Dear HR,

I hate going to job interviews. I always freeze when the interviewer asks me a question that I haven’t prepared for, then I feel like a dork for the rest of the interview. What do I do if I don’t know the answer to a question? Is there a way to keep from freezing during a job interview?

Thank you,

Awkward Interviewee

 


What do I do if I don’t know the answer to a question?

Dear Awkward Interviewee,

We’ve all been there; you stay up all night studying interview questions and how you’ll answer them, only to have the person conducting the interview not ask a single question you’ve studied. Instead, they start asking weird, curveball questions no one could have predicted.

Employers think they’re cleverly weeding out people who can’t think on their feet, but instead, they’re freaking out the people who can actually do the job. A lot of interviewees fall into an abyss of awkward self-loathing and completely bomb the interview. There’s a better way to handle it.

Breathe and Smile

First, take a breath and put on your best smile. Keep eye contact with the interviewer. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Do all of this consciously.

The idea is to remain composed and to not let the interviewer know you’re stressed. Remember, this is just a conversation. People ask weird questions in conversations all the time. It’s just another weird question. You can handle it. Keep your cool.

Restate the Question in Your Own Words if You’re Stumped

If you aren’t sure if you understood the question, start by saying something like, “I think you’re asking me…” or “Just to make sure I’m answering your question correctly, I think you’re wanting to hear about…” This method gives the interviewer a chance to clarify the question. It also gives you time to construct your answer.

Repeat the Question as Part of your Answer

Have you ever watched how Miss America candidates answer interview questions on stage? If not, watch thevideo from the 2016 interview segment.

A beauty contestant starts her answer to the question by restating the question as a statement and then leading into her answer. The first contestant is asked “if you could put a woman alongside Alexander Hamilton on the ten dollar bill, who would you choose?” the contestant thanks the interviewer for the question, and then begins her answer with, “the person that I would put on the ten dollar bill is…”

She starts her answer this way for a couple of reasons. First, it shows the interviewer that she was listening and ensures she’s answering the right questions. Second, it gives her a few extra seconds to think about her answer.

You have to have an answer by the end of the statement, though. There’s a trick Miss America knows about that, too: Your actual answer doesn’t matter as much as your poise and confidence do.

Beauty contestants are asked far dumber questions than most job interviewers will dream of asking. Seriously, watch how they handle those dumb questions. Pay attention to which contestants win. Their answers may not be the best, but they always look calm and collected as they answer the question.

Come up with an Answer—any Answer

I was once asked by an interviewer during a panel interview to tell him a story about a boy, a dog, and a ball. Without missing a beat, I told a story about how there was a boy named John who was the most special boy you will ever know because he was from outer space and carried his home planet with him everywhere, even though everyone thought it was just a ball.

In another interview, I was asked to tell a story with my hands. All I could think of was the nursery rhyme, “here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and here’s all the people.” So, I smiled and rocked through it. Believe it or not, I worked for that employer for five years.

The point is, the delivery of your answer is more important than your actual answer. Stop stressing about what you’re going to say and work on saying something.

How to Prepare for Unexpected Interview Questions

Just like you study for “real” questions like “where do you see yourself in five years?” and “why should we hire you?” you can study for unexpected questions, too. In fact, practicing for this kind of question will help you improve your answers to the “real” questions.

Start by asking your friends to help you. Have them come up with the most outlandish interview questions they can think of, and then sit at your dinner table and have them ask you the questions. Practice breathing, smiling, and making eye contact as you answer the questions. Practice until it becomes second nature to you.

We’ve recently found a game that’s helping us and our students prepare for wild interview questions. The game is called Fun Employed. To play, each person is given a set of qualifications, and they have to use their qualifications to convince an employer they’re the right person for the job. Of course, the jobs and the qualifications are both unorthodox, meaning you have to learn to work with what you have, no matter how disconnected that is.

Another way to practice is to take an improv class at your local community college. Improv games and exercises help you learn to think quickly without worrying about what other people think. They’re invaluable practice for interviews and presentations, too.

It’s About Survival

Go into the interview knowing that you can handle whatever they throw at you. No matter what they ask, remain composed. Breathe. Smile. Have an Answer. Be as specific as you can in your answers, even if you think they sound wrong. Sell it with confidence. You’ve got this!

Best of luck,

HR

weird interview questions

 

Dear HR,

I’m a college student about to graduate and enter the workforce for the first time. I’ve worked a couple jobs around campus, and I did a summer marketing internship at a beach club, but I have no other experience at all.

I’m applying for sales jobs, mostly, but I’d really like to work as a broker or trader. Money is my passion, and I majored in finance.

Who should I ask to be my references? How do I go about asking them? Should I get reference letters too, or just contact information?

Thank you,

Big Money Dreams

 


Who should I ask to be my references? How do I go about asking them?

Dear Big Money Dreams,

Congratulations on finishing college and joining us in the “real world!” Finding your first real job can be tough, and you’re doing the right thing to think about it before you graduate rather than after.

Have you met with your college’s career center yet? They probably have a list of companies who are hiring new graduates. Talk to your professors, too. They know people in your industry and may be able to make introductions for you. Add your professors to your LinkedIN network, too.

Make sure you have a good support group of fellow graduates. Big companies often hire for many positions at the same time, so you can share leads within your support group and find a job faster. Create a Facebook group for this purpose, and then invite people to it. They’d be fools to turn down this kind of invite!

Now, with that bit of advice out of the way, let’s talk about your references. You should be gathering as many as you can because you are going to be applying to several different kinds of jobs, and like resumes, references should be targeted to the job for which you are applying. Here’s a list of who and how to ask:

Ask Your Previous Managers for References

The best people to write references for you are the managers of your on-campus jobs and internships. Employers usually want to hear from at least one person who has managed you so they can ask questions about your attendance, how well you treat customers, and how you handle difficult situations. They also like to ask whether or not your previous manager would hire you again if they had the chance.

To ask a previous manager for a reference, start with an email. If you haven’t seen them in awhile, start by telling them how much you enjoyed working with them and when. Ask how they are, and tell them that you’re about to graduate and you’re applying to jobs. Then ask if they would mind acting as a reference for you. The email might look something like this:

Hi John!

How are you doing? I really enjoyed working with you last summer during the marketing internship. I learned more in the three months I spent with you at the beach club than I did the first two years of college! It was an amazing experience, and I’m recommending it to incoming freshmen.

As you may remember, I am graduating in a couple of months and I am starting to apply for jobs in the finance industry. Would you mind acting as a reference for me? It would be a big help, and I would truly appreciate it.

Thank you,

Your Name

In most cases, you don’t need previous managers to write formal recommendation letters for you unless you decide to work in education or a similar industry. Do gather their email address, phone number, and information about where they work now, though. Keep in touch with them as you know employers will be checking your references so they are prepared and watching for the phone call, email, or survey.

Most every employer will want to talk to at least one person who has managed you, so be prepared to include them on most every job application.

Ask Your Professors for References

Remember when we talked about how your professors have contacts in the industry that might help you find a job? They make great references, too. Even better, they write a lot of references, so they won’t mind at all when you ask them.

When it comes to professors, ask them about it in person. Go to their office during office hours and have a candid conversation about the kind of jobs you are seeking. Ask them to make recommendations on places you should apply or people you should meet. Then, ask them if they would mind acting as a reference, and in this case, ask them to write you a reference letter. If you decide to go on to an MBA (from a very good college, or it’s not worth the money) in a couple of years, you will need reference letters from former professors.

Ask Peers for References (the Right Way)

Remember how we talked about the fact that you need a good support group of your fellow graduates so you can chase job leads together? You will have one person in that group land a job first. Once that person is in, he or she becomes your reference. Many big companies offer referral bonuses when an employee recommends someone and they are hired. So, it’s a mutualistic relationship—you get a job, and the other person gets $500-2000 as a bonus for referring you.

Use your support group, LinkedIN, Facebook Messenger, or email to ask for this kind of reference. Go to the company’s website and see the positions for which they’re hiring, and let your peer know you’re interested. After they refer you, use their contact information as one of their references. They should be cool with it since they’re referring you.

Seriously, if you don’t start a graduate support group right now, you are cheating yourself out of one of the most valuable networks you could possibly have.

Don’t Ask Your Mom for a Reference

This should go without saying, but don’t use family as references, especially your mom. Most places won’t even accept this sort of reference, and your application will end up in the trash bin. Don’t ruin your chances because you’re too lazy to ask the right people to act as references.

You Have a Network. You’ve Got This. 

Now you have a good pool of people who can act as references for you. You have previous managers (I count at least three from your letter), professors (20 or so in most degree programs), and peers (50+). Go out there and network your way to a fantastic job!

Best of Luck,

HR


 

 

Dear HR,

I was just laid off and I need a job fast! What is the best way to spend my time in my job search? I know you say I should tailor my resume and cover letter for each job I apply for, but that takes a lot of time. If I just have one resume and cover letter, I can send it out to at least 25 places every day. At most, I can only apply for five jobs per day with a custom resume for each job.

Wouldn’t it be better to be seen by a lot of companies rather than just the few that I have time to write targeted resumes for? Explain to me why sending out a large quantity of resumes won’t work.

Thank you,

Confused about Resumes

 


Wouldn’t it be better to be seen by a lot of companies rather than just the few that I have time to write targeted resumes for?

Dear Confused about Resumes,

First, we are sorry to hear that you’ve been laid off! We know that is a scary thing to face, and we applaud your tenacity to find a job quickly. Unfortunately, sending out dozens of generic resumes everyday isn’t going to shorten your search. In fact, it might lengthen it.

Do you remember the Friends episode where Rachel sends out hundreds of resumes, all with a major typo on them? Well, that episode is more than 20 years old, and even then, it’s not how Rachel landed her first job in the fashion industry. It’s the act of a desperate person who doesn’t know how to job-hunt and is just hoping for a miracle.

Recruiters can smell desperation. Would you hire a desperate person? In most industries, probably not. Recruiters are looking for competent employees who actually want to work for their companies. They are looking for the person who is going to bring value. If you send them a generic resume and cover letter, what message are you sending? The message they will see is that you didn’t care enough to take the time to craft your materials to their job description.

Even worse, if your resume and cover letter doesn’t fit their job description, how does the recruiter know that you are the right candidate for the job? If you don’t customize your keywords and skill list for the job, your materials might not fit the job description. Even if you know you can do the job, remember that the recruiter or potential employer doesn’t know you.

So, your question is about what will work faster to find a job: quantity or quality. The answer is, undeniably, quality. There are a couple short cuts you can take to speed up your search, though.

Create a resume for each kind of job you want to do

If you are like most job searchers, there’s a few jobs you think you could do reasonably well. The wise thing to do is to create a resume for each kind of job that reflects the keywords employers are looking for in that industry. That way, when you need to customize a resume for a specific employer’s advertisement, all you have to do is take your pre-created resume that most closely fits the advertisement’s criteria and make minor changes to wording to reflect the words used in the ad. This step should save you at least an hour on each job application, but you do have to do a bit of work up front to create a few different resumes.

Keep a text-only resume so you can copy/paste information in job applications quickly

One of our favorite time-saving methods is to have a basic, text-only resume saved in NotePad or TextEditor. You can easily copy/paste information from your previous jobs into each job application, which saves a ton of time.

Keep a log of your answers to job application questions

Job applications usually ask you questions at the end that require a typed response. Before you submit your response, copy/paste the question and your answer in a Word file. Then, next time you have an application with the same question, you can clean up your answer to fit the employer’s job advertisement. Time saved!

Tap Your Network

The absolute best way to find a job quickly is through your network. You should have a solid LinkedIN profile, and you should set the recruiter alert to show you’re looking for a job. You should also email colleagues and let them know you’re looking for a job so they can keep an eye out for jobs that are right for you. You never know—someone might have the power to hire you on the spot. Your network is your most valuable job-hunting asset.

Best of Luck,

HR