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 What To Do When In An Uncomfortable Situation or Asked an Unusual Question

By Joe Stein

A Job Seeker is wired to prepare for questions, situations, and assessments that are directly related to the position and industry being sought. We stress anticipating what will be asked and to be ready with a positive response. This is a good strategy because the vast majority of what you will face fits the category of job or industry-related, and many questions are pretty standard interview fare.
There is the chance, however, that you will find yourself having to deal with an issue out of “left field” that you did not expect, nor are prepared for. We are going to primarily focus on interview questions that are “silly” or offbeat, but you can also find yourself in an environmental situation that is not what you expected. What we are not covering in this week’s column are the questions that are not allowed to be asked, whether that is pregnancy, race, salary history, etc. These types of questions should not be answered, and then it is your decision regarding whether to report the Interviewer.
For an extreme (but true) story, I was recently talking to a Recruiter who told me the story of a friend of hers. The person was in for an interview with two people when she noticed two turkeys (yes…not dogs or cats, but turkeys) that were roaming around the office area. In this situation, the Job Seeker did reference the turkeys and was met with indifference by the Interviewers, so she still does not know what the purpose of the animals in the office. What she does know, however, is that she did not accept the position because of the experience.
What environmental situation might occur to you and be your “turkey”? Well…I am hard pressed of giving you too many actual examples of environmental conditions that were done on purpose. Perhaps you will have a bright light in your direction, or the office will be set overly warm or cool. Whatever the reason, I would recommend just noting the situation and asking for it to be rectified. If they do not fix it for you (or act like they do not know what you are talking about), then this is likely a company that is not worth working for.
The other environmental situation that could occur is one that is not by design, such as an office where landscaping work is occurring outside. Or, it could be that the sun is shining through the open blinds and making you uncomfortable. Whatever the situation, I still suggest recommending a resolution to the issue that will allow you to be more comfortable.
There are still some Interviewers who, for some reason, ask questions that can be considered unusual or silly. I think these Recruiters or Hiring Managers convince themselves that he/she will be obtaining information that they would otherwise not obtain. My opinion is that they probably have an oversized ego and want to think they have come up with something better than a traditional behavioral based question.
You are more likely to face an unusual question in a smaller organization where the hiring process is less structured, than a large company which usually has formal interview guides that must be followed and then turned in. Also, in a larger company, interview training has probably been conducted addressing how ridiculous some of these actions are.
The unusual questions may vary from the classic “If you could be any vegetable”, to answering some type of problem-solving question. The information gained may be directly from the question answer (or your thought process in reaching your answer) or derived from observing your reaction to it being asked. An Interviewer may ask this to see if you will get rattled and determine how you will handle a stressful situation. You may also be assessed on your problem-solving process, so it is less about your actual answer and more about how you reached the conclusion that you did. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know (in advance) what the Interviewer is seeking when the question is asked, so preparation is impossible.
As a Job Seeker, you will have to decide how you feel about the situation or question from the interview. You may feel that it was a creative way to obtain information and it is aligned with your thought process. I believe most Job Seekers, however, will be on the opposite side of the spectrum and question whether or not this is the right cultural fit for them with this employer.
As always, the best of luck in your job search.