Smart Answers to Awkward Interview Questions

Gurbaksh Chahal
Written by Gurbaksh Chahal

An interview can be an intense experience. You’ve only got a few minutes to make a vital, possibly life-changing impression. The interviewer knows all about you on paper. He’s gone through your résumé. He knows what exams you’ve passed. He can see what positions you’ve held. But all of that’s nothing compared to him getting to know you; getting a feel for the real you.

Personally, I place a lot of value in my intuition. My gut quickly tells me if they have the character, the charisma, the passion, the heart and soul to help me achieve my vision.

But let’s explore some of the common awkward questions that the typical interviewer will throw at you and how I suggest you could begin to answer them.

How do you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10?

Maybe you’re tempted to say that you’re a 10? Or even an 11? Don’t go there. That’s over the top. And arrogant (unless you can absolutely substantiate that assertion). On the other hand you are obviously better than average, aren’t you? And your potential employer definitely isn’t going to be excited about hiring someone mediocre. So for someone with experience you might want avoid answering the question and just define what values you provide but also things you are open to learn from. Why’s that?

Because you want to be able to also say, you want to be surrounded by rock stars, since rock stars only like working with other ones.

What would you do if you were given multiple tasks to accomplish in a day—and you knew it was flat-out impossible to do them all?

What they’re really trying to find out is how you approach problem solving. Can you think strategically? Are you able to handle stress? You certainly don’t want to say you expect a more reasonable and understanding boss who wouldn’t lay such a heavy workload on you! And, even though at face value it might seem the smart and enthusiastic answer, you also don’t want to say that you’d stay all night until you got it accomplished.

Instead you should discuss how you would prioritize the projects and how you would delegate. Maybe the people you’d have been doing the work for don’t even have the time to handle all of your input even in any case. You could also make the point that you want to make sure that the jobs are done right rather than rushed.

Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?

Of course, you know that everyone is expected to be a team player! No one wants a loner or an abrasive personality who might disrupt and antagonize your other rock stars. But what you have to identify right off the bat is what’s required of the position you’re seeking.

If your role is going to be one where you will handle a lot of projects by yourself you could stress that you have experience working alone and enjoy it—but also appreciate that there are times when creative brainstorming with a group is vital, and that you are adept in those circumstances. On the other hand, if it’s a team job you should emphasize your strengths working with others but also indicate that you like to have personal responsibility for some aspects of a project.

Don’t you think you’re over-qualified?

Maybe you are over-qualified for a particular position. But, so what? The bottom line is that your potential employer needs to know why you’re willing to take that role. They could be nervous that you see it as a temporary gig whereas if the employer is anything like me he wants to be sure you’re going to make a commitment and become part of the team for the long term. Maybe they’re worried you’ll get bored and move on.

So, be specific. Maybe you really identify with the founder’s vision? You like the culture of this particular company. You love the challenge of a startup? Maybe you’re willing to start lower down the ladder because you’re willing to prove your worth? Maybe you’re smart enough to recognize that the company is poised for dramatic growth? Whatever the reason: spell it out.

Have you ever had to confront the situation where someone on a team wasn’t pulling their weight? If so, what did you do?

This can be tricky to answer. The wrong answers are something like “I reported the deadbeat to my supervisor” or “I vented out the lazy good-for-nothing in front of the rest of the team to force him to get with it.” A better response is that you got your work completed and offered your help either to the supervisor to get the task finished for the overall team’s benefit. Bad-mouthing should never be part of the interview!

How does this position fit in with your overall career plans?

The smart answer is that you feel you can make a positive contribution in this role while, at the same time, seeing it as an opportunity to learn, develop and grow. You’ve identified the company as one, which has values, and goals that you share—and that you would want to be able to grow with the company. That’s got to be authentic of course!

What animal would you like to be? What tree would you like to be?

Yes, some interviewers like these types of questions! So, be prepared. The type of animal or tree you select should reflect qualities that will be appreciated in the workplace. So you probably don’t want to be a rat or a weeping willow. Perhaps an elephant (intelligent, strong, and loyal) or an oak (sturdy, dependable). You choose what works for you. Of course, you can always turn the tables and ask the interviewer what she chose when she was asked that question.

Is there anything else you need to know about the company and the position?

This is often the last question you will be asked and the answer most definitely is ‘yes.’ You need to know more. Under no circumstances make the mistake of not seeming inquisitive. Hopefully you’ve engaged in give and take during the interview, and made it more conversational. But find something to ask. If it has not already been covered you want to know why the position is available; how it gels with other positions; what are the opportunities for growth; where the company is heading; what’s the ultimate purpose?

Obviously, these are just a handful of the kinds of questions that can get thrown at you in an interview—and from different directions. The best advice of all is to be prepared. Do your homework. Become as knowledgeable as you can about your potential new boss and the company. The more you know the more empowered you will be.

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