explain that you get along with everybody (ugh) – stress the fact that you are there to serve a purpose, namely to do your job and lend your skills and knowledge in the service of the company.
Why should we hire you over other applicants?
If you went through enough interviews over the years, you probably already know that trash talking all the people you have seen in the waiting room is not a wise approach. This question is not a matter of laziness, physical appearance and other criteria – it is about your unique qualities, and what sets you apart from the others (and no, your extensive collection of World of Warcraft figurines does not count). So, concentrate on your qualities and subtly stress the reasons why they would have a ton to lose by not hiring you.
What was your biggest failure?
One of the most painful interview questions has to be the one about your biggest failure. Sadly, there is no correct answer here – too much honesty or dodging the question with truisms can be both equally damaging to your chances of success. Then comes the issue of evaluating your failures, because you have surely been through tons of them. So what can you do here?
Almost any answer can work here, as long as you know you can turn it into something positive, like how the failure taught you a valuable lesson about life and how you became a better person.
What Makes You Uncomfortable?
Obviously, answering ‘’Weirdly specific interview questions” is not the right approach here. The best method is to think about a situation that you may never encounter. For example, if you are applying for a job as a doctor, saying something such as ‘’I am not comfortable around sick people” may not be the best answer, even if your main specialization is research.
To pivot to a less extreme example, saying ‘’I am uncomfortable with being the center of attention” if you are applying for a job as a lawyer, or ‘’I am bad around people” if the post has a customer service component. Focus on things that put you in a positive light, like ‘’I do not like when I am giving my best to solve the situation and the rest of the people are apathetic”.
Did I Get the Job?
There is no such thing as an interview without uncomfortable questions – the interviewer will constantly try to assess your skills and duress. Fortunately, there are many ways to respond or dodge these questions in a diplomatic fashion. Prepare in advance and remember, if the questions are not related to the job itself and make you feel too uncomfortable, there is no shame in leaving.
About the Author:
Levy Williamson is an HR Manager who specializes in the IT segment. He has a project called ITInterviewGuide aimed at helping people land IT jobs. Based on his experience, he analyzes the most difficult interview questions and coaches his audience accordingly.
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MileIQ’s blog does not constitute professional tax advice. You should contact your own tax professional to discuss your situation.