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Unexpected Job Interview Questions and How to Prepare for Them

You may have rehearsed answers to common interview questions, but what if your interviewer throws one or more off-the-wall questions that you didn't expect? We've all heard stories about this sort of situation, or experienced it firsthand.
This blog will offer tips on preparing solid answers for these types of questions, with examples of actual questions that our candidates had to respond to!

First, let's take a look at the most common categories of questions asked during job interviews:

  • Reason for applying for the role, things you know or impression about the company

  • Your previous job, work history

  • Experiences and skills you have developed in your career

  • Your attitude for work, work style, or your methodology

  • Your personality, personal experiences, or character

  • Short and long-term career and life goals

The categories above cover most of the questions candidates prepare before an interview. During the interview, these questions can be asked at any time and may even be the only kinds of questions you get asked. Therefore, candidates should be well-prepared for these categories and feel confident in their answers.
Asking hard-to-answer questions tests your ability to improvise and whether you can generate quality responses quickly and under pressure. It’s important to remember that interviewers want to find a suitable candidate and are not trying to be mean to you, but instead, utilize their time efficiently.  

4 Approaches to Handling Unexpected Questions

The key to answering tough questions is to concentrate on the following approaches rather than the actual answers you provide. 

  • Stay confident: The most important thing is not to get flustered. Remain calm and confident with your interviewer throughout the process. However, this does not mean that you should appear arrogant. Instead, consider the interview an opportunity to showcase your talent as the best person for the role.

  • Apply non-verbal communication: Maintain eye contact, smile often, be positive, and have an enthusiastic attitude, even when the question stumps you. Your answers will sound more attractive with the use of body language such as hand gestures, nods, or facial expressions, especially during an online interview.

  • Be honest: Honesty is the best policy. If you are unsure about the question asked, you can ask for further clarification or for an example to help answer properly. If the interviewer asks you about something you don't understand, be honest and express a willingness to learn. After all, your thought process is more valued than your actual answer, and your attempt to derive an honest answer will be appreciated. However, if you know the answer to a question, answer without appearing as a know-it-all.

  • Remember to present yourself: Remember that a job interview is a place for self-promotion, so try to weave your strengths into your answers. For example, if you are asked, “if you were an animal, what would you be?” your answer could be, "I would be a turtle because I'm an extremely hard worker and always dedicated to getting the job done no matter what." In this case, focus on the traits of the animal that relate to your strength.

How to Prepare for Your Successful Interview

As mentioned above, appearing calm and confident throughout the interview is important, but can be challenging for many people. Is there a way to get through tough questions without feeling puzzled?
Preparation is the quickest and most effective way to navigate any situation. The following list should be kept in mind when preparing for your interview.

  • Analyze yourself: Take the time to review your CV to ensure you can explain everything written on it. Become familiar with your values and what strengths you bring to the table. Practice articulating your strengths for successful self-promotion. 

  • Research the company: It's common for job interview topics to include the company's product/services, competitors, market trends, and even the company's culture or values. Researching the company will put you in a better position to answer difficult questions and ask insightful questions at the end of your interview. Asking questions will demonstrate enthusiasm for the role and professionalism as the qualified talent.

  • Think deeply about why you are interested in the role: Show your interest by giving common reasons (e.g. because it's a growing company, having unique products/services) and by finding a unique reason for applying for the position. Ideally, this unique reason is attributed to your personal values ​​or experiences, making you stand out from other candidates. 

  • Prepare answers to common questions: Preparing answers to common questions should not be overlooked. It goes without saying that preparation is key to successful interviews. Practice these questions with a family or friend, but don’t try to memorize the answers, as this can result in choppy, ingenuine responses. 

The STAR method is the best strategy to help you deliver perfect responses that your interviewer would expect as suitable answers, so master this approach to ace your next interview. Furthermore, working with a consultant will help you sharpen your interview skills and provide insightful, personable feedback.

Hard-to-Answer Questions from Actual Job Interviews

Now, let's look at some of the curveball questions our candidates had to respond to during job interviews.

1. Interviewers dig deep into your interest in the role①:  "Why us among other companies like us?"

Interviewer: "Why would you like to work with us?"
You: "Because you are a top global company..”, “Because your XX product is unique..”, “Because you are a growing company..”, etc.
Interviewer: "I believe there are a number of companies quite similar to us in a point you just mentioned, so why choose us among them?"

Comment from Consultant:You need to dig deep within yourself in your interview preparation to find out why the company is the one you are looking for, especially when there are a lot of similar companies out there. Relating one’s personal values ​​or experiences to the company's brand mission can help answer the question and make your answer stick out. Responding in this way will also demonstrate your deep interest in the company.

2. Interviewers dig deep into your interest in the role②: “How does your work experience relate to our values ​​(Teamwork, Commitment, Integrity..)?”

Comment from Consultant: In your interview preparation, remember to research the company culture, mission, and value statement, as well as its products/services or business performances. Interviewers ask this question mainly to see if the candidate fits the corporate culture. Be clear on your strengths and be able to articulate and connect them to relevant experiences.

3. Interviewers dig deep into your interest in the role③: “Tell us what you know about our company in English.”

Comment from Consultant: With a global company, you will almost always be required to have a job interview in English. Prepare to answer common interview questions in both English and Japanese. Apex's English-speaking consultants are available to help you with your English job interview.

4. Interviewers measure your interpersonal skills ①: “How do you work with someone who is difficult to work with?”

Comment from Consultant: Good interpersonal and communication skills are pivotal for managerial positions. They must work closely with multiple stakeholders, whether managing team members, communicating with supervisors, or collaborating across various functions. So, interviewers are trying to assess their assertive communication skills to work well with people from different backgrounds. It is good to list examples of communication difficulties you have experienced and present solutions to those hardships, efforts you are implementing, or effective management styles. 

5. Interviewers measure your interpersonal skills②: “What type of teammate would you like to work with and what type do you hesitate to work with?”

Comment from Consultant:This is another question to evaluate your interpersonal skills. Not only should you give your reasons for wanting or not wanting to work with the party, but also understand your interviewer wants to know what you value in a workplace. For instance, if you find it hard to get along with those imposing their opinions, interviewers may not perceive you as a team player; When you like those who never give up, they may see you as a person with a strong sense of responsibility. Remember to connect your strengths with your responses and emphasize your ability to work well with difficult teammates. 

6. Interviewers measure your interpersonal skills③: “Do you know Mr./Ms.X? How would you evaluate him/her?”
Comment from Consultant: You may be asked this question when seeking new opportunities in the same industry. It's likely that they want to understand your work style or sense of values. If you are unsure of the interviewer's evaluation of the person, you should avoid making negative comments.  
7. Interviewers measure your management skills: "How would you encourage people to speak up when they stay muted during online meetings?"

Comment from Consultant: This question has become increasingly popular since the start of the pandemic. This question is designed to evaluate your skills for leadership or management of remote teams. Since many companies are still in the trial-and-error stage of adapting remote working, it is a good idea to share the initiatives of your current company, if any.

For managerial positions, questions about management methodologies, including trust building, teamwork improvement or leading more effective online meetings, are frequently tossed, so it is essential to contemplate how you approach problems daily to prepare to give a speech about it. An example of a question about management skills is, "Tell us about the project or task in which you took the initiative to improve the issue." 

8. Interviewers ask about your achievement:  "Tell us about a time when you achieved greater results than you expected" or "Tell us about an experience where you implemented something innovative."

Comment from Consultant : Questions about work accomplishments are standard, and so are about "major accomplishments" or "innovative results." Don't be shy to think, "Maybe I don't have any major accomplishments..". Present your success stories with confidence.

Again, the key to successful job interviews is to prepare well in advance. However, even if your interview isn’t going as well as you anticipated and you weren’t confident in your answer, don't dwell on it. Obsessing over one mistake will give the interviewer a bad impression. If he has a good impression of you during the interview, there is a good chance that you will proceed to the next step. 

Keep in mind that the purpose of the interview is to demonstrate how good you are for the role, not just to give good answers. Management professionals need to exhibit their expertise in the area and interpersonal qualities that include strong leadership, good communication, people management, or conflict management skills. 

Make sure you develop a connection with the interviewer by demonstrating you are a great communicator. That will help you leave a lasting impression on them and make you stand out as a better candidate.

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