Going into an interview can be one of the more stressful events that you have to endure during the job search process. During an interview a potential employer can throw anything at you as far as questions are concerned and you should be prepared.
We have already talked about the process of preparing for an interview multiple times on this blog but it is a good time to explain what you should do if you encounter hard interview questions that you did not expect.
I am going to walk you through a few examples of hard interview questions. It is not so important to focus on the question or the answer, instead you need to spend time on the process. Employers most of the time do not care if you come up with the right answer they care about the process that you go through. In the real world you will have a team around you that will help you when you cannot find the right answer but they want to make sure that you go down the right path when you approach a problem.
Hard Interview Questions 101
If you are looking to interview for a creative position where you are going to be expected to have to think very differently about problems such as a marketing position or a position where you have to solve a lot of problems expect some sort of riddle during the interview.
My favorite riddle to have people walk through is the Light Bulb Riddle:
Imagine that there are 2 rooms, one of the rooms has 3 light bulbs and the other has 3 switches. Your goal: to figure out which switch goes to which light bulb.
Specifics: The 2 rooms are separate; once you go inside one room you cannot not see other. The room with the 3 switches has 1 switch connected to 1 light bulb in the other room. There are no tricks to the wiring; each individual switch goes to exactly 1 light bulb, and vice versa. You are allowed to go into the room with the 3 light bulbs as often and for as long as you like, but you cannot damage anything or look at the wiring. In the room with the 3 switches, you can flip the switches on and off as often and for as long as you like, but as soon as you leave that room, you cannot return. You can then go back to the other room, but then you have to give your answer at that point.
The wording for this his riddle was paraphrased from http://users.ameritech.net/iamperfect/ridlightbulb.htm. This riddle is great because it forces you to take into consideration a variety of different factors. It will show the employer that you can understand a problem when it is presented to you and you can walk through the steps to solve a problem.
Oh and by the way… to figure it out: Turn on one light switch for 10 minutes and then turn it off and turn on another light switch. Walk into the room with the lights and the one that is on is the one you just turned on. Feel the other bulbs to see which one is warm. The one that is cold is the switch that you did not touch.
Cases present an array of hard interview questions. One of the most important things to remember with cases is that you once again don’t need to come up with the correct answer, although it does help, but it is more important that you can defend your position.
It is unrealistic to think that a person is going to be able to be handed a real world problem and come up with a solution directly after. You want to once again come up with a process.
This is NOT a good time to sit silently in your chair as you run things through in your head. You want to involve the person that is giving the interview in your thought process. They are looking to see how you go about the problem. Ask them questions, get clarification, and use the interviewer as a RESOURCE. You want to prove to them that you are a team player and that you know the right questions to ask.
Cases can be challenging. The best piece of advice I can give you is the following: THINK FIRST. So many people get tripped up in their mind to think that if they come up with the answer fastest that they will win something. No in fact you will most likely lose.
You want to think first. Voicing your gut reaction is alright but you need to have logic to back you up before you wager on your final answer.
The last set of hard interview questions that I come across regularly is when people are asked for their opinion on something. Now at first glance you are probably thinking, “Opinions? I have tons of those!” Reality is that a lot of people I interview on a regular basis don’t have an opinion. If you don’t have an opinion about the industry that you are working in, then you have effectively shown me that you must not care.
Now it may not be the right conclusion to come to but it is the first thing that comes to mind. With that being said this is not the place to be overbearing. You want to voice that yes, you are concerned and that you have thought about something but having a radical opinion or one that you don’t think would go over well you need to execute caution when bringing it up.
You don’t want to sound spineless but you don’t want to come across as a dictator. You have to judge the situation and you also need to do some character assessment on your end to figure out if your opinion will raise conflict later on with the job.
Hard interview questions are unavoidable. You have to work through them and treat them like you are talking to your best friend. Each company will have different expectations as far as an interview is concerned. You would be surprised at how much good a little bit of research can do before the interview. For larger companies it is likely that other people have talked about the interview process online publicly. Research it so the hard interview questions don’t take you by surprise.