No matter how much 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.
"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, and it's important to be as honest and 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.
"As soft skills are not something that employers can easily find about a candidate based on a resume, they'll use the interview process to uncover them," said Keller.
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?"
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.
"Having outside hobbies and passions often leads to more workplace creativity, broader perspective and better team collaboration," said Keller.
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 them specifically, and why you're choosing their company over others in the industry.
Before your interview, make sure you do your research on the position and the company. This will prepare you for any questions specific to the business itself.
"Never walk into an interview without scouring the company website and social accounts," said Keller. "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?"