Diffuse these tricky HR questions to nab the job you want

Her World Manual is your all-round guide to life. We explain everything you’ve been dying to know, from relationship sticklers, money matters, career conundrums and more. Click here Part 2 of our October Manual on how to prepare for job interviews.   

Job interviews can be one of the most daunting experiences in your life, with interviewers firing questions left, right and centre. Some are straight forward, some not so much – but don’t panic, just read this handy guide on how to answer mind boggling questions, written by a HR veteran, so you can ace that interview like a boss

1. “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

This is inane. They know it, you know it. But you know what? The key is to avoid getting testy or sarcastic: This came straight out of the trusty HR interview handbook, and it very possibly doesn’t do humour. Instead, hook it back to what you know, to safe territory: “Willow, because I’m a cricket fan.”
“Rattan, because I’m super disciplined.”

2. “Have you ever stolen anything from work?”

There is only one answer to this, and it’s not “yes”.


3. “What would you do if you won $10 million in the lottery?”

Creative: You want to build a vintage toy museum. You want to travel first class forever.
Altruistic: You want to donate all of it to Save The Oceans.
Honest: You don’t want to work here, or anywhere, anymore.
You choose.

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4. “How many square metres of pizza are eaten in Singapore each year?” “Why are manhole covers round?” (An apocryphal Google interview question.) “How much would you charge to clean all the windows in Orchard Road?”*

There are no right answers to these mind-benders; they’re there to make the interviewers seem smart, but they merely come off as smug. Instead, these types of questions are designed for you to demonstrate your thinking process, showcase your logical side, and display your creative personality.
Stay calm, say “interesting question”, ask for a moment to think about it, and start doodling. At some point, you’ll arrive at a clever answer. Hopefully.

5. “Tell me about a project in your last job that didn’t go so well.”

This is a tough one. Nobody likes to talk about projects derailing, but it’s unrealistic to claim it never happened.
Rehearse this one, as it’s not easy on the fly. Be factual while not breaking confidentiality. The client you worked for becomes “a leading bank” or a “major health-care brand”. Also, don’t bring it down to the personal:
This is testing your ability to rise above that. Lastly, find a real life example where you were pivotal to a solution. And if drama did occur, leave the dead bodies buried.


6. “I’ve read that it’s a bad company that had some dodgy dealings. Why would you choose that place?”

As a senior marketer, Elaine** has several times been both a team leader and an employee. As she recalls, one of the biggest mistakes people can make is to speak badly of their previous company in an interview. Even worse is bad-mouthing previous bosses. “Their view was that since they were leaving the organisation, there was no need for them to put their best foot forward,” she notes. 
Such indiscretions are short-sighted. “They’re not considering the long-term impression that they create.” Remember that potential managers are surmising whether you represent a risk, which clearly includes your loyalty beyond the role. Burning bridges can tarnish your actual achievements, and risk a negative referral.

“An individual’s behaviour in her last months can leave a lasting impression on management and colleagues.” If you’re going to represent this company, you need to be able to deal with this kind of thing.
Again, you can see the dirt coming, so think about it first. What’s in the public record can’t be denied. But deal with the basic facts, then get the story out. Likewise, don’t be afraid to disagree with some opinions. (“All the best companies
get tested. This was our test.”) Equally, give credit where it’s due: “In fairness, at the level I was at, the data-integrity culture was excellent.”

Main point here is: You had a mission, kept your hands clean, and got out. Just like you will from this interview.

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7. “…….” [Silence]

Moneyball author Michael Lewis used to work in investment banking, and he said that giving an interviewee the silent treatment was once a common technique in that industry. It’s another test, and you’ve got to be calm. Be cool, like Wonder Woman cool. The silence is to make you blabber, but don’t panic – never let them see you sweat. Use the opportunity to ask them about company culture or their opinion on something newsy. They might also ask you to play Jenga with staff members, or take you around for an informal introduction. This is to see how you’d fit in with their culture. Again, smile and be cool. You will see someone with Star Wars toys. Do not proffer any opinions on how dumb Star Wars is.

8. Everyone has an exaggeration on their resume. What’s yours?

Don’t go there. Do not David Brent your way out of this.

*Say “$5 per window.”