Grads Must Prepare for Tricky Job Interview Questions, Survey Says

Posted By Terri Williams on October 20, 2016 at 4:48 pm
Grads Must Prepare for Tricky Job Interview Questions, Survey Says

Finishing college is tough. Getting a job may be tougher. Among the most stressful parts of getting hired: the interview. Tricky job interview questions make it even tougher.

The interview, of course, is but one potential roadblock in the hunt for gainful employment. By this stage in the process, college grads already know that trendy resumes may be a turnoff to hiring managers, and they’ve also learned that helicopter parents can jeopardize their chances of getting hired.

But sticking with a traditional resume and keeping a parent on the sidelines can be much easier than preparing to be grilled by a potential employer. There are literally hundreds of different job interview questions that can surface. Learning all the standard responses is fine, but what about nonstandard queries? Fortunately, a recent report reveals that most interviewers prefer traditional questions, and even when they include curveballs among the job interview questions, there’s a logic behind them.

According to a recent survey by the staffing firm Accountemps, when senior managers were asked some of their favorite oddball job interview questions, the responses were as follows:

  • “What kind of animal would you be?”
  • “If you could have all the ice cream in the world, how many different flavors would you take to make a sundae and how many toppings would you pick?”
  • “Use an ad slogan to describe yourself.”
  • “Tell me something different about yourself that’s not written on your resume.”
  • “Which magazines do you read?”
  • “What did you want to be when you grew up?”

The senior managers also revealed that the majority of their favorite job interview questions fall into a handful of categories, so candidates should keep this in mind as they formulate answers:

Pertaining to the position or company 39%
Previous or current experience 22%
Personal attributes and characteristics 18%
Personal goals and interests 10%
Theoretical questions 6%
Other 6%


Accountemps also provides an analysis of the top four categories to help job candidates understand the significance of these questions:

Questions about the position or company

  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What do you know about this company?
  • Why are you interested in this position?

The hiring manager is trying to determine a candidate’s level of enthusiasm, discover if he or she did homework for the interview, and figure out whether a candidate would be a good fit.

Questions about experience

  • What did you like or dislike about your last job?
  • Tell me about your work experience
  • Why did you leave your last job?

The hiring manager is trying to discover work history patterns, transferrable skills, and the applicant’s fit for the position.

Questions about personal attributes and characteristics

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do you interact with a team?
  • How do you handle stress at work?
  • What are your hobbies outside of work?

The hiring manager is trying to assess the applicant’s work style, gauge how they manage various situations, and determine whether he or she has the right mix of technical and soft skills, such as communication and leadership.

Questions about personal goals

  • Why did you choose this career?
  • Where do you see yourself in the future?

The hiring manager is trying to ascertain whether the applicant’s ambitions fit with the role, whether his or her objectives align with the company, and wheter the position would contribute to the applicant’s overall career goals.

Advice from the experts

“The resume helps land the interview, but when it comes to making hiring decisions, employers are looking for less-obvious clues that an applicant is right for the job,” says Bill Driscoll, district president at Accountemps.

It’s the first opportunity for a job candidate to make personal contact with a potential employer. “Making a good first impression is important because employers quickly form opinions of candidates; dressing well, researching the company and having a good attitude all contribute to getting the interview off to a good start,” Driscoll explains.

Can a promising candidate really blow it by botching interview questions?

When candidates get nervous, it is quite possible that they may not present themselves as well. “During an interview, hiring managers aren’t just evaluating you based on the content of your answers; they’re also taking note of how you formulate your responses to get a sense of your thought process, creativity and approach to problems,” Driscoll says.  That’s why he says it’s vitally important for candidates to stay calm, and continue to make eye contact. “If you do make a mistake during a job interview, try to let it go, instead of dwelling on the mistake.”

Instead of stuttering and stumbling over a response, sometimes candidates should delay answering. Michelle Tillis Lederman, the author of Nail the Interview, Land the Job, tells GoodCall that applicants should consider using stall tactics. “Tricky questions may require a little extra thinking time: Take a sip of water, paraphrase the question, or even state, ‘I need to think about that one,’ to buy yourself a little extra time.” Lederman says the applicant can ask questions simply to get clarity about a query.

In addition, she urges candidates to know their strengths and their personal brand. “Understand how you want to be perceived so you can infuse it into your response.”

Additional tips from Accountemps on nailing the interview

While it’s important to be prepared for curveball questions, that’s not the only factor that determines successful interviews. Driscoll also offers the following points:

  • Pay attention to the details. Extend a firm handshake, maintain eye contact and present a professional image.
  • Ace the likely questions. Make sure you know how you will respond to predictable questions, such as, “Can you tell me a little about yourself?”
  • Don’t be cocky. Strike the right balance between presenting your accomplishments in a positive light and coming across as overly confident.
  • Tell memorable stories. Give specific examples of how and why you’ve been successful.
  • Be yourself. Avoid coming across as overly rehearsed.
  • Mind your body language. Maintain good posture and eye contact and remain engaged throughout the interview.
  • Show interest. When appropriate, ask questions of the interviewer. Remember, this is the time for you to ensure this is the right situation for you too. Potential topics to discuss include expectations for the position and growth potential.
  • Be thankful. Always follow up with a thank-you note to each person who interviewed you.


Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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