What Business’s could ask in an interview!
By Sunjay Kakar @sunjayonsunday
How many lawnmowers are there in London? Is a Jaffa cake a cake or a biscuit? These are real examples of questions a business could ask in a job interview.
Edwin Morgan, a spokesperson for the Institute of Directors said: “There’s certainly a place in interviews for unconventional questions, allowing employers to probe the flexibility and creativity of the applicants. Likewise, candidates should not be intimidated by off-the-wall questions, as it’s vital to stand out and make an impression in a competitive jobs market.”
Claude Littner, one of the interviewers on the Apprentice, says, “In the event that you are asked a question that you have absolutely no idea about, then say so. In the interview and in business it is better to play to your strengths and accept that you cannot know everything. If you might be expected to know the answer, take a moment to think, but if you just cannot come up with anything sensible, then my advice is to just be straight and say so, whilst asking politely for the answer. In such situations, body language and the way in which you manage the unanswered question will be important.”
Littner adds: “As with most things in life, improvement comes with practice. It is important to prepare well for an interview, and have given thought to the more obvious questions that might be asked. These would certainly include the following:
- Why do you want this job?
- Why should you be selected
- What do you know about the Company
- Tell me a bit about yourself
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years”
Littner continues: “If you have prepared for the basic set of questions, you will be in a better position to have a clear mind for the unusual or unexpected questions that may arise. Throughout the interview process, it is important to keep calm and be positive in your responses. Monosyllabic answers will give a bad impression. The interviewer is conducting the process, and the candidate needs to demonstrate competence as well as personality. Naturally, if any inappropriate questions are asked, these should not be entertained, but even then, the interviewee’s composure should be maintained.”
2008 Apprentice winner Lee McQueen who founded Raw Talent Academy, a Sales Recruitment and Training Business, says: “When it comes to handling unusual interview questions I am probably better placed than most, partly thanks to ‘that’ moment on the Apprentice but also as the founder of a business that helps ‘raw talent’ secure a career in sales. At Raw Talent Academy our clients have asked some of the most unusual, wacky and hard to answer interview questions I’ve ever heard, and I’ve worked in recruitment for over 15 years!
“I remember at one of our first academies a few years ago one of our candidates having to stand up in front of 4 Directors from the client and myself. We had heard someone outside the room singing and when asked the candidate admitted it was him. That was it, he had to sing to us, the client then asked him about 3 more questions and he was done. He was offered a job at the end of the day. If he had the confidence to sing, then he wasn’t going to have a problem getting on the phone selling!
“Our recruitment process sees candidates complete business tasks before they are put forward to the panel interview stage. One client wanted to test a candidate and asked them what they would do if close to closing a sale on the phone and someone was hit by a car outside their office window; would they stay on the phone to get the sale or ask to call the client back. I was completely taken aback but the candidate took a moment, composed themselves and answered the question honestly. They also went on to get the job!
“On another occasion a client asked a candidate to give an example of being under pressure. When the candidate answered explaining that he played under Sir Alex Ferguson as a youth player at United, and faced the ‘hair-dryer’ treatment, we were all suitable impressed.
“The lesson from the examples above is that you need to make a judgement on what is appropriate in the situation. For myself and being asked to do a dinosaur impression on The Apprentice I would never, ever have done that in a real job interview but this was TV, it was The Apprentice and in the end it didn’t do me any harm. Ultimately asking for a minute to compose an answer isn’t going to go against you, but reacting quickly and miss-judging the situation could!”
Claire Young, who reached the final of the Apprentice in 2008, and runs her own business School Speakers, says: “During The Apprentice experience I was thrown in at the deep end and always asked the unexpected! My advice would be is listen to your instinct (you may not know the exact situation from previous experience but draw on gut feel), take your time – give yourself a few seconds to think before taking the plunge – and most importantly keep things in perspective. No one is trying to ‘catch you out’ and people want you to succeed!”
In October this year, the Claude Littner Business School was launched by Lord Sugar at the University of West London.
Claude Littner says: “With specific regard to the Claude Littner Business School, exposure during the course to work experience via a period of internship, coupled with Q&A sessions with guest speakers from the business community, role play and mock interviews, will enable students to present themselves in a more confident, mature and self-assured manner. It is important for students to have taken time to prepare their CV’s, given thought and taken advice about the direction of their future career. Whilst it is good to ‘aim high’ when applying for a job, it is often better to focus on opportunities where you actually have the basic skill set, and if offered the job, have a realistic chance of making a success of it. The fact is that ‘you are you’, but during the interview you need to show yourself on a really good day. If that is not what the interviewer is looking for, then it is just as well to find this out early on, so as to avoid problems later.”
Michelle Kurland, who has been an Executive Producer of the Apprentice, says; “I recall discovering that the question ‘What would you do if you found fairies at the bottom of your garden?’ is a genuine question thrown at the interviewee in the middle of the interview to see if they capable of lateral thinking on the spot and under pressure.”
When Stella Creasy advertised a job for a Caseworker in April the job information said, “It is helpful to have a willingness to discuss at length why Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of the best films of all time.”
Edwin Morgan, a spokesperson for the Institute of Directors said: “We can imagine that Ferris Bueller would be the kind of candidate who would respond well to a test of ingenuity, but we obviously wouldn’t advise other young people to take such a relaxed attitude to their studies.”
Tina McFarling, a spokeswoman for the British Film Institute said : ” It is always great to hear people talking about their favourite films, in this case Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, because film does play a central part in people’s cultural lives. Films have a fantastic ability to connect with different people of all ages and backgrounds in exploring stories and themes that can be unique and yet universal. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a touchstone for the young generation in the 80’s and has become a cult film and continues to strike a chord with audiences today.”
At Innocent Drinks, candidates will be asked a question to test their thinking skills. Tom Fraine, the talent team leader at Innocent Drinks, said: “We can guarantee it is a question they will have never been asked before, and it requires them to demonstrate the ability to think on their feet, follow a logical process and deal with pressure.”
Jonathan Black, a Director of the Careers Service & Internship Office at the University of Oxford said: “My advice would be to enter into the spirit of the question; the interviewer is clearly trying to find out if the candidate is someone they could work with using this somewhat tongue in cheek question. It’s not about that specific film, it’s about having clear views about what they like and don’t like and being able to defend their answer. Interviewers sometimes use unusual questions to elicit original answers, rather than pre-prepared answers. Any good candidate will have prepared great answers to all the usual questions: why do you want the job? where do you see yourself in 5 years time? what are your strengths? how would your friends describe you? and so on. I did hear, for example, that a Business School has asked ‘what kind of sandwich would you be?’ to try to give a question that the candidate could not have prepared.”
In the Graduate Recruitment programme at advertising agency Leo Burnett, a spokeswoman Janice Capewell, said, “We ask some questions that we know will pull out people that we would like to work with.”
She added that these are the actual questions on the current application form. “For our video about our graduate recruitment program we’ve used loads of images to tell you all about ourselves. Tell us about yourself using words and/or images.
“You can find our recent campaign for Department For Transport on the link below. Please tell us whether you think this work will be effective and why.
“Show us how persuasive you can be by arguing in favour of both of the two statements below:
a) Anonymity online should be banned.
b) Anonymity online is a human right.”
“Tell us about a time when you have had to fight for something.”
And finally… “if the world of advertising & communications ceased to exist, what career would you be likely to pursue and why?”
She said that in previous years the agency had been more adventurous but now it has adopted a more standard line of questioning to find someone who is persuasive, articulate, interesting and pro-active.
Other unusual questions faced by job applicants include the below:
- When was the last time you were astounded?
- The apocalypse is nigh and you have been tasked with creating a new world order. Choose four people to help you do this and tell us why have you chosen them?
- What would you invent?
- Show us you’re no show-off