Interviews and the unexpected.

Slowly coming to one morning last week, my mind quickened when I heard reference to a forthcoming item on R4′s Today programme featuring challenging interview questions and their value, including one reportedly used by Google – ‘How many piano tuners are there in the world?’.

Such ‘off the wall’ questions can strike terror into an interviewee’s heart and cause ‘brainfreeze’ – and indeed the radio item seemed to indicate that these questions often have little value in selecting appropriate candidates. However, fear of questions like these can cause panic when facing an interview.

First things first – by no means all interviews will contain such questions – most will follow on in a logical progression from your application form/CV, asking questions along the lines of:

  • Why are you interested in this job?
  • Why do you want to work for us in particular?
  • Why do you think you are suited to the job?
  • Challenges in the sector?
  • competency questions – tell me about a time when you’ve demonstrated ….leadership, teamwork, interpersonal skill etc (remember to be a STAR – see previous post)

etc etc

 – you’ll find more common questions in the interviews section of our website.

However, if faced with ‘off the wall’ questions such as the Piano tuner one, rule number 1 – dont panic!

These sorts of questions are supposedly used (if at all – they are not as common as people fear) to see:

  • how you react to the unexpected – panic or calm
  • how you think under pressure
  • can you think creatively and work your way step by step towards an answer? – they will not be looking for a ‘correct’ answer

So, if faced with such a question, rather than pick a random number out of the air, or just saying you haven’t a clue,  talk your way through a creative/logical process of coming towards an answer eg.

  • estimating the population of the world
  • dividing that into households
  • how many households are likely to have a piano – different in different areas of the world/cultures
  • how often do pianos need to be tuned
  • how many pianos a piano-tuner needs access to in order to make a living
  • add in concert venues with more tuning needs

etc etc – putting in estimated values to work towards a way of making an educated guess at the answer.

If questions like these still strike terror, take a look at the ‘Curve ball questions’ video on Career Player for more techniques on how to approach such questions. But do remember – they are not a common as you may think.

The real key to successful interview technique is preparation – or to misquote a recent UK prime minister ’Preparation, Preparation, Preparation’.

  • Research the role and the organisation
  • Know your application form/CV
  • Have ready examples of  when you’ve demonstrated  your key skills and competences
  • Practice verbalising (not just thinking or writing) your answers/examples – not so you’re word-perfect, just so you know what it feels like to speak about yourself and your experiences, and get to know the pitfalls – and avoid them!
  • Be aware of non-verbal communication – dress appropriately, speak with enthusiasm, smile, positive body-language etc.

Find out more about how to prepare by reading our online advice, watching our interview DVDs (via the Edinburgh domain), and interview videos on Career Player. Plus consider booking a practice interview with a Careers Adviser, before you face the real thing.

Be ready for that interview, and any curveball which may come your way!

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