“Not including John, Paul, or George, which Beatle would you most want to be? And why?”
Some of the most common statements that come back to me after a client attends an interview is “it wasn’t as formal as I thought it would be,” or “the questions didn’t seem as professional as they should have been”. Of course The Career Foundation is a group of specialists in the Human Resource field who do this for a living, and while we stress the best ways to answer questions, by default we need to therefore ask and practise the right questions. An employer on the other hand may or may not be fully aware of which questions are appropriate and inappropriate, and are simply trying to find the right person for the position they are offering.
There are many levels of interview assessment available and some employers are highly keen to thoroughly test applicants. While we have all met rude people and have even been interviewed by a ‘rude’ person- job seekers may want to be keep in mind that some apparent rudeness in an interview can actually be purposefully implemented as an informal evaluation. These are called STRESS TESTS. And their general rule of thumb is simple: you’ll never see them coming.
Consider the following scenarios. (1) Your interview is scheduled for 9:30 and you arrive properly at 9:20. However, you don’t actually meet the interviewer until 9:50. (2) There are two people interviewing you, and the person on the right asks ‘What do you consider your greatest achievement?’ As you begin to answer that question, the person on the left leans back in their chair and yawns in a long overblown gesture, seemingly uninterested. (3) Part way through a number of standard interview questions, the manager suddenly cuts you short and asks ‘If you were an animal, what type of animal would you be?’
Typically an employer might ask for an example of how you dealt with an upset customer, client, or colleague. With a little preparation it’s easy to answer this without any “red flags”- meaning that your answer disclosed the situation, the action you took, and how the conflict was resolved in a positive manner- keeping the entire length of your answer under two minutes in length. (Textbook question and answer) However, one way for an employer to see how you truly react when things don’t go as planned is to add little ‘kinks’ in the itinerary. Making you wait for an interview could truly be the result of other factors, or it could be purposefully planned. The worst things an interviewee can do are fume and fuss and angrily scratch at their mobile phone (which should be completely turned off by the way) as the front line staff take note of this behaviour which they will then report to the person who interviewed you. If you truly are able to handle stress, then you should be able to sit calmly and quietly for 20 extra minutes with a smile on your face. A yawn in an interview might test how well you handle insults and whether or not your pride and ego can be controlled under pressure. Random or surreal questions that have no obvious bearing on the position being offered could be a test of how well you deal with change, or how creative and reflective you are.
In all of these situations you are ultimately being tested for your adaptability and demeanour. Anyone can say that they deal well with stress, but words are just words if your actions can’t follow suit.
In terms of demonstrating creativity and dealing with change, the worst that can be done is to roll your eyes and look surprised. Smile if you need, to, which acknowledges the obviousness of an unusual question- pause, reflect and then politely answer. Telling an employer that a shark is your favourite animal might do you well if you are going for a sales position, but much less so if you are interviewing for a daycare position. An Early Childhood Educator might want to state that a dolphin is their favourite animal as those mammals are a highly intelligent group-oriented species known for being exceedingly protective of their pregnant and of their young. Regardless of how you answer creative based questions, you can’t go too wrong unless you choose something that is controversial. Stay as relevant to the position and as positive and solution-focused as possible.
Stress tests are real and they do serve a very real purpose. On the other hand, the person interviewing you may well simply be a ‘rude’ person. You’ll never know for sure, so protect yourself and stay the course at all times. In the case of inappropriate questions (related to age, marital status, and ethnicity and so on) remain polite. With ‘illegal’ questions you are free to answer, refuse to answer, or better yet, ask the relevance of the question before you decide your next move. Many times an interviewer isn’t being malicious, but simply unsure how to properly ask a genuine question. “Do you have children?” may simply be a poor way of asking whether you can work late shifts. Right or wrong, you are not at the interview to change the world’s problems. The interviewer, for right or wrong, is in the position of power, and arguments won’t win you the job- or show how well you deal with stress.
Written By Jason D. Smith
(Who manages stress by cheering loudly and fondly at Hamilton Tiger-Cat games)