How You Answer Irrelevant Questions in an Interview, Part 3

Back in More Interview Questions Not to Ask, Part 1, I said that hiring managers and teams should not ask irrelevant questions. Some of you here, and on LinkedIn and Facebook asked, “How do we answer these questions?” Here’s how you do it.

If someone asks you “Who do you most admire and why?” use someone at work. Ground your answer in a work-related answer. You have turned this irrelevant question into a behavior-description answer. Here are two examples:

When my manager, at this job, stood up for us, I thought that was great. Here’s what she did… When it was my turn to be a manager, used that on this project, and…

When my peer cracked the unit testing framework nut on this project, I thought that was great. It gave me the courage to take the bull by the horns on that project to …

Do you see what’s going on here? Instead of talking about a famous person, you’re giving clues about cultural fit, which is a great idea. In both of these examples, you pull the interviewer back from la-la land to the here and now. The interviewer might be looking for “Gandhi” or “Brad Pitt”. Instead, the interviewer has real-world experience by which to judge you. A much better use of interview time.

What about if someone asks, “What is your passion?” Lord, save me. Do not say, “Sailing around the world.” You need too much time off from work for that. It is irrelevant what your passion is. Interviewers claim they want to know if you are well-rounded. Nonsense. Here are two possible examples:

Here’s how you answer this in a behavior-description way in an agile environment, if it’s true: I’m a T-shaped or a comb-shaped person. That is, I really like (development, testing, whatever) first. But I want to help the team ship product. Here’s what I did in the last project to do so….

Here’s how you answer this in a behavior-description way in a non-agile environment, if it’s true: I have a number of interests. I find as I get older that serendipity is a wonderful thing. I read a lot and I meet a lot of people. In fact, just last week I read something in (take your pick of a business mag or the Wall St. Journal) that could have helped us on our last project. See, here’s how the last project went. We did this, and it went pretty well. On reflection, I could have used that pointer to improve it even better…

The first of these answers is about showing you are well-rounded. The second is about showing how you learn. Only use these if they are true. Please.

Now, the what is your ideal job question. You know, I work for myself and I change my job almost every year. I don’t see how someone can answer that question. Take two or three recent jobs, and say something like this. Make it as relevant to the job description as you can.

Let me tell you something about this job at that specific company. I really enjoyed and was good at this part. (Now, describe something you excelled at.)

This interviewer is asking you to sell yourself on the job. The interviewer has ceded control of the interview. Fine! You take control.

Now, the why are you here question. I have to say, I really like Chuck’s response, “You don’t know?” You must say that with a smile, not a smirk. You must. I would burst out laughing. If you are not a belly-laugher, don’t say that. You want to get the interviewer laughing with you.

A better answer might be to answer that with a question, “What results do you want in 6 months, and I’ll tell you why I’m here. I know what I can bring. I know what I saw in the job description. I want to check with you before I answer.”

Otherwise, you can say:

I saw the job description. My background is this… You want these results…, right? I can deliver those for you. Here’s why. At this most recent job, I did this. (Point to that job on your resume. Yes, physically reach across the desk and point to it.) Explain your value.

Of course, none of these examples will stop the interviewers from using these irrelevant questions. But that’s not the point. Your point is to ace the interview.

The posts in this series:

More Interview Questions Not to Ask, Part 1

 Interview Questions to Consider Asking, Part 2

If you liked this post and you will be in London on March 21, 2014, you should sign up for my Manage Your Job Search workshop. You will not be disappointed.

9 Comments

  1. You spelled Gandhi wrong.

    Reply
    • Thank you. Fixed now. (This is why you should ask other people to review your resume, a topic I will be posting about soon!) Argh. I do wish I was perfect. Oh well.

      Reply
  2. Some questions may seem irrelevant, but actually provide the interviewer great insight regarding the candidate.

    Reply
    • HI Tammy, I wish you would provide an example. Without one, I can’t read your mind. (Think of a short woman, attempting to use the force!) Nope, it’s not working :-)

      I can tell you that every time I have considered one of these questions, when I made the question about the work, and turned it into a behavior-description question, I heard better information about the candidate. Or, if I created an audition, I learned more about the candidate. I’m not an expert about academia, and I don’t know if you’re hiring for an academic or a staff position. If a staff position, do consider what I’m saying.

      I have coached and am coaching professors. Some of them have hired people. They have used the approaches from Hiring Geeks That Fit, and they tell me those approaches work, including the behavior-description questions and auditions. On the other hand, I don’t know your specific situation. If you like, send me an email and we can chat. Now you’ve got me curious!

      Reply
  3. With the “ideal job”, I’ve always tried to emphasize “This is what I look for in a job: [insert what I’m actually looking for in a job, I usually try to pick three things]. Why I’m interested in this particular job is that I can use my skills and experience in [x] to accomplish [y]. That’s why I’m here today.”

    Reply
    • Dave, what a great way to create a specific answer to that question. Nice!

      Reply
  4. Hi,
    I am going for a job interview and part of the interview is to write a return email to the hiring manager. I know from other professionals in this industry, that only 3 bullet points are allowed.
    What should I cover in such an email after the interview?
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Rita-Lynne,

      You should be your best self, your authentic you. What spoke to you in the interview about the job, the people, the organization? Make specific references to something about one of those three and tie it back to your experience. You don’t say what kind of a job you are interviewing for. Here’s an example if you are a developer:

      “Dear hiring manager, I really enjoyed my interview experience with the team today. I was happy to see you are living agile, not just talking agile. Here’s what stood out for me about your organization:

      1. Your project boards limit WIP. Every person I spoke to was serious about moving features across the board. Wow. Not every team understands that. I’m excited about working for an organization that understands that about agile.

      2. We spoke a lot about the trouble the IBIS team has with an automated test framework. I would be happy to work with the testers as I learn the code base. Maybe my first few contributions could be to fix some defects, and as I check in some unit tests, work with the testers to create a simple automated test framework.

      3. I really liked the culture of the team eating lunch together and playing basketball and taking walks together after lunch. All in one hour! No wonder everyone looks so fit. I’d like to be a part of that.

      In summary, your project culture sounds like a great fit for me. I hope I proved I was a great fit for you, and that I can do the work.
      Sincerely, Candidate”

      Now, you might want to emphasize more of your specific points, instead of the culture. In that case, you would change points 1 and 3 to be more like point 2.

      Does that make sense?

      Reply
      • I am relieved, that it isn’t as formal as the interview. This makes it way easier.
        Thanks again.

        Reply

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