Crazy Interview Questions & How to Handle Them

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.

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Do You Know Where You’re Going and How to Get There?

Now that 2012 is almost upon us, it’s a good time to take a hard look at what we’ve accomplished in 2011 and what we still need and want to do in the months ahead. Without a clear sense of purpose and direction, we’re likely to waste a lot of time floundering around aimlessly. As Simon Sinek (author of Start With Why) put it recently, “We must be clear about where we’re going if we want anyone to help us get there.”

Career Management and Job Search Plan More Important Than Ever

I’ve talked before about having a career management/job search plan and keeping it up to date, fine-tuning it as needed while you move forward, so this isn’t exactly earth-shaking news. However, in view of some of the ongoing economic challenges (domestic and global), as well as corporate uncertainty and other factors influencing hiring practices, this issue has taken on even greater importance.

It’s probably impossible to develop a plan that covers all contingencies and protects you from disappointment in every direction, but not establishing and maintaining a plan leaves you vulnerable to a higher risk of failure. You can certainly have a flexible job search plan; in fact, it’s an excellent idea to do that, because it enables you to adapt to changing circumstances more readily.

Choosing a Direction for Your Job Search

If you haven’t already made a realistic assessment of where you and your career stand at this point, I recommend putting that at the top of your “to do” list. Next, do whatever research and soul-searching you need in order to decide what your job search direction and actions should be for the coming year. Then identify the resources you believe are essential or at least most likely to be useful to you in achieving that direction. Remember, though, that usefulness should be a two-way street. If the resources include people, which they should, you need to be prepared to reciprocate, not just expect all the help and good stuff to flow toward you.

Anticipate the Challenges and Prepare Yourself to Tackle Them

I doubt whether anyone is expecting an easy ride in 2012. Depending on what publications you read (online and offline), you’ll see mixed opinions, even among some respected “experts.” However, I’m a firm believer in optimism, and I also believe it fuels achievements that people might initially have labeled as highly improbable, if not impossible. So, without acting like an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand (and, yes, I understand they don’t really do that), you might seriously consider giving yourself a hefty dose of optimism as you prepare to tackle the challenges ahead and do whatever it takes to conduct an effective job search.

As one of my favorite inspirational people, Jon Gordon, concludes in a newsletter article he basically republishes each year: “I know that 2011 was not a great year for many people but I believe New Year’s Day represents a fresh start and it presents a new opportunity to create the life and career you want. All you have to do is jump in with all that you are and all that you wish to become.”

Hold that thought! It could help make your year more successful than you think.


Holiday Activities and Your Job Search/Career Management Plan

Since I’m posting this just two days before Christmas, I’m guessing most of you aren’t really focusing on work-stuff! Consequently, I mostly want to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday period. I will be back in touch again next week and joining the rest of you in looking forward to a new year that we hope and pray will be an improvement over 2011, even if not a runaway success.

However, I can’t just put up the above brief blurb and consider that I’ve actually done anything to help you be successful after the holiday, so here’s a thought or two about beefing up or fine-tuning your job search and/or career management plan once the holiday festivities are over:

  • Take a look back at this past year and see what didn’t go the way you had hoped. Could you have done something to influence that in a positive way, and if so, what might it have been?
  • Think about people whose lives you have touched during the year or whose lives have touched yours in a meaningful way. What could you do in the coming year to help those individuals achieve their career success goals or otherwise support their job search or career management actions? Even something as simple as sending them a note about an upcoming event you think they might find useful would be a step in the right direction, and your efforts could come back to bless you in unexpected ways.
  • Position yourself for a better year by setting goals that don’t “bite off more than you can chew.” Stretch yourself a bit, if you like, but don’t set yourself up for a case of “overwhelm.”

I’d like to leave you a couple of inspiring thoughts for the months ahead, from authors I have come to respect and appreciate over the past year or two:

  • Jon Gordon, “The Key to Happiness & Success“: “The key is to be like a kid on Christmas morning – Thankful for the gifts you have received and optimistic and excited about the new gifts that are coming your way.”
  • Simon Sinek, Start with Why: “If we value things that we are not prioritizing or prioritizing things we do not value as much, then perhaps it is time to realign our priorities.”

Job Interview Stress and How to Reduce It

Some people would rather go to the dentist for a root canal than undergo a job interview! Personally, I’m not that fond of root canals, but then I’m also not looking for a new job right now–I love the one I have (helping clients with their resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, interview preparation, and so on). Having been there, done that, in the past, however, I can understand and sympathize with the stress job seekers experience both before and during employment interviews–after interviews, too, for that matter.

Interview Stress Reduction–Why It’s Essential

Few of us are at our best when we feel we’re in a situation we can’t control, particularly if the outcome seems critical to our career and our economic well-being. To some, it might appear similar to being in a high-stakes poker game, competing against an opponent who is doing a good job of convincing you that he/she “holds all the cards.” However–and it’s a big however–you will sabotage your own efforts at achieving successful interview results if you don’t at least come close to mastering your interview gremlins. It’s important that you take a thorough look at what’s holding you back from performing at your best in interviews and take steps to reduce the stress level, even if you can’t entirely eliminate it. You can’t control what your competition does or doesn’t do; but believe it or not, you can do a lot to improve your interview performance by minimizing the impact stress has on it.

How Can You Reduce Your Interview Stress?

Once you’ve pinpointed the major problem(s) you have with interviewing, you can take appropriate steps to overcome or at least mitigate those problems. For example, if you typically have a “blank mind” reaction when asked questions, practice on your own or, even better, with someone who can view your situation objectively and help you develop some coping techniques. Here’s another example: Instead of having a hard time thinking of something to say in response to an interview question, you experience “run off at the mouth” syndrome, where you don’t know when to shut up! In that case, you definitely need to rehearse succinct and on-target responses to many of the most likely questions, keeping those responses to no more than a couple of minutes, preferably a bit less. Notice I said rehearse, not memorize. That’s an important distinction. You don’t want to sound as if someone had just flicked the switch to play back a recording!

Interviewers Experience Stress, Too

For years I’ve pointed out to clients during interview coaching sessions that the people who will be interviewing them don’t always have their act together, might have little or no formal interview training or have other stress-inducing issues that can derail an interview–or at least make it tougher than it needs to be. A December 2011 article by Tony Lee, Chief Alliance Officer and EVP of East Coast Operations for Adicio, underscores this point (“Use Positive Visualization to Succeed in Job Interviews“). As Lee says in his article, “at many small companies where hiring exactly the right person is so important, interviewers fret for days before each meeting with a top candidate…If you believe that you must succeed at all costs, your tension level will soar.”

So when preparing for and during job interviews, keep this in mind. Every interview has at least two participants, and both of them might have some stress-related baggage that could stand in the way of a successful interview. Take action to make your part of the process as stress-free as possible.


Top 10 Overused Words in LinkedIn Profiles and Resumes

“Top 10” lists are a popular topic for many content authors, both online and offline. Taken with the proverbial grain of salt, they can provide useful insights. What’s the grain of salt? Such lists can sometimes be just glib recitations that don’t do more than state what should be obvious or that make claims not backed by solid research. That said, I usually pay attention to such lists when they apply to areas such as career management, job search techniques and interview preparation, since those are areas in which I provide services to my clients.

Top 10 overused buzzwords in LinkedIn profiles versus in resumes

In 2011 the list of top 10 overused buzzwords in US resumes contained 6 of the same terms as the list in 2010 for LinkedIn profiles:

  • extensive experience
  • innovative
  • problem solving/problem solver
  • track record/proven track record
  • dynamic
  • motivated

The non-duplicated terms for 2011 resumes were results-oriented, team player, fast-paced, entrepreneurial; those for 2010 LinkedIn profiles were creative, organizational, effective, communication skills.

Are we using these overused terms in resumes or LinkedIn profiles?

Have you ever been guilty of using these terms, either because you didn’t know any better or because you were just a bit lazy or rushed? Probably at least some of the time; I know I have. However, I’m making a greater effort these days to seek out stronger, fresher and more meaningful terms to use in presenting my clients’ value message, whether in their professional resumes or in the LinkedIn profiles I create for them (which is something I love to do). I encourage you to do the same, if you’re creating your own career marketing documents. You really don’t want to sound like everyone else on the planet who might be looking for a new job or trying to make a career change! If your information sounds like a “me, too” message, it’s likely to put prospective employers to sleep while reading it, and that’s definitely not a good thing.

What’s the alternative–good terms to use in your resume or LinkedIn profile?

In my opinion, whether an “overused” term is still valid or not depends, at least in part, on the context in which the words are used. For example, presenting someone as a team player who is excellent at persuading people with conflicting agendas to work collaboratively is a much stronger concept (and less often seen) than just saying he or she is a “team player.” Basically, if there’s an alternative for any of the too-common words that achieves the desired effect, I do try to use it–unless the substitute is also overused! After all, the more people who accept and begin using a particular term, the more popular it tends to become and the greater the risk it will become visually boring. That’s why phrases like “thinking outside the box” and “at the end of the day” have become trite instead of eye-catching and thought-provoking.


Economy Means Less Relocation for Job Oppportunities and Retirement

According to an article by Michelle Rafter, “Economy Forces Americans to Stay Put” (October 28, 2011), “Hard times are stopping many people from moving for retirement or work, according to Census Bureau data and a new Associated Press/LifeGoesStrong.com poll. The current mobility level, or how many Americans move each year, is the lowest since 1948….The unsteady economy exacerbated a trend toward fewer moves that had been gaining ground for several decades due to more two-income families that find it harder to relocate for work and an aging population that’s less mobile, according to the Associated Press.”

Why consider the possibility of relocation?

The idea of relocation should probably always be a consideration in your career management plan creation and periodic updating, as well as a factor in your ultimate plan for retirement (whether you’re decades away from that time or staring it in the face, so to speak). In some cases, relocation is mandated by your employer if you want to stay with the company. Often, though, it’s a question of finding new employment opportunities, pursuing potential career advancement or dealing with family considerations (such as elderly parents who need to have you near them or a spouse who has a job opportunity in a different geographical location).

The relocation outlook for jobs and/or retirement:

As Rafter notes (and the data she cites support), other factors now influencing the situation might significantly limit your relocation options, because the continuing economic problems are inhibiting the more widespread relocation movement that we saw in earlier years. During the past year, the percentage of the U.S. population that moved to a new home was even lower than in 2008, when we were still experiencing a deep recession. As Rafter indicates, “With the current jobless rates and continued economic uncertainties, the freeze on moving could continue several more years, and many retirees may stay put for good, according to the report.”

What does this mean for you in terms of job search and relocation challenges?

Possibly several things. For example, if you are not currently living and working where you really want to be, you’ll need to take a long, hard look at how you can achieve that goal–after first considering carefully if it’s actually what you want to do and if it seems to make good, long-term sense. Another consideration is whether it could be a good retirement location as well as a more near-term source of job opportunities, since your relocation options might be limited when retirement eventually becomes an issue. I really encourage you to devote some careful thought to this subject and discuss it thoroughly with others who might be affected–your immediate family, for instance. And, of course, “do your homework” about the probable advantages and disadvantages of where you are now as well as where you might want to be later, keeping in mind the potential limitations the economy could continue to impose on your ability to choose.


Good Companies on Your Job Search Wish List

With Christmas looming on the horizon, this seems like a good time (even if you don’t celebrate Christmas) to talk about making a job search wish-list (aka target list) of employers you would like to work for. Of course, there’s more to this than just making a list, as you might have guessed, and I’ll get to that in a minute. First, though, a tip or two about where and how you might find company names to consider putting on your wish-list. The resources below could give you a good start on compiling the names of companies, although you certainly don’t need to stop with these.

Good Companies to Work For

Now is not too soon to start preparing your list, if you haven’t already. Whether or not you’re currently looking for a job, it’s smart to build the list and flesh it out with as much employer information as you can gather. With the right kind and amount of effort, you can get a head-start on your next job search and possibly leapfrog right over your competition.

Factors for Choosing Potential Employers

Of course, you’ll need to consider a lot of factors in deciding which companies you actually want to target for potential employment opportunities and take the time to research online and offline . The sources noted above probably include a number of the factors you’ll be looking at. For example, Fortune’s list breaks things down by categories such as locations near you, size of company, best perks and best pay. Your specific factors might include other aspects as well, such as healthcare facilities and educational institutions in the vicinity of the company’s location, weather patterns in that geographical area, cost of living, how the industry overall is doing, and more.

Although you can always add to the factors you have selected as requirements or preferences over time, it’s a good idea to define the ones you would consider most important before you get too far into your company research, so you gather the critical information as you go and don’t end up needing to do a lot of back-tracking to find it.

How do you transform your job search targeted employer list into real value?

What’s a good next step in the job search wish-list development and implementation? Find people you already know at those companies, people you can get to know there, connections you have or can develop that will help you establish internal contacts, and so on. Then figure out how to turn those contacts into productive ongoing relationships. And don’t expect all the information and help to flow from them to you; you need to make it a two-way street, so the relationship is mutually beneficial and respected.