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Interview Mastery: Prepare for the Unexpected

As we have discussed, surprises in interviews are inevitable. There is the curve ball thought provoker we talked about last week, which you truly can’t prepare for. The best you can do is stay focused in the moment and think it through.

But what about unexpected questions about you? You know, those tricky ones that somehow didn’t make it onto your list of likely questions to prepare, such as:

  • Tell me about a time you had to impress someone on the phone when you were unprepared.
  • What would my 6 year-old nephew say is your finest quality after speaking with you for 5 minutes?
  • If you could choose only one task to do for the rest of your life, assuming you would be paid for your performance, which would it be and why?
  • What is the worst book you have ever read and why?

We could go on, but potential surprise questions like these are infinite. They are limited only by the creativity of your interviewer. So how could you possibly prepare for them? The secret is to get a little nostalgic about your life. Begin reminiscing. Really. If I gave you enough time, you could come up with robust and appropriate answers to each of these questions. What makes answering them on the spot challenging is that they probe memories and experiences you likely haven’t thought about in a while, if ever.

So, before you go in for interviews, spend some time reflecting on your experiences. Begin with the resume, but don’t just read it. Stop and remember your actual experiences. So you built a model that saved your client $10,000, what was challenging about that experience? Where did you get the data? How did you reason through your assumptions? Did anyone help you? Did anyone stand in your way? Try to remember the details as though you were a fly on the wall – what did you see and hear?

Then go beyond your resume and continue exploring the details of your experiences. Consider your hobbies, your community service, even your friendships and family relationships. You will be surprised how much more confident you will be fielding these off the wall questions when the rich details of your experience are top of mind.