By Diane Domeyer, executive director of Office Team
Most job-hunting aficionados can effortlessly recite their greatest strengths and weaknesses, succinctly describe their future career goals and present a compelling case when asked why they should be hired. Yet these types of sound bites, while helpful, may fall short when it comes to nailing down a job offer. Today's employers recognize that traditional interview questions such as, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" tend to yield rehearsed responses, so they're branching out into new territory. For candidates, this means preparing to answer new queries.
Following are three types of questions you might encounter and how best to respond to them:
Employers are replacing conventional questions with those that require candidates to discuss actual on-the-job experiences. So, instead of being asked to list your strengths, you might be asked to describe how one of your strengths helped you accomplish a task more efficiently.
Here are some sample behavioral questions:
- Describe a time in your last job when you went the extra mile.
- Tell me about a time that you had to deal with a difficult manager/customer/client.
- Give me an example of when you had to think on your feet.
While you can't possibly anticipate all of the behavioral questions you might be asked, you can prepare for these inquiries by considering your experiences and what you've learned from them. This will ensure you have fresh material to draw from when you encounter this kind of query.
It was fun to test your friends' logic with conundrums in school but it's not so fun to be presented with questions like, "Why are manhole covers round?" during a job interview. While you probably won't encounter these queries at every meeting, they are becoming more prevalent, particularly among technology companies, which use them to help gauge a candidate's logic and problem-solving skills.
Here are some examples of this type of question:
- How many gasoline stations are there in the United States?
- How many times do a clock's hands overlap in a day?
- What weighs more on the moon than on the earth?
When presented with this type of question, keep in mind that the interviewer is more interested in how you think than a right answer. So, take a moment or two to consider the problem, and don't hesitate to think out loud as you construct a logical solution. Even if you're headed down the wrong path, you may be able to impress the interviewer by showing strong reasoning skills or quick wits.
Don't be surprised if you're asked to describe the last book you read or movie you saw, and what you thought of it. Employers ask these questions to gain a stronger sense of your personality, including what motivates and interests you.
Some common personality questions include:
- What career would you choose if you weren't in this profession?
- What famous person would you most like to have lunch with, and why?
- What's your favorite book, and why?
There are no right or wrong answers to these types of questions, so don't let them fluster you. (Hiring managers will be interested in whether you remain poised when presented with an unexpected query.) Be honest, yet not overly personal, in your responses. For example, if the last movie you saw was "Bridget Jones's Diary," you might mention that you enjoyed it because it was light-hearted and you can relate to some of the character's misadventures, but don't go into detail about how your dating life closely resembles that of the main character's. There is such a thing as too much information!
Job seekers often encounter the same questions interview after interview, but many hiring managers are becoming more creative in an attempt to get a stronger sense of a candidate's skills and potential fit with the company. While this can make for a mentally challenging meeting, it also gives you a chance to relate success stories based on your experience and showcase your ability to think on your feet. By preparing for nontraditional inquiries, you'll have a significant edge over those who have memorized pat answers to standard interview questions.
Diane Domeyer is executive director of OfficeTeam, the nation's leading staffing service specializing in the temporary placement of highly skilled administrative and office support professionals. OfficeTeam has more than 300 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.officeteam.com.