We've all heard the horror stories – or, depending on who you ask, the hilarious stories – of interviewers striking fear in job applicants with their outrageous, head-scratching questions. You've probably heard of the "How many skis are rented each year?" question or the "Why are manholes round?" question. They're the stuff of legend. Granted, these notorious quandaries are often fodder for some of the most desirable tech companies like Google and Apple, but as of late, those in law, marketing and other fields aren't exempt from the same type of analytical inquiries. In fact, more and more industries outside of tech are posing questions such as the above that test the mettle of the world's most talented candidates to see how they think. Companies may not want a real, concrete answer, but they want to know how you approach the answer—if you're logical, strategic, calm and ultimately, worth hiring. They want to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, so you're going to have to come well prepared to land the job you want. Below, some of the toughest and most quirky questions, what they're really asking and how to answer them. We want you to get that job. Consider this your Job Interview Boot Camp.
Tell me about yourself.
What they're looking for: This seemingly innocuous question, again, is about logic and how you think.
How to answer: Don't make the mistake of rambling on about your first childhood lemonade stand, trying to use that to demonstrate your entrepreneurial spirit. Use the KISS method: Keep. It. Short. Succinct. Try to discuss your most recent job duties, highlighting any achievements or milestones, what energizes you about what you do and what you're hoping to gain in your next role.
What didn't you like about your last job?
What they're looking for: Professionalism is of the utmost importance to employers, so they'd like to find out how professional and gracious you can be when they ask this question.
How to answer: This question is NOT license to bash your former employer or air your grievances about its employees. Interviewers want to know what you took away from a hostile environment and how you rise above office politics and how you deal with sticky situations. Instead of blurting out to your interviewer: "there's no inspiring leadership, training opportunities or good benefits," try to show your prospective employer how its company shines in comparison to your previous employer. Answer with "my last position was lacking in X, which is why I'm so excited about the prospect of [future] company." Or "my last company could have been better with X, so I'm happy that you, Company Y, offer this." Take the negative and turn it into something positive.
Tell me about a time you failed.
What they're looking for: This one is tough because you don't want to seem like you've failed at anything. The whole point of an interview is to flaunt your achievements and appropriateness for the position, right? Well, sort of. You DO want to come across as a perfect fit for the position, but you want to seem human as well. Employers want people who have had both successes and failures under their belt.
How to answer: Give your interviewer an example when something didn't go as planned or a time when something disastrous occurred. But don't stop there. Continue to tell the interviewer how the situation went from negative to positive. This question is effectively asking how strategic and creative you are, and how well you work under pressure or less-than-ideal conditions. The way you answer this question could be the determining factor of your future employment with the company. It is inevitable that this question will arise, so think of an example and practice the response so as to be eloquent, articulate and thoughtful.
You haven't held onto jobs for very long. It looks like all of these were less than a year in tenure. Why?
What they're looking for: They're looking for you to assuage their fears that they'll spend money on you and you'll jump ship without the return on investment.
How to answer: You don't want to look like a job hopper, even though that's what you've inadvertently been, so tell the interviewer what you know to be true. Discuss how when you start out as a first timer in the corporate world, you're trying things out and with every place that you've worked, you've adapted to different personalities, technologies, cultures and learned new things that have essentially prepared you for this current position you're interviewing for (given that this indeed is your dream job).
Did you graduate from ________?
What they're looking for: Just answer honestly.
How to answer: If the answer is yes, that's easy and the two of you can move on. However, if the answer's no, you might feel self-conscious, embarrassed, and scared that your answer might boot you out of the running for the job. If no, respond with the reason, reassuring the interviewer that you have every intention of finishing to complete a personal goal. Then you can tie it back to the employer with something along the lines of, "my college tenure was interrupted abruptly, but hopefully with your company's tuition reimbursement program, I will finally be able to complete that goal." Companies that offer those kinds of benefits like to know that they're being used and appreciated by employees.