If you’ve never had an interview that focused on your critical-thinking skills (or lack thereof), this might be news to you: Interviewers who zero-in on this skill can ask some really tough questions! That’s one of my take-aways from an article I read recently called “Interviewing for Critical-thinking Ability,” by Greg Fall on ERE.net. I’m not going to even try to note all the aspects he covers in his article, but the following information gives a teaser. Read the full article if you think more info might be useful the next time you have a job interview.
Why Would an Interview focus on Critical Thinking?
As Fall notes in his article, “critical thinking has been rated the #1 desired skill in key contributors and senior level leaders….And, as Socrates understood, although it can be learned, organizations today don’t have the luxury of teaching this skill. They need people already adept at:
* Accurately understanding problems,
* Analyzing evidence, and
* Making good decisions.
With 7-10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, the need for critical thinkers has never been greater.”
So this skill/ability/whatever-you-call-it is probably going to become increasingly in demand by employers. That being the case, you need to prepare for interviews that might focus on whether you have this skill and, if so, to what extent. Oh, and if you don’t already have some good value to offer in the area of critical thinking, yesterday would be a good time to begin developing and strengthening it, because it sounds as if many employers either can’t or won’t wait for you to develop expertise in it!
Sample Critical Thinking Questions You Might be Asked
“Behavioral Questions: Describe a complex situation in which you…had to make a critical choice based on incomplete data or inputs.”
“Behavioral Drill-down/Follow-up Questions: List your basic assumptions when you first considered the situation.”
“Situational Questions: …A strong-willed and influential peer attempts to win you over to their position by using erroneous information as foundational to their argument. Give a detailed description of how you would respond.”
“Situational Drill Down/Follow-up Questions: …Why did you choose to proceed that way?”
And that’s just a small sample! Wow! Obviously, it’s no longer enough–if it ever really was–to bone up on the company/industry, make sure you have all your success stories clearly in mind, and so on. It’s not that you don’t need to or shouldn’t do that. You just need to do more.
How Can You Prepare for Critical-Thinking Interview Questions?
First of all, realize that this is not a game of one-upmanship. You aren’t trying to fool the interviewer and, we hope, the interviewer isn’t trying to trick you. However, it’s essential that you understand what constitutes critical thinking, determine where you need to improve your abilities in that area and take the initiative to get yourself moving in the right direction. Start learning and practicing techniques that will help you (1) probe problems, (2) evaluate the information you obtain about them and (3) use your conclusions to execute appropriate, effective action. As the article mentions, some of this can be taught, so one solution could be for you to identify and access resources capable of teaching you to become a better critical thinker.
Then start applying what you’ve learned to real-world situations you have encountered or can envision encountering in the future. The above-mentioned article contains a number of questions to start you thinking along those lines. See if you can come up with some of your own.
If you’re at all like me, you probably enjoyed the “Winnie the Pooh” stories as a child (and maybe still have a soft spot for them as an adult). So I was immediately intrigued when I saw an article by Jeff Davis titled “The Eeyore Candidate.” However, the title was the only whimsical aspect of the article, which dealt with a BIG problem that job seekers can have–possibly without even being aware of it. What is that problem? For whatever reason, being lackadaisical or otherwise unenthusiastic prior to and during a job interview.
When a Poor Interview Follows a Great Resume
In the case mentioned in Davis’ article, the candidate looked wonderful on her resume, and he was basically expecting the interview to be a no-brainer that would quickly result in a perfect fit with his organization and its needs. Unfortunately, the job seeker blew the interview big time by seeming uninterested, unprepared, unable to demonstrate the value that her resume had promised. You name it, anything she could have done to torpedo her chances, she did it! Did she lie on her resume about what she had accomplished? Possibly but not necessarily. However, there was definitely a disconnect somehow between what the resume indicated and what she demonstrated in the interview that she could bring to the employer. Her behavior during the interview was the reason Davis described her as like “Eeyore, the depressed donkey” from “Winnie the Pooh.”
Don’t be an Eeyore!
There might be a number of reasons you would have a down day when you’re scheduled for an interview, but it’s important–maybe essential–that you work things out ahead of time, before you show up for the interview, so you can present yourself at your best. Otherwise, it’s likely to be a waste of everyone’s time. As Davis put it, “I understand that being unemployed and looking for work can turn even the best of us into an Eeyore, but keep in mind that Eeyores don’t get jobs.”
Obviously, there could be a number of reasons you show up at an interview as an Eeyore job seeker. For example: (1) You’re feeling down because you’ve been out of work for an extended period. (2) You’ve just lost a job you loved and aren’t looking forward to the challenge of finding a new one. (3) You’re still gainfully employed but concerned that your company/industry/etc. is struggling and your job might end up on the chopping-block. (4) You’ve had a family trauma recently and are struggling to maintain your emotional balance.
In some cases, if it’s at all possible, you should probably postpone your job search and interview scheduling in order to give yourself a breather and get your act together. That could help keep you from coming across as an Eeyore. However, if a significant pause isn’t practical for some reason, then your best course might be to get whatever help you need to improve your job search and interview preparation activity in the short term. By focusing your attention as strongly as possible on what you need and want to accomplish–not to mention what you have to offer potential employers that they would find valuable–you have a much better chance of communicating the enthusiasm and expertise that those employers will be looking for.
For a while, I thought this business of companies asking crazy, weird and sometimes just stupid-sounding interview questions was fading away. Unfortunately, it now seems to be alive and well. I just read an article by John Zappe, called “Can You Get an Elephant into a Refrigerator?,” that references information provided by Glassdoor.com on this topic. Apparently, Glassdoor listed 25 interview questions compiled from thousands posted on its site by job seekers over the past year, including the one about “How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?” (Supposedly, the answer was: “Open the door and tell it to go in.” Okay, in my book, the answer is as crazy as the question, unless you’re just trying to tell a joke.)
Why do companies ask crazy and/or weird job interview questions?
I’ve seen various theories on this. One is that they want to see how well you think on your feet, come up with creative responses to something that seems wildly off-base, and so on. Another is that the companies (or their interviewers) don’t know how to evaluate candidates effectively and just want to eliminate as many as possible! The first theory makes a little more sense to me than the second, but I suppose anything is possible. As Zappe points out, though, some of the questions do seem to have at least a bit of relevance to the job the person was interviewing for. For example, a demand planning analyst candidate was asked to determine how many planes were currently flying over Kansas. While not a clear situation, it could help test the individual’s ability to handle the kinds of things his position might require.
How can you handle crazy interview questions?
First, include this challenge in your interview preparation, before you ever get in front of the interviewer. You can’t possibly anticipate and rehearse answers for such questions. There are just too many possible oddball questions that could be asked. What you can and should do first of all is prepare yourself to respond to anything that seems to come from far out in left field. You won’t be thrown off by questions like that if you already have a plan for responding to the unexpected. One recommended technique is to use “the pause”–before you respond to or answer whatever it was, take a few seconds to gather your thoughts and loosely frame your response. Another technique is “the stall”–sometimes paired with “the pause.” It can involve a noncommittal comment or a return question, such as “That’s a very interesting question. I’m not quite clear on why you’re asking, but….” or “I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean that…?”
Move on to the next step in the interview process
Do your best with your answer(s), then make an effort to move forward with the interview and continue to emphasize the value you believe you can bring to the company and the position you are interviewing for. Try not to get sidetracked or bogged down by the crazy question and how you responded to it. If you did the important (and recommended) homework on the company as part of your interview preparation, reinforce your subsequent comments by basing them on that information. The goal is to make sure you deliver your value-added message clearly and compellingly at every opportunity.
Let’s be clear up-front about this. I do not mean you should write a cover letter that makes the hiring manager or other reader leap up from his/her chair and keel over from shock! Getting employers’ attention is critical, but it needs to be the right kind of attention. In other words, it has to generate the type of response you need—most importantly, a phone call that can lead to an interview. Always, always keep that goal in mind when writing and sending cover letters to potential employers.
What Works in Cover Letters and What Doesn’t
What works? Maybe there’s no magic bullet you can shoot and hit the target with your cover letter every time, but much of what works comes from what ought to be common sense (but isn’t as common as it should be). Here are just a few cover letter tips to consider:
- Focus on the company. It’s not all about you. Yes, you’re the one sending the letter and hoping to land a job interview; but it’s the employer who will be reading the letter and looking for potential value for his/her company. Unless you engage what I call the “enlightened self-interest” of the employer, your submission can quickly become history—without ever gaining an interview.
- Go beyond the generic, feel-good-but-insubstantial approach. If the cover letter sounds like a blanket approach to your job search (something you are probably sending to multiple companies), it will almost certainly go unread. Cover letters are the perfect opportunity to customize your submissions and help you “come alive” to employers; don’t waste that opportunity!
- Pair genuine enthusiasm with knowledge about the company and what it does. It’s important for the company to know you really want to work for it (avoiding the “I just want a job, any job” mentality). In order to write an effective cover letter, you have to know and be able to communicate why you particularly want to work for that company—and why they should care.
What doesn’t work? In a way, it’s kind of the flip side of the tips mentioned above, but other issues can hurt your chances as well.
- A long-winded, essentially boring cover letter can easily torpedo your chances. Busy hiring managers or HR staffers most likely won’t even bother to look at it. If you were in their place, you probably wouldn’t either!
- Straight repetition of information from your resume doesn’t lead to a strong cover letter. It’s not that you can never reference items from the resume, but it needs to be done in a way that clearly adds value—makes points for you in the reader’s mind.
- Some people don’t read cover letters. Period. You’re not going to know that ahead of time, though, so don’t make the assumption that your letter won’t get read and decide (a) not to bother with a cover letter at all or (b) throw together something quickly, just to get the resume out the door. Give the letter your best shot; otherwise, you might as well forget it. If you can’t create a compelling cover letter, you can pretty much count on having it ignored.
If a company requests a cover letter, you should definitely send one—and make it a great one! But even if they don’t ask, you can still send the letter. For any job you’re strongly interested in, the cover letter represents one more chance for you to get the kind of attention you’re after. Take advantage of that opportunity!
Nick Corcadillos, of Ask the Headhunter, offers advice and opinions that are sometimes controversial, but it appears that when people follow his recommendations, they experience a high level of success. One of his most recent articles was titled “Employer Fined for Stupid Recruiting.” It had to do with a company in New Jersey that was fined under a new state law for placing a service manager ad that said, “’Must be currently employed’ because the company wanted someone ‘at the top of their game and not people who have been unemployed for 18 months.’” Corcadillos also noted that the company’s CEO had spent three years searching through resumes to try to fill the position, which means that all that time they didn’t have someone doing the job. Crazy, right?
I’ve heard from a few resume writing clients about ads stipulating that job applicants must be currently employed, and it struck me as not only short-sighted but also discriminatory. If you experience this, do you have any options? Apparently, it’s not yet against the law in any state except New Jersey, so your legal options are probably non-existent unless the company has actually violated a law that is on the books. You might not even want to work for a company that has that kind of “stupid” employment policy, but if you do, you probably need to adopt a more creative approach than just responding to their job posting by submitting your resume. In other words, find a way to get in touch with an influencer inside the company, preferably the hiring manager or someone who has a connection to him/her.
You are not less valuable if you’re currently unemployed. The trick is to demonstrate that to potential employers and generate enough interest to get them to call you for a possible job interview.