This recent article in the Harvard Business Review by my colleague Priscilla Claman brought back to me many discussions I’ve had with people about how to prepare for interview questions. Everyone is scared of the interviewer asking wacky, out-of-left-field types of questions that leave you stumped as to the “correct” answer to such things as what kind of vegetable are you, etc. The most troubling of these seems to be “Tell me about your greatest weakness?”

I think that Priscilla gives some great advice in her column, but here are some suggestions that I always tell my clients when we prep for interviews:

  1. While some people are trained in interviewing skills, there are many that aren’t and don’t do it enough to feel confident. Be easy on them and know that they will sometimes ask unusual questions. They are probably nervous too!  You can ask a clarifying question if you need to. And remember to smile and don’t take it like it’s life or death. Many times they just want to see how you react in awkward situations.
  2. When more skilled interviewers do ask about you weaknesses, I would assume that they are looking to see how well you know yourself, and what you are doing to fill in the gaps. None us can be perfect at everything, but we can know the areas where we need to call on other resources. I recommend that people answer this question by picking an area that you know is not your strongest (and not integral to the position you are interviewing for!) and describe what you have done to improve in that area.

    An example could be: “I’ve always had difficulty speaking in front of groups, and I never felt the most confident about it.  I knew that this is something that I would need to work on, so I’ve taken some presentation workshops and also started going to Toastmasters meetings.  I’ve definitely learned some skills and don’t feel as nervous. I know I still have more work to do in this area, but it’s helped me to move from rather woeful to decently competent.”

    Note: As it has been widely reported that most people fear speaking in public more than death, this is one the most people can relate to.

As with any interviewing issue, the best that you can do it to prepare as best as possible, even for the unusual question.  Granted, you are also interviewing them, and you might decide after getting a question like this that you don’t want to work for them.

So, How do you handle weird interview questions?