How to answer killer job interview questions

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In The Workplace

I’m 29 and looking for a job, after being laid off by a bankrupt company. This week, I was totally disappointed when a hiring manager asked me several difficult questions, which I believe are irrelevant to a supervisorial post that I’m applying for. One question that plastered me was this —  “Why do kamikaze pilots wear helmets when they are supposed to die anyway?” What’s happening now to the job market? — Being Tricked.

Why do golfers have to ask a fellow golfer: “Did you lose the ball?” or “Did you find it yet?” when you’re still out in the rough trying to look for it? What do they think you’re doing out there — checking on the fire ants or something? Why do people ask a motorist who’s trying to dig out of a sink hole that obvious question — “Are you stuck?”

If you’re a motorist, you’ll feel like answering: “No, my car died, and I want to give it a decent burial.” Or, while changing a flat tire on a rainy night beside a busy road, why is one asked, “Have you got a flat tire?” Then, you may feel like replying: “Of course, not! I always rotate my tires at night on a busy road, and particularly, when it’s raining.”

And so, asking irrelevant questions is not a monopoly of hiring managers. People tend to ask those questions, sometimes as a “normal” opening statement to help establish rapport, sympathy or for whatever its worth. If you respond positively, the one asking questions may offer help.

In your case, much depends on the timing when those killer questions are asked. Usually, an experienced and self-respecting employment manager would ask such difficult questions only after an applicant has already been put at ease. In the first few minutes of a job interview, the manager or his deputy must be amiable and friendly so that the applicants feel relaxed.

The sooner that an applicant has displayed his confidence, then those killer job interview questions may come, including those questions that you feel are immaterial.

Setting aside the timing, what prods some employers to ask those questions, anyway? The Internet is a repository of tough interview questions. There are even sites offering the best answers to those questions. But few of them explain why employers ask those questions.

In our context here in the Philippines, there are some wannabe technology companies that are trying to ape Microsoft and Google to win the war on talent. Remember that employers still rule the job market here. Take it or leave it. That’s why people and organizations often display a toxic style when conducting job interviews.

In your case, unless you’re applying for a job in a similar technology company, it’s difficult to understand why those questions are being asked in the first place. But let me tell you, asking those tough questions is one thing, but giving the right answers is also another thing. They may have the most difficult questions, but many of them don’t mind if you give the wrong answers as you’re normally assessed by how you react to those questions.

I’m not exactly sure what happened to you, but there are hiring managers out there who would conduct stress interviews to approximate situations that are actually happening in their organizations. And so, how would you save a “doomed interview?”

William Poundstone, author of Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google (2012) and How Would You Move Mount Fuji? (2004) offers this advice: “If you’re stumped, you’re stumped, and it’s no consolation that some may find the question easy. There is, however, an art to salvaging an ill-fated response. I’m not saying you can fake your way through these kinds of interview questions. I am saying it’s better interview etiquette to keep trying to answer the question until the interviewer cuts you off. Interviewers ought to know that innovation takes persistence, intuition, and luck. You can at least show you got the persistence part covered.”

In addition to what’s being offered by Poundstone, you may feel like getting back at those irrelevant questions, here’s my advice to you. You won’t lose anything if you diplomatically ask the hiring manager the following equally difficult questions. What’s the reason for the vacancy? Why doesn’t your management promote someone from within? Do you have a succession plan? What is the turnover rate of this company?

What’s the management style of my prospective boss? I read the company’s mission statement, tell me — what’s the meaning of “excellence in service is our creed?” Can you please give me a concrete example? What’s the plan of the company to become the number one player in the industry? If you don’t mind, how long have you been working for this company? What motivates you to stay long in this company?

With those intelligent questions, I’m almost sure you can turn the tide, and you can possibly get the next chance of being interviewed by the next-ranking hiring manager. Keep your fingers crossed. Whatever happens, “NO” should mean “next opportunity” with another prospective employer who can possibly give you another kind of stressful job interview.