Career adviser Katharine Brooks says "inkblot test" questions in job interviews - the "seemingly harmless questions interviewers use as icebreakers" - are much more important than you (or even your interviewer) may think. They can make or break your chance at a job.
Photo by Lew57.
Are they simple questions designed to just start a conversation? Or do they have hidden meanings? Both, if you ask recruiters. I've asked interviewers this over the years, and they all agree it can be a simple question quickly forgotten, the start of a great encounter with an interesting candidate— or a quick end to the interview. Savvy job candidates need to know that the question isn't always as simple or innocent as it sounds and can be a minefield.
That might all sound a little daunting, but the basic idea is that giving an interesting — and sometimes slightly more personal — answer to the harmless pre-interview questions can play a serious role in how the rest of the interview turns out. Brooks discusses the idea more abstractly through her experience teaching a film studies course, then comes back to a few simple tips for preparing for such questions:
Always keep the career field to which you're applying in mind:
- Do you read or watch anything related to the career field — is that worth mentioning?
- Maybe you don't have time to read books, but do you keep up with related magazines or journals such as The Economist or Advertising Age? Mention that.
- Try to avoid controversial or odd answers to the question. The interview may not be the place to bring up that you particularly enjoy movies about serial killers — unless, of course, you're applying for a job with the FBI.
Let's hear how ostensibly innocuous questions have shaped interviews you've been a part of in the comments.
The Not-So-Harmless Simple Interview Question [Psychology Today]