Frequently Asked Questions about Interviews:
1. Why do interviewers sometimes ask silly questions?
“How do you know if a tree is stable?” (Google)
“How many lamp-posts are there from their airport to our office?” (BP)
“What would you do if you became the Minister for Tourism?” (Shell)
These are actual interview questions used by hiring managers on my candidates.
The main purpose is often to judge how you respond to ‘curveball’ situation and how you react when put in a spot. However, many times, these ‘silly questions’ are used to examine your thought processes and how you think.
For instance, if you responded to the last question with something frivolous like “I would increase tourist numbers by putting up big banners welcoming visitors at our airport!”, it does not highlight your intellect in the most flattering manner. (Why would you put banners inside the airport? Haven’t the visitors already arrived?)
Remember that there is never a right or wrong answer to these types of questions. The interviewer just wants to observe your thought processes.
2. If there are three interviewers, who do I make the most eye contact with?
Spend about 50% of your eye contact time looking at the one who is asking you the question, dividing the balance between the other two.
Do not ignore anyone for you can never know if the quiet and unassuming lady sitting in the corner is the secretary or the Global Head of HR.
If there are more than three interviewers, make a conscious effort to look in the direction of all of them as you are talking, trying hard not to make anyone feel left out.
3. What should I never do in an interview?
You should never speak badly of your ex-boss or former company, no matter how miserably he/they might have treated you in the past.
This is a very serious faux-pas which basically tells your potential boss that he will probably get slimed by you when you leave his employment. Keep it professional.
4. Is there any term that I should never use in an interview?
Of all the taboo phrases to avoid during a career discussion, one stands out as the worst – the dirty words, “work-life balance”.
Used in a sentence, “I value work-life balance.” or “Does this job have work-life balance?” or “What is the company’s stance towards work-life balance?”, it can never come across in any positive way.
Sure, by ‘work-life balance’, you probably mean ‘not slaving away for the company every evening of the week and burning all my weekends with unnecessary meetings.’
However, to the interviewer, all he is hearing is ‘I want to go home at 5.30pm every day because I’ve decided to take it easy’. Heaven forbid should this phrase be uttered by a female candidate, then fairly or unfairly, images of her carrying crying babies will start floating into his mind.
In my years of headhunting, I have seen interviews torpedoed simply on the back of this phrase alone. There is almost no upside to mentioning this, so simply strike it out of your interview vocabulary.
5. What is the biggest mistake to make in an interview?
Going in unprepared.
No, you do not want to try ‘winging’ the interview. If you really want the job badly, do your homework on the company and their products.
I have seen candidates talk at length about a product range that was discontinued a year ago. It was like watching a car-crash in slow motion.
Like a first-date, you want to appear knowledgeable to the interviewer so you can leave a positive impression. I would even go the extra mile to find out who the interviewer would be, and do a quick linkedin or google search before meeting him.
6. What question do I ask the interviewer?
In lawyer-themed TV shows, the older, more experienced lawyer will always tell the junior one, “When in front of the judge/jury, never ask the witness a question you don’t already know the answer to.”
Similarly, the ‘so, do you have any questions to ask me?’ part of the interview can actually be ‘gamed’ to your advantage to slip in any additional points about your profile/ability that may not have been covered earlier in the discussion.
For instance, you could ask, “What are the most important attributes needed to succeed in this role?” The hiring manager will rattle off a list of abilities/skills, and after he is done, you respond with “Yes, Attributes A, B &C are indeed critical for this role, that’s why I’m quite comfortable with it as I have <insert your achievements highlighting Attribute A, B & C here>”. You get the picture.
The other question to ask is “What is the career progression path for this position”. This question indicates that you are a ‘stayer’ and want to contribute to the organisation even beyond this role, increasing your brownie points significantly.
7. Other than talking, what is the other most important thing at an interview?
Observe how your future boss conducts himself and whether you would like working for him. Observe whether he is checking his phone every two minutes for mail or whether he respectfully puts it away for the duration of the interview.
Observe whether the office has more empty seats than there are workers as it could be a sign they are downsizing. Feel the energy and buzz in the office (or lack-thereof) to get an idea of the working culture there. As you walk through the door, were you greeted warmly or did a disgruntled staff just wave you in, muttering that door opening wasn’t in her job description.
Keep your eyes open and pick up as many clues as you can.
8. Do you have any tips about interviewing on skype or via videoconferencing?
In today’s C19 world, people are almost averse physically sitting in front of each other to speak. Where videoconferencing used to be the main preserve of technology companies who were comfortable with it, it is being increasingly used.
We too have grown comfortable talking into the PC, hence I would like to remind you of following tips to help you through this.
- Speak slowly. Many times, the person at the other end of the line may not be the same nationality or culture as you, hence he may not comprehend you at your ‘normal’ talking speed. Moreover, the internet connection may not be a stable one and the transmission may not be perfect. Slow down and enunciate each word carefully to avoid misunderstandings.
- Make sure there are no background noises. Make sure you are in a quiet place with a strong wi-fi signal. You do not want to be distracted during the Zoom call or suffer intermittent connection that could throw you off your game.
- Sometimes, you are scheduled to speak with someone in a different time-zone. It could even be at 6am your local time. Do wake up at least a half hour before to fully come to your senses. The last thing you want to do is to appear to still be in dreamland.
- If you are taking the Zoom call at home, remember to wear pants. I know the camera captures images from the chest upwards, but I once had a candidate who knocked over his desktop camera to the floor and let’s just say, it was hilarious (not for him, I’m sure).