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Monday, March 6, 2017

Tough Questions

Job interviews are generally stressful occasions. Like a first date, you may only get the proverbial one chance to make a good first impression. Of course, dating is different because both parties are likely to feel the same tension.

I’ve conducted several job interviews over the years. A primary objective of mine has been to help the candidate feel at ease. Humor is my most effective tool for this. The more relaxed the atmosphere, the better the mind can be at thinking of good responses.

This does not exclude the need to ask difficult and thought provoking questions, however. Certain questions have generated some ridicule over the years for being somewhat unreasonably awkward. Two that come to mind are: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and, “What is your greatest weakness?”

Truth is, most people can’t think out five years with a realistic approach. If the candidate is honest, perhaps he or she will say, “In five years, I hope to be working at my real preferred job making twice as much money as this one pays.” But who would say that?

And as for the second question, a person may share a “weakness,” but only to a limited degree. Again, imagine the reply, “Anger is my biggest weakness. In fact, just last night I hit my spouse with a frying pan!” End of interview.

The online edition of Fast Company recently offered up Lydia Dishman’s article on “3 of the Toughest Interview Questions and How to Answer Them.”

In quick form, they included:

  1. For the position of production technician at Procter & Gamble, the interviewer asked: If a coworker had an annoying habit, and it hindered your quality of work, how would you resolve it? 
  2. For a data analyst position at Uber, an interviewer asked: Write an equation to optimize the marketing spend between Facebook and Twitter campaigns. 
  3. For a data analyst position at Bloomberg, an interviewer posed this question: How do you explain a vending machine to someone who hasn’t seen or used one before?

I linked to the article for Lydia’s recommended answers. What I liked about each question was how it applied directly to a work situation. No whimsical wonderings or fake scenarios that lead nowhere.

Question #1 could be used in any common work environment. Question #2 seemed job specific. Question #3 seemed out of place. This question would test the mind of someone seeking a job requiring strong verbal or written communication skills.

Getting a candidate to provide an accurate perception of him or herself is tricky. One of my favorites to ask is, “If I contacted three of your previous coworkers, how would they describe you?” For some reason, people share more when it seems like a third party is answering.

I think it’s wise for the candidate to have a little fun by asking a serious question during the interview like, “Why did the last person leave this job?”

Jesus of Nazareth was the master in responding to tough questions. Frequently, He would answer with a question. Occasionally, if His opponents refused to answer His question, He wouldn’t answer theirs! (Read Mark 11:27-33) Some of our politicians must have learned from Him!

For a wise job applicant, I wouldn’t recommend refusing to answer … without a good explanation. Lest your first interview become an exit interview.

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Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.  

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