How to Handle Controversial
Questions in a Job Interview
You’re breezing through a job interview and you’re feeling GREAT when suddenly the interviewer throws you a curve ball by asking a completely inappropriate question.
What should you do when you don’t know how to answer it or don’t want to give a response?
1. Don’t panic
Life 101: prepare for everything. If you act nervous when the dreaded question is asked, you can come across as being dishonest, uncomfortable, or worse, look like you have something to hide. Know ahead of time responses for any questions about your professional experience that is likely to throw you off guard. Rehearse it. And give your answer like a pro.
2. Don’t get defensive
What if you’re asked something and you don’t want to talk about it? If you dodge the question, the only thing they will remember is HOW you answered the question. Even if you want to bypass the question, don’t give in to your impulse to act like you shouldn’t have to respond.
3. Don’t start an argument
No matter how much you disagree with the question you’ve been asked, the last thing you want to do is admit that to your interviewer. You can easily start an argument about the question with a statement like, “That’s not a fair question, why are you even asking me that?”
Not only will that put your interviewer on the defensive, but it makes them wonder if this is how you’ll react when talking to customers and clients. Your responses say that this is the best version of you and you’ll lead your interviewer to assume what you’re like when you’re not on your best behavior.
4. Do ask a clarifying question
If you honestly do not understand what you’re being asked, don’t hesitate to pose a non-threatening follow-up question to gain clarification. Squash your impulse to jump to conclusions and keep it neutral.
There’s no such thing as being over-prepared for a job interview.
5. Do answer the question
Dodging the question or ignoring it will not score you any points. Even if it’s something you couldn’t prepare for, do your best to stay calm and give an answer. You can give a fairly generic response as long as you’re being honest. If you don’t prior experience with the topic that in question, a simple statement such as, “I don’t have any direct experience with XYZ, but I can relate to a time when I…”
6. What if the question is illegal?
If you are caught off guard by a question they legally should not be asking, (age, race, or religious affiliation) it can be difficult to know IF you should answer.
Try to pivot the conversation back to your qualifications. For example, if a hiring manager says, “You’re pretty young, aren’t you?” You could respond by saying, “I hit the ground running directly out of college, but in job X I was able to really take on a lot of responsibility with Y so I’ve had experiences you probably won’t find in candidates of any age group.”
In the end, you’re only human. If you gave an answer that doesn’t accurately represent who you are, look for an opportunity to clarify what you meant to have said earlier. Just remember, there’s no such thing as being over-prepared for a job interview. The more you can show you know about the industry, the company, the more likely you are to get an offer on the spot!
Partner with us so you go into your next job interview full of confidence. Send us an email and we’d be happy to work with you!