How to respond to difficult questions

I’m pretty fortunate to have several friends who regularly send me articles that they think would make good material for my blog. I’ve posted more than 60 entries based on various articles, but I still have more than 150 articles that I haven’t used yet! Given the volume of material, it’s not surprising that I don’t get around to using some articles until a bit of time has gone by.

When I decide to explore a particular topic for you—such as my recent theme of preparing for a job interview—I go back and look at all the articles that are relevant to that topic. Thus the article I want to write about today is not a particularly new one—“Keep Your Cool in a High Stress, High Stakes Interview” was written by Chrissy Scivicque and was originally published by U.S. News & World Report on 9/19/13.

This short article has a fairly simple message: don’t let difficult questions rattle you in a job interview. At first glance it seems to be directed at people who are well into their careers because the sample questions they discuss include “Why weren’t you promoted in your last job?” and “Why haven’t you accomplished more in your career?” But the key point of this article is valuable to any job seeker: you have to remember to stay calm and professional. Some interviewers may purposely ask tricky questions just to see how you will respond, so you shouldn’t be afraid to just take a deep breath and then do your best to answer appropriately. We’re not talking here about the “silly” questions that used to be popular (such as “How tall is the Empire State Building in inches?” or “If you were a beverage, what type of beverage would you be?”), but about questions that may seem rude or intrusive, such as “Why didn’t you go to a better college?” or “What makes you think you can survive here?”

The article suggests a few key points to remember if you feel you’re being treated unfairly or asked purposely unreasonable questions:

• They’re not targeting you. They’re treating everyone like this.
• If the question seems really silly, go ahead and treat it with a humorous answer. For example, if they ask you the “survival” question, you can talk about the skills you developed being the only girl in the family with four brothers (or vice versa) or a drama major at a football-crazy school (or whatever is relevant to your life). But if you have a serious answer, then go ahead and treat it seriously and talk about whatever it is that has made you a survivor (for example, working part-time all through college, taking 18 credit hours, and still ending with a 3.5 GPA…but only if that’s true!).
• Keep your answers short.
• Don’t allow yourself to be treated disrespectfully. If they attack your school, tell them why it’s a good school!
• Speak slowly.
• Make eye contact and smile.

Finally, take into consideration the type of organization that would bombard job candidates with this type of question. If you feel the interview was too personal or too pushy or too obscure, you may not want to work there anyway. On the other hand, consider whether this might be a rite of passage that must be endured to allow to attain a position you’ll really enjoy.