Blanchard & Walker Weekly

Topic of the Week  Survivor: Tough Job Interview Strategies

  • Stress test
  • Think aloud
  • Simplify and guesstimate
  • Ask a question or for a hint

 The days of job interviews full of softball questions, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" are over. Today most companies are putting everyone through an obstacle course before they're hired. Asking candidates to offer strategies for company case studies, answer hypotheticals, solve brain-teaser questions and even something called "McKinsey speed dating." All of this reminds me of an actual "request" that was made of a job candidate by a company called Acosta. "I'm not going to talk, just entertain me for five minutes." It's rough out there. Makes you long for the days when the hardest question was "What are your weaknesses?" But you can still survive this gauntlet, and I'll give you four strategies to do it below.

Stress test. If you feel like they're trying to make you sweat during the interview, you're not mistaken. They are. That's why it's so important to have strategies to keep your cool. Deep breathing, pausing before you answer and getting enough sleep the night before the interview are just three strategies for not letting them see you sweat.

Think aloud. Through our entire educational experience we're taught to get the correct answer. But that's not the point of a brain-teaser question or the hypotheticals that could be tossed your way. It's practically impossible to get the right answer to a question like "How many windows are in downtown Seattle." The key is to show them your thought process about how you tackle a difficult challenge by talking them through your problem-solving approach.

Simplify and guesstimate. When I was growing up my dad would always cut my steak into bite-sized pieces. That's also a great approach to tackling a difficult job interview question. Back to the number of windows in Seattle, you can try to guess the average number of windows in a building. Then guess the average number of buildings in a block. Then guess the number of blocks in downtown Seattle. You get the drill, break it down into simple pieces and guesstimate each step along the way.

Ask a question or for a hint. Don't ask for the answer, but it's reasonable to ask for a lifeline to clarify or quantify the challenge they've dumped in your lap. Yep, a lifeline. This may give you a key bit of information while at the same time buying you a bit of time to collect your thoughts.

A few years ago a guy told me about a job interview where the questions got progressively weirder and weirder. Finally they asked him if he'd do a pushup. He refused. At that point the interviewer started laughing and told him that the job had already been filled, he was just trying to see how far the applicant would be willing to go to get hired. Unfortunately I feel that this is too close to how many companies act today, taking advantage of the economy to go beyond trying to find qualified candidates to something approaching a violation of people's 8th Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him

Thought of the Week

"When you go in for a job interview, I think a good thing to ask is if they ever press charges."

–Jack Handy

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

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