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Relevant, Irrelevant and Provocative Interview Questions

There have been many articles written over the last few years on what is the best predictor of success in business.  The costs to a company in making a bad hiring decision are significant.  If a company hires a poor performing candidate, the company will see lower productivity from this employee and will have wasted the time and money to hire and train this resouce.  When the company replaces this employee, it will incur additional costs to replace him or her, which includes the fees to hire the employee, as well as the training costs.  So it is vitally important for companies to hire the best qualified candidates as possible. 


Typically, the recruiting process includes an interview between the candidate and the HR representative.  Following that interview, the hiring manager will interview the candidate to see if he or she is qualified.  During this process, many questions are asked by company and the jobseeker.  I have found that questions fall into three categories (the most relevant, irrelevant and provocative questions).


Most Relevant Questions

I have found that the most relevant questions are “do you want this job” and “do you have the ability to do this job”?  Unfortunately, they are not asked too frequently.  These questions focus on whether you can perform the tasks that the company is looking for.  I would think these type of questions would be among the first to be asked.


The best way to answer these questions is to state that you are qualified and want the job and then to explain why.


Most Irrelevant Questions

Several interviewers ask questions that do not really address whether the candidate is qualified for the position like:

  • Tell me about yourself (which I know is not really a question)

  • What are your best attributes?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • What do you do for fun?

In response to these questions, you should provide a respectful and succinct answer.  These questions can be seen as trap questions which could ruin your chances for a job.  As a result, you need to avoid providing a fatal response.  If you need to discuss one of your faults, try to show that you recognize this fault and you are taking steps to overcome it. 


Provocative Questions

The most interesting questions are those that seem the most irrelevant.  At first blush, the interviewer seems to be in the mood to torture the candidate with questions like…

  • If you had to choose, what animal would you be?
  • How many slices of pizza are eaten each week in New York?

Even though these questions seem irrelevant to understanding whether you are a good fit for a job, these questions do serve  a legitimate purpose.  The interviewer is not asking these questions to hear your actual answer but is actually seeking to learn your reasoning skills and the process that you took to arrive at the answer.

The best way to answer this is to think through the question and answer it as honestly and succinctly as possible.  Remember that it is your thought process and ability to estimate that is the key. 


One final thought on interview questions.  Always try to be respectful, direct and succinct in responding to the interviewer.  It is never a good idea to try to out think the interviewer because he or she may be looking for different responses than you think.  An interviewer once told me that I did not have a sense of humor when I did not answer a question in the manner that he wanted.  Following that comment, the interview ended abruptly and I thought that there was no chance that I would get that job.  However, by the time I arrived home from the interview, I had a message that they wanted to hire me. So you never know...