Handling weird interview questions

Weird interview questions can come in all shapes and sizes

But one thing is for sure, they can throw you off your game. This reader had to deal with some weird interview questions:

During a recent job interview, I was asked if I have any children and, if so, how old they are. I thought it was a weird question, but I wanted to be honest — and I’m proud of my kids — so I said yes. I have a preschooler and a baby younger than a year. I’m extremely qualified for the position, but now I’m wondering if my answer could be counted against me. The other finalist has less experience but is single and unattached. What’s your advice on handling these types of questions? Is that a normal question, and am I worrying over nothing?

My answer:

This is a problem.

Employers should stick to questions that are relevant to the job. They should not ask about marital status,
children, age, religion, race, ethnicity and other factors that do not relate to job skills and performance.

If you do not get a job offer, you will not know whether it is because you have children. If that’s the reason, you could have a legal case against that company and, if you want to pursue it, should consult an attorney.

People who get questions that seem irrelevant to job performance may ask, “Excuse me, but is that relevant to this job?” Another strategy is to deflect the question by asking one of your own that is more on the subject of employment or directing the interview toward your qualifications.

Or maybe you just said the wrong thing

Interviews are nerve-wracking. Sometimes we say something we don’t mean. This reader wishes they could take back an answer:

I think I’ve lost my filter for job interviews. While I used to be very nervous, now I’ve sort of become too relaxed and I end up saying what I don’t mean to say. In a recent job interview, I told the recruiter that I was a good writer but not a great writer. I realize now that it’s sort of arrogant. Do you have any advice on how to backtrack if you’ve said something stupid in an interview? I tried to make it sound like I was telling a joke, but to be honest I don’t think he was too enamored of me after that.

My answer:

You seem to have demonstrated why butterflies can be helpful during an interview. They keep us from acting like turkeys.

Recovery should not be difficult. A follow-up note is always a good idea after an interview. Use yours to explain what you really meant to say. No need to apologize, but the clarification — if it demonstrates that you can be a great writer — could help a lot. And pack some butterflies for your next interview.

Mastering the newsroom:

Want more advice on handling weird interview questions? These questions, answers and advice come from my book Ask The Recruiter, where I have collected years of experience from recruiting in newsrooms. The book contains popular questions and answers dedicated to breaking open the occasionally opaque nature of newsroom hiring, promoting and managing.

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