What’s the oddest or hardest question you’ve had to answer at a job interview? We put that question to Twitter earlier this month and one particular response stood out. Hilary Marsh, a content strategist in Chicago, replied to say that an interviewer had once asked her, with a very skeptical look: “Why is content so important, anyway?”
And, yes – shock horror – this was for a content role.
Whether the interviewers were just testing their job candidate’s reaction to an unexpected question or they were genuinely cynical about the job they were hiring for, we’ll never know. But there are a couple of lessons here when hit with an interview question that leaves you floundering.
1. Preparing for the unexpected
An employer will expect that you’ve done your research and can answer all the usual interview questions. But sometimes they simply want to test how you react when thrown off-guard. In these cases, it can be more about how you answer than what your answer is (within reason, of course).
For example, when hit with a ‘panic question’, try not to blurt out the first response that comes to mind. Check yourself first. Then ask questions of the interviewer and try to clarify what they are actually asking. For example, do they want to know why content is important to you, or to the customer, or to the wider business?
Work through your thinking – you may or may not get to the ‘perfect’ answer that they want to hear, but you will have shown a potential employer that you can think on your feet.
2. Never assume buy-in
The reason this is such a tough question is that you would reasonably expect your interviewers to know why they are hiring for a content role – and not have to justify it. In reality, however, senior managers from the business side of an organisation may be sitting on the interview panel, as well as line managers from the digital communications team.
CJ Walker, Firehead’s CEO, says she’s seen many times when business-side managers and especially senior management genuinely don’t know how content can fit into their strategy. They don’t know the nuts and bolts of IT either – it’s not their job. But in the role you’re interviewing for, you’ll be spending a lot of time selling content’s importance to stakeholders who don’t know it. This is good practice in a stressful situation! (It also gives you a chance to see about the role that content plays within the organisation.)
A good approach is not to react defensively but to explain your work, as if to an outsider. Try to outline some of the business achievements and ROI (return on investment) that you’ve seen as a result of your content work. In this way, you let your interviewers know that you can see beyond your own skills and look at how your role would tie into and affect the rest of the business.
3. Don’t just focus on you (some people have to be told!)
A common mistake we’ve seen in candidates at interview is that they do well on the specifics of their own work and abilities but often struggle when faced with more general questions: about the organisation, their target audience, industry trends, for example.
Don’t fall down on these wider questions or you’ll be giving the hirer a reason to doubt you. Make sure you are familiar with their existing content, understand the concerns of their target client, and are aware of the latest trends and issues in your own industry.
So, one final option for answering this kind of ‘bigger’ panic question is to empathise with your potential employer and try to see where they might be coming from. After all, this particular question is one that a lot of people do ask about content, social media and other digital roles – particularly when tying it into ROI. Just be sure to then follow this up with a persuasive argument and some tangible examples of how content can be a business asset.
We want your panic questions!
Do you have other questions that cause you to panic in an interview? How have you dealt with these? As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
Image: (CC) Idhren/Flickr