“So, Sarah, what does your husband do?” That was an interview question I certainly wasn’t expecting for a job that, up until that point at least, I thought might be a good fit. I had been up at the crack of dawn to make the drive from DC to Philadelphia for the interview. My husband had gotten a new job in Philly and that meant a move and now a job search for me as well.

I remember the hiring manager’s face in that moment so clearly. But what I remember even more was the punch to my gut.

All I could think was “that question is irrelevant and illegal!” And seriously, why was he asking me that? I paused, and then answered politely and quickly.

Then I stood up, shook his hand and thanked him for is time. I said I had to run to another interview. And I walked out the door. Unbelievably, he called to offer me the job a few days later. Of course I turned it down.

I Didn’t Expect That Interview Question

Sadly, illegal, inappropriate and completely off the wall interview questions are a part of the job search process. When we are dealing with people the unexpected is a guarantee.  

While it’s smart to prepare for the predictable interview questions you may be asked, it’s equally important that you consider how you will answer the question you weren’t expecting.

Even in large, reputable organizations you can find hiring managers and HR recruiters who are not effective interviewers. If there’s a script (and there often is), they don’t stick to it. They’re inconsistent, often ill-informed about the job itself. And, they are just as uncomfortable as you are when it comes to interviewing. There’s a lot riding on it for them too – what if you turn out to be a bum hire?

The situation is ripe for innovation and creativity that can lead to disaster and bad impressions all around.

I can’t say that on that morning years ago I knew what I was doing. I knew the question was illegal and knew – that regardless of his intentions – I didn’t want to work for him. Those are the easy ones.

For something more difficult, though, the answer is in the first thought that ran through my head, “Why is he asking me that?”

Why Did They Just Ask Me That Question?

Other than that question you don’t expect, are you otherwise prepared for an interview? In other words, do you have good command of the skills, abilities and personal characteristics you offer an employer? Do you have anecdotes and stories that illustrate your strengths? Can you articulate why you are the best candidate for the job? (If not, check out my blog here.)

If so, then you are in great shape! When you hear that unexpected question alarm bells will go off, your heart will start racing, etc. Allow that, breathe and ask yourself:

Why are they asking me that question?

Believe it or not, you can figure it out and pretty quickly too. Here are the possibilities:

1. It’s a SKILL question. They want to know if you can really do what you say you can do. Often the same question will be asked several different ways. Remember your skills, restate them, and then say, “It sounds like my background in X is important, can you tell me more about that?”

2. It’s a TRAIT question. They are digging to see if you’ll have the necessary soft skills – e.g., patience, stamina, level-headedness, communication – to get the job done in their work environment. In this case, rely on an example from previous experience that shows you can handle the challenge.

3. It’s a FIT question. Will you fit in – this could be around anything, culture, lifestyle, where you live, what’s important to you.

Click here for more great advice like this!

FIT questions are where many interviewers get into trouble. Your job here – as long as the question isn’t illegal – is to play along and make them as comfortable as possible.

Bottom line – once you understand the fear or concern behind the question, you’ll know what they need to hear so you can shine as the very best candidate for the job.

If you don’t think you’re ready for this, let’s talk. You can schedule a call here. You’ll be asked to answer a few quick questions, then you’ll be invited to a complimentary chat with me and I’ll do my best to help you out!