Susan Adams, Forbes Staff
Most prospective interns head into job interviews prepared to answer basic questions like why they want to work at the company, which classes they like, and why the employer should hire them. But what if the interviewer suddenly wants to know what your guilty pleasure is? Or which browser homepage you favor, what day of the week you prefer, or if your life were a movie, what the trailer would look like? What if they asked you how many skis were sold in Sweden every year?
Crazy as it sounds, those are all real-life interview questions posed to prospective interns within the last year. They were gathered by Glassdoor, a site that describes itself as a kind of TripAdvisor for careers, because users post reviews of the companies where they work, giving Glassdoor a huge repository of information about employers, including salary information and reports about job interviews. Based in Sausalito, CA, Glassdoor is seven years old and at the most recent count, it had 6 million company reports. That’s where it gleaned its list of 10 oddball questions would-be interns have had to field. Check out our slide show above for the complete list.
What should interviewees do when confronted with these out-of-left-field questions? I talked to Ellis Chase, a New York career coach with 35 years of experience under his belt, and he offered the following advice: Have a sense of humor, don’t worry about taking your time to answre, show your human side, demonstrate the thought process you’d use to unpack the thorniest questions and don’t be afraid to admit that you’re stumped. “You have to give in and be human when confronted with questions like this,” he says. “The answers are not cut and dry.”
I tried a few of the questions out on Chase, and here is what he advises:
To a potential software engineering intern at Yahoo: “What will you do if the Internet is not working?”
Chase’s advice: Say you’d try to figure out the reason, whether the problem was inside the company, or in the region where the company was located. Suggest you could head home and work from there or take your laptop to a local Starbucks or public library. In other words, approach the question practically. There is no genius solution to this one.
To a would-be JPMorgan Chase intern: “How many skis are sold in Sweden every year?”
Chase’s advice: Describe how you’d go about finding an answer. You’d want to know the population of Sweden and the percentage of Swedes who ski. If you’re not a skier yourself, phone a sport shop and ask how often skiers usually replace their equipment. Try a professional skiing association and ask if they keep data on the number of skis sold each year. In other words, gather some common-sense data that can help you reach a conclusion.
To a Morgan Stanley internship applicant: “Tell me about a time when you had to deliver bad news.”
Chase’s advice: Talk about how you rehearsed what you would say over and over again, being careful to deliver your message in the most empathetic possible way.
To an applicant for an internship with Zappos’ market research division: “If your life were a movie, what would the trailer be like?”
Chase’s advice: “First I would laugh and then I would say, ‘I’m hoping my trailer would show a string of successes in my personal and early professional life, and in college, where I’d be walking up to the podium to collect an academic award, or at work collecting an award for making the most sales of the year. I’d like to see a series of scenes like that and few pratfalls.”
To an events coordinator intern applicant at a company called Red Frog Events: “What is your guilty pleasure?”
Chase’s advice: “You can’t be robotic in your answers. Be human. I’d say, ‘I love movies and left to my own devices I could watch four in a row.’”
To a would-be intern at Amazon: “What is your favorite day of the week?”
Chase’s advice: “Amazon is a totally workaholic culture. I would say Wednesday because I like being at the peak of the week and I like looking forward to the weekend.”
I like all of Chase’s answers but I had to ask, what if you just blank out when you get one of these oddball questions? Chase says it’s actually fine to go silent while you collect your thoughts and it’s even OK to admit that you can’t think of an answer. “When you’re in an interview, what you think of as two minutes is just 10 seconds, tops,” he says. “Then you can say, in a self-assured way, ‘I’m coming up blank on that one.’” I agree with Chase. Interviewers who ask trick questions had better be prepared for blank answers.
More important than preparing for trick questions is getting ready to answer the straightforward ones like the ubiquitous “tell me about yourself” and “what is your greatest weakness.” Chase says you should always go to an interview armed with several anecdotes about how you successfully faced challenges on your last job or on a school project. The weakness question, though it seems tricky, can be a great place to showcase your accomplishments. For instance, you can talk about how, five years ago, you were hesitant to embrace social media but now you’ve mastered it and it has transformed the way you work.
To help you prepare, aside from the off-the-wall questions, Glassdoor has compiled 10 common interview questions for intern candidates:
1. Why do you want to intern here?
2. Which classes do you like the most and least?
3. What do you expect this position to be like?
4. Why should we hire you?
5. What’s your goal with this internship?
6. Tell me about some of your school involvements and how they relate to this job.
7. What are your salary expectations?
8. What are your plans after graduation?
9. Why did you pick your school/major/minor?
10. What do you know about this specific industry and what are some trends that occurred in the past few years?
Read the article at Forbes online
Find more advice from Ellis in In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies That Work