Define the Speed of Light, Please

There are few things in life that are more frustrating or nerve wracking than being asked a question in a job interview that you have absolutely no answer for. While there’s a chance you may never run into a human resources manager who will put you on the spot, there’s also a good chance you will. A. Harrison Barnes, founder and president, says it’s not the end of the world and that it’s important to keep in mind the interviewer is asking these questions not so much for the answer (although that’s always a bonus if you do know how to define the speed of light), but rather, your reaction to a seemingly impossible question.

These questions are designed to put you to the test in terms of how well you do in even the most unlikely situations; whether you handle it with grace or whether or not you crumble under the pressure, says Barnes. So how do you handle it? The founder and career coach says preparing for it is half the battle.

“Don’t allow these questions to knock you off your center. Instead, offer something like, ‘I almost prepared for that exact question and now I wish I had’. That’s going to tell the interviewer a few things. First, it lets her know that you will honestly own up to not having the right answer instead of fidgeting and fishing for the wrong answer. It also shows a sense of humor and an ability to “think on your feet”, so to speak. Gauging the rapport you’ve likely already established with the interviewer (odds are, that’s not going to be the first question you’re asked), you should be able to avoid that clumsy silence and quickly recover without appearing aggravated that an impossible question was even asked.

But what if the question is a legitimate one? What if she asks, “Based on your background and experience, how will you pull our sales team out of its current slump”? There’s a good chance you’re not even aware that the sales department is in a slump. Pull from your past experience, says A. Harrison Barnes:

“I know how well customer incentives work and I know that they can be powerful tools for the sales force to use in their presentations. There is a way to work those incentives in without annihilating the bottom line. That would be my first recommendation for implementing new ideas”.

It’s short, it’s precise and it’s going to knock the ball out of the park. Keep in mind, too, that even if they have used incentives in the past, your interviewer knows that you may not be aware of that and beside, it could be that fresh approach that will make a new incentive work better than those in the past.

So while you may not know how fast turtles travel, you can still ace your interview and those tough questions. Confidence, acknowledging that you’re human and an open mind will come together to serve your purposes nicely.

Elizabeth Martinez – Ph.D. – Organizational Psychology. Provides you with a deep level of insight into your career direction and career development.