You've probably read all the job search books and reviewed your answers for the standard questions you expect to be asked on an interview. But what about those questions from left field? The ones you didn't expect. These can be the most difficult because they will demonstrate how well you think on your feet. They may also be so charming or disarming that you may fall prey to the interviewer's trap and reveal aspects of yourself or your personality that you weren't prepared to come clean about.
1. "What are you reading lately?" I was asked this by three different federal judges in interviews for legal clerkships. I told them what novels I was reading. One judge never heard of Tom McGuane, another said I was reading only western Montanan authors, and the third knew the novel's author and also shared my tastes in journalism (New Yorker, New Republic, etc) - Anne Marie, April 23, 1999
Our advice: It is best to think always in terms of how the question relates to the job at hand. Better than proposing novels you are reading would be law related journals and books that are hot in your field. While you might just find an interviewer who understands your taste in literature, the question really suggests that the interviewer wants to know how up-to-date you are in the field.
2. I am hearing "where would you like to be X years from now" and have tried to handle it with humor (which is the truth, i.e. "ideally living in a tropical climate on lottery winnings...") but I would be interested to know how a professional would broach this question. - Suesan, April 29, 1999
Our advice: Your instincts are right! Always think of the question behind the question. What do they really want to know? "Five years from now I see myself continuing to work hard and doing the best possible job I can." This answer tells the interviewer that you are a hard worker and that you have high standards. You might also offer a caveat that you intend to continue learning, growing and adding value in your field.
3. I have often wondered what it is that employers want to hear when they ask you "What are your weaknesses?" Do you tell them you have a weakness for chocolate ?! or do you tell them your weakness is not telling people what your weaknesses are?? Can you make any suggestions as to how one should respond to this?? - Barbara, April 30, 1999
Our advice: This is a very common question. If you say you have no weaknesses, you come off looking arrogant. If you use humor here, you may appear too flippant. This is a difficult question and the interviewer wants to see how you handle it. Use a weakness that can otherwise be seen as a strength. Never fall into the trap of seeing the interviewer as mother/father/confessor and offering up something that is important to the job! A good example could be: "I have difficulty working with people who don't pull their weight. I have high standards for my work and I expect others to have high standards too. I'm learning to speak up and request that others contribute more completely long before I start getting angry about a situation that is unequal." Also supply a solution or a way in which you are dealing with your weakness.
4. I have three quirky questions that I have been asked over the years. Sadly, I did not have a good reply to them since I was too taken aback, and instead gave some flustered answer.
'Why are you here today' offers you the opportunity to explain your enthusiasm for the job. It is not such a quirky question if you don't take it at face value. It is important when interviewing to lighten up a bit and not analyze the worthiness of each question you are asked. Look for ways to respond that will improve the rapport between you and the interviewer and demonstrate your strengths in being the candidate for the job. "I am here to discuss with you my candidacy for the position of ________. Would you like to hear an overview of my background?" (It is also conceivable that the person was interviewing that day for more than one position.)
The spaceship question asks how adventurous you are. It is a great question for shaping according to what you know of the parameters of the job you are interviewing for. Let's say the job demands that you be innovative. You might answer, "Yes, I would go aboard and be asked to be taken back in time to interview the most innovative people who have ever walked the planet, asking them about their favorite means for becoming as innovative as possible."
5. Would you rather be a small fish
in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond? A big fish in a small
pond - I own the pond, but there is nothing left to conquer. A small fish
in a big pond - There is plenty of opportunity to succeed!!! - Scott, May