- Interview questions that seem off-topic are often insightful because they can give hiring managers a sense of how you respond under pressure and if you're a team player.
- In a business world where soft skills are becoming as highly valued as field-specific professional skill sets, some interview questions can surprise job candidates.
- A good manager wants to know whether you're a good fit not just for the position but also for the team. Expect some questions that seek out your interests and give the hiring team a chance to see how you interact with others.
No matter how well you prepare for a job interview, there's always a chance you'll be caught off guard by a hiring manager's question. While specific questions about the role or your work history are expected, others might seem irrelevant or random. Questions about the news, your hobbies and even your reading preferences are all fair game – and they will tell the interviewer a lot about you.
Preparing for the unexpected
A successful job interview starts well before the interview, with planning and preparation.
"Candidates need to prepare for so much more than just answering the run-of-the-mill questions about their professional experience and abilities," said Angie Keller, vice president of recruiting, Randstad Engineering at Randstad US. "That won't carry the day. It might seem silly to remind yourself about the last book you read or trip you took before an interview, but those things often come up, and you'll want to have a solid answer."
Interviewers are purposeful in their probing. It's important to be honest and to elaborate as much as possible, to give hiring managers the insights they're seeking. Here are three categories of commonly asked "insight" questions and how to prepare for them.
Teasing out soft skills
Hard skills, like using certain software programs or equipment, can be taught. But soft skills, often referred to as people skills, are innate abilities that improve with experience. They are critical for any position, in any industry. Can you think well on your feet? Can you see the big picture, including the long-term consequences of your decisions? How well do you manage conflict? Soft skills can be the difference between professional success and missed opportunities.
"As soft skills are not something that employers can easily find about a candidate based on a résumé, they'll use the interview process to uncover them," Keller said.
These types of questions can reveal resilience, keenness, strategic thinking and leadership qualities, which set you aside from other candidates. Keller advised applicants to reflect on situations where they have applied their soft skills.
- "Tell me about a time when you faced a challenge at work. How did how you overcome it?"
- "What were some key leadership experiences in your career?"
- "Were you ever in a situation where you saw a potential problem coming before it arose? Were you able to avoid or fix the problem? How?"
Uncovering outside interests
Employers don't just want someone who looks good on paper; they want someone who is authentic and passionate, with interests and hobbies separate from their career. Long-term hobbies can indicate dedication and a desire to better yourself; regular athletic pursuits, for example, can indicate the persistence and willingness to train over the long term, as well as show follow-through on goals and commitments.
"Having outside hobbies and passions often leads to more workplace creativity, broader perspective, and better team collaboration," Keller said.
She recommended being prepared to talk about your pastimes and what you enjoy about them.
"You don't have to be an expert or even part of an organized group," Keller added. "Something as simple as enjoying cooking will be of interest to an interviewer."
- "What was the last book you read, and who wrote it?"
- "What do you do outside of the office for fun?"
Finding common ground
Hiring managers want to understand your intentions with the company specifically and why you're choosing their company over others in the industry.
Before your interview, do your research on the position and the company. This will prepare you for any questions specific to the business itself. Look for and remember any mission statement or key objectives so that you can show the interviewer that your skills and priorities align with the company's goals. If the company's website has an About Us page that includes professional profiles of current employees, read up on the team.
"Never walk into an interview without scouring the company website and social accounts," Keller said. "Why interview with a company if you don't know if you'll be a good fit? Taking the time to understand the company for which you are applying to and how they differentiate themselves from other companies in their respective market will not only help candidates give a solid and truthful answer to the question but also will help candidates do a better job of vetting a company before accepting an interview or even applying."
- "Why do you want to work for this company?"
- "What excites you about this position specifically?"
If you understand the company's mission statement, you'll be able to provide answers that highlight why you're a good fit for that particular company. Plus, you'll show the interviewer that you cared enough to do your homework.
What is the STAR method of interviewing?
The STAR method is a framework for answering job interview questions, specifically behavioral interview questions. It's essentially an outline for telling a good story as you provide answers to interview questions in a way that helps your potential employers see the whole situation.
First, focus on the situation (S). Then, break down the tasks (T) the situation involved. Move on to the actions (A) you took to resolve or address the situation and, finally, discuss the results (R), focusing on how your actions (or your team's actions) improved or managed the outcome. The STAR method works particularly well for answering the kinds of situational questions managers may ask while trying to find out about your leadership style and willingness to work as part of a team.
How do you close an interview?
It's often wise to let the hiring team control and direct the conversation. Although you should give thoughtful, on-topic answers, you'll often be letting them ask the questions. Still, near the end of the interview, they may ask if you have any questions about the job or place of work. This is a chance for you to stand out, and doing your homework can really make a difference.
Ask a question that shows you have some experience in your field. For example, ask about application or server architecture if you work in IT or about their formal project management processes if you're applying to be a project manager. And when it feels like it's time to let the conversation wind down, it's important to read the room – make small talk if the team seems relaxed and unhurried, or step out graciously and quickly if they're on a schedule and ready to move on to another interview or task. Thank them for the opportunity, and remember to collect your belongings.
When you interview for a job, it's important to prepare, but it's even more important to feel comfortable talking about yourself and your background. Have a few good stories ready to tell, whether it's about the time you saved the day at work or the time you saved Thanksgiving dinner with your impressive cooking skills and quirky sense of humor. You'll stand out positively to the hiring team if you are confident and ready to have a good conversation about who you are and what you stand for, both in the office and out in the world.