As a Hiring Manager, I’m sometimes embarrassed by the cliché – and sometimes even dumb – questions that get asked in interviews.
They may have a purpose or maybe simply intended to trip you up or see how well you handle strange questions. I’ll begin by covering three of the most common questions asked in many interviews.
This is followed by some oddball, goofball, and off-the-wall questions you may be asked.
Finally, I’ll reveal what I consider to be the best answer I’ve ever heard in an interview!
“Tell Me What You Consider to be Your Greatest Weakness”
In my mind, this falls into the dumb question category. It doesn’t tell me anything useful about your experience, skill sets, or accomplishments. Unless I’m on an interview panel that has this question as part of a fixed set that gets asked, I’ll never ask it.
Trouble is, many Hiring Managers do ask it, mostly just to see how you handle a question that doesn’t have a good answer, so you’d better be prepared for it.
I’m going to give you a way to not answer it, while actually giving the best answer of all.
First of all, don’t follow the frequently given advice to choose something that is usually considered a strength and stating it as your weakness. I see this worn-out advice still cropping up in many places.
For example, saying something like this: “My biggest weakness is that I push myself too hard.” Any Hiring Manager with more than two days of experience will recognize this as a cliché answer you got from some outdated interview advice site. Believe me, they will know immediately what you’re trying to do.
Okay, since there’s a good chance you’ll be asked this question eventually, just what do I mean when I say you should answer it by not answering it?
Just this. Don’t fall into the trap of admitting any weakness, no matter how inconsequential it may be. Instead here’s how I’d like someone to answer this question:
“I’m sure everyone has areas they could improve in. However, based on my understanding of the job, it plays to my strengths and not my soft spots. I don’t believe there is anything in my background and experience that would prevent me from doing an outstanding job for your company.”
This is an answer I’d love to hear but never have. It recognizes that you have soft spots, just like everyone does, but it gets you out of having to “admit” some things and turns the question into a way to sell yourself.
You skillfully avoided a land mine question and answered it by not answering it! At the same time, you made a powerful statement about your confidence and your ability to think on your feet.
You are now in that very small minority of candidates that demonstrate how to properly answer an impossible – and yes, dumb! – question.
I can almost guarantee that no other candidate will answer like this. I would immediately put applicants who were capable of giving this type of an answer in the “call for a second interview” stack.
That said, you may end up in an interview with a stubborn, narrow-minded Hiring Manager who continues to insist that you fess up to some weakness. If that’s the situation you find yourself in, you’re going to need to ask the question as stated (but I’d also ask myself if that’s someone for whom I can see myself working!).
If that’s the case, this is the generic way I’d recommend you respond:
“Sometimes I’ll multi-task too much and take on more things than I can accomplish in an allotted amount of time. I’m working on getting this under control by researching ways to improve my time management skills.”
Yes, you’ll have to admit to a weakness, but also make the point that it’s something you’re actively working to improve.
“Tell Me Why You’re The Best Person for This Job”
Many candidates I’ve interviewed have told me this is one of their most dreaded questions, mainly because the answer is different for each interview.
While this certainly is a tough question to answer, it’s also one that you really want to be asked. Why? Because it’s your best opportunity to sell yourself.
It gives you the ability to bring up and highlight the best things about your skills, experience, and accomplishments. Some of these things may not otherwise come up during your interview.
Too often, I hear candidates answer this question by simply recapping their experience and skills straight from their resume. As I’ve said many times, we’ve already read your resume!
Very seldom do I hear this question answered in the way I think it should be.
What I’d like to hear is you recap some of your most significant accomplishments as they relate to my specific opening. The keywords here are “as they relate to my specific opening.”
This is something that I can’t stress enough. It’s the single best way to convince me you’re the best person for the job.
This means you’ll need to do your homework before your interview. You need to be very knowledgeable about my company and the specific requirements for the job.
You can get the job requirements right off the job posting. And you can almost always find out everything you need to know about my company by doing online research.
If you make it a point to thoroughly research these two areas, you’ll be able to tell me why you’re the best person for the job. Your preparation will enable you to describe exactly how your experience and accomplishments are an excellent match for both the job requirements as well as the objectives and goals of my company.
You’ll then be able to support this by directly relating your experience and accomplishments to the job qualifications as posted. You’ll also be able to quote specific goals and objections of my company and state how your qualifications support them.
If you haven’t taken the time to figure this out, you will very likely not make the second round of interviews, at least for my job openings. I want to know you’ve made the effort. So many candidates don’t!
I can explain this better with an example. Assume you’re interviewing for a sales representative job. During your research of the company, you found that one of the primary objectives is growth in sales.
When you’re asked why you’re the best person for this job, you’ll be able to answer it something like this:
“I know that growth in sales is one of your company’s most important objectives. This is always my primary focus and in my last position, I was able to increase sales in my territory by over 20% during the last fiscal year. Growth in most other territories was flat or negative during this same period. If you hire me I’m confident I can achieve the same results for your company.”
This doesn’t just work for sales positions. You can always relate your accomplishments and experience to that specific job and company once you’re done your research.
This is what I want to hear as a Hiring Manager…and so seldom do!
“Tell Me About Yourself”
This is somewhat related to the “Tell Me Why You’re the Best Person for This Job” question and just as dreaded by most candidates.
While this seems to be a natural simple-sounding question to ask, it’s another land mine waiting for you to step on it in your interview.
And here’s how you step on it in your interview. You respond by just recapping the jobs you’re held and their dates. Once again, I’ve already read your resume!
Or, you soar off into insignificant (at least to the interview) details such as your hobbies, where you went to high school, your kids, your likes, dislikes, etc. Please note that none of this is relevant to the interview or the job.
What is relevant is your experience and accomplishments and how they make you a good fit for that specific job.
You’ll need to be able to state this smoothly in about 60 seconds or so. This is why it’s so important to prepare a 60 second “commercial” about yourself. This should be a tight and concise overview of your accomplishments and experience that best relate to and support the requirements of this specific position.
The content of your 60 second “commercial” needs to make it appear that you are an excellent fit for the job.
By the way, this should NOT be a carbon copy of your profile on Linkedin. That is too general to use Your 60 second commercial should be custom-made for each job interview.
Now For the Oddball Questions
The purpose of these is primarily to see if you can think on your feet and if you can answer illogical questions in a logical manner.
Bear in mind that there is for the most part no wrong or right answer to these seemingly weird questions. I don’t personally use them, but I know many Hiring Managers who do.
With no right or wrong answers for most of these, my first recommendation is that you give an answer that you feel is based on logic.
Or, if you can pull it off, give an answer with a bit of humor in it, especially if the question seems particularly ridiculous. Believe it or not, humor is appreciated by hiring managers if used appropriately. They are human, after all (for the most part).
Here are some specific examples of how I might answer these random questions. Keep in mind there are virtually dozens of these types of questions and my goal is to give you some thoughts on how you might approach them.
If you had to be an animal, which one would you choose?
Possible Answer: I know, I know, it’s a ridiculous question. Despite that, it’s still used by some less-enlightened Hiring Managers. If you’re unlucky enough to have it asked, here’s one way you might approach it:
“I’d choose an elephant. They are intelligent, large and powerful, have almost no natural enemies, and enjoy a long life span.”
This will fit most jobs and is an excellent generic answer.
For jobs where it’s considered a positive attribute to be aggressive (e.g. sales or marketing positions), here’s a good alternative:
“I’d choose to be one of the big cats, preferably a tiger, lion, or panther. I want to sit at the top of the food chain, rather than the bottom.”
Give Me Step-by-Step Instructions for How to Tie a Shoe
Possible Answer: These types of questions are designed to determine your ability to logically describe a process.
It can be about almost anything. How to tie shoes, how to change a tire, how to hard boil an egg, and nearly anything else.
Don’t let this rattle you because there is an easy way to handle any type of question such as this. Simply envision yourself performing the process one step at a time in your mind and describe each step one by one. You’ll be surprised by how naturally this will flow.
If you were a tree, what type would you want to be?
Possible Answer: If you think this is as dumb as the animal question, you would be right. Unfortunately, it’s still occasionally asked.
And for heaven’s sake please avoid at all costs the worn-out answer that you’d want to an oak tree “because they’re hardy and dependable”. It’s difficult for me to avoid laughing out loud when I hear this answer.
Try this one instead: you’d choose a Joshua tree. Why? They’re attractive, hardy, and don’t give up under the most adverse circumstances. They survive in harsh deserts where most things can’t.
That’s the image I like to project: durable and tough.
This type of answer gives you an image of being realistic about life and practical in your approach to things.
I can almost guarantee this answer won’t come from any other candidate.
How many gas stations does the United States contain?
Possible Answer: You aren’t expected to give an accurate answer to this type of question. Its purpose is to determine how well you can apply a logical thought process to an unusual situation.
This question can be about almost anything: how many ping bong balls are required to fill up a standard bathtub, how many basketballs does it take to fill Wrigley Field, how many stoplights are in San Francisco, etc.
What you want to do is start thinking out loud about how you’d develop an answer.
For example, let’s assume the question is “how many gas stations are in the United States.” It’s of course impossible to answer this question with any degree of accuracy, but it’s the thought process that’s important. Here’s how I would approach it.
“Well, the city I live in has around 50,000 people and I estimate there are about 50 gas stations. This means there is about one station for every 1,000 people. Since the U.S population is 300 million give or take, that works out to about 300,000 gas stations.”
It doesn’t matter that this answer is likely way off the mark. What’s important is that I arrived at it in a logical manner. This is the real purpose of the question and what the Hiring Manager wants to hear.
Tell me something about yourself that you don’t want me to know
Possible Answer: This is another version of the greatest weakness question. It’s a not very subtle attempt to force you to admit something negative about yourself. It’s yet another dumb question in my mind but asked far more frequently than you would think.
You need to get this question out of the way in the shortest amount of time possible to minimize any potential damage. It’s best to simply admit to some minor, non-controversial bad habit you used to have.
For example, that you were once overweight but lost 50 through diet and exercise, or you used to be a smoker until you quit a long time ago. The key is to use a personal story, not a business story, and one that you corrected some time ago.
There are an unlimited number of these types of oddball questions, so don’t waste your time trying to guess which ones might come up and then memorize answers to them.
The key takeaway is to try to give answers that are based on logic, even if they are impossible to answer correctly. When you’re asked anything negative, make sure your answer is something minor that you have since corrected.
The Best Interview Answer
I saved this one for last because it’s an answer I’ve never forgotten and one that I’m sure you’ll never see anywhere else.
Quite simply, it’s the best – and shortest – interview answer I’ve ever heard.
And I’ve heard virtually thousands of interview question answers from many hundreds of job candidates over the more than 30 years that I’ve been a Hiring Manager. This answer by far stands out the best one. I’ve even used it as a role model when counseling people on how to answer interview questions.
The question that triggered this answer is commonly asked, especially for professional positions, and is deceptively difficult to answer.
The exact wording of the question will vary with Hiring Manager, but it will usually be something along the lines of this: “If two different high-level executives ask you to perform a task at the same time so that you can only do one, how do you decide on the right one to do?”
A pretty simple question at first glance, right? But when you think about it you’ll find it’s hard to answer because of the puzzle it presents to you.
How will you do the task for one executive without antagonizing the other? You can only meet one request, so how can you make both executives happy?
In other words, how do you keep these from becoming a CLM (Career Limiting Move!)?
I have a confession to make. Quite a few years ago I was asked this exact question when I was interviewing for an upper-level management position at a Fortune 500 company. It was asked during my second interview, so it was a critical time in the process.
I fumbled it rather badly.
It was a question I simply had not considered in advance. There just wasn’t a good way to respond to the dilemma the question presented.
Or so I thought.
Several years later, I was part of a panel interviewing a candidate for a mid-management position and you guessed it: this exact question was asked.
This brought back some bad memories of how I answered it and I was anxious to hear how this candidate would handle it. He was an experienced, amicable internal candidate who so far had scored high on his other answers.
His answer was brief, simple, and elegant: “I’d do the one that’s best for our customers.”
And there you have it – the best interview answer I’ve ever heard. This one-sentence answer was a show-stopper and It blew away the interview panel. How could any executive disagree with doing what’s best for the customer? Is there a better reason for doing something else? We didn’t think so.
As you can guess, this person got the job and the vote was unanimous.
You could tweak this answer to fit a wide variety of questions and circumstances. Being a customer advocate is an attitude that resonates well with almost any organization. It’s something you should try to weave into your answers to other questions as well.
When you do, you’ll see me and the rest of the interview panel nod our heads in agreement.