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When an Interviewer Asks a Ridiculously Tough (or just ridiculous) Question

Clients and recruiters alike have an ability to completely derail a perfectly good job interview by asking a question that totally stumps you. Sometimes it’s a valid question that you hadn’t expected and other times they throw a curveball by asking about a topic completely irrelevant and senseless to the job interview. Even if you are judging them and questioning their intelligence at this point, the situation remains the same — this person is the gatekeeper to your next gig and you need to provide a smart, professional answer.

Natala Pratini wrote an article for Hired a few months ago that provides a helpful roadmap for getting through difficult interview questions. Next time you prepare for an interview with a recruiter or client, rather than try to imagine all possible questions an interviewer might ask, consider these 5 points from Pratini to create a broad strategy:

  1. Take Your Time and Ask Questions: If you already think this response is going to be the death of your interview, spewing out the first thing that comes to mind is not going to make things any better. Think about the question asked to truly understand what the interviewer wants to learn about and start crafting the right response in your head. If the question still is not clear (or makes no sense at all), ask questions for clarification. This will also buy time and demonstrate that you care about providing the best answer.

  2. Walk Your Interviewer Through Your Thinking: Especially if you’re uncertain that your response is answering the question being asked, giving the interviewer insight into how you came to your response will buy you credit. It also provides insight to your problem-solving approach which might be exactly what they want to see.

  3. Practice Humility (judiciously): Know when you’re in over your head. If your answer is going to be nothing more than jargon-filled non-sense that provides no value, then stop yourself right there and admit that you do not have a great answer. Take that opportunity to create a larger discussion about the question, how it relates to the project at-hand, and how you can still provide the best solution or improve your skills.

  4. Remember, It’s Called an Interview ‘Process’ for a Reason: Unless the question was about the core skills required to take on the contract for which you’re interviewing, one poorly answered question will not be your demise. Accept that one portion did not go well and move forward with the interview. Stewing on one terrible response is certain to mess up all other answers.

  5. Use It as a Learning Experience: Everything in life is an opportunity to learn. When you reflect on the interview afterwards, ask yourself if you were truly as prepared as you could have been for this interview and how you could have approached it differently. You should also write down the tricky question so you’re better prepared next time.

Independent contractors go through so many interviews throughout their career, it’s only normal to have acquired a handful of nightmare stories along the way. How have you come out on the other end of a tough question? We’d love to read your experiences in the comments below.