Tips to keep your interview on track when you get asked a tricky question
As a finance professional interviewing for a new job, working for a real estate company, there are many types of questions you might expect to be asked. For example, the reasons you are considering a move from your current employer, or a question to demonstrate your experience in preparing financial reports to clients, and even questions to show your understanding of the wider subject of real estate.
All is going swimmingly, and then you are hit with the dreaded crazy curve ball question that has nothing to do with the Real Estate Accountancy Job that you are interviewing for. You know the type of question we are discussing:
- If you were to redecorate this interview room, what colour scheme would you pick?
- If you were to be shipwrecked on an island and could bring three things with you, what would they be?
- How many times does the average doorbell ring in a week?
- Describe how to make a cup of coffee
- Why do such questions get asked, and how on earth are you meant to answer them?
Before we answer these questions, let’s consider the basic interview preparation you should make.
How to prepare for your finance manager interview
When preparing for your interview, there are some steps you must always take:
- Research the company and the person who will be interviewing you (if you know who this will be). You’ll want to demonstrate that you have done this basic research and are thrilled to be offered the chance to show why you have applied to join them. Knowing a little about your interviewer may provide prompts to confirm and explore common ground with them.
- Construct a 30- to 60-second introduction to answer the question, “Tell me a little about yourself”. This should highlight your experience, knowledge and career goals. Deliver it with enthusiasm and so that it resonates with their needs – the reason they wish to make the hire.
- Prepare stories that detail your experience and expertise, and that answer questions about how you dealt with specific situations or problems. These should demonstrate your approach, and the impact your actions had on you, those you worked with or managed, and the business.
- Prepare and ask unique questions that show your curiosity and thirst to know more. Frame them so that you can engage with the response.
With proper preparation, there should be no question that leaves you scratching your head. Your answers and responses will be evidence that you have prepared, and evidence of your enthusiasm and ability to do the job required. Then comes that dreaded curve ball!
Why are crazy curve ball questions posed to finance managers?
There is some good news about these questions that arrive out of the blue:
First, they don’t get asked very often. Despite the regularity with which you may hear horror stories of being asked to describe how many tennis balls can fit into a standard freight container, they are very rare. The reason you may think otherwise is that they are the questions most interviewees remember, and so are the questions that are most discussed.
Second, there is usually no correct answer, and the interviewer doesn’t really care how many tennis balls you can fit into a freight container.
Third, if you are asked an off-the-wall question, it is usually because your answers thus far have prompted the interviewer to discover more about you. If you are in a panel interview, it is often the quietest member of the panel that will ask you such a question.
The reasons curve balls are asked include:
- To discover if you will fit with the culture of the team or firm. (What colour will you decorate?)
- Your ability to think creatively. (What would you take to a deserted island?)
- Your ability to think logically and methodically (and work out how many times a doorbell is likely to ring).
- Your attention to detail (try describing how to make a cup of coffee – it’s harder than you think).
- How do you answer a crazy curve ball question asked in your interview?
Though you can’t prepare an answer to a curve ball, you can prepare to answer such a question. Here are the steps to work through:
Understand why the question has been asked. The interviewer isn’t trying to catch you out, but wants to understand something specific about you, your personality, and how you work.
Take time to understand the question itself and consider your response. Think about all the elements that you may need to explore when giving your answer. Ask for clarification if you need to then answer the question calmly and methodically. Explain your reasoning behind each step of your answer. For example:
“Let’s say a standard freight container is 10 metres long, three metres high, and three metres wide. A tennis ball is four centimetres in diameter. Therefore, you could fit 250 tennis balls along the length of the container, 75 tennis balls along the width, and 75 tennis balls on the height. This is a total of 250 x 75 x 75, which equals 1,406,250, stacked on top of one another. You could almost double this number by then inserting more tennis balls in the gaps left between each group of four.”
Interview Tips Summary
Prepare for your interview, but don’t over-prepare for the curve ball. You probably won’t receive one – they are far less common than you may believe. If you do, it will be asked to probe whether you have the right skills to undertake the work required in the role and whether you will be a good cultural fit.
The curve ball question gives you the opportunity to show that you have the drive, energy and critical thinking ability needed to excel in the new role; and that you are interested, engaged and engaging. A good interview is a conversation that flows.
For a confidential conversation to explore the current market and discuss your next career move, and to receive the advice that will ensure you obtain the role you want, contact Macdonald & Company
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