interview, job interview, tough questions, answering difficult interview questions, offbeat interview questions, job searchOne of the job search workshops I teach is on interviewing. My participants regularly report very strange and sometimes rather upsetting questions they have been asked during an interview.

If I were asked any of these questions, here’s how I would answer.

1. How much do you weigh?

There are a couple of possibilities here:

“I didn’t see weight mentioned as a job requirement. Why is that important?”

Or, more risky but could stop the interviewer in his/her tracks: “Enough to do the job right!”

In this case, the first answer is probably better, because it allows for exploration of the interviewer’s concerns. But, there might be value in the second answer as well as it re-directs the questioning towards your qualifications for the job.

2. How old are you?

Yes, we know this question is technically illegal. It’s an indication that the interviewer has not been properly coached on interviewing skills. But you still need to figure out a response. You could say something along the lines of:

“I believe my age is an asset because I am dependable and able to deal comfortably with a wide range of problems. I’m also flexible and open to learning new skills. Something I recently learned is…(fill in the blank with a relevant piece of information.) “

This answer re-directs the interviewer’s focus to your ability to do the job and addresses the concern that the older you are, the less you are willing to adapt and learn.

3. How many beers do you drink every day?

If you avoid beer at all costs, you can state that and move on. But if you occasionally indulge here are some ideas:

“Beer isn’t part of my everyday life. I might indulge at a party on the weekend but that’s it.”

“I know you need to be really sharp on the job at all times. So I limit my consumption of alcohol to occasional weekends.”

The second statement is actually the better answer, because it acknowledges the interviewer’s concern about on-the-job safety issues.

4. What are your hobbies?

Initially I was surprised at how many people reported this question. But, it makes sense from the interviewer’s perspective for a couple of reasons. First, they may be trying to make small talk and get to know you better. Or, they may have had employees in the past who brought their hobbies to work and were not really doing their jobs. So, with that in mind, here are some options:

“Hobbies are just that – hobbies. I enjoy them when I’m not at work and when I come to work, I leave them at the door.”

“I think that hobbies make you a well-rounded person. For instance, as a (insert hobby here) I learn new skills that I may be able to apply on the job. And, helping someone else learn to enjoy my hobby gives me a great sense of satisfaction.”

5. Are you married?

Yes, another illegal question. But, like the hobbies question, it may be a matter of the interviewer trying to get to know you better. Or, they may have issues with employees who are married/not married. The best strategy here is to deflect back to your qualifications:

“My focus is on doing the best possible job for you, Mr./Ms. Employer. There are certainly other aspects to my life, and my goal is to balance them with work. I’m always working to improve my time management skills to achieve that goal.”

The underlying strategy to address offbeat and illegal questions contains two aspects: thinking about why the question might be asked, and re-directing it to a focus on the value you bring to the position. Above all, avoid becoming defensive or critical – remember the interviewer is a human being too!

Thanks Don Moyer for the photo via Flickr