What Are They Really Asking?

There are all sorts of interviewers.  Some are much better inquisitors than others.  There are those who ask pertinent and relevant questions that delve into your knowledge and experience, and who understand the nuances their questions imply; and there others who ask traditional questions.  And there are those who ask the “off-the-wall” questions just to test your reactions.  But what are they really asking?  The last time you interviewed for a job, did you believe your interviewer fully understood the real meaning of the questions they were asking?
In many cases, for reasons both legal and logistical, many HR staffers tasked with interviewing job candidates, ask all applicants the same questions.  At the very least they ask all the interviewees applying for the same job the same questions.  Supposedly, this gives the employer a common frame of reference in assessing answers and whittling down the number of hopefuls.
An employer may have a preferred list of questions they feel comfortable asking of all candidates, and hope the responses they get will help them make a wise hiring decision.  But in asking all candidates the same questions,, regardless of position being filled, employers may not get the broadest picture of what makes one applicant more suitable to a particular job over another.  By not differentiating their inquiry, the employer may only learn who has the best answers to their questions, not who has the best and most relevant qualifications to fill that particular position.
Different types of questions should be asked to elicit different types of answers. Some queries are designed to prompt an emotional response.  The answers to other questions can provide clues to an applicant’s assertiveness, positivity, compassion or confidence. And there are questions that probe the applicant’s commitment to a position, industry or the company with whom they are interviewing.
Questions may be asked that encourage applicants to reveal things about their personal lives in an attempt to learn if the applicant will be a good cultural fit with the company or department.  Employers know there are many questions they can not ask for legal reasons, but in trying to be more conversational and personable, they hope the candidate will reveal something they can’t otherwise ask about directly.
Ironically, in their attempt to delve deeper into an applicant’s psyche, there are employers who completely forget to ask the most important questions – the ones that get a job seeker to reveal what they know about the job they are applying for, how they will fill that opening, and addressing the quality and specifics of their skills and experience.  Employers ask the “weird” questions – not because the answers reveal anything relevant or important – typically these questions have no right or wrong answers.  Some interviewers just want to see the interviewee squirm!  Not even necessarily to see if the applicant can think on their feet, but because they derive some bizarre pleasure from watching interviewees sweat.
While we’d like to believe that employers are too busy to be frivolous with their interviewing, the fact remains that non-traditional queries are occurring more frequently during interviews, particularly in the technology, media and science sectors.   Interviews are hard enough when traditional questions are asked, but in situations like these, when the weird questions are posed, it’s hard to feel confident about your answers, making an already uncomfortable situation that much more uncomfortable.
So, what are they really asking?  Well, I suggest that the answers to all questions in a job interview should reflect how the applicant’s skills and experience meet the needs of the employer, no matter what question is asked!  Because at the core of every interview that is what the employer really wants to know.  Do you have the ability to do the job you’re applying for?  Do you have the skills, the knowledge of the industry, or experience with the specific tools required to excel in this position?  Sooner or later every employer is going to ask something that isn’t directly related to the skills needed to do a particular job.  Yet the applicant should keep their attention focused on the reason the questions are being asked, and keep responses concise with details that encourage the interviewer’s confidence in their ability to get the job done.
If irrelevant questions are asked, you could refuse to answer. You could ask the interviewer why they believe the particular question is relevant to your ability to do a job.  You could make up an answer that is as off-the-wall as the question.  Deciding how to answer is one of the choices you’ll make in the millisecond after the question is asked.  Keep your cool, be patient, and remember that all they really want to know is “Can you do this job?” And of course, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes, I can!”
For more ideas about answering the hard questions and other job search and career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com