3 Ways to Sail Through the Toughest Interview Questions

Your last job interview can probably be described as difficult and uncomfortable, yet familiar. Of course, that’s assuming you were asked practical questions.

But what if the questions aren’t practical? A recent JobsInME.com poll found that 31 percent of those surveyed said that their most difficult interview question fell under the category of “irrelevant nonsense.”

They asked if I knew all the words to the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood them, and could I sing it for them? I could and did. I was interviewing for an IT position with an ad agency in NYC. The good news is, I got the job. But to this day I couldn’t tell you why they asked me to do that.

– Erika Mandelman Muller
“Do you ski?”
– Andrea Moore
“Do you know why a tennis ball is fuzzy?” It’s because the fuzz diminishes bounce and speed and allows the players to control their shots better.
– Joyce Brown
I was once asked about my religious beliefs. I tried my best to deflect the question. As soon as they started asking questions like that I knew I didn’t want to work there.
– Candace Hart
When they asked why they should hire me, my reply was: “Tell me why you shouldn’t.” And I ended up getting the job!
– Cindee Bombard Shallberg

It’s not always easy to stay cool and give solid answers to unexpected questions. Here are three tips from an HR pro on how to best handle it:

1. Know Who You Are and What You Want
The best way to prepare for your next job interview, according to Major, is to include three things in your sales pitch:

-Your pertinent strengths
-Ways you’ve addressed your weaknesses in previous jobs
-How you evaluate a potential job and employer

“I find many candidates haven’t thought about how they’ll evaluate an opportunity, so they will often say, ‘Well I would love to work for your company because…,'” said Major, revealing a lack of thought on the part of the job candidate about what they really want from the job search process.

2. Be Conversational, but Not Disruptive
If asked about an off-topic subject, the best reply is a polite comment that doesn’t send the interview off track.

“One way I get people relaxed and comfortable is to mention the weather or a recent well known sporting event,” says Johnna Major, founder and president of Cornerstone-HR, a Maine-based HR consulting firm that specializes in client-tailored recruitment, management, and organizational strategies. “But the interview can quickly go off course if someone starts going off about Chris Sale’s pitching stats. My recommendation would be that job candidates keep it cordial but brief.”

3. Regroup and Analyze Before Answering an Unexpected Question
An interviewer who asks, “Why are tennis balls fuzzy?” is likely appraising your handling of the question rather than looking for one correct answer.

“Some interviewers like to observe if you can think on your feet and whether you can handle pressure,” said Major. “My advice is to take a deep breath and ask if you can think about it for a moment, rather than rush in with an ill-advised answer.

Because this line of questioning is a potential red flag, be sure to ask some questions about the company’s work culture to determine if it’s a good fit for you.

“If you’re expected by the interviewer to think on your feet without a lot of information or context, what will it be like to work for the hiring manager? If you’re the type of person who needs time to process information before responding, this may not be the right work environment for you,” Major said.
Using these three strategies will allow you to handle any unexpected interview question that’s thrown at you.