(and what makes them not weird)
By George Bernocco, CPRW
I was excited, but extremely nervous. I had just graduated, finished working for the school system and I had an interview for a full time position. I remember that my car had to be dropped off in the shop the day before, so I had to get a ride to the interview. I also remember walking in to the building the day of the interview and talking to the secretary. One of the persons interviewing me walked out, greeted me pleasantly and walked me back outside. We went to an adjacent building where his supervisor and he would interview me. I sat down, feeling like I should have a blindfold on and a cigarette in my mouth. I felt as though I was going to be read my last rights. I was gripping my legs to try to work my way through the nervousness.
The interview started, and the questions at the beginning were traditional interview questions; who am I, what can I bring to the organization. The lead supervisor, we’ll say her name is Jessica, was very bubbly. Every answer I gave was followed by her enthusiasm about how good my answer was. The nerves went down as the interview progressed. As I let my guard down, I was suddenly struck with a question from Jessica. The question almost knocked the wind out of me, not because of its content but because of the context. The interview was smooth sailing, and now this? The first thing I said after she asked was “Are you serious?” Jessica very firmly said she was and she was awaiting my answer. I laughed nervously, rummaged through my memory to find the answer and finally came up with something and it was as follows:
A man walks up to a pirate who has a peg for a leg, a hook for a hand and an eye patch. The man asks the pirate: “How did you lose your leg?” The pirate responds: “It was a bad storm out at sea and I fell overboard. A shark attacked me and I was able to fight it off but it took my leg with him.” The man is intrigued and asks: “So how did you lose your hand?” The pirate responds: “We were stranded at sea and my crew started a mutiny. I was able to fight them off but they took my hand with them.” The man is even more amazed and finally asks: “How did you lose your eye?” The pirate responds: “Bird poop.” The man replies: “Bird poop?!?” The pirate answers: “Yes, it was my first day with hook.”
As I was telling the joke, Jessica and her subordinate laughed. Jessica reported that most people she had asked to tell a joke in the interview usually responded: “I don’t know one.” For me though, the interview continued as normal. I don’t remember too much after the fact, but I did get the call a few weeks later. I started work on my birthday, and worked at the job for over two years before I moved on.
It has always struck me as to why I was asked to tell a joke in the dead center of an interview that otherwise seemed normal. Was Jessica being funny, or malicious? Was it a test in which I passed? What was the point? As I progressed more into my career of employment services, I soon figured it out. The question was a stress question, probably one of the worst ones I’ve come across just merely by its unexpected nature. Stress questions are designed to throw you off your game, get you out of your element and see how you react.
Interviewers who throw stress questions have read the “Interview Playbook” and know people they interview are going to be expecting the same old questions. They don’t want to see a staged act, they want to see improvisation. They want to know what it’s like when you have to think on your feet, and believe me they are watching you struggle for an answer. The question itself may have very little to do with the job and it’s very hard to prepare for them at the interview. As long as you understand why they are asking the question, you can proceed to the answer and demonstrate (rather than tell) the employer you are able to think on your feet. They are called stress questions for a reason, and they are designed to get your heart racing and lose your momentum.
Some interviewers may want to give you false scenarios in which they assume something on your behalf just to see how you will react and respond. Other interviewers may make false assumptions based on your experience or education, and see how you correct them. Just remember that the idea behind the question is to get you off your interview game. Remember the interview is designed to sell yourself, and it’s almost guaranteed they asked the same or similar questions to everyone they interviewed. As long as you remember why you are perfect for the job, you can move forward with the interview and not be hung up on a question.
Here are some other stress interview questions:
If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?
See this pen I am holding? Sell it to me.
What interests you least about this job?
Tell me about the last time you made an embarrassing mistake.
If you had to fill this room wall to wall with basketballs, how would you do it?
How would you react if I said I thought you were giving a poor interview today?
Why are manhole covers round?
Why did you switch majors from Graphic Design to Computer Engineering? Is it because you found it boring?
If your neighbor’s dog was barking at 3am and woke you up, what would you do?
How nervous are you during this interview?
Does anyone else have any weird interview questions they’ve experienced? Please share in the comment section.