Job candidates tend to focus their interview preparation on researching the company and the interviewers while also preparing their responses to “tried and true” interview questions and behavioral questions. This preparation is all critical to success on the interview. However candidates must also be prepared for the unexpected if they hope to shine in the interview.
Why do employers ask unusual questions or ask candidates to respond to mini-case situations? All other interviews are focused on your past performance and the hiring managers are trying to use that data to anticipate how you will perform in their new role. Case and unusual questions offer the employers and opportunity to see how you think and how you perform under pressure. It is less about finding the right answer and more about how you think and logically process the information.
Advice for Success in Mini-Case Situations or Unusual Questions
- Be well prepared for your “tried and true” questions and have several stories prepared that you can use to address a variety of behavioral questions. The better prepared you are for these questions the less disruptive the unique questions will be.
- Have key facts in your head in round numbers. US population and world population for example. Know key facts about the company and the industry.
- Practice answering unique questions in advance. Use online lists of questions to test yourself. Practice case questions in advance. The more you practice the better you will perform in the interview.
Examples of Unusual Questions or Mini-Case Situations
- “What you would do if you were in this job and the CEO called and asked you why sales were down in the X division last month and then told you she needed an answer in an hour before her executive team meeting?” This isn’t the time to talk about surveying customers or implementing tracking programs for new promotions. What information do you need to put your hands on? How would you use that information? What kinds of questions do you need to ask? You need to talk them through your thought process to show that you are thinking logically about the issue and finding actionable data.
- “We’ve experienced disruption in the manufacturing department for each of the last three months due to timing delays of getting the six specific component parts to the assembly station for a critical part of the manufacturing process. The VP of Manufacturing is very upset and has assured the CEO it won’t happen again next month. He needs your recommendations first thing in the morning.” What information do you need and what possible solutions can you offer? Think through the process out loud so they can see your thought process.
- “What would you do if the major project you were working on had a deadline of next week to the senior VP and the team can’t agree on next steps?”
- “What would you do if you lived on an island that ran out of diapers and any materials commonly used to produce diapers?” I actually had an employer ask this of our students and students enjoyed thinking of creative solutions. It is less about the specific answer and more about how you think creatively about a problem. Students who could not provide any response did not advance in the process.
- If you could be an animal, what type would you be and why? Clearly no right or wrong answer but they want to see how you think on your feet.
- “How many cars would be in the parking lot in our ABC store on a Thursday morning between10 and 12?” Think about what you need to know about their business and that location. Think about the categories of cars that would be there. Make assumptions and explain your thought process.
- “How many replacement tires are sold in the US in a given year?” Use round numbers to talk through your assumptions and make an informed guess.
- “What was your favorite thing to play as a child?”
At this point, we are seeing most employers asking a mix of all three types of questions to get as good a sense as possible of how well the candidate will fit in their organization and how well they will be able to perform the specific job.
Remember, employers are assessing not only your skills to perform the job but also you fit with their team and the company.